Second Sunday of Advent, December 6, 2009 Matthew 24:1-14 “Signs of His Coming: Wars, Famines and Earthquakes”
SI: This is the second Sunday of Advent. Advent means “Coming.”
For many centuries it’s been the practice of the church to spend
these four Sundays before Christmas focusing on Christ’s Coming.
Not just his first coming in Bethlehem, but his Second Coming as well.
The Old Testament saints spent their lives looking forward to Christ’s coming.
Anticipation of his coming transformed them.
It made them holy and happy people.
We need to imitate their faith.
We too should look forward to Christ’s coming.
It will make us holy and happy people.
And what better way to celebrate Christmas itself, than to have hearts
that are filled with anticipation and longing for his return.
So for the next three Sundays, going to look at one passage of Scripture
that is all about the Second Coming—Matthew 24:1-14.
Jesus’ disciples asked him:
“What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age.”
He responded by giving them, in these first 14 verses, three signs of his coming.
We’ll spend one Sunday on each.
So what are the signs of his coming? Let’s read and find out.
INTRO: We visited my parents for Thanksgiving up in North Carolina.
Before we left we heard that there had been a landslide on I-40
and that it was closed between Knoxville and Asheville, but didn’t know where.
We were hoping we could take the interstate to a certain point and then get off on
a two-lane road that would take us over the mountains and into Asheville.
But we didn’t know if we would be able to make it to that exit or not.
So Allison and I were talking about it and looking at the map.
And right then there was a sign—one of those big flashing signs—and it said:
“I-40 closed at NC State Line.”
And we said, Great, that tells us everything we need to know for the rest of our trip.
The disciples wanted a sign.
“Tell us, when will these things be?” When will the Temple be destroyed?
“And what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”
In their minds, those two events were one—
the destruction of the Temple and the end of the age.
They wanted Jesus to tell them something specific.
They wanted a time frame, or some kind of supernatural marker, secret code.
It would be nice to know when the world it going to end.
Show us exactly where there interstate is closed so we can make our plans.
Jesus gave them a sign, but it was not what they were expecting.
“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars . . . nation will rise against nation, and kingdom
against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.”
This is a sign of my coming: Wars, famines and earthquakes.
That doesn’t seem to tell us much of anything.
It certainly doesn’t tell us when.
There have been wars, famines and earthquakes throughout history.
Every generation has seen these things.
There are wars and rumors of wars in the world this very morning!
There is Afghanistan and 30,000 more troops.
There is Iran about to get the bomb and threatening to wipe Israel off map.
There are famines in Africa, in Sudan.
Every so often there are earthquakes and we see on TV images of shattered cities.
So what’s the purpose of this sign if it doesn’t tell us when Jesus is coming back?
If it doesn’t answer the one question that the disciples wanted to know?
By this sign the Lord Jesus gives his people something much more precious
than a date on a calendar.
He gives you a way to face the very worst with bravery and grace.
Wars, famines, and earthquakes are a shorthand way of saying every disaster,
man-made or natural that comes upon the earth.
And closer to home, every disaster in your world—
the wars in your marriage and family,
the famines and earthquakes in your psyche. The losses, the shocks, the griefs.
In the Old Testament, wars, famines, and earthquakes were a foreshadowing
of the day of the Lord. The day the Messiah would come in judgment to destroy
his enemies and vindicate his people and set all things right.
So the Lord, by combining those two thoughts is giving you something tremendous.
He’s saying, listen to me. Don’t worry about the when of my return.
This is what you need to see clearly with eyes of faith:
Every disaster in the world and in your life is a sign—
a sign that I am certainly coming to judge the world and set things right.
As the hope of Christ’s coming sinks into your soul,
you can face the worst and not only stand,
but become a holier and happier Christian.
Let’s look at this sign more carefully.
Jesus made two comments about wars, famines, and earthquakes.
1. Do not be alarmed.
2. The end is still to come.
We’ll use those two comments as the two points, two headings of sermon.
I think they give this sign very practical, life applications.
MP#1 First, Jesus tells us: Do not be alarmed.
“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed.”
The opposite of being alarmed or panicked is being calm.
It’s being balanced and realistic.
Christians should be the most calm of all people in the face of disasters.
Because Jesus’ Second Coming gives us the ultimate reason to be calm.
Look at the context of Jesus’ teaching.
He was leaving the Temple and his disciples called his attention to the buildings.
Wow, just look at that. How massive. How magnificent.
And it was. History and archaeology tells us this was an amazing structure.
Then Jesus made his famous prophecy:
“Not one stone here will be left on another, every one will be thrown down.”
It’s hard to fully appreciate what a jolt this was to the disciples.
They couldn’t really comprehend it.
The Jerusalem Temple was the center of the Jewish world.
There was nothing more central and stabilizing in the Jewish mind
than the Temple of God in Jerusalem.
It’s as if Jesus said to us—in this generation you will see the utter destruction
of the American way of life. A total economic meltdown.
Abandonment of all democratic principles, violation of all civil rights.
America will become a third-world country.
We would not even be able to comprehend what that would be like.
It must have shocked them into silence.
Then later that day, sitting on Mount of Olives, opposite the Temple, they said:
Tell us when this will happen.
And Jesus began to tell about all the terrible things would happen in the build up
to this destruction of Jerusalem: Wars, rumors of wars, economic and social
turmoil, natural disasters, religious persecution.
All of those things did happen in that generation.
About 40 years later, in 70 A.D. the Romans tore the Temple down to the ground,
destroyed Jerusalem and brought an end to the Jewish world as they knew it.
But in the context of all of this Jesus said: “Do not be alarmed.”
And then he began to weave into his prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem,
the promise of his Second Coming.
Here we learn something absolutely invaluable for Christians.
Every disaster, every calamity—whether natural or manmade—
everything that shakes our world, is a pointer to Christ’s Second Coming.
You have to consciously make that jump. You have to say to yourself:
This reminds me that Jesus is coming back to judge the world and set things right.
After Jesus said: “Do not be alarmed.” He explained why.
He said: “Such things must happen.”
Do not be alarmed. Such things must happen.
What did that mean? Why must they happen?
Jesus often spoke like this. He often said that important things “must” happen.
Remember the time he said the Son of Man “must” go to Jerusalem,
he “must” be delivered over to death and rise again.
That was Jesus’ way of talking about the sovereignty of God.
It must happen because God has willed it. It is part of his plan.
Jesus was telling the disciples that this great disaster that would fall on Jerusalem
as not the result of random forces, it was part of the plan of God.
And what a great comfort that is. To know that all history is under God’s control.
You listen to the news and hear about political forces, economic, natural forces.
And at times we seem to be at the mercy of those forces.
What’s going to happen to the economy?
What’s going to happen to with health care?
What’s going to happen with terrorism?
But Jesus reminds his disciples that above all of these forces is God himself.
He directs the rise and fall of nations.
He shakes the things that people trust.
God is in control of history and for that reason we should not be alarmed.
Then Jesus says it again in another way: “These are the beginning of birth pains.”
What an amazing statement that is!
Jesus is saying that God has turned all of the disasters and evils into labor pains.
Wars, earthquakes, famines are part of the curse. They are the result of sin.
This is not the way God created the world. He created it good.
Adam fell and creation is groaning under the curse.
But God in his grace has turned these into labor pains.
Labor pain is pain, but it’s pain with a happy ending.
I will never forget the night Allison went into labor with our first child.
There was this book called “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”
Allison read it probably 10,000 times. She quoted it like the Holy Bible.
The night she went into labor she said: The book says to time your contractions. So when I feel one, I’m going to poke you.
Then you lean over and write down the time on this piece of paper.
This is very important! She had the manic first time mother look.
All that night, she would poke me. I would squint at the clock, write down the time.
It was a tough night for me.
A woman suffers but she knows it will result in something wonderful, a new life.
Jesus was saying to the disciples.
Don’t be alarmed. All of the terrible things you may experience in this old world
as a result of the curse, God in his amazing grace has turned into birth pains.
There will be an amazing re-birth of the world as God intended it to be.
When will that happen? At Christ’s Second Coming.
When he comes, he will set things right and creation will be restored
as it was at the beginning, and the fig tree will bud and leaf,
and you will enjoy the eternal summer of the new heavens and new earth.
And even now, even now, you get a foretaste of that new creation.
You may be suffering wars, famines and earthquakes in your life.
But through those terrible things, the Lord is sanctifying you.
He’s refining you. He’s pruning you, so that you bear fruit.
If you believe that, will not be alarmed when these things happen.
Yes, they are terrible. Yes, they are the result of the curse.
No, this is not how the world is supposed to be.
No, this is not how your life is supposed to be.
But God in his grace has turned them into labor pains—
as you look forward to the return of the Son of God.
Do not be alarmed. These things must happen.
They are birth pains of a new world where all you tears are wiped away.
Jesus is coming back.
That brings us to the second comment Jesus makes about this sign.
MP#2 The end is still to come.
What’s the significance of this comment by Jesus?
He says, when you see this sign, when you see disasters of every kind—
Remember that the end is still to come.
It’s interesting that as you read the rest of this chapter,
the Lord pushes home one point over and over and over again—
you cannot know when the day of judgment will come, so be ready.
He says that no one knows when, only the Father.
The angels don’t know, even the Son doesn’t know the day of his return!
That’s very hard to explain, isn’t it?
Even Jesus Christ in his human nature does not know the day of his return.
Then at the very end of this discourse with his disciples, Jesus tells a short parable.
You might remember it. It’s about a master who went away, and when he came
back suddenly, he found some servants working and others sleeping.
Matthew 24 is a hard chapter to understand. Lots of the details are mysterious.
But this point is crystal clear—that the time of Christ’s coming cannot be known,
and it will be sudden, so be ready.
That seems to be the point Jesus is making here.
He’s says that when you see wars, famines and earthquakes—
First, do not be alarmed, disasters are a sign that it’s all under God’s control
and it’s going to be set right.
And second, disasters are a sign that judgment will come suddenly, unexpectedly,
so be ready. Be ready spiritually and morally.
Be repenting of your sins and fighting against them.
Be loving your neighbor. Obeying the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus is coming back and we don’t know when.
C.S. Lewis said:
“Precisely because we cannot predict the moment, we must be ready at all times. We must train ourselves to ask more and more often how the thing we are saying or doing or failing to do at each moment will look when the irresistible light streams in upon it. That irresistible light that is so different from the light of this world, that will reveal all things as they truly are. Women sometimes have the problem of judging by artificial electric lights how their clothing and makeup will look by the full light of the sun. That is what we have to do. We have to learn how to dress our souls not for the electric lights of the present world but for the daylight of the next one. The good dress is the one that will face that light, for that light will last forever.”
That a powerful image. You are living your life. Doing your thing.
And suddenly, the irresistible light streams in upon you.
Jesus’ coming reveals everything instantly.
You have no time to cover up.
There is no time to erase or hide or change anything.
All the changes you’ve said you will make—
Some day I’ll pray with my children.
Some day I’ll be more generous with my money.
Some day I’ll forgive that person and get over my bitterness.
That time is over and the Lord is here.
The owner of the house has come, and his servants are working or sleeping.
If you believe that, it’s a powerful motive for faithful living.
But it also presents a problem, doesn’t it?
The thought of Christ coming when we least expect him,
and the thought of that irresistible light streaming in upon us is frightening.
Will I be ready when he comes? What will be revealed?
If you have any self-awareness at all, the Second Coming itself is frightening.
See, it’s well and good for Jesus to tell us not be alarmed by disasters,
because he is coming back to set things right.
But when you think about him coming to set things right, that’s even scarier.
Because setting things right means judging what is wrong,
and there’s lots wrong with me!
Jesus says: Don’t let the owner of the house find you sleeping.
Knowing myself, and how much I sin every day—odds are he will!
I feel like the Psalmist who says:
“If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?”
So if that is how we are, and if that is how it is going to be,
Then how can you look at the Second Coming with anything but fear?
How can you not look at disasters and be filled with dread?
How can you not feel when disasters befall you that God
is punishing you for your sins?
There is only one way.
Have to see the cross of Jesus Christ in this sign of judgment.
Wars, famines, and earthquakes are not only foreshadowings of his coming,
they are depictions of his suffering for you.
On the cross God the Father went to war against his Son.
The wrath of God’s judgment fell on Jesus our substitute.
God’s war against your sin turned on Jesus.
And in those three terrible hours of darkness, Jesus experienced a famine of soul
when he cried: “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus got the famine of hell you deserve.
And there was an earthquake. Do you remember?
The earth shook as witness to the suffering of the Son of God
as his world of perfect fellowship with the Father was shaken.
His world was shaken so that you get a new world without tears.
On the cross, Jesus Christ, the good Son of God, who lived all of his life perfectly,
got war and famine and earthquake for you.
That’s the Gospel. That’s what makes Christ’s Second Coming good news.
When the Apostle John had his great vision of Revelation—
do you remember how he saw Jesus? As a lamb, looking as if it had been slain.
That’s how you can face the disasters in your life and know that God is not
punishing you—the cross. The punishment has been served.
The suffering you are facing now is just preparation for a world of love
And it’s through the cross that you can watch for the Second Coming,
and strive to be ready, strive to live a perfect life.
Jesus has turned the day of judgment into a day of vindication and joy.
How can you do anything less than obey him and be ready?
He’s delivered you from the day of disaster—how can you continue in your sins?
How can you not repent and obey?
CONC: Jesus is coming to judge the quick and the dead.
That’s how we say it in the Creed.
For many that will be a terrible day.
The irresistible light will stream in upon them,
and will expose fruitless deeds of darkness—and it will be too late.
All of their resolutions to be better people, will have come to nothing.
And unprepared, they will face the Judge.
But as believers we have better hopes:
Heidelberg Catechism asks:
What comfort does the return of Christ to judge the living and the dead give you?
This is the great answer:
That in all affliction and persecution I may await, with head held high,
the very Judge from heaven who has already submitted Himself
to the judgment of God for me
and has removed all the curse from me;
that He will cast all His enemies and mine into everlasting condemnation,
but He shall take me, together with all His elect,
to Himself into heavenly joy and glory.
Train yourself to think of his coming more often—
so that you will not be alarmed and panicked,
but calm and balanced in the face of all the turmoil of this age.
And so that you will be alert and watchful—
living a life of obedience by his grace, as you wait for him.