Sunday, September 17, 2017

It's the end of the World: Details to Follow

It’s the end of the world as we know it.

Really?   There are certain events that spark certain responses from Christians as a direct consequence of the scripture that we read earlier.  Let’s go back to the last part of that scripture:  Mark 13:7-8  And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately.  Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in many parts of the world, as well as famines. But this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.

Almost sounds like the evening news, doesn’t it?  There have been promises of Peace in the Middle East for thirty years but each year it seems to escalate with hard liners taking positions in both camps. 

And while we are used to nation going to war with nation, kind of like the threats that we are seeing with all the sabre rattling between North Korea and the US, so much of the fighting in Africa seems to be much more in line with Kingdom against Kingdom.  Although sometimes it almost seems like it’s Sneetches with stars on their bellies and Sneetches without.

Add to that Hurricanes, floods, wildfires and earthquakes, food shortages around the world and ever-increasing fuel costs and the star of a reality show as President and I’m starting to hear the “Could this be the end times” rumblings that periodically emerge.

As I worked on this message I realized something: We as Christians have lost the vision of the imminent return of Jesus Christ.  When I first became a Christian I used to get up every day with the thought, “This could be it, perhaps this will be the day that Jesus calls his church home” 

It’s been awhile since I’ve woken up with those thoughts, although sometimes I find myself wishing, “I hope he comes back soon”

Now we all believe that Christ is coming again or at least we say we do, but are we waiting expectantly for the return of Jesus Christ? I mean really expectantly?

People are intrigued by the concept of the “End of the World”, how the world will end? and when the world will end?  Whether it will end with a bang or a whimper? 

This past week there’s been a lot of reminiscing about where people were and what they were doing when the twin towers came down on September 11 16 years ago.

I was at Beulah for a district minister’s gathering and another minister asked me: “Do you think this could be the beginning of the end times?” To which I replied, “Well that would certainly solve our pension problems wouldn’t it?”  

To be very frank I do not live in fear of the end times, it’s not something that I worry about, it doesn’t keep me up at night and I don’t read about it constantly.  Now for some people it is an obsession and that is the reason why the Left Behind series of novels have became best sellers twenty years ago.

I will admit I have only read the first one and that was out of curiosity.  You say “But Denn, don’t you want to know what’s going to happen?” 

Well, let’s not go there, no let’s go there.  You understand that the Left Behind Series are just novels, they are fiction if you were to look for them in the Library they would have a “F” on the spine, and not very good fiction either. 

I know that’s just personal taste. The Left Behind Series does not have an inside track on the end times, as surprising as that may seem.

The authors have merely fictionalized what they found in the Bible.  If the Left Behind books cause you to become more passionate to see people won to Jesus they are wonderful, however if you are reading them in order to gain more knowledge about the end times you might not end up being the scholar that you hope. 

But maybe people will be won to Jesus with the books, who knows it’s not a new outreach strategy.

When I first became a Christian in 1979 there was a movie out called “A Distant Thunder” and it was a fictionalized vision of what it might be like during the last days. 

The secret of that movie and the other two in the series that was that you’d invite your pre-Christian friends out to church and the movie would scare the hell out of them, literally.  Did it work?  Sometimes.
I’m no expert on biblical prophesy, but I do believe that we need to look into the scriptures to see just exactly what the Bible says concerning the end times which will either begin or end with the return of Jesus Christ, depending on your theological perspective. 

The experts tell us that there are over 1800 references to Christ second coming in the Old Testament alone, and that for every one prophecy concerning the first coming of Christ that there are eight prophecies concerning his second coming.  We are also told by the same experts that there are over 300 references about Christ return in the New Testament, or approximately one every 30 verses.

1) The Reality of The End Times Biblical scholars tell us that the book of Mark was the first Gospel account put into writing.  And according to Papias, who was one of the early Christian writers and a man who had known some of the apostles personally, Mark had acted as a scribe for Peter.  Now taking that into account if we look into the book of Mark we see Christ making three direct statements referring to his return.

The first reference is found in Mark 8:38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

The second was two days later, after Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, part of the scripture that Ben read for us this morning  Mark 13:1 As Jesus was leaving the Temple that day, one of his disciples said, “Teacher, look at these magnificent buildings! Look at the impressive stones in the walls.”

Boy it wasn’t hard to tell these guy’s were right off the boat.  Talk about a bunch of hicks, Gawking around and staring.  You can almost hear them, “Golly look at them buildings, aint got nothing like that in Galilee”.   

Can’t say that I blame them, remember that I grew up in New Brunswick and to me a big city was Saint John.

Now it’s been a long time since I was a Saint John boy and I’ve done a lot of travelling since then, I’ve actually visited 5 continents and more than 2 dozen countries and been 75 miles east of the North Pole.

And I thought I was a fairly seasoned traveler, been there done that type thing.  Well, as most of you know, in June, I was able to visit Egypt and preach in a number of churches there.

We visited a church that is 1700 years old, chew on that for a while.  When Christopher Columbus was a child they had been worshipping in that church for 11 hundred years.

And I went into the Great Pyramid, inside the Great Pyramid.  Stood at the feet of the sphinx and visited the tomb of Saint Mark. 

And let me tell, people would never have mistaken me for anything other than a hick, there was no doubt in anybody’s mind that I was right off the boat.

So, for a few minute the apostles stood in awe as they looked at the massive temple building in front of them., and then Jesus told them in the next verse Mark 13:2 Jesus replied, “Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!”

Now the disciples didn’t say anything right off but when Peter, Andrew, James and John were on the Mount of Olives they asked Jesus when this would take place. “You know Jesus we don’t want to pester you about this, but when you said the temple was going to be destroyed, did you mean like this afternoon?”   

And in reply Jesus gave them a three part answer.  The first part is given in Mark 13:5-13 when Jesus spoke of the tribulation that the Apostles would personally go through.  The second part is found in verses 14-23 and Jesus told them about the tribulation that Jerusalem would go through.  And in 70 AD Jerusalem was totally destroyed by the Romans.  One contemporary source claimed that a man could plow from one corner of Jerusalem to the other without hitting a rock.

In Mark 13:26-27 Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory. And he will send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.

There can be no mistaking what Jesus was talking about.  He was saying that there would come a time that he would return and mankind would see him coming.

Now then the third instance that Mark records Christ speaking about his return was when Jesus was on trial before the high priest, let’s listen in Mark 14:61-62 But Jesus was silent and made no reply. Then the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

Listen to the response of Christ  Jesus said, “I Am. And you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Jesus couldn’t have made his message any plainer.

Peter’s testimony to the second coming of Jesus extends even after the book of Mark.  In Acts 2:35 on the day of Pentecost Peter declared that Jesus had been exalted to the right hand of God to reign until his enemies are made into his footstool. 

And listen to what Peter says in his sermon in Acts 3:20 Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord, and he will again send you Jesus, your appointed Messiah. 

What Peter preached about in the book of Acts, he writes of in the two letters that he wrote.  2 Peter 3:4-9 They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.” They deliberately forget that God made the heavens by the word of his command, and he brought the earth out from the water and surrounded it with water. Then he used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood. And by the same word, the present heavens and earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed. But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.

It is pretty evident that Peter, one of Christ’s closest friends and confidants was convinced that Jesus would return.  But what about other writers in the New Testament?  Glad you asked.  The conversation on top of The Mount of Olives is also recorded by Matthew and Luke with only minor variations.

And John records in His gospel in John 13:36 Simon Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?” And Jesus replied, “You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.”
But then in the next chapter, only five verses later we read John 14:3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.

And when Jesus is telling Peter what his future holds, Peter asks Christ “Hey what about my old buddy John”  and John 21:22 Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.” and in 1 John 3:2 Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.  Not if he appears, but when he appears, John was evidently pretty certain that Jesus was coming again.

And in the final book of the Bible, John wrote in Revelation 1:7 Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven. And everyone will see him— even those who pierced him. And all the nations of the world will mourn for him. Yes! Amen!

When Luke records Christ’s return to heaven Christ has ascended into the clouds and the Apostles are standing staring dumbfounded into the sky, which when you think about it is a pretty appropriate response and two angels appear and say to them
Acts 1:11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

The New Testament is full of references concerning the second coming, both direct and indirect.  As a matter of fact, out of the 27 books in the New Testament the second coming is mentioned at least in passing in 23 of them.  Of them four where the second coming is not mentioned Philemon and 2 & 3 John were personal letters and Galatians had a very specific thrust.

For the scholars out there the Greek word most commonly used for the return of Christ is Parousia, which was used in referring to a visit from the emperor or governor.  The word Epipheneia is also used and it means “The Appearing”, while John is fond of referring to the return of Christ as the Apokolypis, or the revelation.

The early church was so convinced of the second coming that they actually greeted one another with the word “Maranatha”, which is actually two words, “Maran” and “Atha” which when put together meant “Our Lord Comes”. 
The return of the Lord is a certainty, the Bible and early church tradition lend authority to that fact, the question that remains then is: The Timing of the End  When is this going to happen?

The apostles themselves wondered that same thing and demanded an answer to the question in Mark 13:4 “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to be fulfilled?” 

And in verse 32 of the same chapter Jesus answers them by saying, “It’s none of your business”  well actually that isn’t exactly what he said, but it’s close because he says
Mark 13:32 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.”

But that reply hasn’t kept men and women from playing neat little mathematical games with Biblical prophecies over the past two thousand years in an effort to figure out some kind of time frame for the last days.  Through the years many sincere men have sought by various formulas and mathematical techniques, primarily using the prophecies of Daniel to arrive at; if not the day and hour of Christ's arrival then at least the month and year.

When the First World War broke out even the secular press was asking the question:  Is this Armageddon?  There seemed to be further confirmation when Jerusalem was delivered from Turkish rule in 1917.  Dr. C.I. Schofield of the Schofield study Bible fame actually wrote a book in 1918 proposing that the world would come to an end before the war to end all wars came to an end.  Obviously he was wrong.

In 1939 World War Two broke out and the next year B.F. Atkinson wrote a book called “The War With Satan.”  In his work Atkinson speculated that the end was near.

While I was pastoring in Truro I received a book in the mail entitled “88 Reasons Why the World Will End in 1988”  Now all three of these books based at least a part of their theories on the “Seven times” that Daniel spoke of in Daniel 4.  They multiplied the seven by the number of days in the Jewish prophetic year which was 360 and came up with a total of 2520 years. The only problem is that three men used the same figure and one comes up with 1918, one 1941 and one 1988.  The reason for the difference is that they all have different theories on when we should start counting off the 2520 years.

Now my favourite theory was put forth by Dr. Joe Kanzlemar, who was my professor in Bible college who taught our class on the Revelation.  Joe figured that everything in God’s plan goes back to the sabbatical concept.  And this goes back to Daniel’s seven days again.  Joe then adds to this Peter’s comment in 2 Peter 3:8 But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. 

So Joe figured that from the book Genesis to the last curtain will be seven thousand years.  Now if we count the millennium as the last day, or the day of rest and we use Bishop Usher’s date to put Genesis 1 at 4004 BC, then we only have to find another 2000 years, so Joe speculated maybe 2004. And since this is 2017 it looks like Joe blew it too.

Perhaps you’ve heard the most recent theory which puts the end of the world in six days and 10 hours and 13 minutes.

Yep, that would be September 23rd.  Those who are promoting that theory base it on Revelation 12:1-2  Then I witnessed in heaven an event of great significance. I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head.  She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labor pains and the agony of giving birth.

And maybe you are thinking so. . . ? 

Well, the constellation Virgo is the woman “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet.” The constellation Leo is the twelve stars (three of which are actually Mars, Mercury and Venus but let’s just go with it).

And. . . on the 23rd, Jupiter will orbit out of Virgo — a sort of “birth,” if you will.

According to one of the theory’s proponents David Meade states “It will occur once on September 23, 2017. It will never occur again. When it occurs, it places the Earth immediately before the time of the Sixth Seal of Revelation."

But the truth of the matter is that David Meade doesn’t know when Christ will return and neither does anyone else.

Seven different times in the New Testament it says that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  And how does a thief come?  Well if he is a good thief then he comes very, very quietly.  Now realize that the return of Christ is not what is referred to as the rapture which is the when Christ calls the church to be with him.

Eschatology or the study of the end times is like golf, it’s fun it gives you something to do but in the long run it you end up arriving at the same place you left from.  And just like anything else it can become an obsession and prevent us from doing what we were put here to do and that is to win people to Jesus Christ. 

But one thing is certain and that is that the Day of the Lord will happen. It may not have been in 70 or 1918 or 1941 or 1988 but Christ will return.  And when it happens, He will be more pleased with the Christian who led one person into a relationship with God then with the person who spent all his time debating and writing books about the end times.

Jesus made it very plain that the timing of the His return is neither our responsibility nor our business, and personally I think that we border on blasphemy when we try to wrestle that information from God.  We look very much like Adam and Eve who ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil so that they could become like God.

Let me end this morning with three quotes the first was made a hundred and thirty years ago by French Scientist Pierre Berthelot, “Within a hundred years of physical and chemical science man will know what the atom is, and it is my belief that when science reaches this stage, God will come down to earth with his big ring of keys and say, ’Gentleman it is closing time’ “.  The second quote comes from Sammy Tippit an Author and Bible Teacher who wrote “The facts are out there. Biblical prophecy is unfolding before our very eyes. Anyone with a modest knowledge of the Scripture and a nearby newspaper can easily tell that history is quickly coming to its conclusion. Planet Earth is on a collision course with Biblical prophecy.” 

And finally the words of C.S Lewis who said in relation to the return of Christ “When the author walks on the stage, the play is over!”

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