The Faithful Journey

Matthew 24:15-28

Introduction:  Sofia from Golden Girls, “Picture it”

  • Picture it:  old Jewish prophet in Babylon for many years, he’s on his third king there
    • Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and now Darius
  • Content in God’s mercy, even if it’s a hard mercy of exile
  • All of a sudden, God disrupts the ordinary and intervenes with vision upon vision…

In chapter 11, Daniel prophesies about the Abomination of Desolation

  • 11:31 “abomination that makes desolate” making clear the distinction between the noun “abomination” and the verb “that makes desolate”
  • Stuart Olyott explains, The vision in Chapter 11 “is a continuation of the vision which our Lord gave to the elderly prophet in the late sixth century B.C. Supernaturally strengthened by angels, the old man has been capable of receiving a vision of the future. He has been told that the Medo-Persian Empire will give way to Greece, which, after splitting into four, will later be dominated by the affairs of two kingdoms in particular. Up to verse 20 the chapter has given a detailed summary of the relationship between the southern kingdom of the Ptolemies, based on Egypt, and the northern kingdom of the Seleucids, based on Syria.[1]
  • The new Kingdom of the North, the Seleucids, would be led by a madman—Antiochus Epiphanes
    • Epiphanes Illustrious,
      • Incarnation of Zeus, the Greek god
      • Like Jan. 6, “epiphany”
    • Antiochus Epimanes, which means “madman”
  • Olyott:  Cunning, deceitful, usurper of the throne, cruel and blood thirsty
  • But, the abomination of desolation isn’t actually Antiochus
  • The abomination of desolation refers to what Antiochus did in the temple
    • Pig offering
    • Pig broth desecrating all of it
    • Altar to Zeus

Now move forward 600 years or so, Jesus of Nazareth is telling his disciples what they should expect to happen in the next 40 years:

  • False prophets and even false messiahs
  • Betrayals
  • A tribulation so bad…
  • Why do we believe it happens in the next 40 years or so?  24:34 “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place”.

Put yourself in the disciples’ sandals for a minute:

  • It hasn’t been easy for them these last three years
    • Following Jesus all around (not being at home)
    • Opposed in the synagogues
    • And in many towns
    • Everywhere they went the leaders would get hot and bothered
      • Just at Jesus’ presence
      • Then Jesus would start talking…
  • Now Jesus is saying “it’s going to get worse”

Our passage today: difficulty is part of your faith

  • Not tangential difficulties, but
  • Trials, tribulation, persecution, and oppression are direct results of faith
  • That means that in a subjective sense, as Paul even stresses sometimes, The Gospel for believers is: 
    • Your sin
    • Your savior—lived, died, raised, ascended
    • Your trials
    • Your glory
  • There is glory to come
    • John 17:20-22  “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me”
  • But don’t get the order confused
    • The believer’s glory comes after our trials, after this great tribulation
    • Jesus’ glory came through the cross and after the cross
    • So will yours, if you believe in his saving work

Jesus tells us to pray and be committed to him, to be alive in Christ 

  1. In the face of great tribulation, such as the world has never seen, Jesus says “pray!” (16-21)  then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.
    1. That’s not usually my first reaction
      1. My first reaction is the two year old reaction:  do it myself
      1. Then stress and worry, because I can’t…
    1. Jesus lays out the bleak picture to come:  the abomination of desolation
      1. 70 AD (just 40 years or so):  General Titus and Roman army sacrificing in the temple, pagan worship practices
    1. This is a warning:  don’t hesitate to run!
      1. Let those in Judea flee to the mountains!  Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak.
      1. God’s judgment—don’t run to the city
        1. Against conventional wisdom
        1. Understand this:  when The Roman army comes running away from the safety of city walls will be an extreme of faith
    1. Jesus refers to some circumstances that make your flight harder
      1. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.
      1. Pregnancy and nursing make it harder to travel
        1. Sciatica…Christmas visit
      1. Winter:   rainy season, mud making it harder to escape
      1. Sabbath–The regulations about “a Sabbath day’s journey” would make for a difficulty of a different sort; journey on a Sabbath would present a problem for Jewish Christians, and Sabbath-observing Jews would make things difficult for hurrying Christians.[2] (Morris)
    1. Jesus’ admonition:  “Pray!” is paired with the truth in v. 25 “see. I have told you beforehand”
      1. The presence of difficult times confirm Jesus’ truth, so as his truthfulness is proved by  trials, shouldn’t trials also prove to us that praying is a worthwhile occupation of our time?
      1. The problem we face is that we don’t typically see God’s mercy in real time
        1. I’m sure there were plenty of pregnant mothers fleeing the destruction in 70 AD Judea.  So what about their prayers?
        1. In the middle of the tribulations, when we do pray, it often doesn’t look like it does any good.
        1. Prayer is part of your faith, and your faith is about your journey more than it is about your destination.
        1. The destination        is sure, even from our perspective the destination is heaven and believers know we’re gonna have it. Rom. 8:28-30  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
        1. The journey, on the other hand, is pretty murky from down here.  Prayer keeps us propped up because it’s not us doing the propping—in prayer we commune with God and God sustains us.  Give us this day our daily bread…your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
        1. It’s not Aladdin’s lamp—it wasn’t for Daniel who ended up in the Lion’s den for praying.  And it wasn’t for Jesus who showed us his humanity in praying “let this cup pass from me”, yet in both instances God strengthened his prophet and his son for the task ahead.  He’ll strengthen you too.
  2. The Journey can only be carried out by the living.  The Jews and their religion were spiritually dead, God was bringing his judgment on them for it.  Vv. 27-28  For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
    1. V. 27 The Judgment: 70 AD was vicious and awful—because Rome had besieged the city, inside the walls of Jerusalem had become a killing ground between various factions of Jews. 
      1. It was very public and well known:  Like lightning that flashes across the sky—everyone knew the Romans had arrived and conquered
      1. We should notice how God’s judgement is contrasted with the false Messiahs that come in secret—(v.26) either in the wilderness or in the inner rooms
    1. V. 28  The corpse—Judaism, the empty Temple, Jerusalem as the center of God’s worship
      1. The roman legion’s banners with eagles on them—vultures gathering over the corpse of Jerusalem
    1. The Jews had become spiritually dead
      1. Jesus called them white-washed tombs in chp 23.
      1. 70 AD was the final revelation of it
    1. For us, the application:  Be vital in your faith by seeking your living Savior, and being committed to him
      1. Beware the false Christs:  they can easily deceive you, they even have the ability to do signs and wonders
        1. Evaluate with your faith not your eyes, ears, or emotions
        1. Easy ways to evaluate whether a message is true or not:  the Apostles Creed
      1. Search for the real Christ in his depth—
        1. the person of Christ
          1. Fully Divine—the Son of Man a divine title from Daniel 7
          1. Fully human—v. 36  “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”
            1. Human knowledge was limited
          1. A tension, not a contradiction within the mystery of the person
          1. Contemplation and meditation will be rewarded with deeper faith and commitment
        1. He’s our healer as well as our sacrifice—Mark 1:40-41 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.”
          1. Just like He took on our flesh and felt our pain to save us, he touched the leper to heal him
          1. Like prayer, healing is part of our journey.  But like prayer, healing in our eyes is largely ineffective.  It’s a slow process rather than the all-at-once the false gospels, false prophets, and false Christs claim to give us.
            1. Michelangelo and sculpting David
            1. Chad Bird, “We are right to say that Jesus paid the price for our sins, that he takes our guilt away. But we need more than a Savior from our own sin. We also need more than a Savior from other people’s sins against us. We need a Savior who heals us finally from evils over which no one had any control. Evils that are part of a fallen world where alligators kill people, pickups run over children, floods drown, hurricanes crush, cancers kill.”
            1. We cling to Christ because he really is our only choice.

Be alive in Christ, not just a bystander—cling to the one who saved you in his death, to the one who is saving you now in his heavenly reign, and will save you in the future by returning in glory.  Cling to him in his sacrifice for you.  Cling to him in his humility as lived in your flesh, and died naked on the cross.  Cling to him in his provision and strength—come to me all who are weary and heavy laden.  Cling to him in your prayers, praises, and supplications–Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Amen..

[1] Stuart Olyott, Dare to Stand Alone: Daniel Simply Explained, Welwyn Commentary Series (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 1982), 150.

[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 605.