Expository Sermon on Matthew 24
Bellevue SDA Church 8/18/2018
©2018 by Maylan Schurch
To hear hear the audio for this sermon, click the little white triangular “play” button on the line just below.
Please open your Bibles again to Matthew chapter 24.
This is another sermon in this year’s “Red Print” series. This year we’ve been looking at the very words Jesus actually spoke, which I believe is the best way to get right to His heart, and find out His agenda for us.
A lot of Christians, when they hear the phrase “Matthew 24,” think, “Oh-oh. Here we go again. We’re going to hear about wars and rumors of wars, and earthquakes, and famines.”
True, all of those things are in Matthew 24. In fact, most Christians who believe their Bibles agree that we are living during the time Matthew 24 speaks about. We are living “through” Matthew 24. Nations are rising against nations. This week I heard the news that Chinese pilots are most likely being trained to specifically target the United States. Along with that news came the suggestion that China is actively seeking to replace the United States as the world superpower. In a way, this is nothing new, because both the Soviet Union and China have often had that goal, but the bottom line is that we are not becoming a more civilized, intelligent, kindly planet.
And we have not become a planet which has decided to work full-throttle to eradicate famine and disease. And we are still a planet where earthquakes hiccup and volcanoes belch all around the globe. A great bridge falls in Italy. Somehow a bomb that the United States sold legitimately to the Saudi Arabians was acquired by terrorists who blew it up and killed 40 children.
So here we are, moving through Matthew 24. But even though Jesus utters a lot of doom and gloom in these verses, He also tells us how to survive, and even thrive, during these times. And that’s what I would like to focus on this morning.
Let’s look at Jesus’ first survival principle.
Matthew 24:1 – 2 [NKJV]: Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
Jesus’ death on the cross is less than a week away. He has just finished doing some teaching in the Temple, saying some very important things, and as He starts to leave, the disciples try to give Him a quick tour of the Temple complex, probably to show Him the latest improvements. After all, even though workers have been constructing it for 46 years, the Temple was still a work in progress.
But Jesus gives them the absolutely stunning news that this temple would be destroyed. The disciples could not know that in three decades, at the hands of the Roman general Titus, but that’s exactly what would happen. In A.D. 70, all these beautiful buildings would be literally flattened.
Because we know the end of this story, Jesus’ news could never hit us with the same shock as it hit the disciples. But we can draw from it Jesus’ first principle for surviving and thriving during these terrible times. Because we are in Matthew 24, just as they would shortly be. Matthew 24 talks about the signs which preceded Jesus’ coming. Jesus has not come yet, so we are still somewhere within these verses. We’re not worrying about a temple being destroyed – that happened a long time ago – but we are waiting for Jesus’ return.
So here comes Sermon Point One, in case you’re taking notes. Here is Jesus’ first principle for surviving and thriving during this time of crisis.
Lose your faith in buildings.
Over the last year or year and a half, the Redfield, South Dakota high school class–which graduated the year I would have graduated if I had attended there my senior year–these alumni have been nostalgically thinking about that old high school building, and taking photos of its various stages of destruction, so that it could make way for a new building.
As I mentioned, I didn’t attend all four years there – just my sophomore year – but I can still recall memories I made within those walls.
Of course, my fellow alumni know that the old must be demolished and replaced with the new, if education is to continue. But there are other buildings we can sometimes put too much faith in. How about banks—here or overseas? How about the mortgage lending companies about 10 years ago? How about great corporations which have lasted a long time – until something happens and they’re gone? How about the great steel foundries, and the coal companies?
So how can I survive and thrive in these Matthew 24 days? I think it would be a good idea to take a little mental inventory of the buildings I might be putting too much faith in. I mean, for the disciples, that Jerusalem Temple wasn’t just any ordinary building – it was THE building, where the presence of God supposedly dwelt, the building you came to with your sacrifices for forgiveness of sins. But even this magnificent building was doomed to destruction.
The disciple Peter, who is one of those disciples standing there listening to Jesus’ prediction, would later write some very important words which it’s good to keep in mind. They’re found in second Peter, chapter 3.
2 Peter 3:10: But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.
So let’s not put our faith in buildings – let’s put our faith in Jesus. With Him, not only can we survive Matthew 24, but He can help us thrive. How can we thrive? Because we have faith in a God who is eternal, and who loves us, and who has proved it.
The now let’s move on to Jesus’ second survival and thriving principle.
Matthew 24:3 – 5: Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.
What is Jesus’ second Matthew 24 survive-and-thrive principle?
Not only should you and I Lose our faith in buildings, but we should lose our faith in gurus.
What’s a guru? The dictionary calls gurus “trusted advisors or mentors.”
Back when I was a kid, our family was friends with another family who lived on a farm several miles away from us. They were Christians, as we were, but their faith took a different direction from ours. They did not attend any church, but the mom would send off to someplace in the South for reel-to-reel tape recordings of a certain hellfire-and-brimstone preacher. And that’s who that family would listen to for their worship services, Sunday mornings, right there in their home.
I got a chance to listen to part of one of those recordings, and it was surprising, and very frightening. I mean, the man on the tape was shouting and screaming so loud that he was mostly incoherent. I had been playing with some of the kids in that family in another room that morning, and I paused to listen for a couple of minutes, trying to make out what he was saying. But aside from his obsession with hellfire and brimstone, I couldn’t. And as I finally went back to playing with the other kids, I could still hear those hoarse screams.
I don’t know why the mother, especially, was attracted to this pastor. I’m assuming that she must have considered that somebody who shouted so loudly must have an important message, or he wouldn’t be using so much energy to get it across. And maybe, week after week, as she tried to understand the messages, maybe she was saying to herself, “Well, I’m probably not spiritual enough. Maybe the Lord wants to put me through this trial of trying to figure this pastor out. Maybe it will develop my patience, make me a better Christian.”
Well, this reel-to-reel pastor never became my guru. But I have had other gurus, human beings whom I looked up to. Metropolitan Opera lead tenor Richard Tucker was my guru from afar – I listened to every one of his recordings I could get my hands on. I still have a concert program which he personally signed for me, using a borrowed blue ballpoint pen which barely worked.
I’m hoping that Richard Tucker wasn’t a dangerous guru. But there are some definitely dangerous gurus out there these days. They can either distract us from focusing on more important things God is trying to teach us about, or they may be downright dangerous.
How do you know who your gurus are? It’s very simple to figure out. Whose voices get the most playtime in your ears? What talkshows do you listen to? Are you getting your ideas, or your news, from a single source, or a spectrum of sources? Who are the authors of books you buy, or the audio books you listen to in the car?
This past Monday at a pastors’ meeting I was chatting with a Russian Adventist pastor. He told me that there are two basic kinds of people he meets up with in his pastoral work. The first kind are the atheists – those who were raised to have no faith in God or religion. The other kind are those who have been deeply indoctrinated in a particular Protestant Christian faith.
And he told me that the atheists are often the easiest people to introduce to the Bible. Generally, an educated atheist is someone who has learned to use his or her mind, to look at ideas thoughtfully, and to be able to reason things through. If such a person is introduced to God in a credible way, that person might be willing to be open to new information. But this pastor told me that the indoctrinated Christians are pretty set in their ways. Even though they profess to believe the Bible, they will ignore things in the Bible that don’t agree with what their particular favorite “guru”—a pastor or other religious teacher–has taught them.
We need to learn to think for ourselves. Every once in a while, during this Red Print sermon series, we’ve seen Jesus do some close reasoning with His adversaries, and He will often come up with reasoning they have no response to, because even though what He says makes sense, they don’t want to change their own opinions.
There’s a phenomenon that is pretty chilling. And it is this. Whoever gets to you first with an idea has the most power over you. Racism in the United States and around the world is a dreadful reality. And generally it’s because somebody got to you first, when you were really young, and innocent, with ideas that go directly against what God said in the Bible.
And that’s really the most important way to defend yourself against gurus, even gurus who really believe what they’re talking about. You and I need to read our Bibles regularly. Years ago I learned a plan that a lot of Christians have used over the years. If you read five Psalms in the morning, and one chapter of Proverbs in the evening, you will make it through both Psalms and Proverbs in a single month. Some people do that over and over. What they’re doing, of course, is bracing their minds with a clearer picture of God and what He is like, and common-sense reasoning, so that when the gurus come along with their blandishments, these Bible readers will be able to brush those ideas away with confident contempt.
And of course the gurus Jesus is speaking of in this chapter are the ones who speak in His name, and may even claim to be the Messiah Himself. And those are the most dangerous gurus of all.
Now for Jesus’ third important principle.
Verses 6 – 14: And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.
What is Jesus’ next surviving-and-thriving Matthew 24 principle? It might be the most difficult one of all.
Not only should you and I lose our faith in buildings, and lose our faith in any gurus which distract us—or lead us away—from Jesus, but you and I need to lose our fear.
Easier said than done, right? Verse six tells us that, in the midst of all of this last-day trauma, we should not be troubled.
But notice something really interesting, something I didn’t realize until reading these verses again this week. Verse six not only tells us not to be troubled, but the same verse tells us HOW not to be troubled. Look at it again.
Verse 6: And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled . . . .
This verse is very interesting. Why? Because Jesus could just as easily have said, “Do not be troubled.” But instead – and it’s right there in the Greek – He says, “SEE that you are not trouble.” There is one of the Greek words for seeing, right there.
After all, what are the reasons we are most likely to be afraid of something or someone? Well, if we don’t feel safe, we can be afraid. If we don’t feel like we’re in control, that can lead to fear. If we have a lack of knowledge, that can make us afraid too, even though we may not need to be afraid.
At night, I’m driving along my car, and I look up through the windshield and see the moon. But, up there off to the side of the moon, then off to the side I see what looks like a very bright star, part of it flashing red, moving swiftly through the sky. Now, if my great-grandparents had ever looked up into the sky and saw that, they would be very afraid. They wouldn’t be afraid of the moon, because they were familiar with that, but they would consider the strange bright comet with the tiny red light beside the big bright light either an omen from God or a visitor from another world, or something caused by Satan.
So how do I deal with my fears? I think I need to follow Jesus’ advice literally and keep my eyes open. He says, “See that you not be troubled,” which to me means, keep your eyes open. Be alert. With those open eyes, look clearly not only at what’s happening, but at what the Bible says about what’s happening.
Read the stories about Jesus. Read what Jesus Himself said. Read in John chapter 6 how Jesus came walking toward His disciples on the water of Lake Galilee at midnight. People can’t walk on water, as the those former fishermen clearly understood, but here came somebody walking toward them on the water. They were afraid. But in John 6:50 Jesus calls out to them and says, “Be of good cheer. It is I; do not be afraid.”
So there, the disciples were afraid of the unknown. But when Jesus introduced Himself, Peter quickly lost his fear, and even dared Jesus to tell him to walk on water too. In the Matthew 14 version of that story, Peter starts walking on the water, but then looks around, and takes his eyes off Jesus, and gets really afraid, and then sinks.
So in Matthew 24, when Jesus says “See that you are not troubled,” He seems to be telling us to keep our eyes open – and to keep them focused on Him, and the things the Bible says He does, and the things the Bible says He says. “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look for in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”
If you glance down at verse 13, Jesus says something else about making it through these tough times.
Verse 13: But he who endures to the end shall be saved.
So if Jesus tells us to endure to the end, it must be possible for us to endure to the end. He wouldn’t tell us something that’s impossible to do. But we need to remember to do it Jesus’ way. We need to devote our hearts to follow Him. We need to read what it says about Him in the Bible. We need to find out what He promised to people, then we need to claim those promises.
And what’s equally important, we need to have broad enough view of what the Bible says that we don’t pick our favorite text, take it out of its context, and rely only on it. We need to remember that God doesn’t always answer our prayers with a “yes.” He sometimes gives us better, eternity-oriented answers than the ones we hope for.
I’m going to look at just one more principle Jesus gives, about how to survive and thrive through these Matthew 24 times were living in.
First let’s listen as Jesus describes His return:
Verses 30 – 31: Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
So there it is – the event that will change history. Christians have longed for Jesus’ return for centuries. God has longed to reunite with us.
Which of course is the perfect moment to let Jesus tell us His fourth principle about how to survive and thrive during the time just before His return. Let’s go down to verse 36.
Verses 36 – 41: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.
Traumatic events, right? We need to hear another survival principle from the lips of the Savior.
Verse 42 – 44: Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
So what is Jesus’ fourth principle?
Not only should you and I lose our faith in buildings, and in any gurus which distract us—or lead us away—from Jesus, and not only do you and I need to lose our fear, but we need to lose our apathy.
What’s apathy? The dictionary defines it this way: “lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern.” If you’re apathetic, you don’t care. The word apathy comes from the Greek word meaning “without feeling.” Literally, it translates as “un-feeling,” or “feeling-less.”
Later, Jesus will inspire another of the disciples who heard His words in Matthew 24–the disciple John–to write the book of Revelation. In Revelation chapter 3, Jesus has just warnings for the church of Laodicea. This was the apathetic church, the uncaring church. And what’s interesting is that the Laodiceans simply do not have their eyes open. They can’t see how spiritually impoverished they were. They thought they were doing fine. They thought they were spiritually rich. But Jesus tells them they are poor, miserable, blind, and naked. And then He offers them eye ointment so that they will be able to see clearly.
So when Jesus urges us to lose our apathy, how do we do this? We do this by staying alert, keeping awake, studying the signs that are happening all around us, not with fear but with caution and understanding. Again, Matthew 24 shows us that Jesus says will happen so that we can gaze triumphantly through the intimidating verses of Matthew 24, gaze triumphantly through to the Savior coming in the clouds of heaven.
Can we do that? Would you like to raise your hand with me if you would like to ask the Holy Spirit to clear up your vision so you can fearlessly step forward and attract others to Jesus as well?