Christ's Words: Their Clarity, Immediacy, Difficulty, and Eternity (Matthew Sermon 128 of 151)
June 27, 2010 | Andy Davis
The Doctrine of Scripture, The Word of God
I am so excited to preach on this passage today. All morning long, I've just been excited for this time and just captivated by Jesus' statement concerning his own word, and I don't wanna get ahead of myself, but just the beauty and the power of the words of Christ just has captivated my heart, and I have a sense of the tremendous and immense privilege I have week by week to minister and open up the word. I love that song we just sang, it just moves me. One word in particular. Food, the word “food.” I want to feed you with the word of God today, that's what I want. I want the food of the word of God to just be in your systems when you walk away today. And that's my prayer as we look at Matthew 24:32-35.
As I come to this passage, I think about this one question: what is permanent and what is temporary? While flowers are temporary, I think we all know that, their beauty lasts just a few days and they wither. Morning mist is temporary, the sun rises and its heat scorches the mist and it's gone. So also at a different season, the morning frost, temporary again, sun melts it and it's gone. Movement of the wind as it goes north or south, east or west is temporary, soon it's blowing a different direction, the gust blows leaves flutter, then it's gone the moment has passed.
All of these things are temporary. Then the real question for us is, what is permanent? What is eternal? Is the ground beneath our feet permanent? Is the Atlantic Ocean permanent? Are the Rocky Mountains? Are they permanent? How about the sun and the moon and the stars? Are they forever?
Recently here in America, the striking events of history have been brought home with painful reality, the impermanence of the world around us in one stunning moment, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center melted before eyes and were gone. Completely gone, disappeared forever from the face of the Earth. In five shocking minutes, an earthquake shook the city of Port-au-Prince in Haiti and reduced much of it to rubble, snuffing out many lives in the process, causing everyone who lived there to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that even the ground beneath their feet is not permanent, and neither is life in this world.
Could it be that the most permanent thing in this universe is something invisible: a word, or actually words, spoken 2,000 years ago by Jesus”? Look at verse 35, “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” What is a word? Is it an invisible thing, the sound of a whisper in the wind that floats to the air and causes your eardrums to vibrate for a second and then it disappears like a faint echo in a cavern? Is that what a word is? Is a word anything more than a fleeting shadow of reality, something like a nothing?
For many of us, I think words would be the very picture of impermanence, something that lasts only as long as we hear it and then it's gone. But Jesus here said his words will last forever. But that Heaven and Earth won't. He makes an assertion here, “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
Now, the context of that statement, I think couldn't be more powerful, remember that Jesus has predicted the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem. As they're coming out of the city, the disciples are in awe of the temple building and all of its massive stones, and by extension, Jerusalem. What massive stones, they're so impressed. And Jesus says in Matthew 24:2, “Do you see all these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another, every one will be thrown down.” Do you realize that in verse 35 of this chapter, Jesus is saying the same thing about these stones too, they're all gonna get thrown down, all of them, not just in Jerusalem, but all over the world. Everything that man has erected will be, as it says in Daniel 2, blown away like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer and not a trace will be left. It's all gonna be gone.
Well, the disciples obviously are fascinated by this statement that Jesus makes, and they come to him privately on the Mount of Olives and they say, “Tell us, when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And for this whole chapter, Jesus has been answering that three-part question, in verses 4-14, I think as I've described before, Jesus describes in very general terms, what life will be like on this Earth, this sin-cursed world, from the first to the second comings of Christ. There'll be wars and rumors of wars, there'll be famines and earthquakes in various places. He describes the special and vicious persecution of the church and the apostasy in the church, many will betray the faith and will turn against each other.
He talks about the need to stand firm to the end, those that stand firm to the end will be saved. Very difficult time to come, and He gives us this beautiful prediction or predictive indicator of the progress of the kingdom. “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” So as the gospel makes its progress throughout the world, then we're getting closer to the end of the world, verses 4-14.
Then verses 15-25, he describes the special circumstances surrounding first, I believe the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, under the Romans. And then as I preached in great detail, a re-establishment of the temple, an establishment of the abomination of desolation spoken of the prophet Daniel, I believe the coming of the antichrist and some special and vicious and terrible tribulations and persecutions that will come connected with that as well. We see the re-enactment as it was, so it will be. It's going to happen again, and the fleeing those in Judea up to the mountains no one having time to go down in the house to get anything out of their house, no one having time to go back to get anything out of that, even the cloak, they've got to just run for their lives because of the terrors of that time. As it was in the days of the Romans, and so it will be at the end of the world, I believe.
And then in verses 26-31, the description of the actual events right toward the end, the second coming of Christ described. It will be no secret coming, it will be visible from one end of the sky to the other, like lightning that flashes from the east visible even in the west. You don't have to go out in the desert to see it, nobody's gonna need special training, you don't need any faith. You don't need anything, you just need to look up and you will. If you're alive at that time, look up and so will everyone. And every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. and all the peoples of the Earth will mourn because of him. “And immediately after the distress of those days,” says Jesus, “The sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. ... And they will see the sign of the Son of Man appearing in the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.”
Jesus will return. And all the nations of the Earth will mourn. And he will send out his angels. Last week, we talked about this, and they will gather the elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. So we come to this section of scripture that we're looking at today and what a shock it must have been to these Jewish disciples of Jesus. They thought that the temple city of Jerusalem would last forever. Jesus revealed that they're actually going to be destroyed, and so this question of then, what's permanent, must be in their minds. When will this happen? They still wanna know, and if this is impermanent than what is permanent? What can I build my life on? What is going to last here?
Now, concerning the first of those two questions: When will this happen? The answer he gives for the rest of the chapter is really two-fold. First of all, he's going to say, look for the signs, add up the signs. I've been telling you some specific details. When you see these things happening, look for these signs, you'll see a progress toward the end of the world. We'll be able to lay it out. We'll be able to connect the dots. Look at those signs, add up the signs. And secondly, he says that he's coming like a thief in the night, and no one's gonna know exactly when. So we have to be ready at any time.
Concerning what is permanent, what can I build my life upon? As I look at these four verses that we're studying today, I think the unifying theme of today's sermon is not so much the timing of Christ coming, but rather the trustworthiness of Christ's words. We're going to look at the words of Christ today. The word of Christ in its power, the word of Christ, in its clarity, in its immediacy, in its difficulty, and in its eternity, its permanence. And in the end, all we have as we look ahead to the second coming of Christ are the words of Christ, Amen, that's what we have. Spoken, either by him or by his apostles. We know nothing about the second coming of Christ apart from the words, and so we've got to cling to these words so we can know how to be ready and be filled with joy at his coming and not be ashamed. And so we must cling to the words of Christ.
Clarity: The Parable of the Fig Tree
The “Parable” of the Fig Tree
So let's look first at this issue of the clarity of Christ's words, and we have immediately this parable of the fig tree. Look at verse 32 and 33, it says, “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. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.”
So we have this parable, he doesn't call it that, but this parable of the fig tree. Jesus frequently used just homely, everyday physical things in life to teach spiritual principles, parables. Parables are really fascinating teaching tools. They're really kind of amazing, actually. Some people think parables were given to make things clear. Well, that's not entirely true, they're given to make things clear for the church to the insiders, to the believers, they actually make things more difficult for the outsiders. They led people in Jesus' day to think he was nuts. He would say these things and it would be like, these are the sayings of a demon-possessed man, he's crazy. And if you think that's a strange reaction, then just try it sometimes I've told you this before, just take one of the parables of Jesus and go to an average person in the street, talk to somebody until you find somebody who never goes to church, just an unbeliever, never went to church, whatever, just an average American pagan.
You just go up to them and just tell them the words of a parable. The kingdom of heaven is like a seed that a man sowed in his garden, and it grew up and it got bigger and bigger like this tree until the birds came and nested in its branches. “You are nuts. Is that all you wanted to say to me?” “No, that's it. Well, he who has ears to hear, let him hear. Does that help you?” “I guess I don't have ears.” “Oh, may God give you ears to hear.” Because what happens is the disciples didn't get it either, what did they do? Like humble spiritual beggars, they went back to Jesus and said, “What does this mean? I don't get it.” And then he explained everything in detail, he said, “The outsiders get it in parables, the insiders have the good sense to come and ask me, and I just open up my hand and I satisfy the desire of every living thing. You ask, and I'll tell. If any man lack wisdom, let him come to Jesus and he will make it very clear."
And then the parables become the clearest of all Jesus' teaching tools, extremely memorable, very efficient. Kingdom of heaven, like yeast that a woman makes into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough. A very efficient way of talking about how the gospel is gonna spread to the ends of the Earth in a very hidden, and secret way that people will not be able to see. And how it spreads to your own individual life from inside until it conquers everything you are. That's a very efficient teaching tool. That's the way the parables work.
Agricultural Parables: Things Take Time to Develop
What about this parable of the fig tree? Well, the whole thing about agricultural parables is that there are some things that God has ordained that take time to develop. They don't come overnight. They don't come instantly. God says, “Let there be light,” and there's light. But in Genesis 2, he creates a certain species of herbs and plants that require human cultivation, and so while he creates the genetic pattern for those, they're not all there immediately and they need some time to develop.
And so it is with these agricultural parables. The fig tree has to develop, we're in a history here, developing movement. We have to look at the movement, the development. As soon as you see its twigs get tender and its leaves come out you know that summer is near. So when you see some simple things happening in the spring. Here in North Carolina, the leaves come up very quickly, don't they? And when you see just the explosion of green, you basically know that winter's over. Summer is coming very soon. You just know that. You just know these things, and Jesus is saying the same thing. You know this, don't you? And so when you see all these things, you know that the end is imminent, it's near. That's what he's saying very simply.
“All These Things”: The Signs Christ Has Already Given
And so what does he mean by “all these things”? Well, that's quite a question and we'll get into that, but basically the signs that the Christ has already given: Wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes in various places, apostasy, persecution of the church, standing firm to the end, gospel preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, abomination of desolation, people running for their lives, and then the celestial signs that we talked about. When you see all of that then Jesus is coming back. So when you see all of these things, you know that it is near, it's imminent. All those signs point to the imminent return of Christ and makes it clear.
The Fig Tree: Is It Israel?
Now, the fig tree, what is the budding of the fig tree? Some would simply say, “Look, you've got it, you don't have to say anything more, Pastor Davis, you've already explained the agricultural thing, just when you see all this.” But now I go a little deeper, I say, “In the Bible, fig tree represents Israel.” And it may actually, there are numbers of indicators that from time to time, God actually does assign that kind of a thing. Sometimes Israel's like a vineyard surrounded by a rocky wall, but a lot of times there's this agricultural idea.
They point to Jeremiah 24, in which Jeremiah is shown, two baskets of figs, one of them really, really good, ripe succulent figs and the other one, other basket just wretched so bad they could not be eaten, and the good figs represent the Jews that are gonna be restored to the promised land. And the bad figs are those that are going to be destroyed, and so they say, “Okay, then the figs represent... The budding of the fig tree represents the coming back of the Jews to the Promised Land.”
Or they'll say, Jesus' parable of the fig tree in Luke 13, when there's this fig tree as you remember that doesn't bear any fruit and he's about to cut it down, he's had it with this fig tree, and the gardener says, “No, wait a minute, just give me a little more time, let me dig around it, let me put some fertilizer down and give it a year, and if it bears fruit, fine, if not, then cut it down.” So they say that represents Israel and its fruitlessness.
Or, even more poignantly, in Matthew's gospel, after the triumphal entry, Jesus goes into the temple and looks around and goes back to, I think, Gethsemane and spends the night and then comes back the next morning and on route sees a fig tree and he's hungry and he goes up and finds nothing but leaves. And he curses the fig tree and he says, “May you never bear fruit again,” and immediately the fig tree withers. And again, the timing, it just seems to be that the tree seems to represent the Jewish nation.
And so from this, some Christians conclude that the budding of the fig tree, should be in some way connected to Israel or the re-establishment of the Jewish state in Israel in 1948. On May 14th, 1948, they said, “This is the budding of the fig tree.” And then that set somewhat of a time table for the return of Christ, they link it then with verse 34, when he says, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” And so they say, “Within one generation of 1948, Jesus will return.”
So some Dispensational Premillennialists and Christian Zionists and others take this approach and really set the clock at that moment. It may well be. My final word on that is maybe. Maybe. It maybe that there will be some people who will be alive on earth at both of those events, both the re-establishment of Zionist Israel in Palestine, 1948 and a second coming of Christ. That is possible, but if that whole generation should die out, I don't necessarily think that Matthew 24 isn't true. In other words, it's not a sure and certain interpretation of this.
Furthermore, it has been 62 years since that and counting, continuing to go on. Some people thought, what is a generation? They give you numbers like 25, they give you numbers like 40. Remember 88 Reasons that the Rapture Would Happen in 1988? I'll talk about that a little bit next week, but date setters love this budding of the fig tree thing, and they say, within that 40 years, Israel wandered for 40 years in the desert, said that pamphlet. And it's 40 years from the crucifixion of Christ to the destruction of Jerusalem, said the pamphlet. So one more 40-year period, it's 1948 to 1988. Well, friends, we're still here. Alright, the Lord is definitely gonna come back at some point, but I know one thing for certain. He's not coming back in 1988.
Alright, I definitely can make that - Is that a prediction? I don't think that's even a prediction at this point, a post-diction. Okay? He didn't return. Does that mean the budding of fig tree is not Israel? I'm not saying that. Does that mean that the re-establishment of the Jews and the promised land is not significant? I am definitely not saying that friends, everything's significant, especially when it comes to the Jews. But I cannot go any further. Shall we move on? Okay, let's move on.
The clarity then is, look at the whole chapter. Look at what Jesus has said. Especially friends, look at verse 14, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations.” Measure it that way, by the spread of the gospel around the world. Unreached people groups, missions, do it that way. Clarity.
Immediacy: Near... Right at the Door
“Right at the Door”: A Sense of Immediacy
Secondly, immediacy. What does Jesus mean when he says, “When you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.” I wanna zero in on this phrase, “Right at the door.” The immediacy of the second coming of Christ. There is a sense of immediacy, Jesus' return would be imminent after all these things occurred. But he's also gonna say at the end of this chapter, we should always carry around in our hearts a sense of the imminence of the return of Christ, a sense of the immediacy of it.
And don't be disillusioned, then, to study church history and find out that seventh century christians had a sense of the immediacy of the return of Christ and that they were convinced it could be in their lifetime, they should be ready at any moment. Like, “Boy, they were a bunch of fools.” No, they were being obedient. The Lord wanted the seventh century christians to be ready for the imminent return of Christ. How do we do that? How do we put all this together? A sense of the immediacy of Christ. A sense of this phrase, “right at the door” is used in James 5:9, where it says, “Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The judge is standing at the door.” He's right there at the door. He's ready to just open the door and come in. So don't have conflicts with each other, dear friends, because Jesus is right there. In him, we live and move and have our being. We need a sense of the imminence of Christ and of his return.
An Immediate Encounter with Christ
And so we need, in some sense, every day, an immediate encounter with Jesus Christ. You need a sense that he is right at the door, he's right there, and why? Because you will live differently if you do. How do we get that? Well, I'm telling you, the word of Christ is the only thing that can do that for you. It's only by consistently being in the word, that your faith is strengthened. I love that hymn we sing. “Cause our faith to rise.” Keith Getty and Stewart Townend wrote it, “Cause our faith to rise.”
How does that happen? By the word, by the ministry of the word, be in the word and your faith's gonna rise and you'll have a sense Jesus could come back today. He could come back today, I could die today. I could be in the presence of Jesus before the sun goes down tonight. I want that sense of immediacy today. How do I get that? Be in the word, be in the word. Meditate on it, memorize it. Say it to yourself. Say it to each other. Pray it. Come, don't miss church. Don't miss church. I know it's summer, dear friends, but don't miss church. You need the food of the word to keep Jesus imminent in your heart.
Balance Between Prophesied Events and Immediacy
Now, there's a problem here, okay? How do we add up the signs and still say Jesus could come back tonight? For example, how do I preach on the abomination of desolation and say that I think that the temple is gonna be rebuilt and there'll be an antichrist and all that. And you say, “Well, that hasn't happened yet.” So we know one thing, until they do some incredibly fast building this afternoon. But even that doesn't - It kind of blows the Daniel timetable thing, about three and a half years and all that, so it just doesn't add up. So we can conclude one thing, Jesus is not coming back tonight. Don't do that. At the end of Matthew 24 and into Mathew 25 says specifically, don't do that.
William Cowper wrote a hymn, “God Moves in Mysterious Ways” and he says this powerful thing in that hymn. He says, “God is his own interpreter.” The final, sovereign, accurate interpretation of Matthew 24 will be done by Jesus, okay? When he returns, and if you come and say, “Yeah, but my pastor said…” Hey look, dust in the wind, dear friends, bad teaching will go away. False interpretations will disappear, Jesus will come back when he chooses. He defines what an unreached people group is, he defines what's going on with Daniel. He's gonna decide all that, and when he comes like a king, he's coming, and there's nothing we can do to stop it. We need to be ready today, because he told us to be ready today. But still, look at the signs. Hold those two in tension and if you're struggling with that, then struggle away. We'll get to that in a moment.
But Paul says In 2 Thessalonians, talking to the Thessalonian Christians there who are expecting, actually, they thought they'd missed the bus. Some false teachers had come and said “The day of the Lord has already come.” And Paul says, “Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the man of lawlessness appears,” and the apostasy and all of these things. And he says the antichrist has to come. So you read 2 Thessalonians 2, and you say, “What am I to do with that? Paul, an apostle of Christ, said that. And so if the apostasy hasn't occurred and the man of lawlessness hasn't set himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God, then Jesus can't return.”
So how do we hold these things in tension? I don't know exactly. Let me give you some suggestions. First of all, we are not like the apostles after the ascension of Jesus, to be standing, ready for the second coming of Christ by gawking up at the clouds. The apostles get special things we don't get. They get angels sent saying, “Stop that. Go back and pray and wait for the gift the Father has promised. The Holy Spirit is coming. You have work to do.” And so we are to be kind of looking upward in our hearts, but busy with our hands and with our mouths and our minds, doing our spiritual gift ministries, active building the kingdom until Jesus comes back. Like it says in one translation, “Occupy until I come."
Be busy doing stuff, but in your hearts know, he is his own interpreter. He could come tonight. He can come tonight. So we need to be ready, we need to keep watch. I'll get to that at the end of this chapter in Matthew 24. But don't say, “Hey, my master is a long time in coming and I can live however I want.” That's the specific attitude Jesus is driving away at the end of Matthew 24. And verse 13 of chapter 25, “Keep watch because you do not know the day or the hour.” You're told what to do.
So there is a mysterious balance here. Add up the signs of the times, the budding of the fig tree and all that. But at the same time, say, “Jesus could come back any time.” I actually think you need to be ready for two mysterious things. You need to be ready at any time for the second coming of Christ, and ready any time for your own death. Because you don't know the day or the hour of either one, and it really amounts to the same thing, you live the same way. You don't do anything you're ashamed of, you're just ready all the time, because the Lord could come back or you could go to the Lord in death, and he's sovereign over both of those things.
Difficulty: Who Is “This Generation” that Will Not Pass Away?
Many of Christ’s Words Are Also Difficult!
So that brings us immediately to the third issue, and that is the difficulty of Christ's words. Christ's words are not easy. They're not easy to understand. It just takes labor. 2 Timothy 2:15, for people like myself, pastors who are called to the ministry of the word, that's a key verse for us. “Study to show yourselves approved unto God, workmen who don't need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Don't be lazy in the word, Oh pastors, dig deep, try to understand, compare one passage to the next, cut it straight. Do a good job. Don't be slap dash in your interpretation. Why? Because the word is difficult, and we have an example of it right here.
Look at verse 34, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Oh boy, what are we gonna do with that statement? Frankly, many of Christ's words are said to be difficult in the gospels. Mark 9:32, it says, “But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.” Don't you love that? “I have no idea what that is, and I don't wanna ask him. Do you?” “No, I don't wanna ask him. Let's just be blissfully ignorant because I have no idea what he's talking about.”
Luke 18:34, “The disciples did not understand any of this, it's meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.” There are many such statements. How about this one? After Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.” Jesus loses 90-plus percent of his followers that day. And they all said the same thing. “This is a difficult saying, who can understand it?” Very difficult.
One of the Most Debated Sayings of Christ
Now, this one in Matthew 24:34 is one of the more debated statements of Christ. What does Jesus mean when he says that “this generation” would not pass away until “all these things” have happened? They work on both of those. What is this generation? And what are all these things that he's talking about? They go back and forth.
A “Solemn Declaration”
He begins it with a solemn declaration, “I tell you the truth.” Or “Truly I say to you.” Everything Jesus says is true, but when he uses, “Truly, truly, I say to you,” or in this case, “Truly, I say to you,” I don't think he's saying “This is more true than the other things I say.” Everything he says is true. But in a way, he's saying, “Sit up and pay attention. Notice this, I wanna tell you something. This is important.” That's what he's doing.
Various Interpretive Options to Reject
But, what does he mean? Well, let's reject some interpretations we know it can't mean. “The generation,” I don't think he's referring to the human race as a whole. It could, grammatically, the Greek word, it could mean “the human race,” and in effect then, he would be saying the human race will not be extinct before the end of the world. Well, that's a relief to all those that watch end-of-the-world type movies where you're wondering if we're gonna become extinct, but that's not even what Jesus is talking about here.
Neither is he saying, I think that the church will not die out before he returns. That's a relief to everyone, but what would the point be, and he already said that unless those days have been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect, those days will be shortened. There will be some elect when Jesus returns. That’s who the angels are gonna go gather anyway. I think it's impossible for Jesus to mean this.
Before every single solitary person that's alive today dies, I will come back in glory to judge the world. How do you know that's not true? Well, it didn't happen, friends. And it's amazing how people play with the idea that Jesus may have been wrong, “I mean, even Jesus made mistakes when it came to the second coming.” Jesus never made a single mistake. Next week, we'll talk about his statement when he says that he didn't know when the exact time would be.
But the fact of the matter is it cannot mean that all of these things, including the second coming would happen in the first century AD, because then Jesus would be wrong, and if Jesus is wrong about anything, I don't wanna hear him about anything, he's a false prophet. But he's not a false prophet. Everything he says is true. So we dispense with that.
Various Interpretive Options to Consider
Well, then, what could it mean? Well, various options that we consider. Could be that he's just talking about the destruction of Jerusalem, saying that that will happen within the lifetime of those standing there, and some, many reputable commentators, take that approach. Some who are alive today will be alive when the temple is destroyed. And that did happen. And so in support of that is just a simple use of the word “this generation.” Within this generation, the temple will be destroyed, and that's literally what did happen.
But there are some problems with that approach. Jesus has just gotten done describing the events of the second coming, coming in the clouds and everyone's gonna see him, and the angels sent out and gathering the elect, and then all of these things comes right after that, and all these things this generation won't pass away until all those things have happened. So that's difficult, still some hold to it, say he's going back to talking about the temple at that point.
Option number two, I think, is that he's referring - The word “generation” can refer to “race.” And I think here, this is the best of many difficult interpretations, but the best is he is referring to the Jewish race as a whole. The Jewish race will not become extinct, will not be eradicated from the face of the earth, despite all of the assaults there will be on it. Now think about that, “pray that your flight will not take place in the winter on the Sabbath,” it's a specifically Jewish attack when the temple is destroyed and when the Romans come in in 70 AD, they are wanting to kill Jews and not just a few, they're wanting to kill them all, I think. Josephus estimates between one and two million Jews killed by the sword. What a blood bath.
The Ramifications of the Jews’ Preservation
And we should not think, it's just a no-brainer that the Jews will be around when Jesus returns. They have been attacked and persecuted in just about every generation, they have been a special focus of Satanic attack all along, and I've got historical dates, I don't wanna give it to you, but just - even Christians - so-called Christians and the crusades went after the Jews during the Black Plague. They blamed the Jews and went after them. Muslims in different generations have wiped out whole communities of Jews. Czarist Russia had their pilgrims and their attacks. And of all of them, of course, the worst under the Nazis in Germany, six million of them exterminated in a clear desire on the part of the Germans, the final solution of getting rid of the Jewish race as a whole. Eradicating it completely.
So therefore, I think it's no small assertion that Jesus makes, that there will be a recognizable, identifiable Jewish people when he returns. That's actually a miracle, quite frankly, given all the persecution, the attack on them. And why will they be there? Because his sovereign power will guarantee it. And why? Because God's gifts and his calling are irrevocable. He still has purposes for the Jewish nation. And so he's going to uphold them and he's going to take godlessness away from Jacob and they will turn to Christ at the end, that's why. And so he's saying, despite all of the assaults and the attacks, they'll still be a recognizable Jewish nation at the end.
The difficulty, however of Christ words you may say, “You know what, pastor, I don't agree with that interpretation.” Fine, I am not as certain about that as I am about this, Jesus is coming back some day, and so there is in my mind a hierarchy of certainty of truth, some things are clearer than others. I'm just telling you the Bible is a hard book to interpret. It's not all easy, friends, there is milk and there is meat, more on that in a moment. But the fact is, difficulty.
Eternity: Christ’s Words More Permanent than the Universe
This Temporary Universe
So we've seen clarity. We've seen immediacy. We've seen difficulty now finally, the eternity of Christ's words. Look at verse 35, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” This temporary universe, friends, this temporary universe, that's our home, for a little while. Heaven and earth will pass away. He's testified to this many times. Look back at verse 29, he says, “Immediately after the distress of those days, the sun will be darkened. Moon will not give its light. The stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” That's the future, friends, it's all going away.
Or this one, Hebrews 1:10-12. “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the Earth and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment, they will be changed. But you remain the same and your years will never end.” And again, in that same book, Hebrews 12:26-27, looking back to Sinai, when God came down to Sinai and shook the Earth, it says, “At that time his voice shook the Earth, but now he has promised once more I will shake not only the Earth, but also the heavens.” Now, the words once more indicate the removing of what can be shaken. So that those things that cannot be shaken will remain. And what is it that cannot be shaken? The kingdom of Christ cannot be shaken. We're receiving a kingdom that can never be shaken through the word of God.
Or this one, 2 Peter 3:10, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, the heavens will disappear with a roar, the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the Earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” So there is nothing physical, there is nothing that our five senses can take in in the physical world that God created of which is speaking here, that is eternal. And the bent of our hearts is always to make it so, isn't it? “This is really my life, this is what I love, this is what I cling to.” Don't. Let it go, let it go. Because the world and its desires is passing away, but the man who does the will of God stands forever.
Astonishing Statement: Christ’s Words More Permanent than the Universe!
An amazing statement that Jesus is making here, he's saying, my words that I'm speaking to you are more permanent than the universe. Do you realize only God could make a statement like that? Not even the prophets would talk like that. Prophets don't talk like that. They say, “Thus says the Lord,” and then they go. Jesus doesn't say, “Thus says the Lord.” He says, “My words, my words are more permanent than the universe.”
Christ’s Assertion: Yet Another Claim to Deity!!
He is God in the flesh, dear friends, he was God in a body, and he was standing there talking and he said, “My words will still be around.” Similar to the assertion he made earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5, he said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away,” or disappear, “not the smallest letter or the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the law until everything is accomplished.” He's equating his own words to the law, the psalms and prophets. He says, “My words are scripture.”
God’s Esteem for His Own Word
Now, God has the highest esteem for his own word. Genesis 1:3, “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Psalm 33:6, “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.” It says in Psalm 138 that God has exalted above all things his name and his word. And so “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
What Scripture Says About the Permanence of God’s Word
Dear friends, Isaiah 40:8, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever. All men are like grass.” Friends, we are temporary. We are impermanent. We're not gonna be here much longer. God's word's gonna still be here. And notice he says, “My words,” I find that fascinating. Not just kind of “my word,” like a theological principle, but my words, my nouns, my adjectives, my connectors, my sentences, my paragraphs will still be around. People will still be reading them.
A movie recently, I read about it in World Magazine, called Book of Eli, where they were down to one Bible. Friends, there are billions of Bibles in the world. Billions of them. Satan has tried to attack this book, it's still here, friends. It's still here. Voltaire said within 100 years, no one in France would be a Christian. Christianity would be gone. Nobody would be reading the Bible. Friends we're still here, the Bible is still here. Voltaire is gone. But the scripture is still here. And it will be forever.
The Purpose of this Assertion: Our Faith and Confidence
Now, what application can we take from this? Well, why does he just make this assertion? He wants us to put our faith and our confidence in his word. Trust in that. He wants churches based on the word, not based on glitzy showmanship and entertainment and titillating people's senses so that they can feel good for just a little short time like eating a candy bar, and then you return to the warfare and the trenches, he wants you to base your life on the word. Base your churches on the word and base your churchgoing on feeding on the word. That's what he's saying here.
Marvel at the Living Word of God
So I want you to begin by just marveling at the living word of God, marvel at it, marvel at its clarity, marvel at its immediacy, marvel at its difficulty and its eternity.
Clarity: Come to Christ to Make the Word Clear
And when it comes to the clarity, if I can just urge you, come to Christ for him to make everything clear. The clearest thing in the Bible is how sinners are made right with God, it's the clearest thing is that there is a God, he is holy, he has laid down laws, they are to be fully obeyed. We have sinned, all of us have broken the laws of God, we are going to die and stand before this mighty God and give an account for every careless word we have spoken. We, apart from Christ, are lost. We are damned. We are going to spend eternity in hell. But God sent his son who shed his blood on the cross, he died in our place that we might have eternal life. If you repent and trust in him, all your sins will be forgiven. And then Jesus will speak those beautiful words over, you “Take heart, son, take heart, daughter. Your sins are forgiven you, and you're righteous in my sight.” If you hear nothing else about this sermon, hear this. If you're lost, don't be lost anymore, come to Christ and let him make everything clear.
And if you're a Christian and have been a Christian for years, then come to Christ every day over the scripture, just say, “Jesus, make this clear to me. Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. Teach me your word.” And bring him some difficult things, say, “I don't know what I think about Matthew 24 and all this stuff, pastor has his opinion, he's a very opinionated guy, it's alright, I guess it's his job to be opinionated. But I wanna know the truth, Jesus.” Like the Bereans, “Jesus. Teach me Matthew 24.” Search the scriptures.
Immediacy: Read the Word of God for an Immediate Encounter with God through Christ
Clarity, immediacy. God wants you to live moment by moment with a sense of the immediate presence of God in your life. So that whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, you're doing it to the glory of God. You can only have that immediacy through the word, God is mediating it to you through the word. Look, Hindus have spiritual experiences, even astral projection, out-of-body experiences, Muslim Sufis have those kinds of things. There are even some that call themselves Christians don't read the word much, but they're looking for an experience of the spirit. That's dangerous, dear friends, get your experience through the word, but let it be a rich, full experience with Christ. Don't be distant from him, let him mediate his love to you in a sense of presence, and you will live a more holy life, and you will live a more fruitful life, immediacy.
Immediacy: Be Ready Constantly for the Second Coming of Christ...and for your own Death
And be ready constantly for the second coming of Christ, be ready at any hour. Jonathan Edwards, when he was 19 years old, made some resolutions. Resolution 19, “Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be ashamed to do if I expected it would not be above an hour before I should hear the last trumpet.” That was in the early 18th centuries. He never heard the last trumpet, but he was ready at any moment to not do anything he'd be ashamed for Christ to find him doing that when he returned. So also we have to be ready at any time for our own death, as I've said. Resolution number seven, “Resolved, never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.” It's really in the end, the same thing.
And what about the difficulty of the word? There is milk in the word, drink it, it's sweet, but there's meat too. Don't despise the process it takes for a pastor when preaching or for you when studying to find out difficult things in the word. As John Piper said, “If you use a rake, all you get is leaves, but if you use the shovel, you might get gold.” So dig down, or as one of my Bible professors said, “The best cookies are in the highest shelf,” so work for it, go after it, because there's some difficult passages.
And finally, eternity. Meditate much on this statement, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Jesus finished the Sermon on the Mount saying, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rains came down, and streams rose and the winds blew and beat against that house, but it did not fall because it had its foundation on the rock.”
And so it is, if you're having financial troubles, maybe out of a job or struggling financially, build your life on the word of God. Go to Hebrews 13, it says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money, be content with what you have because God has told you, ‘I will never leave you, I will never forsake you.’” Go to that, feed on that. In your marriage, learn again, what marriage is about. Matthew 19, “Haven't you read that at the beginning, the Creator made them male and female and said ‘For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh, so they're no longer two but one’? What God has joined together, let man not separate.” Come to the word for your marriage. Same thing with parents, and I could go topic by topic. Base your whole life on the word of God. Heaven and earth will pass away, but Jesus' words are still gonna be here when we see him face-to-face. Close with me in prayer.