4/11/02 4th Before Advent : Matthew 24:1-14
241Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 "Do you see all these things?" he asked. "I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." 3As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" 4Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. 5For many will come in my name, claiming, `I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. 6You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8All these are the beginning of birth pains. 9"Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
What is the most impressive building you have ever seen ? I remember being impressed by Salisbury Cathedral which has the tallest spire in the country. I have fond memories of my home town Cathedral in Norwich and also three visits to Wembley Stadium. Joshua says that Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, impressed him most.
I would imagine that anything any of us has ever seen would pale into insignificance if we could have seen the temple in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. This was rebuilt because of King Herod. He became king when Jerusalem was captured in 37 BC. Midway in his reign, he launched the project of rebuilding the temple on a grander scale. The building started in 20-19 BC. The temple itself, was finished in a year and a half, but it took 8 years to complete the courts and cloisters. Herod died in 4 B.C., so Jesus could not have been born after 4 B.C. ! The total work of rebuilding was not entirely completed till 64 AD. So, around 30 A.D. Jesus' disciples would have seen the completed temple, some of it nearly fifty years old and it's surroundings, some of which had yet to be completed.
Built of white marble, covered with heavy plates of gold in front and rising high above its marble-cloistered courts, themselves a succession of terraces, the temple was compared by Josephus to a snow-covered mountain. It was a conspicuous and dazzling object from every side. "Whatever was not overlaid with gold was purest white" (Josephus, Jewish War, 5.5.6.).
With its beauty and massive stones it looked the embodiment of permanence. According to Josephus (Antiquities, 15.11.3), some of them were 37 feet long, 12 feet high and 18 feet wide.
The temple in Jerusalem had been rebuilt before but this time it looked as if it was going to stay and the worship of God could be focused in one, beautiful location. The disciples could well have been filled with awe and nationalistic pride. Jesus, however, shattered this dream. "I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."
Jesus words were fulfilled in A.D. 70, when the Romans under Titus completely destroyed Jerusalem, its inhabitants and the temple buildings. Stones were even prized apart to collect the gold leaf that melted from the roof when the temple was set on fire. Excavations in 1968 uncovered large numbers of the stones, toppled from the walls by the invaders.
There were few if any Christians because they knew of Jesus' words in verses Luke 21:20-24. 20 "When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
The Christians escaped from Jerusalem before, or during its siege. Many of them went across the River Jordan to a town called Pella.
Jerusalem was punished by God because it had rejected Jesus whom God had sent to save them. He was the Messiah that they were so eagerly looking forward to, but they rejected him.
This pattern will be repeated when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead. Those who have rejected Jesus will have to bear the condemnation that this brings and be separated from God forever. Christians will not be condemned, Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We can look forward to being with God forever, unaffected by sin and death, with perfect resurrection bodies.
The disciples would have expected this to come soon. They are desperate to know when, verse 3, "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"
Jesus warns them that the end will not come immediately and not to be gullible. Verse 4, Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, `I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. Jesus warned against people who claim to be Jesus. When Jesus returns there will be no doubt about it. Jesus said in 24 : 30 "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.
This exposes the false prophets who have claimed that Jesus will return. The Jehovah's Witnesses excel in this. They said that Jesus would return in 1874, then said that it was an invisible coming ! The predicted that the end of the world would occur in 1914 , again in 1975 and in 1984. Prior to 1975 many Jehovah's Witnesses did not have children because they expected the end to come. The Watchtower Society also predicted that all members of the body of Christ would be changed to heavenly glory in 1925. They also believed that World War Two was Armageddon.
They also claim to be 'Christian' but do not believe that Jesus is God.
When Jesus returns many people will be surprised, but no-one will be mistaken.
6 You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.
Jesus is pointing out that just because there are wars, revolutions, famines and earthquakes this does not mean that he will return immediately. There are other things that will happen first as Jesus outlines in verses 9ff.
9 "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.
10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other,
Jesus was betrayed by one of his disciples. His disciples would be betrayed by family members. The early church was persecuted many times. Tertullian a theologian who lived around 150 A.D. wrote, 'the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church'.
Today when some people come to Jesus from another faith their family members consider it their duty to kill them.
Persecution is widespread in the world today.
"[The Nuba mountains in Sudan] ...which have had a Christian population since the 6th century, are littered with mass graves... Nuba women are systematically raped by Arab soldiers in order to produce non-Nuba offspring. There have been reports, including from Catholic bishops, of crucifixions of Christians by the army."
In the southern part of Sudan, thousands of children were seized from their families and sold at open-air slave markets for as little as £10 apiece. They were taken north to other countries in the Middle East and other parts of Sudan where they are forced to labour as field hands, domestic slaves, or concubines for Muslim masters.
September 25 2002 : seven Pakistani Christians working for the Adara Aman-o-Insaf (Peace and Justice Institute), a human rights organization in Karachi, were brutally murdered by two armed men who shot the Christians in the head at point blank range. Eyewitnesses said two men forcibly entered the premises of the Peace and Justice Institute, an unmarked office on the 3rd floor of the Rimpa Plaza. Police believe the men then bound and gagged the Christian workers. Their bodies were found sitting in chairs and it appeared they had been shot in the head with pistols from a close range. Six of the men died instantly. Another died awhile later at a main Karachi hospital. At least two other men were wounded in the incident.
According to those familiar with the Peace and Justice Institute, the group focused on social and labour issues, helping workers to obtain basic rights. The group also published a magazine, which had recently featured an article on the country's blasphemy laws.
July 4 2002 : The rape of a 16-year-old girl in Pakistan has been ignored
by police because of her religious beliefs. Shakeela Siddique, a Christian
from Fatewala village in the northeastern Gujranwala district, was reportedly
raped by an influential local Muslim landlord in February 2002.
Traumatised and ashamed, Shakeela kept quiet about her ordeal. The incident only came to light two months later when she realised she was pregnant. In order to avoid social stigma, she was forced to have an abortion (illegal in Pakistan) at the end of April and has suffered from severe depression since the attack. When her father, Siddique Masih, attempted to confront the alleged rapist, he was badly beaten up. He told Christian Liberation Front, a Pakistani human rights group: "My everything has been ruined as my daughter is now a living corpse. No Christian in our village dares to raise his voice against the Muslim landlords." There are about 150 Muslim families and 50 Christian families living in Fatewala and most of the Christians are poor peasants employed by Muslims.
Nigeria 14 October 2002 At least twelve Christian students were killed and over 50 injured in a riot at the Federal College of Education in Zaria, Kaduna State in late September. The rioting broke out after a Christian candidate won the annual student union elections. Disgruntled Muslim students whipped up resentment among local Muslims who stormed the campus. Christian students were attacked and forced to flee. According to official sources twelve were killed and many others were injured and required treatment at the local hospital. Some Christian women students were raped. Unofficial reports indicate that as many as 50 people were killed. After three hours, order was restored by a police detachment.
Dr. Norbert Vollertsen, a German physician
who was a medical missionary to North
Vietnam before he was expelled
for being "anti-state." "They [North Korea's communist
leaders] are forcing everybody to believe in Kim Jong Il, like he is
a god. He is worshiped like a god in North Korea. And they know that
the main power against Kim Jong Il will be those believers in Christ,
and therefore they are 'hunting' (in the real meaning of the word) for
those Christians. I talked to so many mothers. I talked to so many old
grandmothers who were preaching about something, who were collecting
some old, very old papers or letters, or some pages of an old Chinese
Bible or European Bible; and they were imprisoned because of this knowledge,
because of this possession. And I talked to many, many defectors who
came out of those concentration camps who were tortured because they
were Christians, who were raped because they were Christians. And worst
of all, I talked to some mothers who suffered in the way that they had
to eyewitness how their own babies were killed just after they delivered
those babies. They were Christians, and the North Korean authorities
of the concentration camps do not want any Christians to have any children."
These are just a few of the vast number of men, women, and children each day who are tortured, imprisoned, or executed because they are Christians.
There are far more Christians today under persecution that in any other time in the history of the Church. An estimated 200 to 250 million persons around the world are at risk in countries where it is a crime to be a Christian. They fear for their lives, and they die for their faith. Tens of thousands are actually martyred each year. The International Bulletin of Missionary Research, estimates that about 150,000 Christians were killed for their faith in 1996 alone.
75% of all Christians live outside the West. Most Christians are not white. Christianity was in Africa before Europe, in India before England, and in China before America. Today Christianity is the largest Third-World religion.
In his book "Their Blood Cries Out", Canadian political scientist Paul Marshall notes, "More people take part in Christian Sunday worship in China than do people in the entirety of Western Europe. The same is true of Nigeria and probably true of India, Brazil and even the world's largest Muslim country, Indonesia."
Christians may face some opposition in the Western world, but they do not face intense persecution. In many radical Islamic and communist countries, practicing the Christian faith is a capital crime. In Muslim nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran, committing your life to Christ is treasonous blasphemy.
We should be challenged by the vitality of the persecuted churches. In the West materialism and our liberal culture has succeeded in inhibiting the church more than any persecution. We should also pray for our fellow believers who are persecuted and, perhaps lobby those who can influence the countries where this takes place. In July a number of MP's spoke in the House of Commons about persecution in North Korea, Pakistan and China.
After this service I will hand out an up-to-date Prayer Sheet with news and prayer pointers.
(available from http://persecution.org/prayer/pray2002-11.html and at the end of this sermon)
13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.
Jesus is not literally saying that none of his disciples will be saved from early death or suffering. Indeed , virtually all the disciples met a violent death. After all, this would contradict what he has just said in verse 9. He is talking about God saving his followers from the effects of sin. He is encouraging them to persevere in their faith so that they will gain a life lived forever in a right relationship with God the Father.
William Barclay 1907-1978, Scottish Theologian, Religious Writer, Broadcaster "Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory."
Christians who die for their faith do so in the certain hope that they will be raised from the dead and be united with God through Jesus' death for them.
Only after false prophets, wars and revolutions, and persecution have come, will Jesus return. It will be preceded by chaos in the political, natural and celestial worlds. Jesus will not return until everyone on earth has had the chance to hear about him. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Some people have devoted themselves to ensuring that everyone should hear the gospel to ensure that Jesus returns soon. This is good and I am sure these words encouraged the disciples to spread the good news to Jews and Gentiles, near and far. However, I don't think that once the last person on earth has heard the good news ( and either accepted or rejected it ) that Jesus will think, 'Oh good, they've told everybody at last and about time too! Now I will immediately return'.
We should be motivated to share the gospel with everyone. However, a better motivation is that it is such good news for those of us who have received it that we want other people to enjoy the fullness of life that only Jesus can give (John 10:10).
W. Russell Maltby; "Jesus promised His disciples three things: that they would be entirely fearless, absurdly happy, and that they would get into trouble."
Jesus warns us to be prepared for his return, not to follow false prophets and be gullible, to expect rejection, to keep going in our faith and not to be frightened because we will always be in God's loving care.
Intercessor Report / Prayer Points
India - Christians in India continue
to come under attack by Hindu fundamentalists. On September 22, eight
Korean missionaries in Bihar State were beaten during worship services
by members of the Bajrang Dal, a militant youth organization. During
October the governor of Tamil Nadu state issued an ordinance banning
religious conversions by "fraudulent means" or "forcible
allurement." The punishment for violating the ordinance is up to
3 years imprisonment and/or a fine up to Rs. 50,000. All religious conversions
must also be reported to district authorities according to the ordinance.
The new ordinance does not bode well for Christians, who are commonly
accused of using coercion to produce converts because they offer food
and medical care to the poor.
Prayer Points: Pray that anti-conversion legislation would backfire and result in an even greater number of people coming to Christ. Ask God to help Christians in India to forgive their attackers so that the attackers hearts' may be softened by the great forgiveness and love of the Christians.
Indonesia - After several years of causing death and destruction to
the Christian community of Maluku and central Sulawesi, the militant
Laskar Jihad (LJ) group officially disbanded on October 12. Reliable
sources confirm that jihad warriors from Java left Ambon on October
15 and central Sulawesi on October 16. However, not all of the LJ have
left. Thousands of local jihad warriors that were trained by the LJ
over the past 3 years remain in the area. Perhaps the group is going
underground now that the Indonesian government has made more serious
attempts at curbing terrorism.
Prayer Points: Praise God that jihad warriors have begun to disperse from Maluku and central Sulawesi! However, pray that the West would not be fooled into thinking the Indonesian Christians are totally out of danger. Ask the Lord to bring a lasting peace to these troubled areas. Pray for reconciliation between the Christian and Muslim communities. Ask the Lord to bring to nothing the plans of all militant Islamic groups seeking to carry out terrorist activities in Indonesia and beyond.
Jordan - A Christian widow has gone into hiding since the Supreme
Court ordered her to hand over custody of her two teenage children by
October 12. The Court ruled that Mrs. Siham Qandah is not fit to be
the guardian of her children because she is raising them as Christians.
Qandah's husband had converted to Islam a few years before his death
and according to Jordanian law, children are officially of the same
faith as their father. Qandah has been unable to leave the country with
her children since they are on an immigration blacklist.
Prayer Points: Pray that the Supreme Court ruling would be miraculously overturned. Pray that Mrs. Qandah's children could continue to attend church and Christian school and that they would not be forcibly removed from their mother's care. Pray for the Lord to strengthen the faith of this beleaguered Christian family.
Pakistan - Pakistani Christians have continued to come under attack
from Islamic militants. On September 25, two armed men entered the premises
of the Peace and Justice Institute in Karachi, separated the Christians
from the Muslims and proceeded to shoot eight Christians in the head
at point blank range. Seven died and one is currently hospitalized.
During the October 10 parliamentary elections, the MMA, an Islamic fundamentalist
party, made significant gains and won the majority in two provinces.
The MMA is known to openly support the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and wishes
to implement sharia law in Pakistan.
Prayer Points: Pray that Pakistani Christians would feel the presence of the Holy Spirit and a peace that passes all understanding during these difficult days. Pray that President Musharraf would continue efforts to crack down on Islamic militants and that those responsible for attacks on Christians would be arrested and sentenced. Pray that the MMA would not gain more control.
Sudan - Peace talks between Khartoum and the SPLA resumed in October,
but the war continues to escalate as the GOS uses more sophisticated
weaponry against southern Christians and animists. MIG-29 bombers have
been used in several recent attacks. ICC partners also report an increase
in jihad propaganda in Khartoum. Christians in northern Sudan are coming
under increased persecution as anti-Christian and anti-western sentiments
Prayer Points: Pray for the Lord's protection over the Christians of the South. Pray that He would use the Christians of the North to share His love with their Muslim neighbors. Pray that the Khartoum regime would run out of money to finance the ongoing war against the South.
China: During a re-trial in Hubei Province, members of the South China Church were given reduced sentences. Four people were exonerated and released. Pastor Gong Shengliang and several other top leaders had their sentences commuted from death to life in prison. Praise God for this turn of events! However, continue to pray for these imprisoned believers as they have reportedly been denied Bibles and forbidden to pray out loud in their cells. Several of them have been beaten.
Thanks for your prayers and action.
International Christian Concern
Posted: October 24, 2002