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End Time PressuresThat Shape Us
I want to speak to you about some of the ways in which God is dealing with his people at this time. Personally, I have a deep inner impression that the end of the age is approaching rapidly. I’m aware that people have said that and thought that many times and have not proved entirely correct. I’m not asserting that it is so but I realize when I read the scripture and when I speak to people I speak out of that impression whether I wish to or not. I might as well acknowledge that’s my impression.
I believe there’s one very significant difference between our present situation and all the previous occasions when Christians have thought the end of the age was near. That goes back at least to the year 1000. In Europe in the year 1000 there was a widespread conviction that at the end of the thousand years the present age would close. Well, it’s lasted nearly another thousand and it hasn’t closed yet. But the one significant difference between this time in which we are now living and all previous such times is the fact that Israel is a restored nation again in their own land. That has never been true since the year 70 A.D. until about l948 or l950. That situation never existed. As I read the predictions of what the world will be like at the close of this age and the events that will bring the age to a close I discern that all of them assume the presence of Israel as a sovereign nation within their own land.
Consequently, none of those prophecies could have been fulfilled before the regathering of Israel and the restoration of their state. As I see it, the regathering of Israel sets the stage for the final drama that will close this age. Because of my close association with Israel over the years and my close study of the scriptures in the light of that association, I have seen a very significant continuous parallel between the restoration of Israel as a nation and the restoration of the church of Jesus Christ as a people. I believe I can say God opened my eyes to see the church had as far to go to get back into their inheritance as Israel did into theirs.
Having seen that I feel much better able to cope with the situations that confront me. I’m not going to try to draw an extensive parallel between Israel and the church, I’m only going to turn to one scripture where God speaks to Israel and certain principles are unfolded. Then I want to show you how I believe exactly the same principles apply to what God is doing to the church. And from that starting point I’ll move on and speak only about the church.
I want to turn to Jeremiah 18 and read the first 6 verses.
“This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, Go down to the potter’s house and there I will give you my message. So I went down to the potter’s house and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands: so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me, O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter does, declares the Lord. Like clay in the hand of the potter so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”
Let me say that I see in that not merely a principle but a clear prediction. I think it shows us what God is doing with Israel. They are exactly like that pot that Jeremiah saw in the had of the potter. The first time the potter tried to make the kind of vessel he wanted the pot was marred in his hand, it didn’t come out the way he intended. So the scripture says he went back, did it over again and the second time he made it the kind of pot he wanted it to be. For me, that’s a clear indication of what God is doing with Israel. The first time they did not turn out the kind of pot that he wanted them to be, they were marred in his hands. He did not throw them away but he simply resolved in his own time and way to make them again a pot after his own design. Personally, I believe that’s precisely what he’s doing right at this time.
Now, I’ve had the privilege of going to a place in Hebron where they have what they call the potter’s shop and there is a potter who works on a wheel almost exactly as it was in Bible times. You can see him actually making his pots. I’m not much of a craftsman or an artesian but I just grasped one vital principle. He has a treadle which he works with his feet which spins this wheel that revolves horizontally at a considerable speed. He holds the damp clay in his hand and shapes the clay by pressing it against the spinning wheel. The principle is this: That to turn the pot into what he wants it to be the potter uses applied pressure. He applies the pressure at any point where he wants to change the shape of the pot.
If you have any kind of understanding of the history of the state of Israel for the last 30 years or a little more, I think you’ll see how exactly true that is. That God has been shaping the regathered people of Israel by applied pressure. If you see that it lifts you above all the little arguments and controversies which are continually going on in the political arena and it gives you a far more serene and confident insight into what is happening in Israel. The pressures to which Israel have been subjected have been tremendous both in number and in force. Military pressures, economic pressures, social pressures, many different kinds. As soon as one pressure is lifted another is applied. I don’t think there’s been a single time in just over 30 years that they’ve not been subjected to the most intense pressures.
This is God’s doing. He’s making them what he wants them to be through pressures. If you consider that they returned from innumerable different lands with different cultures, different languages, different food habits, very, very different. Some of them blonde and fair, some of them almost Negro in coloring. From all around the world and that they were thrown together and had to become a single nation operating effectively without any moment’s respite. The day the state of Israel was born they were challenged by six fully armed Arab nations numbering over 40 million. The Jewish population of Israel at that time was about 650 thousand. So, the odds against them were well over 50 to 1. Numerically and in arms, even greater.
I speak with a certain assurance about that because I was there when it happened. I saw it. It is a miracle that the nation has withstood the pressures and become one nation. Above all else, I think the primary thrust of the pressure was to force them to be one because they simply could not afford not to be one. They’re only just one even now. There are tremendous differences, variations, different attitudes, different philosophies, different aspects of religion. The only thing that has made them one has been the continuous, unrelenting pressure which has been for them a matter of life and death—nothing less.
Now, that’s just by way of reference to Israel. What I want to suggest to you this evening is that God is operating in the same way with the church of Jesus Christ. In other words, he’s shaping us into the kind of pot that he wants us to be by applied pressure. I would say actually that there’s a further parallel with the church. In my personal opinion, the church has failed just as grievously to fulfill its destiny as Israel has. In fact, if I had to compare the two I think I would say the failure of the church is even more obvious. The Jewish people have failed in countless ways but very seldom have they actually turned against one another and sought to destroy one another. Alas, that cannot be said of Christians. Over the centuries many times Christians have been their own worst enemies—not sparing one another from the most hideous and agonizing death.
I want to speak to you this evening about the types of pressure that are being applied to the church and the purposes of God in applying those pressures. Basically, I would say the church in the United States has probably up to this time experienced less pressure against it than the church anywhere else in the world that I know of. I have an impression that that situation is not going to last much longer. Many of us feel—possibly in slightly different ways—that the pressures against the church in the United States are going to increase somewhat dramatically. I believe it’s extremely important that we be prepared for it. Also, that we understand what God is seeking to do in us through these pressures.
I would say that there are two main ways in which pressure comes against us. Two main forms of negative pressure. The first is from Satanic spiritual forces, unseen forces. What the King James calls principalities and powers of Satan, of darkness. The other is through the continuing and accelerating degeneration of human character. See, human character became corrupted by sin and I believe the Bible indicates, and observation confirms, that the process of corruption is accelerating rapidly. It’s almost out of hand.
I’ll give you one scripture for each of those statements. First of all, for Satanic spiritual pressures I’ll turn to 1Timothy 4:1. Notice that this is specifically applied to the last days, to the close of the present age.
“The Spirit clearly says, that in later times some will abandon the faith...”
Clearly the faith is Christianity. So, these are people who had embraced the faith and now turn from it. Apostates.
“...some will abandon the faith, and follow deceiving spirits, and things taught by demons.”
In other words, there’ll be tremendous spiritual pressures to turn God’s people away from their faith. That’s in the unseen realm.
Then with regard to the accelerating degeneration of human character, human nature. Probably many of you are familiar with or have heard of a film that’s been prepared by Francis Schaeffer called Whatever Happened to the Human Race?That’s just one of many ways of presenting the fact that there’s been an absolutely startling degeneration of human character. This was predicted in the scripture. 2Timothy 3:1 and following:
“But mark this, there will be terrible times in the last days.”
Why will there be terrible times? The next verses show us, because human character will have degenerated so fearfully.
“People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; having a form of godliness but denying its power: having nothing to do with that.”
Let me just point out to you in that list which contains 18 major moral defects, the beginning and the end, the first one is “lovers of themselves,” the second one, “lovers of money,” and the last one, “lovers of pleasure.” Just take those three statements. Lovers of self, lovers of money, lovers of pleasure. How accurately does that describe contemporary American culture? I would say it probably pinpoints the three most conspicuous features of the American way of life today. Love of self, love of money and love of pleasure. Basically, the media cater to those three loves, nurture them and increase them.
Notice these are not people without religion. They have a form of godliness but they deny its power. They don’t let it change them. I have a friend, a Presbyterian minister, a very godly man. He shared with me some time back that he read in one of these weeklies, Timeor Newsweekor something that there were 40 million professing Born Again Christians in the United States. What shocked him was with 40 million they made virtually no difference whatever to the course of American life and culture. That drove him to prayer that God would do something that would make a vital and radical change in the American way of life. They say now the number has gone up to 50 million. That’s just about one fifth of the American population claim to be Born Again Christians. Virtually so far as the way America lives they have almost no influence whatever. It’s exactly as it says, having a form of godliness but not acknowledging its power.
That’s a picture of the two sources of pressure. The Satanic supernatural exploiting, utilizing the corruption of human nature.
Now I want to take just a few predicative passages from the Bible that refer to the period at the close of this age just to sketch in a simple background, not to go into great detail. We don’t need to turn to this passage but let me just use it as a starting point. In Luke 17:26 and 28, Jesus said that at the end of this age it would be like the days of Noah and like the days of Lot. I want to turn back for a moment, and very briefly, look with you in the book of Genesis at what it was like in the days of Noah and what it was like in the days of Lot. Not going into any great detail but just picking out certain salient features. You find the description of the world in the days of Noah in Genesis 6. Verses 1–4 gives us the first salient feature of the world in those days. I would say to you before I read it that again it’s Satanic intervention and pressure from a supernatural realm. I would suggest to you that this is basic. Everything else, in a sense, evolves out of that. I think we saw that in the epistles to Timothy. This is what it says in Genesis 6:1–4:
“When men began to increase in number on the earth, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they married any of them that they chose.”
There is a certain amount of disagreement as to what’s meant by the “sons of God.” But, in my opinion there’s no real legitimate reason to doubt that it refers to angels. The version that I’m using which is the New International Version, when it comes to the opening chapters of the book of Job where it says “sons of God” actually translates it angels. This is something that is hard for some people to comprehend but to me it’s very clear. Angels left their appointed area in the spiritual realms, related and cohabited sexually with human women. I don’t have any difficulty believing that because I was brought up in the classics, Latin and Greek. All classical culture and history is permeated with endless stories about beings whom they called gods who cohabited with human women. The swan that came to leader, the swan being Zeus the father of all the gods. Endless stories. The result of those unions were what the Greeks called heroes, men with more than natural power and ability. It’s exactly in line with what it says here.
“And the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they married any of them they chose. Then the Lord said, My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal: his days will be a hundred and twenty years. The Nephilim were on the earth in those days...”
Nephilim is directly related to the Hebrew verb “to fall” which is ?nafal?. So, the Nephilim means the fallen ones. To me it’s clear it’s fallen angels.
“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.”
That’s exactly as it’s stated in Greek mythology. The only difference being that those beings whom the Greeks and the Romans called gods—and their morals were less than you’d require from a second rate human being—those beings whom the classical people called gods, the Bible calls fallen angels, Satanic angels. We have a picture of what I would call tremendous pressure from another realm against the human race that came even to the point of sexual relationships between them. I believe it was this Satanic pressure that was the primary cause of the other main features of the world in the days of Noah.
Now we’ll look at the other features very briefly. Verse 5:
“The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”
I would call that a total corruption of thought life. Man’s thoughts became permeated and obsessed with various forms of evil. Again, I would have to say that the same process is taking place in the United States today tremendously accelerated by the media which are feeding those things in human minds.
I wonder if we realize how rapidly that process is taking place. Ten years ago you wouldn’t have seen many things in movies or on television which we take for granted today. Blasphemy, sexual perversion, violence—they’re almost taken for granted today. You have to search to find some kind of public entertainment that doesn’t contain them.
“God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.”
That’s not a very literal translation. The Bible says literally, “All flesh had corrupted its way.” I think the word flesh is important—although it does mean the whole human race. It means man as a fleshly being. In other words, the corruption was in man’s carnal nature. Essentially, it was sexual corruption and perversion.
Finally, in verse 13:
“God said to Noah, I’m going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them.”
That’s another distinctive feature of the days of Noah, the earth was filled with violence.
Let me just recapitulate those features and I invite you to consider objectively how many of them are conspicuously present in contemporary American society. First of all, Satanic intervention from a supernatural realm. Secondly, corruption of thought life. Thirdly, sexual corruption and perversion. And fourthly, the earth filled with violence.
I don’t want to dwell on the days of Lot but we’ll just turn briefly to Genesis 19. Lot at this time was living in Sodom, a city which gave its name to the particular vice it practiced which was sodomy. When I grew up as a boy it was about the only word that was used for that particular kind of sexual perversion. It was directly derived from the name of the city Sodom. Two angels went into Sodom and they were going to warn Lot of the impending destruction of the city. As a good man of Bible lands, he entertained them at his house. When the men of Sodom heard that these two strangers had come in they wanted to have sexual relations with them. This is what it says. We’re reading in Genesis 19:4:
“Before they had gone to bed [that’s Lot and the angels], all the men from every part of the city of Sodom, both young and old, surrounded the house.”
It impresses me that all the men and it was both young and old. It was a total perversion, nobody was excepted.
“They called to Lot, Where are the men who came into you tonight? Bring them out to us that we can have sex with them.”
Appreciate that very blunt and correct translation.
“Lot went outside to meet them, and shut the door behind him and said, No, my friends, don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof. Get out of our way, they replied. And they said, This fellow came in here as an alien and now he wants to play the judge. We’ll treat you worse than them. They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. But the men inside [the angels] reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.”
I sum that up very briefly in this phrase. The conspicuous feature of Sodom was brazen, aggressive, violent homosexuality. There was no attempt to conceal it, they didn’t wait for their victims to be willing, they were aggressive and when they were repulsed they became violent. We don’t have to look very far in our American scene to see precisely the same. Let me read those words again. Brazen, aggressive, violent homosexuality. I venture to suggest to you there’s more to come. I believe we should be grateful that the scripture has shown us what to anticipate.
But, let’s not dwell only on the negative. I want to point out two positive aspects of the days of Noah and Lot. Hebrews 11:7, it says:
“By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.”
So, we see on the positive side that God forewarned his servants of the trouble that was coming. I believe that should apply to these days, too. I believe God’s willing to do it and I believe we’re going to need it. I’d like to say to you it’s good to read all the surveys and the books about how to prosper in the coming evil years and so on but in God’s warning of Noah there was a totally supernatural element. I think if you read all the books and put them all together you might end up somewhat confused because they don’t all say the same. I’m not saying it’s wrong to read them but I’m saying don’t depend on them totally. God is going to have to give us supernatural warning and we’ve got to be in that relationship with God where we can receive his supernatural warning.
See, when God warned Noah there was going to be rain on the earth, none of the surveys would have ever predicted that. Do you know why? Because no one had ever seen rain on the earth. With all respect for all these surveys and all the computers there are elements in the future that no human has yet anticipated.
The other feature has already come out from the story of Lot. There was intervention of God’s angels to protect and deliver his people. I believe again we have a right to expect that and I believe we’re going to need it. None of these things that God did for Noah and Lot were luxuries. It didn’t make them super-spiritual, it just enabled them to survive. I’m not sure I’m concerned about being super-spiritual but I do want to survive.
Now I want to turn to a passage in Matthew 24 where Jesus Matthew 24, this was his discourse to his close disciples while he was sitting on the Mount of Olives overlooking the temple area. I am not going to go into the background right now, I’m just going to read a brief section. Matthew 24, beginning at verse 6.
“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.”
In other words, simply wars and rumors of wars are not sufficient indication that the end is at hand. Then he goes on in verse 7:
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.”
That’s very vivid. I am no obstetrician and I personally am quite content to stay away from all that. I know some husbands today enter in—well, that’s fine. I mean, I’m simple-minded. I just want to pass on to you one thing that I’ve latched on to which is this. When the birth pains really start you can say two things. First of all, they’re going to get more frequent and more intense and you get nearer the birth. Secondly, there’s no way to reverse the process. Jesus said when you see these things happening you can know two things. First of all, the pressures, the troubles, are going to get more frequent and more intense. Secondly, there’s no way to reverse the process. Something is being born. What is being born? A new age. The kingdom of God is going to be born onto the earth out of these birth pangs.
I’ll continue a little and then go back.
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death. And you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness the love of most will grow cold.”
Let’s pause there, I’m going to recapitulate, making a kind of summary. Verse 7, Jesus speaks about great international wars, famines and earthquakes. If you turn to the parallel passage in Luke 21:11 you’ll find that pestilences are added. Sometimes to get the whole story you have to look at more than one gospel. I think, therefore, we can say there are four things. International wars, famines, earthquakes, pestilences. All of those have conspicuously marked the years in which I myself have lived. I’ve lived through two world wars—at least I started life in the first. Earthquakes are increasing at an unexplainable rate all over the world. That’s a statistical fact. At least 10 million people are dying every year of famine in the world today. And wherever you have famine prolonged you’re almost sure to have pestilence. Even if it wasn’t in the Bible you could predict it because people’s resistance is broken down, they have no way to resist germs and infections that normally would not be a problem. At the present time one whole nation, Cambodia, is quite likely simply going to cease to exist through famine. They say it’s already dwindled from 8 million to 5 million people. The human mind can hardly take in the statistic of 3 million people just perishing by famine.
Verse 9, worldwide persecution of Christians turned over to secular authorities. I want to look at that again. Verse 9:
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted...”
Handed over to whom? Obviously to the secular powers. For instance, in a Communist state, handed over to the commissar and the secret police. In Nazi Germany, handed over to the Nazi regime.
Let me put together with that:
“At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other.”
This is speaking about Christians. And, they’re all interwoven. Because of the pressures some Christians will renounce the faith. Not only that, but they’ll betray their fellow Christians. And, they’ll betray them by turning them over to the secular authorities.
This is not a dream, this is not imagination. I was reading yesterday a history of what was known as the Boxer Rising in China in the year 1900. Interestingly enough, my grandfather was in charge of the British forces that were sent to quell that rising. That’s why to this day I have quite a number of Chinese antiques and so on in my home. They came from that situation. In that Boxer Rising the pressure against the Christians, especially the Chinese Christians, was so intense that some of them denied their faith and betrayed their fellow believers to the Chinese authorities who immediately executed them. So, all that we are reading here is very accurate, it’s very realistic. They all go together. Persecution of Christians, hatred against them, the weaker cannot stand, in order to get away they betray their fellow believers, and the betrayed believers are put to death. That’s the picture.
You say, “That hasn’t happened in the United States.” Probably that’s right. But I want to tell you that as far as the matter of Christians betraying their fellows to the authorities, that’s already happening. It’s one of the things that alerts me. I’m not free to give details but there are many cases where Christians have lodged accusations against fellow Christians to the IRS and caused investigations. At the moment, the easiest charge to bring against any group is to say that they’re a cult. The moment you use the word cult the IRS and quite possibly the FBI will start an investigation. When the information comes from professing Christians against Christians it’s highly believable to the authorities. There’s several reputable Christian pastors in jail in the United States at this moment simply for refusing to open their records to the IRS. I’m speaking from direct knowledge when I say that I know of cases in which out of jealousy one Christian group has actually informed and given false information against another Christian group to the IRS. We need to understand that there are influences at work in the United States government whose philosophy is secular humanism and whose aim is to eliminate Christianity. Nothing less.
Somebody said to me the other day, “We need to understand the name of the enemy. It’s genocide.” Do you know what genocide means? The total elimination of a race. The aim of the Nazis towards the Jews was genocide. Don’t have any illusions. There are forces at work in this nation that will not be satisfied until Christianity is eliminated as an influence. They control and manipulate many sections of the government machinery.
I’m not predicting precisely what will happen but I’m simply telling you that all the factors that could produce what I’ve just read are at work in this nation. We need to know it.
Verse 10 we’ve already looked at but let me just read it again.
“At that time many will turn away from the faith, and will betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and deceive many.”
That’s the next major force at work, false prophets with religious deception. I would say the one word that sums that up in our contemporary society is the word cult. I think never have there been so many cults so operative and so effective in American society since the nation was born as there are today.
Then in verse 12:
“Because of the increase of wickedness...”
But the correct word is lawlessness.
“...the love of most will grow cold.”
Frankly, that statement frightens me. Where this version says “wickedness” the Greek word if anybody wants to know it is ?anomio? which means literally “lawlessness.” That’s the correct translation. Probably lawlessness has never been so rampant in this nation as it is today. It says because of the increase of lawless the love of most will grow cold. And the word for love is agape, the word which is normally used for the love of God and the love of Christians. In other words, it’s not talking about the people of this world becoming unloving, it’s talking about God’s people becoming unloving under the pressure of lawlessness.
I have a little saying that some of you may have heard. Lawlessness breeds lovelessness. They’re very close. See, the world’s idea of love is something beautiful, free and uninhibited, you do what you like, you give expression to your emotions, there’s no kind of discipline or control. That’s not agape. Agape love is a lawful kind of love. It’s a love that’s the expression of self control and discipline. You cannot have agape in your life unless you’re subject to discipline. One of the steps to agape is self control. If we are permeated by the spirit of lawlessness it will produce in us lovelessness. That’s exactly what Jesus is saying. Because of the pressure of lawlessness the result will be that most of God’s people will lose their love.
I’ve known for years that was the correct translation but I never found the translation that had the guts to say it until I met this one.
I hope that I am showing you that many of the things predicted in the Bible that would characterize and distinguish the close of this age are happening all around us. I want to also help you to see that they’re not happening exclusively in Russia, or China, or South America. In actual fact, although the circumstances are somewhat different, precisely the same forces are at work in the United States.
Now, having said that what do we do about it? Let me remind you that God permits these pressures. Just as he permits the pressures against Israel so he permits the pressures against the church. Furthermore, let me remind you that they are confirmation that the Bible is a reliable book. The Bible said they would be. If they didn’t happen we couldn’t trust the Bible. The fact that the Bible has accurately predicted them means the Bible is a trustworthy book, that it’s still relevant today.
My question is, What should be our response to this situation? I’m not saying that you’re going to walk out and meet everything I’ve talked about next week. But I’d be surprised if you didn’t meet them this decade. I would be very surprised. I believe that it’s part of my responsibility as a minister of God to get you ready beforehand. I think if you have a realistic grasp of the situation you’re about 50 percent of the way to being able to handle it immediately.
I would suggest to you three ways in which it would pay us to respond. The first one may surprise you. I think we should be optimists. I’ve tried to paint the picture very realistically but I believe the legitimate and logical response is optimism. Turn for a moment to Luke 21:28. This is the parallel passage to Matthew 24. In verse 28 Jesus said:
“When these things begin to take place...”
Buy a supply of canned goods, go out into the wilderness and hide in a cave. No? I’m surprised. What did he say?
“When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your head because your redemption is drawing near.”
God is in control.
I have a little illustration, I’m sure some of you have heard it before. The definition of the optimist and the pessimist. The point of this illustration is to show you so much hinges on your attitude. This is true in our situation. The attitude with which we approach this situation will have a very large influence on how we experience it. The definition is this: The optimist and the pessimist walk into the same room, see a table with a glass on it and a certain quantity of water in the glass. The pessimist says the glass is half empty. The optimist says the glass is half full. There’s no difference in the objective situation, it’s purely their subjective reaction.
When I say I believe we should face this situation as optimists I believe the glass is half full. What do I mean by that? I mean that the tremendous proportion of all that God has predicted in the Bible has already taken place. Therefore, we should have strong confidence the rest is going to happen the way God said it will happen. But, if I were a person without any knowledge of God or faith in the scripture I could well understand that I might to say the glass is half empty. Time is running out, resources are running out, inflation is rampant. I think from the point of view of the natural man of the world, it’s more logical to say the glass is half empty than it is to say it’s half full. But for me, the glass is half full and getting fuller.
I do believe, dear friends, that we do need an intelligent, basic understanding of Biblical prophecy. I don’t believe that’s to be super-spiritual, I don’t believe it’s an unnecessary luxury. Speaking about the prophecies of the Old Testament, Peter said, “To which you will do well to give heed, as to a light that shines in a dark place.” I believe the prophetic teachings of scripture are indeed a light in a dark place. You may wonder where that is. Perhaps I should turn there. 2Peter 1, beginning at verse 19.
“And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
So, you will do well to pay attention to the word of the prophet. It’s a light shining in a dark place until—this thrills me because for two years I slept on the sands of the desert of North Africa. That’s about the only time in my life I got up with the sun and went to bed with the sun. Today the sun and I have different schedules. We did that because the sun was the only source of light we had. When he got dark you went to bed and when it got light you got up. You were directly exposed to it because you were sleeping on the open desert half the time. One thing I discovered. At certain seasons of the year in the eastern sky just before dawn an incredibly bright star comes up over the horizon. It’s called the morning star. Don’t ask me any further details because I’m not an astronomer. That star is so bright that you think the sun is rising. But it’s the sun’s forerunner, it tells you the next one to rise will be the sun.
I believe that’s what Peter meant when he said if you’ll attend to prophecy and receive its message, that morning star will rise in your hearts. You’ll know the next one to rise will be the Son of righteousness. So, no matter how dark it is outside you’ve got that lamp, that light, in a dark place.
The first response is optimism. How many of you are feeling optimistic right now? Okay.
The second, I believe, is commitment. Commitment to God. I don’t mean a halfway commitment, I mean an unreserved commitment to God and to the Lord Jesus Christ—and to the people of God. Psalm 110. The opening two verses of this psalm are quoted more often in the New Testament than any other Old Testament passage. Psalm 110. I’ll read you this and then I’ll give you the Prince version.
“The Lord says to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”
That was quoted by Jesus himself. The Lord is God the Father. He says to Jesus Christ the Son, David’s Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make all your enemies a footstool for your feet.” That’s where Jesus is now. He’s at the Father’s right hand waiting for all his enemies to be made a footstool for his feet.
Then it says in the next verse:
“The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; rule in the midst of your enemies.”
I believe Zion is God’s people assembled in divine order. I believe the Lord who extends the scepter is the Lord the Holy Spirit. I believe the Holy Spirit exercises the authority that’s in the scepter of Christ and in the name of Jesus through the people of God. The result is that Christ rules in the midst of his enemies. It’s most important to see that we are in the midst of his enemies. If you get more occupied with the enemies than with Christ you’ll lose your faith. The enemies are very vicious and very vocal. But you have to continually bear in mind that Jesus is already ruling in the midst of his enemies and he’s ruling through you and me.
Then the next verse says in this version:
“Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. Arrayed in holy majesty, from the womb of the dawn you will receive the dew of your youth.”
I like troops and I like battle because this is talking about war. But where it says “willing” the Hebrew says literally “freewill offering.” Your troops will be freewill offerings. In other words, the people whom God is going to use are not the people who give an offering or say a prayer or preach a sermon. They’re the people who are the offering.
I remember I heard a Pentecostal preacher whom I could not imitate if I tried, telling a story about an American Indian who was in a gospel service and he wanted to respond. So when the appeal was made he brought up his blanket, deposited it on the altar and said, “Indian bring blanket.” But he didn’t get any peace so a little later he came up with his rifle. He deposited that on the altar and said, “Indian bring rifle.” But he still got no peace so after awhile he went outside, untethered his horse, led his horse up to the altar—which was the most precious thing he owned—and said, “Indian bring horse.” But he still had no peace. Eventually he came up and he said, “Indian bring Indian.” That’s what I’m talking about. God doesn’t want your blanket, your rifle or even your horse. He’ll not settle for those. He’ll only settle for one thing, that’s you. Without reservation.
“Your troops will be freewill offerings.” Not make them but be them in your day of battle. I don’t think God is concerned so much about numbers as quality. You remember what he said to Gideon, “You’ve got far too many men with you. Weed them out, I can do with less.”
Now, the alternative version for the second half of verse 3 is the one I believe which is right. That is instead of “arrayed in holy majesty from the womb of the dawn you will receive the dew of your youth,” the alternative version—and I’ve studied this passage carefully in Hebrew—“arrayed in holy majesty from the womb of the dawn your young men will come to you like the dew.” I believe that’s right. It’s talking about a time when God is going to reach out by the Holy Spirit and summon young men into his army. Young men are coming as freewill offerings. They’re coming from the womb of the dawn. That speaks about a long, dark night but the breaking of a new day. And out of the womb of that dawn the beauty of holiness, the young men and the young women, will enlist in God’s army. That’s the way I see it. I’ve seen that for maybe 12 years or more. I see a tremendous army of young people being assembled for the battle at the close of this age. Young people who don’t just give something but give themselves. I believe commitment is what it takes.
My mind is a little occupied with what I was reading yesterday about the Boxer Rising in China. In one place they took a group of Chinese Christians, drew a circle in the dust and put a cross in the circle and made them stand inside the circle. They said, “If you want to live, all you have to do is just step out of the circle. But if you stay in the circle we’ll kill you.” That’s commitment, isn’t it? Staying inside the circle. I don’t think any of us can really be casual about a matter like that. That’s what commitment is.
It says in Revelation 12:11:
“They overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”
That’s it. If it’s a choice between saving your life or denying the gospel, you’ll let your life go. I have no question myself that many will be confronted with that decision in the years that lie ahead. Many are being confronted with it already, don’t be ignorant of that. It just hasn’t happened in America—yet.
The third response I recommend is identify yourself with God’s purposes. 1 John 2:17.
“The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”
The King James says “abides forever.” Everything in the world is unstable and impermanent. It’s all going to change, it’s going to pass away. But the man who identifies himself with God’s purpose is unsinkable. You are just as secure and just as irresistible as the purpose of God himself if you are determined to do the will of God.
I’m in my 65th year. I don’t know how much longer I have but I say to myself if I’m doing the will of God in my life, there’s nothing can destroy me till my task is complete. I believe that. It’s good to believe it, too. It helps. I don’t say that idly, I’ve really thought this thing through. So far as I am able to understand, I’m identified with God’s purposes. They take precedence over my own plans or interests or activities. It’s not sufficient to make that decision once, we have to renew it continually. That makes life considerably simpler—not always easier.
I’ve said that our response should be three things. I’m coming near to the end of my message. Number one, optimism. Number two, commitment. Number three, identify with the purposes of God.
I want to suggest to you the two primary purposes of God for the church. Number one, unity. Number two, outreach. Jesus prayed in John 17:20–23:
“My prayer is not for them alone...”
That’s not merely for the disciples who were there.
“...I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
I think that’s very powerful, that last sentence. “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me...” I believe there is only one testimony that will reach the entire world. It isn’t evangelism, it isn’t preaching, it isn’t radio or television. It’s the demonstrated unity of God’s people here on earth. Jesus says when that happens the world will know that God sent him. I believe at this present time in the purposes of God that’s priority number one. Frankly, for most of us and most of God’s people in this nation—and especially most of God’s ministers—it’s pretty low on their list of priorities. I believe there’s got to be a tremendous readjustment of our priorities and I’m not excluding myself.
Secondly, as we move into unity and even more out of unity I believe the ultimate purpose of God is to reach the whole word with the gospel of the kingdom. Anything less than that is stopping short of the will of God. I think the church has been so slack about this for about 19 centuries that we’ve somehow adopted the attitude, “Well, I guess by now Jesus has forgotten he ever said that.” Let me assure you he never forgets. His priorities never change. Let me show you, we go back to Matthew 24. I’ve especially reserved this because I wanted to end on this note. First of all, we’ll look in verse 3. The question that the disciples asked, Matthew 24:3:
“Tell us, they said, when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?
This happening is the destruction of the temple. That happened in 70 A.D. Those Jewish disciples couldn’t conceive that the temple would be destroyed and the age not end. They mixed the two things together. History has separated them out. So, the destruction of the temple is a finished historical fact. We’re left with the other two questions. What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the consummation of the age?
In the verses that I’ve already studied with you, following on we get many signs. Wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, persecution of Christians, apostasy, betrayal, false prophets, abounding lawlessness and so on. But Jesus has not yet answered the question because the question was not what are the signs plural, but what will be the sign.
I want you to know that Jesus did not sidestep that question. He answered it specifically and clearly. His answer is found in verse 14.
“And this gospel of the kingdom...”
And he was very particular. It wasn’t to be any gospel. No human watered down version but the same gospel that he and the apostles preached.
“This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations...”
Now notice the next word.
“...and then the end will come.”
That’s a specific answer. The question was, What will be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the age? The answer was, This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations, and then the end will come.
All right. In God’s purposes the ultimate for us is to bring this gospel message of the kingdom to all nations. What blesses me in that is that the initiative ultimately is with the church. The forces of evil may do what they please but the thing that will precipitate the close of the age is the responsibility of the church. Because, believe me, politicians, dictators, military commanders and scientists are never going to preach the gospel of the kingdom. That’s going to be done by people like you and me. We can get so occupied with all that’s going on in the world and the tremendous forces unleashed—mainly evil or at least human—that we fail to appreciate that the answer is with us. God is depending on us.
You might ask me, “Do you believe that there’s a fixed day for the Lord to return?” Personally, I do. Then you would say, “But don’t you believe that some things have got to happen before the Lord returns?” I do. How do you equate them? My answer is I believe the Lord knows the day when those things will have happened. See? I believe the Lord knew when Israel would enter the Promised Land because he told Abraham a certain number of years. He knew one generation would wander in the wilderness but he didn’t plan for all generations to wander in the wilderness forever. I believe God knows when he’ll get a group of people who will do what he wants. Most of what he’s been doing in history and the church is to get that group of people ready. I believe you and I ought to be part of that group. If we’re not, it will be to our everlasting reproach. Amen.