Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"End Times" or the "End of Time?" - Part I

                             Jerusalem as seen from the Mount of Olives[1]

An Exposition of Matthew 24 & Luke 21 - First of a Series

A burning question, it seems, for our times.  Do we live in the “end times” or the “end of time?”  Do we live in the days of Christ’s judgmental return or are we simply living during the last spiritual age?  Despite the denominational rhetoric to the contrary, the Bible answer is the latter, God has truly initiated the very last spiritual age in the history of the world – the Christian Age.  It began with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ whose will was read on the Day of Pentecost, fifty days following the crucifixion of Christ.  These “last days” will linger until the “last trumpet” has sounded.  How long will these “last days” extend?  No one knows.  We do know, however, what Christ told his disciples about how they (and by extension you and me) should view these questions and how to set their priorities accordingly.   

Matthew 24 is very clear about two things; the absolute predictability of the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. and the absolute un-certainty of the timing of the judgmental return of Christ – the very last day.  This passages clarity, however, has been clouded by many overlays of preconceived falsehoods in recent years by those who would distort the very words of Christ.  It is our purpose to reexamine the text for what it says, not what many would like it to say.

Matthew 24 begins with the awe the disciples had for the magnificence of the Herodian Temple.  It was one of the most beautiful structures in all the 1st century world.  They were so enthralled with its stunning beauty that they made an overt effort to point it out to Jesus.  How Jesus responded must have shocked the disciples to the core.  He told them that this “wonder of the world” would be destroyed to such an extent that literally “not one stone would be left upon another!” They left the Temple, walked down into the Kidron Valley and walked up the slope of the Mount of Olives.  Looking back, one could clearly see Mount Zion and the Temple which set atop it.  It must have been quite the scene. 

The shock of the disciples at Jesus’ reply was so profound that the disciples did not speak about it again until the end of the journey from the top of Mt. Zion to the top of the Mount of Olives.  Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives and the disciples, still stunned, came to Him with two questions; “When will these things be?” and “What will be the signs of Your coming and the end of the world?”  Jesus will give them two very different answers, one complete with every detail and the other with absolutely no detail at all.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to fully appreciate what the Temple meant to the 1st century Jew.  It not only was the place of national worship and the very presence of the Spirit of God, it was literally part and parcel of their spiritual and national identity as a people.  Without the Temple, there would be no nation.  Without the Temple, there would be no sacrificial system.  Without the Temple they would no longer be a people.  In their minds, without the Temple there would be no God!  Any loss of the Temple would be like…the end of the world itself.  Without the Temple, how could life go on?  That is why the two questions were linked in their mind for “if” there was no Temple there would be no place for the Spirit of God to reside.  “If” God’s Spirit was no longer on earth, how could earth itself survive?  If the Temple were to be destroyed, how could life continue?  Over time, sadly, the faith of the Jewish people had moved…without notice…from faith in God to faith in God’s residence.  One is reminded of that old song by Leslie Gore; “…don’t they know it’s the end of the world?  It ended when I lost your love.” – TO BE CONTINUED                                                                           

[1] Photo Courtesy of:  The extant “Dome of the Rock” is the approx. location of the Herodian Temple.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Eternal Dust or Just Broken Temporarily?

True repentance is the most difficult thing to accept in this life.  Repentance is a complete, and permanent, change of direction.  It means that each one who repents turns around from pursuing Satan to pursuing God.  It means forsaking everything we cherish and hold dear, up to and including family and friends.  It means surrendering "ownership" of what we have accumulated.  It means to give up all self love, self indulgence and self importance.  It means gathering up our entire "essence," throwing it all on God's altar and burning it up.  It means we no longer live for self but live for Christ.  It means selling ourselves into literal and figurative slavery.  It means accepting the redemption of Christ who buys us from our former slave master, Satan, and gladly, happily to willingly serve our new master, Christ Jesus.

Jesus characterizes and contrasts the cost of repentance...and...the cost for failure to repent in Luke 20:18; "Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it shall be ground to powder."  What is Jesus saying?  He is, as God always does, giving us two simple choices.  We are reminded of that old Fram Filter (C) ad of some years back; "Pay me now or pay me later!"  Either we die to self now and live eternally or live for self now and die eternally.  This is the same essential message of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.  While God has different requirements in each of the three dispensations, the necessity of true repentance is present in all three.

Jesus Christ is the "stone which the builders rejected that has now become the chief cornerstone" of God's house.  The builders (The Jews and their leaders) rejected that chief cornerstone and suffered destruction in 70 a.d. at the hands of Titus the Roman.  Christ uses the metaphor to contrast the choices we have in the Christian age, what the Bible calls the "last days."  We can either cast ourselves on the stone of Christ and be broken (true and total repentance) thus ending our lives to self while claiming eternal life or we can refuse to repent and suffer the penalty.  What is that penalty?  It is being crushed into "dust" by the stone resulting in total and eternal destruction, a destruction not unlike what happened to the Herodian Temple where "not one stone was left upon another."  That temple, and those people, were crushed as it were, into dust.  The "dust bin" of eternity is Satan's hell where all the "non-broken" people reside forever, many of whom were "good" people while on this earth.  They just refused to be "broken on the stone."

Repentance, true repentance, requires a response to God's grace, mercy and His free gift of salvation.  We must, as Peter said in Acts 2:38, be "baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins."  One cannot "repent" while refusing baptism for this is the time and place of God's work - the removal of our sins much like circumcision of the old covenant.  (Colossians 2:11-12)  Repentance AND baptism constitute one's "falling upon that stone."  "Repentance" without baptism is like announcing that you are going to cast yourself down upon the stone of Christ but then refusing to do so.  Submission to God's will in baptism completes the process for that is when we join Christ in His death.  (Romans 6:3)  We become "broken upon the stone" in the watery grave where God meets us as we meet the blood of His dear son, blood that was "shed for the remission of sins."

What then shall it be for us?  Will we be broken or will we be crushed by the stone of Christ into eternal dust?  The "Rock of Ages" can save us or destroy us!  Which will it be?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Faith In The Valley

       We often think of faith as a "mountain top experience." Such a statement is only half true for if one is to find the mountaintop one must begin the journey in the valley. The mountaintop is possible ONLY if faith is found in the valley first!
       King David found his faith in the valley of Kidron before ascending to the Mount of Olives in II Samuel 15:13 - 37. He entered the valley upon hearing that his rebellious son, Absalom, "had stolen the hearts of the men of Israel." [15:13] He entered the valley because he listened to men instead of inquiring of God. His faith was replaced by fear...fear of "being overtaken," fear of being "brought down to ruin" and fear of having "Jerusalem put to the sword." [15:14] Though no attack was imminent, no army was approaching and no confirmation of the strength of the enemy was received...David fled Zion and headed to the valley. As so often is the case with us as well, David did not descend into the valley alone, he took others with him. In fact "all his household (went) after him." [15:16]
       When David and his household descended into the deepest part of the valley something amazing happened. Though his own family, many of his top advisors and apparently most of all Israel had deserted him he found out who his TRUE friends were! David was accompanied, protected and loved by real friends who were not even of the House of Israel! His BEST FRIENDS turned out to be a wild and tough bunch of Philistines! Who stood between David and Absalom? The Cherethites, the Pelethites and the Gittites from Gath! Chief among them was a fugitive from Gath, Ittai. Having come over to David just ONE DAY BEFORE, he was a true friend of the king! Ittai told the suffering king; "As the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for LIFE or DEATH, there also will your servant be." [15:21] Before faith returned to David, God showed him who his real friends were. Drawing close to God often means first drawing close to one another. We see the "face of Jesus" in our real and true friends when we are in the valley of doubt and fear.
       As with us, when David got to the bottom of the valley, he encountered God who was already there. God lives in the valley so He can meet us there, take our hand and lead us home. Some other true friends, Abiathar, Zadok and ALL the Levites were there bearing the Ark of the Covenant - the very presence of God Almighty! When David met God in the valley, everything began to change! Faith began to return! He gained strength to climb the Mount of Olives where his restoration to the throne began! There was, of course, a great temptation to take the Ark along with them to "ensure" God's protection against their enemies. David, though, refused. He ordered the Ark back to Zion in a great act of returning faith. He, right then and there in the deepest part of the valley, put his faith in God and not in the Ark. His faith had returned and he then began to act out this new found faith in focus, courage and determination.
       Though we, too, may find faith in the valley...much sorrow remains as we walk up towards the mountaintop. David himself said that what God desires is a "broken and contrite heart" before Him. [Psalms 51:17] We see a broken and contrite David - leading a band of broken and contrite followers - up the Mount of Olives. Repentance is a tearful walk but is part and parcel of any return to faith as we leave the valley of doubt and despair. "But David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered. And all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went." [15:30]
       As David approached the summit, God gave him a great blessing and comforter in a special friend - Hushai. Though the text refers to David's Philistine friends as "servants" [15:18], Hushai is specifically called "friend" in 15:37. Like his other friends, Hushai is NOT a Jew! He is a Canaanite, an Archite from the border of Ephriam and Benjamin. He is, however, a believer! He is servant of the God Most High who approached the summit of the Mount of Olives - "where God was worshipped" - with his "coat torn and dirt on his head" [15:32], Hushai, the "friend" of David, returned to Jerusalem, risking his life, as a spy for the king. As he did with David, God gives us "friends" who risk everything to bring us back to the summit "where God is worshipped!"
       David reached mountaintop of faith because he met God in the valley first! In these times of doubt and despair - so can we!

Join us for worship next Lord's Day at 10 a.m. at the Archdale church of Christ, 2525 Archdale Drive, Charlotte, NC 28210!  "Jesus Will Meet You There!"

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