Preacher: Pastor Will Roberts
Sermon Title: Taken By Love
Matthew 24:13-50 New International Version (NIV)
13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 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.
15 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’[a] spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.
22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time.
26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.
29 “Immediately after the distress of those days
“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’[b]
30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth[c] will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.[d] 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it[e] is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
The Day and Hour Unknown
36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,[f] but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of.
The Good News: When we are taken by love we shall take away death’s sting
TAKEN BY LOVE
There is a lot going on in the news these days so it is easy for important stories to fall through the cracks. The Christian Newspaper, The Babylon Bee, reported one such story on June 28th, 2018. To quote the Bee, “A new series of Left Behind action figures released to commemorate the cult classic Christian film starring Kirk Cameron is in fact just a set of empty boxes, publicists at toy and collectible manufacturer NECA announced Thursday.
The boxes containing characters that were raptured at the start of the series actually just contain nothing but air, in a design that’s being called “bold and authentic” by toy reviewers.
“These figures will look great on any collector’s shelf,” a NECA rep said. “While Christian toy figures have traditionally been looked down on as ‘low end’ merchandise, we pulled out all the stops to make these figures something you can proudly set next to our DC Comics, Marvel, and other nerd culture lines of collectibles.” The rep stated that the very biggest names in the industry designed the intricate sculpts, each of which is hand-painted by a NECA artist.
“You’ll want to pick these up fast—don’t be left behind,” he added.
The company will also be releasing a collectible “Mark of the Beast” microchip you can really stick into your skin, and a deluxe Nicolae Carpathia figure with ominous cackling action, sources confirmed.”
While Left Behind action figures might be an ironic and amusing gift for parents to buy this Christmas season, they are in fact not a real thing. For those of you who don’t know the Babylon Bee is a satirical Christian Newspaper that often pokes fun at both secular and Christian culture.
During the advent season we celebrate the coming of Christ. Yes, the coming of Christ in the manger. But also the coming of Christ again in glory. Yet, If we are really accurate when Christ returns it will be his third coming. First, was Christ coming in the manger. The second coming, is described in our passage today, the coming of Christ as the Son of Man. The final coming we will neither know the day or the hour. Instead the Lord will come as a thief in the night, to judge the quick and the dead. And in the coming of the Son of Man I see good news.
The Good News: When we are taken by Love the Lord will use us to take away death’s sting. To understand this we have to understand two things.
- Who is being taken and why?
- How do we respond to being taken?
First, we need to understand who is being taken in this passage. We have been so influenced by the Left Behind series that we sometimes forget that Matthew wrote his Gospel thousands of years before these novels. Certainly, Time Leyhe and Jerry Jenkin’s were well intentioned in that they wrote their series because they wanted to apply God’s eternal word to our lives today. But we can’t apply God’s Word to our lives today unless we know what God’s Word meant when it was written. N.T Wright, a biblical scholar and author of The Gospel of Matthew for Everyone, points out that based on historical research and the surrounding text, Matthew isn’t talking about the return of Jesus in our time, instead Jesus is predicting the Judgment of God in the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem, which was fulfilled within his generation, in 70 A.D, when the Romans lay siege to Jerusalem and destroyed Herod’s Temple.
We don’t need to be Bible scholars to see that Jesus is talking about the destruction of the Temple in this passage. Once we push ideas about the Left Behind series out of our minds it becomes clear from the context. Earlier in Matthew 21 Jesus goes into the Temple and drives out the money changers, saying, “ It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer but you make it a den of robbers.” Mark has a more complete quote where Jesus says my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people. This quotes Isaiah 56, and is one of the scriptures that our church has chose to define itself by. Jesus was angry because the nations were not being allowed into the inner courts of God and because the money changers were charging excessive exchange rates to exchange pagan coins for coins that did not have pictures of the Roman Empire on it. Fundamentally God’s people were being racist towards non Jewish people and oppressing the poor. After cleansing the Temple Jesus is leaving Jerusalem and he sees a fig tree and he curses it because it has no fruit. The fig tree instantly withers. The fig tree is symbolic of Jerusalem which had rejected Jesus. The disciples are amazed by the fig tree dying. Jesus tells them, “ Truly I say to you if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done for you.” (Matthew 21:20). Jesus says this mountain. He does not mean a literal mountain but an obstacle to his ministry. The specific obstacle he is referring to is Mount Zion, the Temple, which had just rejected him. Jesus is saying that if he wanted to he could destroy the Temple with but a word. Instead, what he said was destroy this temple and I shall raise it in three days (John 2:19). People who heard this thought he was blaspheming the Temple so the religious leaders and Pilate crucified Jesus. But Jesus was referring to his own body which would replace the Temple as the place that mediated the presence of God to man. He proved this by rising from the dead in three days. But because Israel was not willing to repent of racism and oppressing the poor Jesus predicted that the Temple would be destroyed. The lesson of the fig tree was the Temple system would be judged within Jesus’ generation. And indeed, the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 A.D. Many of Jesus opponents who heard his words would have laughed at him. But they would have seen them fulfilled by the end of their lives.
Jesus compares the destruction of the Temple to the days of Noah. The story of Noah is not about people being raptured into heaven. Instead it is about people being swept away in a flood. The two men in the field and the one who is left behind most likely refers to followers of Christ who are taken to stand trial for their faith, rather than followers of Christ who are taken by the Lord to be spared from suffering. The Lord coming in this context, refers to God’s judgment for sin, which is death. While Jesus gives the particular reason for the Temple’s destruction in this passage, it is good to remember that we are not Jesus, and thus speculating on God’s intentions around current events is counter productive.
Jesus tells us that trying to pin down God’s intentions in disaster is beside the point in the Gospel of Luke. In Luke 13 we learn about some people that the Roman Governor Pilate crucified. We also learn about 18 people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell, perhaps in an earthquake. A group of people come to Jesus and ask him if those who died in such gruesome ways were worse sinners. Jesus replied, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise parish.” Jesus in his prophetic foresight knew that his people could not win an armed struggle against Rome. Also in his practical insight he knew that however we die we must all face death. The important thing is not how we die but whether we repent. The important thing is if we turn to Jesus the way the truth and the life.
So first, we see that who is being taken is God’s people. And they are being taken by death. The point of death is to remind us that at any time our lives may be demanded of us. When we see that our life can be demanded at us at any point the proper response is to repent. The question is how do we convince others to repent? Will people really repent if they see every Christian on Earth raptured into heaven? I don’t think so. I don’t think that is a correct interpretation of the scriptures. And even if it was Jesus performed many more amazing miracles than that and still not everyone believed. The Rapture is sort of the Christian way of saying, “I told you so.” But saying I told you so never helps in natural debates why would it help in eternal debates? Instead The Bible tells us that God’s patience and Kindness is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:24). Faced with trials in life. Faced with those who try our patience, those who we don’t feel are worthy of our kindness, we much rather be raptured into heaven than display God’s patience and kindness so that others may believe that we have been taken by love and that love is worth giving their lives to.
Before we can be kind we must embrace the discipline of patience. And to develop patience we must face suffering rather than wishing to be raptured from it. Carolyn Swallow Prior, a English Professor at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA, defines patience well in her book, On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books. “That “suffering” is the meaning of the root word for patience is made clear by the fact that we also use the word patient to refer to someone under medical care. The patient is someone “suffering” from an ailement- not merely waiting. Patient shares the same root as the word passion, which also means “suffering”. Someone who has a passion- a passion for music, a passion for soccer, a passion for a person- suffers on the behalf of that love. When we speak in the church about the “passion of Christ,” it literally refers to the suffering of Christ on the cross on our behalf.” Prior goes on to say this about patience, “ As connected as patience is to suffering, it is no wonder that, as theologian N. T Wright points out, we “applaud patience but prefer it to be a virtue that others possess.”
When we learn not to take ourselves out of suffering we can meet others with kindness in their suffering. Prior has this to say about kindness, “Kindness is unlike other virtues in that “we know exactly what it is, in most everyday situations; an yet our knowing what it is makes it easier to avoid.” We are profoundly ambivalent about kindness in that we “are never as kind as we want to be, but nothing outrages us more than people being unkind to us.”
Prior goes on to describe the origins of the word kindness. To quote Prior, “ kind means something radically different from mere agreeableness. Indeed, kind, rightly understood, can include all sorts of disagreeable. Kind comes from the same root from which we get the word kin. To be kind, then, is to treat someone like they are family. To possess the virtue of kindness is to be in the habit of treating all people as if they were family.”
My previous church taught me a lot about patience and kindness. Particularly one family taught me about patience and kindness. The husband worked for the city of Norfolk many years ago. Decades ago the husband had a horrible accident where he was nearly crushed by a garbage truck. He miraculously survived but he was never the same. His family, including his wonderful wife took care of him and his broken body for decades, until he finally succumbed to throat cancer shortly after I left my last church. I have seen so many elderly men and women in a similar situation. They are used to providing for themselves. They are used to being independent. And when they cannot provide for themselves they feel like a burden. Prior ends her chapter on Kindness by saying she wishes that the sick, scared, and depressed, who feel like the ones they love would be better off without them, could know one thing. To quote Prior, “ caring for these bodies we inhabit for a while-whether that care is of our own or someone else’s body- isn’t a distraction from what life is all about. It is what life is all about. In lieu of death, be kind to one another.” Advent is here. In this season we celebrate the fact that Christ came in a manger, he comes to remind us that our lives can be demanded of us at any moment, and he will come again in Glory. Soon Christmas will come. A time of great joy and good will to all people. But for many, like my friends back in Virginia, there may be a blue Christmas as they remember a loss of a loved one. It may be a blue Christmas for many who’s spirits and bodies are not working the way they want them to. We cannot escape death. Even we as Christians must face it. But we can declare the victory of Christ in the manger, overthrowing the corruption of the Temple, Rising from the dead, and coming again in glory. We can pass through death because there is one who has conquered the grave and taken away the sting of death. Though the earth may pass away Christ word will not pass away. When we focus on the passion of Christ his passion will strengthen us to be patient and Kind. Though the Earth be shaken we shall not be shaken. We shall take away the sting of death with our long suffering and tender kindness. And when we do others will repent around us for they shall see that we have not been taken up into heaven but we have been taken by love.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.