Dec. 15, 2002 - Sermon - THE BEGINNING OF THE END
THE BEGINNING OF THE END?
Central United Church
December 15, 2002
Text: “But in those days, after that distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give her light; the stars will come falling from the sky, the celestial powers will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory….”
Mark 13: 24 – 26 (See also Luke 21:25-28)
Do you remember the story of Chicken Licken?
It tells of a simple-minded, highly excitable, hen who is hit on the head by something falling out of a tree. Without taking time to investigate what hit her, Chicken Licken goes into a panic, and runs around the barnyard yelling;– “The sky is falling in! The sky is falling in!
Chicken Licken didn’t read the signs correctly.
Jesus also talked about the sky falling in., when He said: “But in those days, after that distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give her light; the stars will come falling from the sky, the celestial powers will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory….” So how are we to respond?
Several years ago, standing at the top of a hill in Israel, at a place known as Armageddon, I shuddered!
It was a beautiful day. It was quite warm, and there was nothing that I could see around me that would cause this emotional response. But nevertheless, I shuddered. I guess it was something in the back of my mind that reminded me of what the Bible says will happen at Armageddon.
Armageddon is a place, not a concept. Today, it’s also known as Har Megiddo, the Mount (or Hill) of Megiddo. It’s a place with a lot of history attached to it, because over the years it dominated a strategic point on the ancient trade routes, from the coastal plain to Galilee. What’s interesting about Armageddon, from a tourists point of view, is that this hill has been the site of countless civilizations, each built upon the remains of the former.
Time after time down through history, fortifications were built on the Mount of Megiddo, only to be knocked down by the next successful invasion force. Archeologists have had a field day in recent years, digging down through the ruins to discover what they can, of those by-gone civilizations.
But Armageddon has another claim to fame. It’s also the place named in the Book of Revelation where the final struggle between good and evil is to take place. (Rev. 16:13-16)
And so, you can see why I shuddered, as I stood on the hill amid those ancient fortifications.
In our text for this morning, Jesus is talking about the end of the world. He’s foretelling of a day when the people will faint with fear, and even “the celestial powers will be shaken”.
But, hearing these words, we might wonder, is Jesus taking on the role of a Chicken Licken? Is He failing to investigate the facts, and simply panicking because He thinks the end of the world is at hand? Or is there more to his words than would first appear?
We’re in the midst of Advent. The word means ‘coming’. Advent is a fore-warning of things to happen. It’s a time of anticipation. It’s a time when we prepare to celebrate, once again, the birth of Jesus. And as such, Advent marks the beginning of the Christian Church year.
But as our minds focus upon the first coming of Jesus, in Advent; its quite natural to think also of the second coming of Christ. And this brings us back, to the words of our text.
So, this morning, let’s examine what these apocalyptic words of Jesus have to say to us today?
I THE BATTLE BETWEEN GOOD & EVIL
In preparation for this sermon, I did an internet search on the word - ‘Armageddon’; and I came upon a weekly briefing on Israeli and Middle Eastern Affairs, posted on June 7, 2002. The statement described in grizzle detail, one of the many terrorist attacks on an Israeli bus, that had just occurred. In this particular situation, all but four of seventeen regular soldiers traveling on the bus, had been killed. Two of them, a young man and a young woman whose love was not given a chance, were found still embraced in death as in life. This was but another one of a host of tragedies that have occurred in this troubled land of Israel.
What made this tragedy stand out from others, was that it occurred at Megiddo Junction, just a few hundred yards to the south of Armageddon!
The Book of Revelation, (if we interpret its words literally) tells us that Armageddon will be the site of the final battle between good & evil.
President George Bush seems to be able to reduce atrocities, such as that which occurred on June 7th, to a simple struggle between good & evil, but I can’t! Surely, there is good and evil on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
But what is unnerving, is that these horrors are occurring so near to the infamous Armageddon.
Jesus said, there will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth. There will be distress among nations, and confusion caused by the roaring of the sea and waves. One can’t hear these words and not wonder, are the events currently unfolding in the Middle East, - the sounds announcing the end of the world?
Of course, we need to remember that according to countless predictions of the past, we shouldn’t be here right now. In the year 1000 A.D., for example, many prophets predicted the world was about to end. And I remember that when I was just a child, thousands of people (particular in the U.S.) sold everything they owned, and went off into high mountains on the west coast, believing the end of the world was at hand.
And we all remember the year 2000, and the Y2K scare. Maybe that wasn’t announcing the end of the world, but it might just as well have been, for all the fear it created. There have been thousands of these predictions, announcing the end of the world, but we’re still here!
After His resurrection, when Jesus ascended into heaven, His disciples firmly believed that He would soon return in glory. They expected His return to take place during their lifetimes. And thus they lived as if the end of the world was at hand.
Of course, they waited, and waited, and that catastrophic moment never happened!
Since then, the Christian Church around the world has been collectively holding its breath for nearly 2,000 years. Always waiting, always watching. But the time has not yet come. Not yet!
Jesus reminds us: “Of that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not even the Son. Only the Father.” (Mark 13:32)
II HIS WORDS WILL NOT PASS AWAY!
Advent is a time of preparation; preparation for the coming of Christ. But how should we prepare?
A good starting point is to remember how Jesus first came into the world. And we would do well to remember that He said: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Mark 13:31)
When Chicken Licken cried out that the sky was falling in, all the barnyard animals started running around, looking at the sky, in panic. That’s no good for us today. We can’t walk around with our heads raised to the sky waiting for the world to end at any moment. We’d look silly; and nothing would be accomplished by that. So what should we do?
The great Reformer, Martin Luther was once asked that very question. “What would you do, if you heard that Jesus was returning tomorrow?” Luther stunned his inquirer with the reply: “I’d plant a tree! I’d plant a tree for in all likelihood, the rumour would be untrue. After all, Jesus said that no one knows the hour or the day when He will return. No one but the Father.”
What was Luther’s logic in planting a tree? He reasoned that the best thing to do at any point in time, is to plan for the future. And if he was wrong, and Jesus did return, then at least, the Lord would find him caring for the earth!
Many might criticize the New Testament Christians for taking Jesus’ words too literally because they lived their lives in eager expectation; - expecting His coming at any moment. It’s obvious they were wrong!
Years passed, and still the end didn’t come. So what happened, many Christians lost their sense of expectation. And so today, multitudes of Christians no longer look for the second coming of Christ. And the result is that the buoyancy has fallen out of their faith. The excitement is gone.
We would do well to realize that the literal expectation of Christ’s return was only the husk, and not the kernel of New Testament doctrine. The essence of Jesus’ words was something much deeper. What Jesus was saying, was that God is acting, redeemingly in human history; and the conquest over good and evil will not be a battle involving the wits and muscle of men and women, but rather the power of almighty God.
“Heaven and earth will pass away,” said Jesus, “but my words (God’s words) will never pass away.”
III LIVE AS IF TODAY IS THE LAST DAY
People have been pointing to signs of the end of the world, almost since human history began. And there have been so many signs.
Thirty years after Jesus’ death, for example, the Roman Legions crushed the Jews in a horrific war that destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. How could that not have been a sign of the end?
Then later, there was the fall of the mighty Roman Empire? And later still, the rise and fall of the Nazi Empire? Were not these also signs of the end?
So what good are prophetic passages anyway? Why bother with Apocalyptic warnings, if we don’t see them coming true?
It would be well for us to remember that, today is the end of the world for some people. Today, is the last day of life for thousands, if not millions of people world wide. Many others will die tomorrow. For these people the end is very near.
And what about you and me? Everyone of us will face the end of our lives some day. We don’t have forever to think about Jesus Christ. We don’t have forever to give our life to Him. And in the battle between good and evil, there is a time and a place for every one of us to decide whose side we’re on, and that time is now!
Jesus’ words remind us that we don’t always have a later. We have to decide now. In whom do we believe?
Jesus was either the ‘Son of God’, or He wasn’t! If what He said is true, and He is the ‘Son of God’, then we have an opportunity to have a relationship with Him right now. And when we choose to have a relationship with Christ all that worry about the end of the world becomes totally irrelevant; because for us, Eternal Life can begin right now!
On the other hand, if you prefer to believe that Jesus wasn’t who He said He was, then that means, He was just plain crazy, and we should forget about Him and what He taught. It’s that straightforward.
Scriptural passages like the one we read from the Gospel of Mark this morning, remind us that we are at a cross roads; a time for decision. We can either accept, or reject, Jesus as our personal Saviour. But either way, the Kingdom of God is at hand.
Those who open their hearts and accept Christ, enter into the Kingdom of God here and now. Those who reject Him, will, like Chicken Licken run around the barnyard crying “The sky is falling in!” But offer no plan of action to deal with the crisis.
Chicken Licken repeated her warning so many times, and with such emotions, that virtually everyone in the barnyard believed her. Only the fox was shrewd enough to see the deception.
There are many people today, who would have us believe that the end of the world is at hand; the sky is falling in. But let’s take the Christian version, and change that cry into: “The Kingdom of God is near! The Kingdom of God is near!”
Because, whether Christ returns in glory in our life-time or not, the Kingdom of God is near, and it is available to everyone of us. The Kingdom of God is as near as a prayer. It’s as near as the bread and wine in a communion service. God is here among us. And the Kingdom of God is very near in deed.
So open your hearts and minds, and let the radiant power of God made known to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, surge through you with such transforming power that life eternal will be yours today today!