Signs of Hope (November 4, 2018) – Reformation
Signs of Hope
Often, in Sunday morning Bible class when I ask for prayer requests, we pray for people who have been tragically affected by terrible events. Forces of nature destroying livelihoods. Nations in upheaval. Individuals gunning down others. These times we live in are often scary! And in Bible class, when we bring up these kinds of things to pray for, we often say, “The end must be coming soon. How much worse can it get?”
What does the end mean to you? Is it a time of joy and excitement? Or is it a time of darkness and despair? When we listen to Jesus explain the end time, it certainly sounds scary. “Watch out that no one deceives you” (Mk 13:5). “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines” (Mk 13:8). “Be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues” (Mk 13:9). If you read a little farther, “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. Everyone will hate you because of me” (Mk 13:12-13). The end times certainly sound like a harsh and frightening time to live in.
Are we there yet? That’s often a question I hear. How near do you think we are to Jesus’ return? We look ahead to that moment and long for the day when the heavens will be rolled up like a scroll and the angels will raise us up and gather all those who believe to be with Jesus! We look forward to that day of hope wondering, is it soon? Well, let’s take a look at the signs. “Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many” (Mk 13:6). Have we seen false messiahs? Galilee was actually famous as a haven for such false messiahs. But only one fit the bill exactly. And he will return, just as he said, but obviously none in Galilee claiming to be him was the true Messiah. We have a variety of different types of false Messiahs today. There are individuals like Charles Manson and Rev. Moon who both claimed to be the Messiah ushering in the end of times. There are also cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, which claim to teach the real truths about Jesus contrary to what the Bible says. Finally, a false Messiah could even be a philosophy that seeks to replace Christ. In this sense it would be an “anti-christ” – taking the place of Christ. Evolution seeks to do that by eliminating the need for a Creator God entirely. Humanism seeks to do that by attaching prime importance to the human rather than the divine, saying that humans have the potential for goodness and salvation. And the truly sad part is that so many souls are eternally lost. That’s why Jesus warns us to watch out!
Another sign of the end is “wars and rumors of wars… Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Mk 13:7-8). I could point to any number of wars that would show this sign of the end is already taking place. A couple major ones, however, would include the World Wars, and the Cold War – when the whole planet was in upheaval or terrified that we would blow ourselves off the face of the planet. Finally, certain natural disasters are also mentioned as signs of the end. “There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines” (Mk 13:8). Do a simple google search and you can very quickly find websites listing famines and earthquakes dating back to when such events started being recorded. I even found a webpage listing “10 Terrible Famines in History.” The death toll in each of those is staggering!
And what’s the point of all of this? Why must these things take place? Why does Jesus tell us that these things will happen before the end? Is it to make us terrified? Is it to make us scared to venture out when we see the world at its worst? Is it to persuade us to faithfulness using fear tactics?! Not at all. Jesus tells you, “These are the beginning of birth pains” (Mk 13:8). So I’ll ask you, what are birth pain? Are they good or bad? Exciting, or terrifying? I’ve heard they are very painful. I’ve heard they are not fun to go through. My wife even says that women who have more than one child are especially brave because they already know the feeling. But after 9 months of pregnancy, uncomfortable sleeping, and difficulty doing everyday tasks like putting on shoes, the painful signs of birth also signify something exciting and wondrous! New life! Finally that little baby that you’ve been eagerly expecting will be in your arms in a short while. The occasion, though painful is an exciting one!
No wonder Jesus says that we should not be alarmed by such signs – terrible to endure as they are. These are the signs of new life! These are the signs not of an ending, but of a new beginning! You’ve been eagerly awaiting Christ’s return and your new life for a long time! The signs of the end time are to serve as encouragement that Jesus will come to give you new life, just as he said he would. Moreover, Jesus says, “Such things must happen” (Mk 13:7). These false prophets, wars, and natural disasters are not at all signs that God is losing his control. “These things must happen” reminds us that God has a hand on it. As we see these signs of the end fulfilling prophecy again and again we are reminded that Jesus said this would happen. Jesus said these things must happen. And as we see these signs, we are assured all the more that he will come, just as he said he would.
Jesus says it once again, “Be on your guard” (Mk 13:9). So he says, “Watch out” (Mk 13:5) for the signs of the end. It will seem like the world is at its worst, but really these are signs of anticipation and the end! Then he goes on to say, “Be on your guard!” These things won’t just be happening around you, they will be happening to you as well.
“Be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them” (Mk 13:9). Again, this doesn’t sound like a sign of hope. This doesn’t sound like something pleasant at all. And it’s coming. If it hasn’t happened to you already, its coming. Already, for our young people, they are facing this in college, high school, even middle school. Right now in catechism we are working our way through an apologetics course – that is, learning to defend your faith when others challenge you. We’ve talked about what to say when someone confronts you, asking, “Prove to me there is a God!” Or, “How can a ‘good’ God allow so much evil in the world.” And my catechism students, 8th graders, are facing some of these questions already. Yes, we find our proof in the Bible, but what if those putting you on trial don’t accept the Bible as proof? How do you disarm their attack so that they are more willing to listen to what you believe and might even start to consider what the Bible says? I actually presented on this at a recent Pastors’ Conference, and a fellow pastor actually commented that some university professors make it their goal to convince any Christians in their class that there is no God. “You must be on your guard” (Mk 13:9) Jesus said, because they will come to attack you with well thought out arguments. You must have a firm handle on God’s Word, because others will come to strip you of your beliefs.
When it was becoming too hard to deny that Jesus is who he says he is, the Jewish leaders had to get rid of him. He was thrown out of his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. They handed him over to the local council – the Sanhedrin. They had him stand before Herod and Pilate, governors and kings, to be sentenced to death. He endured being mistreated, mocked, flogged, and when his strength was all but gone, they forced him to carry his own cross to the place where he would be hung upon it to die. It was a dark time. So dark in fact that many of the disciples fled, hid behind locked doors, and were confused over what Jesus had taught them and what they believed.
But when it appeared that Jesus was at his darkest hour, God was actually working his best. He was bringing about the salvation of all people, tearing down the curtain of sin that separates us from God. He was paying the price to set you free! Praise be to God for this dark time. It has become our sign of hope!
A hammer could be heard driving the nails, in a different part of the world, at a different time. A man took his stand against the hypocrisy and errors he saw within the church. What hung with nails this time were 95 theses – statements which he believed the church had incorrectly. And Martin Luther’s intention was merely to bring the church back to God’s Word, to reform the church. But when he was summoned before a local council at the Diet of Worms, when he stood before governors, the local princes, and kings, the Holy Roman Emperor – Charles V, himself – it became clear that there would be no peaceful reformation. The church intended to shut him out and get rid of him. Martin Luther was condemned as a heretic – along with anyone who upheld his cause. On his way home, despite being promised safe passage, Martin Luther was kidnapped.
It was a dark time in Martin Luther’s life. It appeared that there would be no civil debate concerning God’s Word. People were out to get him, threatening his life. What was he even doing trying to go up against the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church? Yet in this dark time, God was actually working his best. It wasn’t enemies who kidnapped Martin Luther on his way home from the Diet. It was friends who took him to safety at the Wartburg, where Martin Luther would translate the New Testament into the common German language – making God’s Word accessible to many more. Moreover, God was preserving the purity of his Word from error and false prophets.
You see a pattern here, don’t you. Some of God’s best work is brought about through dark times. And make sure you understand that correctly. It’s God’s best work, not your best work. Jesus said, “Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit” (Mk 13:11). Martin Luther showed that to be true when he said, “I did nothing. I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. The Word did everything.”
So brothers and sisters, you have nothing to fear! Do you see the world getting worse? Do you see false prophets and false Christs? Are you confronted by your peers, or worried that very soon the authorities might put you on trial? Do not worry. “These things must happen” (Mk 13:7) and God is in control. “These are the beginning of birth pains” (Mk 13:8), signs of hope that Jesus is coming! But before that happens, “the gospel must be preached to all nations” (Mk 13:10). That’s what we are to focus on in these last days. Let us go forward using our time and talents, whatever the situation, to share the gospel! And do not worry about what to say. Because of dark times that have come already, you have the pure gospel! Because of dark times you face now, you may have opportunities to witness. What great thing will God do through you?