End times?

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Worship as Lifestyle, was given at The Salvation Army Devonport on Sunday 15 November, 2015. The Reading was Mark 13:1-13.

end-is-nearHear Ye! Hear Ye! The End is near! War is upon us! Syria is rising up against the world! Russia and the United States are arguing. Israel and Palestine! Earthquakes all over the world. Famines through Africa. A shortage of Baby Formula in China. Donald Trump being an US Presidential Candidate. Starbucks not putting Merry Christmas on their coffee cups. Bunnings rising up next to K&D. These are the end times people! Jesus is coming! Look Busy!

As the human race, we seem to have an addiction to wanting to know when the end of the world will happen. The Great Fount of All Knowledge, Wikipedia, lists 168 Apocalyptic predictions, dates when various people have predicted the end of the world would happen. There are also 13 future estimates currently listed, including three scientific predictions over when the earth will no longer be habitable.

Some of these predictions, we seem to laugh at – such as Harold Camping, who had six attempts at predicting the end of the world. But others are from people that we respect, such as Sir Isaac Newton, John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church from where The Salvation Army traces its lineage, and Martin Luther, the man who started the Reformation.

We want to know. We want to see Jesus. We want to know how much time we have left. We want to know whether it’s worth us doing the washing, or whether we’ll have enough clean pants to see us through…

Some of these prophecies were quite real. And there were people making these end times predictions in the days of Jesus. Here we have some “historical footage” of some of those prophecies.

We will never know when the end times are coming

While the Monty Python guys most certainly weren’t around in Jesus’ day, these prophecies were. The first recognised end times prophecy with a date was 66-70 CE, some 35 years after the death of Jesus. It was thought that the advancing Roman army who would eventually destroy Jerusalem would bring about the end of the world. We read of apocalyptic visions through the book of Daniel, and prophecies in Micah and Amos, and in the Apocryphal texts such as 2 Esdras.

So when Jesus is asked “What will be the sign that all these things will happen”, Jesus doesn’t give a date. He doesn’t tell them what will happen. He says to the disciples, “Beware that no one leads you astray.”

look-distractionJesus saw such predictions as a distraction. They distracted from the great work that God is doing here and now. He goes on to say that there will be things that others will attribute to the end times – People saying that they are Jesus, Wars and rumours of wars, natural disasters – but Jesus says to the disciples – that is not what will bring about the end of the world.

Jesus is saying to the disciples that it doesn’t matter when the end of the world will come. It doesn’t matter what events will precede it. And making predictions and the like is all a waste of time. What is more important is what we do now.

Jesus tells us to bring about God’s kingdom on earth – now

pope francis prayerThere’s a great quote attributed to Pope Francis – “First you Pray for the Hungry. Then you Feed them. That’s how prayer works.” It’s such a great idea that prayer isn’t just something that you do in private, but prayer drives us out to go and act on what we’ve just prayed. If that is the case – and I hazard a guess that it is – then what does that mean for us when we pray in the words of Jesus, saying “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We can pray those words and let Jesus do it, or we can take on Pope Francis’ idea, and we can do what Jesus says, and Bring about God’s kingdom.

We see that in what Jesus goes on to tell his disciples. He warns them, saying that they will be handed over to councils, to be beaten in synagogues, and stand before governors and kings – which is exactly what did happen to the Apostles, including Paul. But Jesus goes on to say “And the Gospel must first be proclaimed to all”. Jesus is saying, no matter what happens to you, make sure that the Word of God is present in everything that you do.

Now that part might make you uncomfortable. You might be going, “But Ben, I don’t want to be beaten up. I don’t want to get in trouble. That’s not what good Christians do!” And I’ll say to you that’s right. And while there are some places in the world where Christians are persecuted for preaching the Gospel, Australia isn’t one of those places.

But hey, it’s still scary right? It’s scary to step out and share your faith with someone. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be.

See, the best way to share your faith is to just be friends with someone. To get out there, make a relationship with someone and really care for them. To show them love, just as Jesus calls us to show love to all people. To live our own lives according to God’s command, and to wait for an opportunity. It could be them asking what you did on the weekend, “Oh, well, I went to Church. Hey, why don’t you come along next week.” It could be them asking “Why do you care so much?” Or it could be a time where a tragedy happens in their life, and you’re able to come along side them, just be with them, and maybe have an opportunity to pray for them.

And when that happens, to take up that opportunity and continue the relationship.

When we’re living according to God’s word, when we’re sharing the Gospel, when we’re loving all those that we come in contact with, when we’re caring for the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the destitute – that is when we see God’s Kingdom come on Earth, as it is in heaven.

General Andre Cox, in reflecting on the events that happened in Paris yesterday, wrote these words. “I urge you to pray for the Church, the body of Christ, of which our Salvation Army is a vital part. Pray that we will have the courage and the wisdom to fulfil our mission in these times, a mission given by Christ to be both proclaimers of his gospel and also ministers of his grace and love to all. To all… regardless of their culture, race or creed. We are brothers and sisters of one humanity. One humanity created, and loved, by God.”

We can celebrate God’s kingdom here and now

Imagine what we would be able to do if we were to all start doing that today. If we were to all talk to just one person, and invest in that one person. What would our church look like? We may not be many, but that could be 30-40 people who get shown real, authentic love. Imagine then, if every church across Devonport was doing this, how would our city look? Every church in Tasmania? How would our state look? What about every church in Australia? Every Church in the world? If just the Christians who attend church on a Sunday started, or continued doing this, imagine what our world would look like? It would really be God’s Kingdom come, on earth, as it is in Heaven.

And while you might still think of it as scary, realise that because we have faith, because we know that our God is real, that we have already won, because God has already won. We don’t have to worry, because we know that God, who is all-powerful, and has everything in his control, has already paid the price, has already forgiven all our sins, and our victory is certain. All we need to do is to partner with him and allow ourselves to be open to the glorious work that God is going to do.

bugatti-veyron-super-sport-Let me tell you a story. There was a boy, and he came from a very well to do family. He was the youngest of his three brothers, and he had already watched his three brothers go through college, get their degree’s and become lawyers. He saw that as they graduated, his father had bought them a very expensive, top of the line sports car. His path was the same. He worked hard through school, and got a place in a prestigious college. He worked hard through college, and graduated at the top of his class. His dad came over to him after graduation and presented him with a present. He ripped off the wrapping paper, expecting to find the keys to a brand new Bugatti Veyron, and instead, he found… a Bible. He was so angry. He stormed off, and never talked to his dad again. Well, many years went by, and eventually the Father passed away. His brother called him and told him the news. He went over to the book case, and for the first time opened that bible that his father had given him. Inside, the father had written, “My son, I am, and always have been, incredibly proud of you. You’ll find your car at the dealer’s – all you need to do is pick it up.”

The present was always there. It was always his. In the same way, our prize – God’s kingdom – is always ours. It’s always here. We can enjoy it now, or we can enjoy it at the world’s end. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to have God’s kingdom here and now.

Go and do

So go. Go and show God’s love to all people. Go and share God’s word to those who need it – that is, everyone. Go and bring about God’s kingdom here on earth, as it is in heaven.

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