The closer we get to the end of days, the more we need the bright hope of the early church that radiated from the catacombs and arenas of persecution to radiate from our lives today.
As we open to Luke 21 we find Jesus explaining how to impact our lost world for Him on a daily basis. We can make a choice, that makes our life able to powerfully display Him to a watching world; and that choice is to live in hope. When we live in hope we redeem our time. Daily life when filled with hope makes every moment count for eternity.
Is hope alive in you? Does it guide your thoughts and decisions in life? Are you marked at work, school, among lost friends in sports and recreational times by your living hope they can observe each day? If not, today is a great time to start doing so. Living in hope can redeem time, and invest it for eternity. Now look at the context of v. 25.
Jesus Was Not
Optimistic About the Future
When Jesus was asked at the end of His earthly ministry, "What will be the sign of Your coming, and what will the closing chapter of human life as we know it look like at the end of days?"
Christ's answer starts with a rundown of the now-familiar list of: earthquakes, famines, wars, and pestilences; all of which, He said, would come suddenly and unstoppably upon the Earth like "birth pangs" – increasing in frequency and intensity as the end of days grew near.
But after those words He also added one more characteristic of the end starting in v. 25:
“And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; 26 men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” – Luke 21:25-26, NKJV
After that, Jesus said in v. 27: "Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory."
In the meantime, He told about those who would witness the ramp up of all those signs of His return in v.28:
"Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”
Jesus said when things start looking bad, when global patterns line up with end times scenarios, it is time for hope to shine. Those words are Christ's call for each of us to make those little choices today that lead to a pathway that declares we are:
Living Hopefully in
A Despairing World
The life lived in hope has always been one of the distinguishing qualities of God’s servants. From the catacombs and martyrdom of the Roman Empire, to the centuries of Christian’s persecuted to the death in all the time since, Christ's church has always been powerfully marked by hope.
As we open to I Peter 1 we can hear Peter’s voice echoing the words he heard Jesus say that as times get harder, let hope abound. Live in hope.
Peter speaks of this quality at the end of his life as he writes his final words in two letters to the Church. Listen to the beautiful hope-filled life we are to live before a watching, and often despairing world as we stand and read I Peter 1:3-13:
1 Peter 1:3-9 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, 8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. NKJV
Our God is a God of hope , and living in hope is Christ's plan for our lives today. But when we dig into the prophetic portions of God's Word the future looks very bleak and hopeless.
So to balance our hearts and minds, knowing what is coming—that Jesus so vividly describes, Paul exhorts the New Testament saints to learn to live in the hope that the Old Testament Scriptures can teach.
Paul never avoided explaining the prophetic events that were coming. He even teaches through the same passage we are studying (Matthew 24) in his very first epistles (to the Thessalonians). But he always balances those prophecies of doom with comfort and hope to live by. Turn with me to Romans 15:4, and please stand as we read God’s Holy Word to us this Lord’s Day.
Romans 15:4, 13 For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. 13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
For those who try to live in this world without Christ—their world gets a little darker and more hopeless each week ! For just a moment we need to look at some of the disasters that may happen during the Tribulation that our lost friends will have to endure. Or, some of these disasters may happen before the end of days, and all of us may have to face them.
Facing Doom’s Arrival
The key is that we are to see the world news good or bad through the lens of God's Word. So whether these things happen to us, or just the world around us sensing the hoof beats of the Apocalypse, we need to show them our hope and the reason for our hope.
Most of us are comfortable with scattered troubles. Hurricane Katrina caused unimaginable woes to 99.5 % of the country, but those woes were real to the ½ percent that lived through them. The same is true for severe storms, power outages, mudslides, flooding, earthquakes, and all the other disasters we watch and read about. But when those disasters strike more than the ½ % or 1 % of the country, when they hit widely, then we will not be comfortable, and our faith and hope will be tested.
Let me just give two areas of the news that most of us don’t actually pay any attention to any more. It just seems too remote or impossible. The first is electrical power outages and the second is food and water shortages.
First, power outages on an unimaginable scale are actually possible. Perhaps the most trusted global news about weapons, warfare, and the balance of power around the world called Jane's Defense Reports. Recent editions report that some missile tests by Iran may be part of the development of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) warhead.
The testimony from both the Congressional EMP Committee that met from 2001-2009 as well as a similar Senate Committee on the Judiciary's Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology, and Homeland Security reported that Iran has practiced detonating its Shahab-3 missiles while in mid-air, which has lead some intelligence officials to suspect that Iran is practicing the execution of an EMP attack.
Senator Jon Kyl (the Pro-Life, Pro-Israel Senator from Arizona), who chaired until 2009 the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology, and Homeland Security, wrote the following about the EMP threat in the Washington Post:
"An electromagnetic pulse attack on the American homeland is one of only a few ways that the United States could be defeated by its enemies - terrorist or otherwise. And it is probably the easiest. A single Scud missile, carrying a single nuclear weapon, detonated at the appropriate altitude, would interact with the Earth's atmosphere, producing an electromagnetic pulse radiating down to the surface at the speed of light. Depending on the location and size of the blast, the effect would be to knock out already stressed power grids and other electrical systems across much or even all of the continental United States, for months if not years.
Few if any people would die right away. But the loss of power would have a cascading effect on all aspects of US society. Communication would be largely impossible. Lack of refrigeration would leave food rotting in warehouses, exacerbated by a lack of transportation as those vehicles still working simply ran out of gas (which is pumped with electricity). The inability to sanitize and distribute water would quickly threaten public health, not to mention the safety of anyone in the path of the inevitable fires, which would rage unchecked. And as we have seen in areas of natural and other disasters, such circumstances often result in a fairly rapid breakdown of social order.”
American society has grown so dependent on computer and other electrical systems that we have created our own Achilles' heel of vulnerability."
United States Senator Jon Kyl summed up the situation best when he said, "This threat may sound straight out of Hollywood, but it is very real."
Senator Kyl’s report determined it would be more than six months before America could get back to functioning in any scaled back way. But there is no promise that any of our adversaries: the Russians, or Chinese would wait while we are helpless. The Muslim nations certainly would not want us re-assume our place as “the Great Satan superpower.” Which brings up the perennial question:
This EMP type of attack has been discussed for years by military planners; it is clearly possible to have such an attack. It is not as unlikely or impossible as we would like to believe. But as believers, we pause and look at the Scriptures. We see that Bible prophecy clearly identifies four spheres of global power during the final hours of human history during the Great Tribulation.
• First, Ezekiel identifies the Russian/Muslim Alliance.
• Second, John foretells the military force of the Kings of the East.
• Third, the prophet Daniel identifies the Kings of the South as the Muslim nations; and fourth he describes a revived form of the old Roman Empire.
But when we sort out all the various passages we find that God does not describe a fifth global superpower matching the description of America. On the contrary, some form of a reconstituted Roman Culture astride the Mediterranean Sea is predicted as the supreme power.
Possibly the only clear place America is seen in end days prophecy is in II Timothy 3:1-5, but that is before the Tribulation:
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!
This is a hard truth. It is difficult not to recognize much of modern America’s social culture in Paul’s description.”
A second uncomfortable reality is the growing possibility of water and food scarcity; and that is precisely the picture that Christ's disciple John records for us Revelation 6.
"And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth." (Revelation 6:8)
The approach of the Pale Rider may be on the horizon according to the special report delivered again for the year just past. The human race is living beyond its means. In the original UN Global Resource Report way back in 2005, a joint study compiled by 1,360 scientists from 95 countries - some of them world leaders in their fields, concludes that the human race has used up two-thirds of the world's resources, most of it in just the last sixty years.
An as recently as three months ago, the world keeps coming up with the same number. For instance the 2009 United Nations report on the State of Food and Agriculture emphasized the findings that have been circulated annually for the past 4 years, that:
Two-thirds of world's
Resources 'used up'
Robert Watson, the British-born chief scientist at the World Bank and a former scientific adviser to the White House, claims that mankind is using up all of our natural resources. He produced a six-point indictment against the human race, and declares that it will lead to the extinction of all life on earth.
1. We have LAND OVER-CONSUMPTION: Because of human demand for food, fresh water, timber, fiber and fuel, more land has been claimed for agriculture in the last 60 years than in the 18th and 19th centuries combined. An estimated 24% of the Earth's land surface is now cultivated.
2. We have WATER OVER-CONSUMPTION: Water withdrawals from lakes and rivers has doubled in the last 40 years. Humans now use between 40% and 50% of all available freshwater running off the land.
3. We have OCEAN OVER-CONSUMPTION: Since 1980, about 35% of mangroves have been lost, 20% of the world's coral reefs have been destroyed and another 20% badly degraded.
4. We have FOREST OVER-CONSUMPTION: Deforestation and other changes could increase the risks of malaria and cholera, and open the way for new and so far unknown disease to emerge.
5. We have RIVER OVER-CONSUMPTION: Flow from rivers has been reduced dramatically. For parts of the year, the Yellow River in China, the Nile in Africa and the Colorado in North America dry up before they reach the ocean.
6. We have FISH OVER-CONSUMPTION: At least a quarter of all fish stocks are overharvested. In some areas, the catch is now less than a hundredth of that before industrial fishing. An estimated 90% of the total weight of the ocean's large predators - tuna, swordfish and sharks - has disappeared in recent years.
The study concludes by saying that we have plundered the oceans bounty, we have destroyed the seabed’s riches, we are running out of sources for food, we are running out of fresh water, and because of all this misuse of nature we are plunging towards the threat of killer plagues and epidemics.
Most sobering of all is the timing of all of this over consumption. This study concludes all this damage took place -- not gradually over six thousand years of human existence -- but within a single generation!
That conclusion reminds me of what Jesus said about the end of days for the planet earth.
"So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done." (Mark 13:29-30)
The one amazing conclusion that these reports come to is the irreversible nature of what has happened in the last generation. Again, as far as science is concerned, the speed and extent of the change in resources is irreversible.
This Process is
Although scientists endlessly dispute various facets and findings, they all agree that the resources (all of them) are being consumed faster than they can be replaced or replenished. Also what is amazing is that each new report has some portion that shows some type of escalation.
Living in hope is Christ's plan for your life today. And that is His plan no matter what life may bring today or tomorrow. His hope detaches us from the gloom that can come in life. As you turn with me Lamentations 3:25, listen again to what God offers each of us in Christ this morning.
The Hebrew language of the Old Testament is a rich storehouse of words which define hope. There are four Hebrew words that give us valuable insights into how God wants us to live in hope.
In Lamentations 3:25 that we studied last time we find the first Hebrew word that God gives us is describing hope, and that word emphasizes:
WAITING HOPE—the word is QAVAH (6960): is when the Lord renews us WHEN OUR STRENGTH IS EXHAUSTED. And that is exactly the word that God promises to all of us who come seeking His grace each day. That is the power of God seen in Lamentations 3:25:
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.
This hope God offers us is waiting or recharging hope. Hope that waits until renewal comes. Just like a charger for your phone, a cradle for your PDA—we plug into God’s truth, believe His Word waiting upon the Lord. Then He renews and recharges and refills us with His strength. Have you plugged into God's Word and been still before Him this week on a regular basis and gotten your strength renewed?
Power of Hope
This is exactly the same word and hope that the patriarch Jacob testified about at the end of his 147 year long life of troubles, stress, and disasters. Genesis 49:18 I have waited for your salvation, O Lord!
King David in writing the Psalms uses this word more frequently than any other biblical writer. This word actually was one of the keys to David's life. He recognized that his human strength was never enough to meet the stresses of life.
Psalm 25:3 Indeed, let no one who waits on You be ashamed; Let those be ashamed who deal treacherously without cause.
Psalm 25:5 Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; On You I wait all the day.
Psalm 25:21 Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, For I wait for You.
Psalm 27:14 Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!
Psalm 37:9, 34 For evildoers shall be cut off; But those who wait on the Lord, They shall inherit the earth. 34 Wait on the Lord, And keep His way, And He shall exalt you to inherit the land; When the wicked are cut off, you shall see it.
Psalm 39:7 “And now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You.
Psalm 40:1 I waited patiently for the Lord; And He inclined to me, And heard my cry.
Psalm 130:5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, And in His word I do hope.
Are you allowing God to weave His Word into your life so that His hope will make you strong? I hope so this week and in the weeks ahead.
Have you plugged into God's Word and been still before Him this week on a regular basis and gotten your strength renewed?
Are you marked at work, school, among lost friends in sports and recreational times by your living hope they can observe each day?
If not, today is a great time to start doing so. Living in hope can redeem time, and invest it for eternity.