Afterthoughts

Children are always listening. 

A few weeks ago I was sitting in my living room having a discussion with someone about end-times theology – specifically whether or not Believers would be present during the Tribulation period described in Daniel, Matthew and the Revelation.  I was making an argument that we would.  I’m not going to debate that subject here.  What you need to know is that while I was having this discussion, my nine year old son, Samuel, was sitting nearby playing with his toys.  Later that day, he asked me a question:

Dad, if God loves us, why will He let us go through that?

His question hit me like a punch in the stomach.  Sure, I had all of my theological arguments ready to go.  But at that moment, looking into the eyes of my son, those arguments seemed to fall very short.  Theological principles mean little when you’re trying to explain to your own child why a God of love would let His children suffer through the difficulties that we read in Matthew 24 and the Revelation.  All I could do was take a step back and say, “I don’t know.”

This isn’t the right book for us to try to debate the rapture.  It doesn’t matter if you believe that the Church will be caught up before, during, or after the Tribulation.  It’s still a fact that God’s children are suffering all around the world.  Religious persecution is rising at alarming rates.

Earlier, we looked at the effect of persecution on the Believers in China.  I’m reminded of a story told by Corrie ten Boom.  Corrie was a young Believer living in Amsterdam during the Holocaust.  Her family risked their lives to rescue many Jews from the Nazis.  Eventually, she and her family were captured and sent to the concentration camps.  Only she survived.

Corrie would go on to have a tremendous teaching ministry as she challenged Believers to stand in faith during persecution.  In 1974, she wrote a letter where she told this story:

I have been in countries where the saints are already suffering terrible persecution. In China, the Christians were told, ‘Don’t worry, before the tribulation comes you will be translated – raptured.’ Then came a terrible persecution. Millions of Christians were tortured to death. Later I heard a Bishop from China say, sadly, “We have failed. We should have made the people strong for persecution rather than telling them Jesus would come first. Tell the people how to be strong in times of persecution, how to stand when the tribulation comes – to stand and not faint.”1

Don’t get hung up on the rapture question.  Again, that isn’t the point of this.  What I’m trying to get across to you is that Believers all around the world are already going through their own, personal tribulation.  Your position on the timing of the rapture doesn’t change this.  So, the question my son asked still needs to be answered: why?

“I don’t know” is not enough when we consider the answer to such an important question.  I couldn’t leave my son wondering why His Heavenly Father would let him suffer.  So, I began to seek the answer.

It always amazes me how things come full circle.  The journey that I’ve been on for the past two years began as I sat in an ancient grove at the foot of the Mount of Olives reading Matthew 26.  I would never have thought that the answer to my son’s question would lead me back to this same passage, and an even deeper understanding of my Messiah’s choice in the Garden of Gethsemane.

“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me…”

Have you ever wondered how hard it was for the Father to remain silent as His Son asked Him if there was any other way to redeem mankind?  As I sat in the Garden of Gethsemane on that Saturday morning two years ago, this was the question that gripped me.  Think about it: the Father announced the soon arrival of His Son by sending an angel to Mary and Joseph.  On the night of His birth, a host of angels burst into our reality proclaiming “For unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”2 At the start of Jesus’ ministry, the heavens parted as this proud Father proclaimed, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”3 And the Father again made this statement as Jesus was transfigured on the mountain.4 Now in Gethsemane, when His Son needed Him the most, the Father was silent.

As I sat in that garden reading Jesus’ plea, I wept at the realization that the Father loved me so much, that He would allow His Son to suffer in ways that no man had ever suffered before or since, that I might be saved.

The Father’s love for you and me was the reason that Jesus had to go to the Cross.

Jesus’ decision was just as powerful.  Because He is the Son of God, He was totally aware of the events that would play out over the next 24 hours.  He could have refused.  I think we know this on a certain level, but have we taken the time to really grasp this?  He could have said “no.”  Let’s leave out all of the theological back and forth of the “Trinity” and the Father and the Son being One.  As a man, Jesus – God’s Son – had every opportunity and right to reject the suffering that He was facing.  Still, His love for the Father, and for us, caused Him to go boldly to the cross.  We were saved because of His willingness to allow God to use His suffering to redeem mankind.

Jesus was obedient:

…yet not as I will, but as You will.5

Jesus was faithful to do His Father’s work:

…I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent me.6

Jesus’ compassion for us compelled Him:

Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them…7

And the result was that the Father redeemed mankind through Jesus.

This reminds me of the most famous verse in the Bible:

For God so loved the world, that He have His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.9

The Answer

As I studied and prayed, asking God to give me the answer to my son’s question, the Holy Spirit finally showed me that the Father isn’t asking us to do anything that He didn’t ask His own Son to do.  And the reason that He allows us to suffer and face tribulation, is the same.

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.10

Remember how we saw that the Father has chosen to work through us?  That we are called to be His servants, faithful to do His work in His absence?

The answer to the question of “why”, is that the Father loves each of us so much that He must leave us here on this earth to share His love until everyone who will be saved, is saved.  Even if that means we might go through terrible suffering.

This is why we must hear and obey Him.  We must be faithful to do His work.  We must have compassion for others.

Obedience.  Faithfulness.  Compassion.  Until the last soul is saved.

[1] Corrie ten Boom, “A Letter of Warning from Corrie Ten Boom,” 1974
[1] Luke 2:10 KJV
[1] Matthew 3:17
[1] Matthew 17:5
[1] Matthew 26:39
[1] John 5:30b
[1] Matthew 9:36a
[1] Luke 23:46 NLT
[1] John 3:16
[1] 2 Peter 3:9
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First Steps

We’ve all heard the proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  But a better translation of the original Chinese is “A journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet.”1 The emphasis is starting where you are.  Still, without moving forward, the journey is sure to end there as well!

We’ve learned that the journey to becoming everything that our Father has created us to be in these final days begins with obedience.  By hearing and obeying the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit, we will become faithful servants who will hear the words, “well done.”  Through obedience and faithfulness, our hearts will become like the Father’s, and we will look with compassion on the ones He loves.  And this will result in the final revival that will usher in the return of the Messiah.

Obedience.  Faithfulness.  Compassion.  Revival.  These are basic values that have guided Believers since the beginning of time.  But many of us are still stuck.  We know what to do, but we don’t know where to start.

Here is a simple plan that is designed to help get you “unstuck.”  It takes nine weeks – just sixty three days.  And by the end of these nine weeks, I’m confident that you will be well on your way to unlocking your ultimate destiny.  You will be confident that you are doing all you can to be prepared to meet your God.

Challenge #1: Obedience –The First 21 Days

First, let me challenge you to spend the next 21 days focusing on hearing and obeying the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Now this may be news to you, but you can’t hear and obey the Word if you don’t read it.  So here comes the challenge.

Go to the nearest grocery store or big box retailer and by a highlighter, a pen, and a package of index cards.  When you get home, take out 21 index cards and date them, starting with tomorrow’s date.  Every morning for the next 21 days, I want you to read one chapter of the Gospel of John.   Write the corresponding chapter next to the date (Example: January 1 – John 1).  Every morning, after reading that day’s chapter, ask yourself two questions:

What does this chapter teach me about God?

How should I live because of this?

Highlight the verses that stand out to you.  Then, write the answers to these two questions on that day’s index card.  But the challenge doesn’t end there.  You must allow the Holy Spirit to direct you as you live according to the truth you’ve learned.  That is the “hear and obey” part.  Do this for the next 21 days.

Challenge #2: Faithfulness – The Next 21 Days

After you’ve completed the obedience challenge, it’s time to begin working on faithfulness.  Remember, being a faithful servant is doing the Master’s work in His absence.  You are His representative.

Jesus never learned of a need that He didn’t meet.  That’s the heart of Challenge #2.  For the second period of 21 days, you will continue with the habit of daily meditating on, and memorizing, Scripture. (I suggest moving on to the Gospel of Luke, and then to the Book of Acts.) While you continue this,  I want you to begin to look for the needs of those around you.  Whenever someone asks you to pray about a need, no matter how small or how large, I want you to write it down on another index card.  These should be dated just like you did in the Challenge #1.  Next, I want you to make it your mission to figure out how to meet that need.  If a day passes where no one comes to you with a need, I want you to seek someone out and ask them if there is any way you can pray for them.  This will most of the time lead them to share a need with you; either their own or another’s.  Pray about the need, and then go into action.  The only way you are going to be able to meet this need is to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  He will direct you and give you creative ways to do the Master’s work.

Challenge #3: Compassion – The Last 21 Days

You’ve spent the past 42 days hearing and obeying the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit, and the past 21 days carrying out the Master’s work by seeking out and meeting the needs of those around you.  If you’ve followed through on each of these challenges, I have no doubt that God is doing an unbelievable work in and through you.  Now it’s time for you to connect with the heart of God for His chosen people.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.” 2

For this final set of 21 days, you will continue with the first two challenges, but add a special time of prayer – just five minutes – every evening, for the peace of Jerusalem.  You’re probably familiar with the Hebrew word for peace – “shalom.”  The most common definition of peace is “the absence of conflict.”  However shalom means something much deeper.  Shalom is best defined as “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace.”

As you pray for the “shalom” of Jerusalem, I encourage you to pray for the ultimate peace of the Jewish people – that they may come to know the Prince of Peace, Yeshua.

In addition to this special time of prayer, it is absolutely essential that you also reach out to meet the physical needs of the Jewish Believer.  The most effective ministry that I know of to help you do this is called “The HaTikva Project.”  HaTikva is a Hebrew word meaning “hope.”  This ministry provides tangible resources to the persecuted Jewish Believers in Yeshua who are living in Israel today.  You can learn more by going to http://www.promisekeepers.org.

Challenge #4: Revival

There is no Challenge #4.  Let me explain.

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.3

If you’ve spent the past 63 days completing the first three challenges, you are well on your way to unlocking your ultimate destiny.  You understand the times and know what to do about them.  You are hearing and obeying the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.  You are faithfully doing the Master’s work in His absence.  And, having found the very heart of God, you are compassionately standing with the Jewish Believer.  Now, you must simply continue.

Those who understand the times and know what to do will be prepared for the arrival of the Messiah.  As the hour gets later and midnight approaches, they will sense the leading of the Holy Spirit, and will be ready to obey.  They will endure persecution.  Daniel prophesied over this generation:

By smooth words he (the Antichrist) will turn to godlessness those who act wickedly toward the covenant, but the people who know their God will display strength and take action.4

You may falter.  It’s easy to talk about trusting the Father and being faithful when things are going well.  But when we are smack dab in the middle of our own personal tribulation, it’s not so simple.  The best thing to do when you face trials and tribulations that cause you to question the Father’s intentions towards you is to hear and obey the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In 1961, scientist Edward Lorenz coined the term “the butterfly effect.”  This is based upon a mathematical theory that is much too complex for this book, but the basic concept is that the movement caused by the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings on one side of the world, can eventually lead to the development of a hurricane on the other side.  In essence, a small and seemingly insignificant action can eventually lead to a tremendous impact.

It’s easy for us to think that what we do makes little or no difference.  You couldn’t be more wrong.  Here’s an example.

We discussed Billy Graham in an earlier chapter.  Billy Graham is one of the greatest evangelists the world has ever known.  He became a believer at an evangelistic meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, held by a man named Mordecai Ham.

Mordecai Ham was invited to hold these meetings by the Charlotte Businessmen’s Club, which was originally called the Billy Sunday Layman’s Evangelistic Club.  This club was started as the result of an evangelistic campaign held in Charlotte in 1924 by another great preacher named Billy Sunday.

Billy Sunday got his ministry start assisting a man named J. Wilbur Chapman.  Sunday helped Chapman organize evangelistic meetings for several years.

While J. Wilbur Chapman was a young man, he attended Lake Forest College.  During that time, he participated in a meeting where D. L. Moody spoke, and afterward met with Moody for spiritual counsel.  D.L. Moody is one of the most successful preachers in American history.

When D. L. Moody was seventeen years old, he worked in Chicago at his uncle’s shoe store.  His uncle required that Moody attend the Congregational Church of Mount Vernon.  Moody accepted Jesus as his Savior after a Sunday School teacher named Edward Kimball shared with him how much God loved him.

D.L. Moody, to J. Wilbur Chapman, to Billy Sunday, to Mordecai Ham, to Billy Graham.

That simple Sunday School teacher didn’t make much of a difference at all, did he?

It all starts with hearing and obeying.

Part 15: Afterthoughts

1. http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/24004.html
2. Psalm 122:6
3. John 16:33
4. Daniel 11:32
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Persecution and Revival

In China, it is estimated that there are as many as 100 million Christians.  This is an amazing statistic, seeing that there are only 75 million members of the Chinese Communist party.1 What has caused this amazing move of God?

James T. Draper Jr., former president of the Southern Baptist Convention (the largest Protestant denomination in the United States), was in China several years ago to see for himself what was happening.   He tells a story of an interview with a leader in the house church movement in China, at which he was present.  The interviewer asked this Chinese pastor how American Christians could pray for the Believers in China.  The pastor quickly answered:

Stop praying for persecution in China to end, for it is through persecution that the church has grown.  We, in fact, are praying that the American church might taste the same persecution, so revival would come to the American church like we have seen in China.2

The understanding that persecution always results in revival goes back to the very birth of the Church.  Consider the martyrdom of Stephen.

The very first words used to describe Stephen are words any of us would be proud to have said about us:

…and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit…3

He was the first among seven men who were specially chosen by the leaders of the Church to care for the needs of the Believers.  The Church had taken up the responsibility to provide meals for the widows among them.  Apparently, a division had arisen because there were two types of widows: those who were Jewish Believers born in Israel, and those Jewish Believers who were not.  Those who were born in Israel were receiving special treatment.  This caused enough of a stir that it came to the attention of the Apostles.  A decision was made that a group of men would be chosen to handle these types of matters, in order to allow the Apostles to focus their attention on prayer and teaching the Word.

It wasn’t long before Stephen was being used powerfully by God, and catching the attention of the religious leaders.  These non-Believers argued with Stephen, but were unsuccessful in their attempts to challenge him.  They plotted against Stephen, persuading some to say that Stephen had spoken blasphemy against the Torah and God.

They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.”4

The persecution Stephen would endure was just beginning, but the impact he would make was already being felt.

And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.5

What an amazing statement!  The entire Sanhedrin (the ruling council of the Jews) saw the glory of God shining through Stephen.

The High Priest and leaders interrogated Stephen, and his sermon is one of the most powerful messages recorded in Scripture.  He walks through the entire story of the Children of Israel, from the call of Abraham to the building of the Temple and the rebellion of the religious leaders against the prophets of God.  When he said this, the people became enraged and they took Stephen outside of the city and stoned him:

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him.  But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse.  When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.  They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”  Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!”  Having said this, he fell asleep.6

This is an amazing story.  I pray that I will be as bold as Stephen if I am ever faced with the same type of circumstances.  But I want to make sure you see one small piece of the story that you may have overlooked.  Stephen’s martyrdom introduces us to the story of Saul.  Saul will go on to become a leader of the persecution against the Church.  One day he will be making his way to Damascus to imprison the Believers there.  But God will stop him in his tracks, and Saul will come to know and believe that Jesus is the Messiah.  You may know Saul better by his Greek name – Paul.

Because of the persecution of Stephen, and the passion of Saul to continue this attack until all of Judaism was rid of those who claimed that Jesus was Lord, the Gospel would eventually go throughout Asia Minor and Europe.  Paul would end up writing thirteen letters that would be distributed to the churches and later included in the Bible as the Pauline Epistles.  You know – the letter to the Romans; 1 and 2 Corinthians; Galatians and so on.  The effects of the persecution of Stephen are still being measured today.

In 1534, King Henry VIII became the leader of the Church of England, and it became a law that all within the British Empire become members of the Church.  However, there were those who disagreed with the doctrines and teachings of the Church of England and refused membership.  Many of these “dissenters” were burned at the stake and beheaded.  Many more were fined, put in prison, and forced into exile.

There was a group of these dissenters who became convinced that the only way to truly be free to worship God as they felt the Scriptures taught them, would be to leave Europe and settle in America.  After months of travel and difficulty, they arrived at Plymouth Rock.  These “pilgrims” founded a colony based upon the principles in the Torah of Moses.  They wrote a document called “The Mayflower Compact.”   And this agreement is considered the foundation upon which the Constitution, and the United States itself, was built.  The United States of America has sent more missionaries around the world than any other nation in history.  Out of the fires of religious persecution in England, came the greatest move of God ever.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed as we read of the tribulation and trials that our Messiah foretold to His disciples in Matthew 24.  I can’t even imagine how difficult life will be when we reach the climax of history, and Satan stands in the Temple declaring himself to be god.7 But buried within this prophecy is a promise that we can cling to.  It is the hope for the future.

The revival that came from the persecution of Stephen is a move of God that is still being felt today.  And all of us are influenced by the revival that resulted from the Pilgrims and the persecution they endured in England, driving them to seek a new life in America.  But still, there is one command of Jesus that has yet to be fulfilled:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…8

There are more Believers alive today than in any other time in history.   Yet there are many people who have never heard the Good News of Jesus the Messiah.  The promise of Matthew 24 is that the final persecution we are about to go through will result in the salvation of the world!

But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.  This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.9

We can trust our Father.  His heart toward us is good.  He isn’t allowing us to go through these things because of His indifference or because He doesn’t love us.  He is allowing us to be a part of His greatest work ever!

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” says the LORD, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”10

For those who understand the times and know what to do, this fourth step will be the most exciting and challenging moment of their lives.  This will be a revival greater than anything the world has ever seen.  That’s why Jesus was so passionate about His disciples remaining faithful and enduring to the end; why Jesus exhorted His followers to hear and obey the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that they wouldn’t be deceived; and why Jesus compelled Believers to be compassionate to God’s chosen people.  For Believers living today, there will be no excuses when our Messiah returns.  We must follow His teachings and prepare for His arrival.  May we be like the five wise virgins; the two faithful servants; and the “sheep” that cared for the Brothers of the King.

Part 14: First Steps

1. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128546334
2. http://across.co.nz/PrayingforPersecution05.html
3. Acts 6:5b
4. Acts 6:12-14
5. Acts 6:15
6. Acts 7:54-60
7. Matthew 23:15; Daniel 9:27; 2 Thessalonians 2:4
8. Matthew 28:19
9. Matthew 24:13-14
10. Jeremiah 29:11
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The Parable of the Fig Tree

We’ve learned that understanding the times and knowing what to do about it means being true Believers who hear and obey the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Because of this, we are faithful to do the Master’s work in His absence, caring for the needs of those around us.  And the very heart of this work is compassion for the King’s brothers – the Jewish people.

What provoked Jesus to share these three parables?  Why, just a few hours before His betrayal in Gethsemane, did Jesus believe it was so important to instruct His disciples to follow these guiding principles?

As Jesus left the Temple following His final confrontation with the religious leaders (as we saw in chapter 8), His disciples drew His attention to the massive stonework of the Temple.  However, Jesus wasn’t interested in idle chatter:

And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things?  Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”1

Please don’t miss the significance of this moment.  The Temple was the central focus of everything in the lives of the people of Israel.  Their very identity was tied up in those stones.  When Jesus made this statement, He was telling them that very soon everything they relied upon was going to be turned upside down.  Nothing would be the same again.

They made their way across the massive bridge that spanned the Kidron Valley connecting the Temple Mount to the Mount of Olives.  This would have taken several minutes.  I can imagine the tension of those moments as they walked in silence contemplating what Jesus had just said.  After arriving on the other side, Jesus sat down, and His disciples came to Him for the rest of the story:

“Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”

And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you.”2

The New American Standard Bible comes across a little bit anti-climactic.  I prefer the King James Version translation of Jesus’ words:

Take heed that no man deceives you.3

These words carry a great deal of weight. Jesus is about to tell them about the coming of the Kingdom.  They’ve been speculating for their entire time with Jesus about when He was going to finally overthrow the Romans and setup His throne in Jerusalem.  They knew He was the Messiah.  But now, He had told them that everything they thought was going to happen had changed.  If the Temple was going to be ripped apart, stone by stone, then the Kingdom they were expecting wasn’t coming.   And then Jesus warns them that they must be careful; deceivers are on their way.

You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars.  See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.  But all these thing are merely the beginning of birth pangs.4

Let’s stop for just a moment to think about this.  The Temple, and these disciples’ entire way of life, is about to be destroyed.  Then Jesus starts telling them not be deceived or frightened when the world literally begins crashing down around them, because things are just getting started.

Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.  At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.  Many false prophets will arise and will mislead (deceive) many.  Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.5

And now we see why Jesus will soon be emphasizing the need for His followers to hear and obey the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit; why they will need to be faithful to continue His work in His absence; and why they will have to be compassionate towards each other.  False teachers are going to deceive vast numbers of people.  Many are going to reject the Word of God and become hard and calloused.  Those who fall away are even going to betray those who haven’t.  Jesus is painting a terrifying picture.

Why did Jesus teach these things?  I don’t know about you, but I would probably be just fine without knowing what is coming.  Still, Jesus spoke these hard words because He wants us to trust Him.  His love for us compelled Him to prepare us for what is coming.  Remember, these things haven’t happened yet.  This is future prophecy.  While many Believers have experienced these trials, we have to remember the question Jesus was answering: “what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?”6

Imagine the chaos that would occur if we were to enter into these final moments of history without Jesus’ warnings.  It’s going to be hard enough as it is.  Jesus said that many are going to be deceived and turn to lawlessness and betray one another, and all of this will happen in spite of His warnings!  It is because He loves us that He is warning us.  It’s as if He’s saying, “I know things are out of control.  And I hate to tell you that they’re going to get much worse.  But please remember, I’ve warned you, and I’ve told you the end of the story.  It’s all going to work out in the end.  Just keep trusting me.

Let’s look forward a few verses and see the metaphor that Jesus used as a signpost in history, preparing us for these events to begin taking place.

Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.  Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.7

Scripture often uses the fig tree as a symbol for Israel.  Consider this prophecy by Jeremiah:

Thus says the LORD God of Israel, “Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the captives of Judah, who I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans.  For I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them again to this land; and I will build them up and not overthrow them, and I will plant them and not pluck them up.  I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.”8

There are other Scriptures that compare Israel to the fig tree, but to fully understand this parable in Matthew 24, we must look at an event that preceded this, which also involved a fig tree:

On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He (Jesus) became hungry.  Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.  He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!”  And His disciples were listening.9

Nothing Jesus ever did was a coincidence or accident.  Just a few days before using the fig tree as a symbol for the timing of His return, He set the stage by approaching a fig tree that had no fruit on it and cursing it.  Now, Jesus tells His disciples that they must understand the meaning of the fig tree.

After pronouncing the curse upon the fig tree, Jesus entered the Temple and condemned the Pharisees’ hypocrisy.  He left the Temple, declaring that they would not see Him again until they said, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”10 And then He declared that the generation that sees the fig tree blossom again would not pass away until He returns.”

The cursing of the fig tree symbolized the Jews’ rejection of Jesus.  But Jesus promised that the fig tree would blossom again.

My friend, the fig tree is beginning to blossom!  The Jewish people have returned to Israel.  A new revival is beginning among the Jewish people.  And the return of the Messiah is near!

Scoffers

Every generation of Believers has thought that they were the generation that would see the return of the Lord, right?  What’s different now?  Near the end of his life, the Apostle Peter addressed this question:

Know this first of all, that in the last-days mockers (translated “scoffers” in the King James Version) will come with their mocking following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming?  For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”  For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.  But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the Day of Judgment and destruction of ungodly men.  But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 11

The traditional Christian interpretation of this passage is that it is symbolic.  But why would Peter use symbolism to describe the eternal nature of God, but call it a numerical “fact” that should be remembered by Believers living at the time of the return of the Lord?  Did the early Church believe this mathematical formula was symbolic?  Consider the words of these early Church writings:

The Epistle of Barnabas (Late 1st Century):

And God made in six days the works of His hands, and made an end on the seventh day, and rested on it, and sanctified it.  Attend, my children, to the meaning of this expression, “He finished in six days.”  This implieth that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a thousand yearsTherefore, my children, in six days, that is in six thousand years, all things will be finished.  “And He rested on the seventh day,”  This meaneth: when His Son, coming [again], shall destroy the time of the wicked man, and judge the ungodly, and change the sun, and the moon, and the stars, then shall He truly rest on the seventh day.”12

Irenaeus (A.D. 120-202)

For in as many days as this world was made, in so many thousand years shall it be concluded.  And for this reason the Scripture says: “Thus the heaven and the earth were finished, and all their adornment.  And God brought to a conclusion upon the sixth day the works that He had made; and God rested upon the seventh day from all His works.”  This is an account of the things formerly created, as also it is a prophecy of what is to come.  For the day of the Lord is a thousand years; and in six days created things were completed: it is evident, therefore, that they will come to an end at the sixth thousand year.” 13

There are many other quotes from the pre-Catholic church era that validate the belief that the early Church interpreted the words of Peter as literal thousand year periods.  And there is evidence that the early Church based this understanding on the writings of pre Messianic-era Hebraic thought.  In the Talmud (Jewish extra-biblical literature) is found this curious teaching:

6000 years is the length of time of this earth, afterwards it will be destroyed.  This is divided into two thousand years of chaos, two thousand years of Torah, and two thousand years of the Days of Messiah. 14

Interestingly, from the time of Adam to Abraham was approximately 2,000 years, a period of chaos without man seeking God’s face and instruction.  And from the time of Abraham to the birth of Jesus was another 2,000 years, a period where man was given the Torah as the ultimate guide for life.  Today, we live 2,000 years from the birth of the Messiah, a period that could easily be described as the “Days of Messiah.”

It can be argued that this early Church interpretation was disproved, based upon the fact that the early Church also believed that they were the generation that would see the return of the Lord.  How could they believe that the era of mankind would last six thousand years, and that their generation would see the return of the Lord, if there had only been 4,000 years of mankind?

The answer is found in the mistranslation of the Septuagint.  The Septuagint is an ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures – the Old Testament – that pre-dates the time of Christ.  The Septuagint varies greatly on the ages of the Patriarchs and chronologies.  When the early Church, using the Septuagint, calculated the time elapsed from Creation, they would have easily come to a number of years that was 1,500 to 2,000 years off from the original Hebrew Scriptures, which are found in the Masoretic text. (The Masoretic text is considered the authoritative source of the Old Testament Scritpures.)

The prophet, Isaiah, wrote that God the Father has made known His plans for humanity:

Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure”; 15

God has declared “the end from the beginning.”  The Hebrew word for “beginning” is “bereshit.”  It is also the name of the first book of the Torah, which in our English Christian Bibles is called “Genesis.”  An accurate translation of Isaiah’s prophecy could read, “…declaring the end from Bereshit (or Genesis).”  This is how the early Church interpreted the progression of time from Creation to the Day of the Lord.  They believed that the six days of Creation were symbolic or the age of mankind lasting 6,000 years, followed by the Day of the Lord, lasting 1,000 years.  Again, this interpretation is consistent with Peter’s encouragement to the Church, reminding us that with the Lord, a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as a day.

Jesus taught His followers that they should know how to interpret the times.  He condemned the religious leaders of His day for their inability to interpret the signs of the times:

The Pharisees and Sadducees came up, and testing Jesus, they asked Him to show them a sign from heaven.  But he replied to them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’  And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’  Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?” 16

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day did not understand the times and know what to do about them, because they were more concerned with their own religious power and interpretations of the Scriptures.  Sadly, the religious leaders of today may be unprepared for the second coming of the Messiah, because of the same reasons.  Still, the Word of God is clear on what we are to expect as signs of His coming.  Israel is a nation again.  The Jewish people are responding to the Gospel in unprecedented numbers.  There have been exponential increases in wars, famines, earthquakes and natural disasters.  Many who claim to be Believers are abandoning the Faith.  The love of many is growing cold.  Lawlessness abounds.  The hour is late.  The sky has grown dark.  Midnight approaches.

This is why it is so important that we heed the messages of the parables in Matthew 25.  Like the five wise virgins, we must be prepared for the arrival of the Bridegroom.  Like the two faithful servants, we must be working in the Master’s absence.  And like the sheep, we must be compassionate and committed to stand with all of God’s people, especially the Jewish Believer.  Those who heed Jesus’ instructions will be the ones whom God uses to carry out His final work on the earth, the fourth step on the pathway laid out in Matthew 24 and 25. 

Things are about to get very difficult.  But we can trust that God is in control, His intentions for us are good, and that He is also preparing us for something amazing.  You see, persecution has always resulted in revival.

Part 13: Persecution and Revival

1. Matthew 24:2
2. Matthew 24:3-4
3. Matthew 24:4b KJV
4. Matthew 24:6-8
5. Matthew 24:9-12
6. Matthew 24:3
7. Matthew 24:32-34
8. Jeremiah 24:5-7
9. Mark 11:12-14
10. Matthew 23:39
11. 2 Peter 3:3-8
12. The Epistle of Barnabas XV
13. Irenaeus: Against Heresies V.XXVIII, 3
14. Talmud [Avodah Zara, 9a]
15. Isaiah 46:9-10
16. Matthew 16:1-3
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One More Person

Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning epic, “Shindler’s List”, is the true story of a German businessman named Oscar Schindler who secures Jewish slave labor from the Nazi concentration camps in order to build his fortune.  Over time, Schindler becomes appalled by what he sees the Nazi’s doing to these people, and exhausts his fortune to save as many lives as he can from extermination.

The climactic scene in this movie comes as Schindler is informed that Germany has fallen to the Allies, and that he has become a wanted man due to his membership in the Nazi party.  As he makes his final preparations to flee, he is presented with a ring made of gold taken from the teeth of some of the people he saved.  As his Jewish assistant and closest friend, Itzhak Stern, presents the ring to him, he translates the inscription on the ring: “It’s Hebrew from the Talmud.  It says, ‘Whoever saves one life saves the world entire’.”

Schindler becomes overcome with grief over what he knows has happened to the Jews of Europe.  He begins to weep as he removes a gold Swastika pin from his lapel:

This pin.  Two people.  This is gold.  Two more people.  He would have given me two for it, at least one.  One more person.  A person, Stern.  For this.  I could have gotten one more person…and I didn’t!   And I…I didn’t.

Hatred of the Jewish people is rising once again.  The U.S. State Department released a report in March of 2008 detailing what it called an “upsurge” in anti-Semitism worldwide.1 Consider these chilling statements found in the report:

Today, more than 60 years after the Holocaust, anti-Semitism is not just a fact of history, it is a current event.

Over much of the past decade, U.S. embassies worldwide have noted an increase in anti-Semitic incidents, such as attacks on Jewish people, property, community institutions, and religious facilities.

Traditional forms of anti-Semitism persist and can be found across the globe.  Classic anti-Semitism screeds2, such as ‘The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion’ and ‘Mein Kampf’ remain commonplace.

What is the Believer to do?  How are we to live in light of this rise in hatred for the brothers of the King?  How can we avoid standing before our King and saying, “I could have gotten one more person, and I didn’t!”?

One day an expert in the Torah asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus, using a traditional Hebraic teaching method, turned the question around on the religious scholar:

And He said to him, “What is written in the Law?  How does it read to you?”  And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”3

In chapter 1 we read about Jesus’ answer to the question “What is the greatest commandment?”  Jesus’ answer to that question is the same as the Torah scholar’s answer to the question about how to inherit eternal life.  Both answered with the Shema.  But both also added a traditional Jewish summary of the Torah:

The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  There is no other commandment greater than these.4

Jesus elevated the responsibility to love others to the same level as loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.  If we hear and obey the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit, and are faithful to do our Master’s work in His absence, we must be willing to look on those around us with compassion.  This love is a manifestation of the type of faith that leads to eternal life.

Jesus commended the Torah scholar on his answer:

And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.

But the Torah scholar then asked a very interesting question:

But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 5

We know the rest of the story.  Jesus told of the Good Samaritan.  A Jewish man is making his way down the treacherous road from Jerusalem to Jericho.  This man is robbed and beaten, then left for dead.  A priest passes by and ignores this man’s need.  Then, a Levite – who was also a religious leader responsible for working in the Temple – does the same.  But finally, a Samaritan sees this Jewish man, has compassion on him, and stops to help.  He treats his wounds, provides shelter for him, and ensures this Jewish man’s full recovery.

We look at this story as an exhortation to all of us to care for the needs of those around us, and this is exactly what it is.  But there may be another perspective that applies to us today.  The Samaritans are present in Jesus’ ministry at several key points.  The woman at the well was Samaritan, and after her passionate recounting of Jesus’ teaching to her, the entire village where she lived proclaimed that He was the Messiah.6 Later, as Jesus and his disciples were making their way to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, these same people refused to sell him any goods because they were angry that He was keeping the feast in Jerusalem, rather than in Samaria with them.7  The Jews hated the Samaritans, believing that these people were half-breeds and heretics who rejected the truth of the Torah for a false religion.  But in this parable, Jesus taught that the religious leaders of the day were not the true neighbors of this persecuted Jewish traveler.  The Jewish man’s true neighbor was the Gentile who cared for his needs.

Could it be that Jesus is telling the Jewish people that their true neighbor is the Gentile who is willing to come to their defense, not the religious leaders who ignore them?

After telling this parable, Jesus asked the Torah scholar a question:

“Which of these three (the priest; the Levite; or the Samaritan) do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robber’s hands?”

And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.”8

I believe that this parable is a powerful metaphor for the Church’s responsibility to care for the needs of the Jewish people, regardless of the religious disagreements.  But there is one final challenge that the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats gives us.

As we learned in the previous chapter, the “brothers” in this parable can only be the physical family of Jesus, the King.  But Jesus spoke of His “brothers” in another context:

For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.9

If the “brothers” of our parable are the Jewish people, how much more of a responsibility do we have to stand with our believing Jewish brothers and sisters?

Jesus’ prayer in John 17 was that the Believing Jew and the Believing Gentile would become one, so that the world may know that He was sent by the Father.  Paul also described this unity in his letter to the Ephesians:

For He (Jesus) is our peace, who made both groups (Jewish Believer and Gentile Believer) into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.10

When I first began to diligently study this passage in Ephesians and how it relates to the Jewish Believer and Gentile Believer, I sensed that I had heard of this “one new man” concept before.  If it seems familiar to you too, that is because it is a principle that every married Believer is well aware of.  In marriage, it is called “one flesh.”

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.11

I love my wife with all of my heart.  But my wife and I couldn’t be more different.  That is God’s plan for us.  He put us together so we would complement each other, not to become a carbon copy of each other.  In fact, after thirteen years of marriage, I’ve come to realize that the only way my wife and I will be able to do what God has planned for us to do with our lives, is to do it as one.  The same is true for the Church.  Gentile Believers and Jewish Believers must stand together if we are to be everything the Father has called us to be.

Today’s Church must come to understand this truth.  We must learn to embrace and stand with the Messianic Jewish Believer.  In Israel today, 40% of Messianic Jews live under the poverty line.  Many are persecuted and beaten if they share their faith.  Still, most Christians are acting like the priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan – turning a blind eye to their needs.  In some cases, they are actually contributing to this problem.

Christians donate millions of dollars a year to pro-Israel organizations.  Let me be clear: this is a good thing.  Unfortunately, very little of the money donated ever gets to the Jewish Believers in Israel, and some is even used to persecute and oppose them.  This should not be so.

Paul wrote of the importance of Believers standing together and caring for each other:

So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.12

And in his letter to the Church at Rome, he speaks directly about the obligation the Gentile Believer has to care for the physical needs of the Jewish Believer:

…For if the Gentiles have shared in their (the Jews) spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things.13

On August 1, 2009, Promise Keepers held its 20th anniversary celebration at Folsom Field on the University of Colorado campus in Boulder, Colorado.  The culmination of this event was focused on challenging Gentile Believers to make the commitment to stand with the Jewish Believer at all costs, even unto death.  This was symbolized by the Gentile Believers coming forward and receiving a Yellow Star of David sticker – a symbol of death to the Jewish person – from Jewish Believers as a seal of this commitment.14 It is estimated that nearly 10,000 Gentile Believers made this covenant on that afternoon.  Having been there on that day, I can tell you I’ve never experienced a more powerful move of God.

But this commitment must go deeper.  It is one thing to make a symbolic, although very powerful, gesture such as this.  It is another thing to sacrifice today for the Jewish Believer by providing for their needs and supporting them as they face tremendous opposition, not only from the anti-Semitic world, but from many within the non-Believing Jewish community as well.  To be like the men of Issachar – to understand the times and know what to do about it – means being willing to stand with the Believing Jew not only in death, but in life as well.  This is the critical third step on the pathway to the world-wide revival that will usher in the return of our Lord.

Part 12: The Parable of the Fig Tree

1. www.state.gov/documents/organization/102301.pdf
2.  “Screeds” refers to a long, monotonous speech or piece of writing.
3. Luke 10:26-27
4. Mark 12:31
5. Luke 10:28
6. John 4
7. Luke 9:51-56
8. Luke 10:36-37a
9. Matthew 12:50
10. Ephesians 2:14-15
11. Genesis 2:24
12. Galatians 6:10
13. Romans 15:27b
14. European Jews were forced to wear Yellow Star of David patches on their clothing during the Holocaust, indicating that they were  Jewish and set apart for extermination.
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The King’s Brothers

One of my all time favorite movies is Fiddler on the Roof.  I’ve always loved music and compelling stories, and “Fiddler” definitely has both.  But it is much more than that.  It is the story of a Jewish “shtetl” or village that is turned upside-down by the pogroms1 of early 20th century Russia.  At one point in the movie, the central character, Tevye, says to God, “I know, I know.  We are Your chosen people.  But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”

No people group in history has experienced more persecution than the Jews.  Their very birth as a nation was on the heels of 400 years of slavery.  They’ve been conquered, enslaved, massacred, driven out of their homes, and faced with the choice to be baptized against their will or be killed.  They’ve been falsely blamed for everything from the Black Death2 to 9/113.  In the early 20th century, a document began circulating called “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.”  This document details an organized Jewish conspiracy for world domination.  In 1921 it was proven that this article was a plagiarism of an earlier work of satirical propaganda designed to expose Napoleon III, written by Pyotr Ivanovich Rachonsky, and was completely fictional.  Yet today, many claim that this conspiracy is seen in the resurrection of the modern State of Israel.  Why this obsession with the Jews?

Numerous theories have been discussed in an attempt to answer this question.  But for the Believer, the answer is clearly seen in Scripture:  the Jews are God’s chosen people, and because of this, Satan hates them.  Listen to what Paul wrote about the importance of the Children of Israel:

Who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law, and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever.  Amen.4

This alone would be enough to single out the Jewish people for destruction by Satan.  But his obsession with the annihilation of the Jewish people goes much deeper.  You see, if Satan can eliminate the Jewish people, he will ensure the failure of God’s plan for this world.  In short, Satan will win.

In the days leading up to his betrayal and crucifixion, Jesus was in the Temple debating the religious leaders.  Matthew 23 is His final, scathing condemnation of their hypocrisy.  His closing words reveal to us the absolute centrality of the Jewish people to God’s final work on this earth:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.  Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!  For I say unto you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!5

Jesus clearly taught that He will not return to Jerusalem again until the Jewish people as a group declare, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”  Jesus emphatically declared that His return is dependent on the salvation of Israel.  Since that moment, Satan’s plan has been to physically destroy the Jewish people, and to distort and corrupt the Church’s influence on them, so that they will never know that their Messiah has come, and never make this declaration.

Scripture teaches that this hatred of the Jewish people and obsession with their destruction will increase more and more as we near the return of the Messiah.  When the Jewish people finally turn back to God and put their faith in the Messiah, it will result in the greatest revival the world has ever seen.

Just a few short hours after Jesus’ declaration that His return would be heralded by revival among the Jewish people, He sat in the Upper Room giving His final instructions to His disciples.  He would go from this room, to Gethsemane, to trial, and ultimately, the cross.  As He closed His instructions, He prayed these words:

I do not ask on behalf of these alone (His Jewish disciples), but for those also who believe in Me through their word (the rest of the Church, predominately Gentile); that they may all be one; even 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 sent Me.6

This relational oneness between the Jewish Believer and the Gentile Christian, which should reflect the absolute intimacy between the Father and the Son, is promised to bring the world to knowledge of the Messiah!  The Apostle Paul further elaborated on this in his letter to the Christians in Rome:

I say then, they (the Jewish people) did not stumble so as to fall, did they?  May it never be!  But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.  Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment (salvation) be…For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?7

“Life from the dead” is revival!  “Life from the dead” is resurrection!  Is it any wonder that Satan is determined to utterly destroy the physical brethren of our Savior and Messiah?

This finally brings us to the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.  To fully understand this teaching, we must clearly identify the characters in it.  We know that Jesus is the Son of Man seated on His throne making judgment.  The sheep are those Believers who hear and obey the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit, and have been faithful to do the work of their Master.  But these “sheep” have one final attribute: compassion for the brothers of the King.

Who are these “brothers?”  The Greek word used in this parable is “adelphos.”  “Adelphos” is used over 300 times in Scripture, most commonly referring to a physical connection through parental or ancestral line.  These “brothers” are the Jewish people.

Every generation of Believers since the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 has faced a choice to care for the needs of these brothers, or turn a blind eye to them.  The Jewish people have been persecuted in each of of these generations.  Read again the list of what these brothers have been through:

For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to me.8

This list describes the plight of the Jewish people in every generation.  But this will become more and more common in the future.

When the revival that is breaking forth all around us reaches its ultimate fulfillment in the salvation of the Jewish people as a group, Satan will know that he is doomed.  He will unleash his fury upon the covenant people of God in a way that has never before been seen:

So the dragon (Satan) was enraged with the woman (Israel), and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.9

No single phrase in Scripture better describes the Jewish Believer.  Their love for the Torah (commandments of God) is great, and they proclaim boldly that Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah.  Why this final onslaught against the Messianic Jew?  The answer is found just a few verses earlier:

Woe to the earth and the sea because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.10

There is one last group described in this parable.  As we have seen in the previous two parables, there are those among us who are not truly a part of us.  There are imposters claiming to be Believers, who have not truly made Jesus the Lord of their lives.  There were the five foolish virgins symbolizing those among us who refuse to hear and obey the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.  There is the unfaithful servant who, like many in our churches, was more focused on himself than he was doing his Master’s work by meeting the needs of those around them.  And the measure used to judge these imposters in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats is their treatment of the King’s brothers.  These “goats” have no idea what is about to happen to them.  They feel as if they’ve done what they’re supposed to have done.  Yet these “goats” are rejected by the King:

Then He will say to those on His left (the goats), “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angles”…11

These “goats” did not hear and obey the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Because of this, they were not faithful to do the work of their Master.  And this resulted in a lack of compassion for the plight of the “brothers” of the King.

Even as I write these words I’m left speechless by the seriousness of this matter.  For the Believer, we must be prepared to stand with all of the Jewish people, but especially those who know Yeshua (Jesus) as their Messiah.  To understand this more clearly, let’s briefly look at one other parable of Jesus – the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Part 11: One More Person

1. The pogroms were a series of mob attacks against the Jews approved by Czar Nicholas II of Russia that resulted in thousands of Jews being killed and many more wounded before many Jews of Western Russia were forced to seek refuge in other nations.
2. In 1348, 25 million Europeans died due to the plague.  The Jews were falsely accused of trying to poison the drinking water in an  attempt to wipe out Christendom.
3. On September 17, 2001, the Lebanese-Hizbollah owned satellite television channel Al-Manar reported that 4,000 Jews were forewarned of the 9/11 attacks by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.  This statement has been proven completely inaccurate, yet it is still a commonly discussed conspiracy theory. 
4. Romans 9:4-5
5. Matthew 23:37-39
6. John 17:20-21
7. Romans 11:11-12, 15
8. Matthew 25:35-36
9. Revelation 12:17
10. Revelation 12:12
11. Matthew 25:41
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The Greatest Awakening

Read Matthew 25:31-46

As a young man, I was taught a simple guide for discovering God’s will for my life: find out what God is doing, and ask Him to let you be a part of it.  As I’ve walked with the Lord, I’ve found that this principle has been an amazing compass that has led me to be a part of God’s work in ways I never could have imagined.

Today, Believers are being faced with a tremendous opportunity.  This is the third step in God’s pathway to world-wide revival.  But the only ones who will take advantage of this opportunity are those who have prepared themselves by hearing and obeying the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit, and learned to meet the needs they see in those around them.  These Believers will be a part of the climax of God’s plan for the ages – a revival that will usher in the return of our Lord!  How can we know this revival is nearing?  The Jewish people have returned to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

This is no small event.  After 2,000 years of being scattered around the world and being horribly persecuted, the Jewish people have become a nation again.  Hebrew is spoken as the native tongue in Jerusalem.  The dry bones have become flesh, and a nation has been born in a day:

Again He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.’  Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones, ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life.  I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you that you may come to life’.”1

Who has heard such a thing?  Who has seen such things?  Can a land be born in a day?  Can a nation be brought forth all at once?  As soon as Zion travailed, she also brought forth her sons.2

The rebirth of Israel has tremendous prophetic significance.  For the first time since the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, the prophecies regarding the salvation of the Jewish people are able to be fulfilled:

I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.3

What an unbelievable time we live in!  In spite of 2,000 years of persecution, attempts to force their assimilation, the Inquisition, and even genocide in Germany and Russia, the Children of Israel are alive and in possession of Jerusalem – the City of God.

I’ve often wondered what it was like to be alive during the time of the Church in Acts.  Imagine being in the Temple when Peter addressed the multitudes on that Pentecost morning just ten days after Jesus ascended.  Or sitting in the back of the room as Paul and Barnabas discussed with James and Peter and the leaders at the Jerusalem Council how to instruct the unexpected number of Gentiles who were coming to faith in the Messiah.  Even something as simple as experiencing the fellowship and power that the Church is described to have had in Acts chapters 2 and 4.  Let me tell you something that should send chills down your back: we are on the verge of being a part of something even greater!

Jonathan Edwards is widely considered one of the greatest theologians in the history of America.  His sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, is known as a classic of early American literature, and his influence and preaching was critical to the First Great Awakening that took place during the eighteenth century.  Still, Edwards longed to be a part of the revival that would take place when Israel was reborn:

…the Jews in all their dispersions shall cast away their old infidelity, and shall have their hearts wonderfully changed, and abhor themselves for past unbelief…They shall flow together to the blessed Jesus, penitently, humbly, and joyfully owning him as their glorious King and only Savior, and shall with all their hearts, as one heart and voice, declare his praises unto other nations…Nothing is more certainly foretold than this national conversion of the Jews in Romans 11.4

This amazing man was used by God in ways that you and I can only dream of!  Still, he told of a “greater awakening” that would take place in the future.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was called the “Prince of Preachers.”  Historians believe that he preached to nearly 10 million people.  His sermons have been read and studied by millions more, and have been translated into dozens of languages.  Still, Spurgeon spoke of an even greater move of God yet to come:

The day shall yet come when the Jews, who were the first Apostles to the Gentiles, the first missionaries to us, we who were far off, shall be gathered in again.  Until that shall be, the fullness of the Church’s glory can never come.  Matchless benefits to the world are bound up with the restoration of Israel; their gathering in shall be as life from the dead.5

This powerful move of God has begun.  As God has orchestrated events to allow for the creation of the modern State of Israel and the return of Jerusalem into the Jewish people’s hands, His Spirit has also stirred hearts and brought amazing revival around the world.  As God directed men to establish the physical nation of Israel, a spiritual move of God always followed.  The Apostle Paul teaches us this principle:

However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual.6

Could the timing of the following monumental events be purely coincidental?

In 1895, Theodor Herzl, a Jewish newspaper correspondent, was sent to cover the trial of Alfred Dreyfus.  Dreyfus was a French artillery officer who was falsely accused of treason.  His trial exposed Herzl to levels of anti-Semitism that he had never experienced before.  Shortly after the trial, he began a coordinated effort to establish a national homeland for the Jewish people.  In 1897, Herzl chaired the First Zionist Congress, of which he later wrote, “Were I to sum up the Basle Congress in a word – which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly – it would be this: At Basle I founded the Jewish State.”7 Over the next two decades, a total of twelve such meetings occurred.

Meanwhile, in the United States, an amazing move of God was stirring.  An African-American preacher named William J. Seymour organized a revival meeting that would become known as The Asuza Street Revival.  This revival, which took place from 1906 to 1915, is considered by historians to be the catalytic moment which led to the spread of Pentecostalism throughout the 20th century.

On May 14, 1948, after fifty years of managing strife and chaos between the Jewish settlers and Arabs living in Palestine, the British withdrew from Jerusalem.  That evening, David Ben-Gurion declared the rebirth of the State of Israel – a nation born in a day.

That same year, an up and coming evangelist launched a series of tent revival meetings.  Since then, Billy Graham has shared the Gospel with more than 2 million people in person, and countless more through television, film, radio and books.

In 1967, Israel was forced to defend itself against the continued aggression of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.  At the end of the Six Day War, the Jewish people were in control of the entire City of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, for the first time since the destruction of Herod’s Temple in A.D. 70.

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, a new stirring of the Spirit which would eventually be called “The Jesus Movement,” began on the West Coast of the United States, which eventually spread throughout North America and Europe.  Many of the greatest Bible teachers and pastors of the latter half of the 20th century rose up during this movement, including many Messianic Jewish leaders.

But this is only the beginning of what God is doing.  It is widely believed that more Jewish people have put their faith in Jesus as their Messiah in the last one hundred years than in the previous 1,800 years combined.  Still, it is estimated that less than one percent of the world’s Jewish population are Believers.

The Apostle Paul reminded the Gentile Believers in Rome of the future of His people:

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uniformed of this mystery – so that you will not be wise in your own estimation – that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved…8

What does any of this have to do with the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats?  We will look at that next.

Part 10: The King’s Brothers

1. Ezekiel 37:4-5
2. Isaiah 66:8
3. Zechariah 12:10
4. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 1 “Banner of Truth Trust” 1976, page 607
5. The Restoration and Conversion of the Jews, Vol. 10 pg. 436
6. 1 Corinthians 15:46
7. From the First Zionist Congress (1897) to the Twelfth (1921) by David Mendelsson, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Zionism/firstcong.html
8. Romans 11:25-26a
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Reward or Punishment

Finally, after six years of indescribable heartbreak and disappointment, it happened.  As he skated a victory lap around the Olympic oval in Lillehammer, Norway, Dan Jansen lifted his eight-month old daughter, Jane, onto his shoulders.  It seemed like something out of a dream.

The nightmare had begun seven years earlier when his older sister, also named Jane, was diagnosed with leukemia.  What was supposed to be the build up to his coronation as speed skating royalty became a time of grief and struggle.  That diagnosis, coupled with a personal bout with mononucleosis, left him physically and emotionally drained.

Over the next several months Dan was able to regain his physical strength, but not his emotional.  On the morning of the 500 meter finals at the 1988 Calgary Olympics, the worst of news came.  Jane had died.  Dan’s mother urged him to go ahead with the race, but as soon as he stepped on the ice, Dan knew that he had little chance of winning.  His skates slid out from under him throughout warm-ups.  He lined up awaiting the starter’s pistol, and uncharacteristically committed a false start.  Then, on the first turn of the race, he slipped and skidded into the padded wall of the track.

Over the remainder of the 1988 Olympics, and in the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France, Dan failed to medal in all three of his opportunities.   Still, when he took the ice for the 500 meters in the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics, he was favored to win that elusive gold.  It was six years to that horrible day in Calgary, when he lost both his sister and his best chance at Olympic immortality.  He was on world record pace when, on the final turn, he slipped ever so slightly and watched as a sure gold medal deteriorated into an eighth place finish.

Going into the 1,000 meters four days later, he just wanted the race to be over so he could disappear into the world of those athletes who never fulfilled their destiny.  As with the 500 meter race four days earlier, he was on world record pace when he slipped once again.  But this time, the race ended differently.  Before he knew it, he was crossing the finish line, breaking the world record by .11 seconds.  Then, he was lifting his daughter up in the air as they both celebrated the ending of the nightmare and the fulfillment of an amazing dream.  Dan Jansen was finally an Olympic champion.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.1

The Master is returning.  His heart’s desire is to reward us for the work we have done for Him.  This truth is found over and over again in Jesus’ teachings:

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great2

But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.3

But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.4

But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.5

For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.6

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.7

These verses should challenge and motivate us.  We are being called to worship like He worshiped; to care for others the way He cared for others; to share like He shared; and yes, to be treated like He was treated.  But we will also be rewarded as He has been rewarded:

Being found in the appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  For this reason, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.8

Jesus was willing to give up everything.  Because of this, the Father rewarded Him by exalting Him to the highest place of authority.  He first came as a servant, but He will return as the King!

Is it hard for you to believe that our Master will reward us in the way this parable teaches us?  Just like Jesus was rewarded with authority in the coming Kingdom, the two faithful servants were elevated to positions of rule within the Master’s kingdom:

You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things…9

If you wonder if this could possibly be true – that you could have the unbelievable reward of ruling with Jesus in the coming Kingdom – I want to encourage you to read through Jesus’ letters to the seven churches of Revelation.  Let me give you a glimpse of what you will find:

He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.10

He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.11

I want to receive this reward.  I want to hear the words, “Well done!”  I want to be counted among the multitude that has been faithful to Jesus even to the point of death, and will reign with Him for a thousand years.12 But not all of us will be given that privilege.  That’s the warning found within the Parable of the Talents.  Today, there are many among us who live lives of selfishness.  They are focused on hoarding their resources for their own uses.  They don’t see the needs of those around them.  And they are not building the Kingdom as their Master would have them.  I’m shaken by the reality that our modern day measures of spirituality could fall short when the Master returns:

Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?”  And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.”13

Prophesy.  Casting out demons.  Miracles.  Jesus isn’t saying that these things are unimportant.  Jesus is simply teaching His followers that His priority is on their hearing and obeying the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Today’s Church has become out of balance on this.  It reminds me of Jesus’ criticism of the religious leaders of His day:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the Law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.14

We need the prophetic declaration of God’s Word.  Many are being tormented with spiritual oppression and need deliverance.  And God still performs miracles through His people.  But our focus is not to be on these things.  Our focus is to live out the Word of God; to hear and obey.  Jesus’ challenge to the religious leaders of His day is just as relevant to us today.  Without neglecting the amazing work of God, we must live out the truths of justice, mercy and faithfulness.  This will become all the more important as we move closer and closer to the return of our Lord.  Consider God’s challenge to Israel, as written by the prophet Isaiah:

Bring your worthless offerings no longer; incense is an abomination to Me.  New moon and Sabbath, the calling of assemblies – I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.  I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them.  So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen.  Your hands are covered with blood.  Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.  Cease to do evil, learn to do good; Seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.15

This is how Jesus lived.  As we hear and obey the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit, we must also be faithful to allow God to use us to meet the needs of those around us.  This is the second step on the pathway to worldwide revival and the return of the Lord.  And as the hour gets later, those who understand the times and what should be done will take this step, and will be rewarded for their faithfulness.

Part 9: The Greatest Awakening

1. 2 Timothy 4:7-8
2. Matthew 5:11-12a
3. Matthew 6:3-4
4. Matthew 6:6
5. Matthew 6:18
6. Mark 9:41
7. Luke 6:35
8. Philippians 2:8-11
9. Matthew 25:21
10. Revelation 2:26-28
11. Revelation 3:21
12. Revelation 20:4
13. Matthew 7:21-23
14. Matthew 23:23
15. Isaiah 1:13-17
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Building the Kingdom

Have you ever wondered why the Father would leave us on this earth after saving us?  For the most part, His children have done a very poor job as His representatives.  Most wars over the past two thousand years have been fought over religion.  Hardly a week goes by when a newspaper or television show isn’t breaking another story about a pastor, a priest, or a religious leader being caught up in scandal.  Even when atrocities such as the Holocaust were taking place, much of the church in Germany stood by silently while many who claimed to be “Christian” carried out those horrific acts.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t positive examples: Mother Teresa caring for the poorest of the poor in India; General William Booth founding the Salvation Army to care for those within our cities under the banner of “A heart to God and a hand to man;” evangelists like Billy Graham, D.L. Moody and others who have preached the Gospel and seen hundreds of thousands surrender their lives to Christ.  The list could go on and on.

Still, you have to admit that for every positive example, there is an equally compelling negative one.  But that’s not the only argument for the Father taking us to Heaven after we give our lives to Him.  What about the pain and suffering that we experience?  What about the persecution that many Believers face around the world?  We know He loves us.  Why does He let us go through these things?  I can’t help but think that if I were in charge I would have done things differently.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”1

Scripture gives us the reason.  For better or worse, the Father has chosen to limit Himself on this earth to what He can do through His people.  God needs us.  Now, before you toss this book in the trash, let me be clear that I’m not saying that God needs us in a way that diminishes His omnipotence or sovereignty.  He can do whatever He wants.  But if you think about it, He’s always worked through men and women who have surrendered themselves fully to Him.  This was His plan from the beginning:

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”2

The Hebrew word for rule is “radah”.  It means “to rule, have dominion, dominate, and tread down.”  His plan for mankind was that we would rule over this earth under His authority.  But it didn’t take long for things to take a turn for the worse.  If Genesis 1 is the start of something beautiful, Genesis 3 is where things go horribly wrong.  Most theologians simply refer to it as “The Fall.”  Eve believes the lie that God may be holding out on her.  Adam chooses Eve over obedience to the Father.  And sin enters the world.  But the Father had another plan:

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.3

Another man was promised.  This man would defeat sin and the Serpent.  He would become the conduit through which the Father would redeem and restore mankind:

For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.4

He’s always worked through His people.  The plagues in Egypt are God’s power, but Moses played a critical role.  God sent the fire from heaven that consumed the sacrifice, but you can’t tell the story of Mt. Carmel and the prophets of Baal without Elijah.  God took down the walls of Jericho, but the Children of Israel had to march around them for seven days.

That’s one of the key truths of the Parable of the Talents.  The Master went away, fully expecting the three servants to do his work in his absence.  Jesus, our Master, has entrusted us with continuing with His work in the same way.  He’s counting on us.  He has a plan for what He wants to happen, and we are a part of it:

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.5

Just like us, these three servants were entrusted with a tremendous responsibility.  But not one so great that it was beyond what they were capable:

To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.6

The Master knew what each was capable of doing.  They wouldn’t be able to make any excuses.  They were to act on his behalf, doing what he would do.

Charles Sheldon wrote a book more than one hundred years ago called In His Steps, which introduced Christianity to the question, “What would Jesus do?”  In this story, a simple railroad town called Raymond is transformed when the residents of this community ask this question before making every decision.  They, like the two faithful servants in the Parable of the Talents, understood that they were to carry out the Master’s work.  To answer the question, “What would Jesus do,” we should take a closer look at what Jesus did.

Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.7

That is the essence of Jesus’ ministry.  He shared the Good News of the Kingdom, and He cared for the needs of those around Him.

As I sit here, I wonder how well I’m using the Master’s resources to further His work.  Am I using what the Father has given me to share the Good News and care for those around me, or am I so focused on my own desires that I’m missing the mark?  What about you?  We long for the Gospel to be preached and our cities to be changed, but when was the last time we gave up a Saturday to share that Good News with those needing to hear it?  We pray for the needs of those around us to be met, but could it be that God has already provided for those needs through the resources He’s given each of us?  That’s the description of the Church seen in Acts 2:

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.  And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.  Day by day, continuing with one mind in the Temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.8

Doesn’t it seem like the early Church took the resources that the Master had given and used them to further His Kingdom, resulting in an exponential increase for the Master?  We see these early Believers gathering together for teaching and fellowship.  The Gospel is definitely being preached.  But it doesn’t stop there.  They are so concerned with the physical needs of those around them, that they are willing to sell what they have to meet those needs.

We too must begin to live like this.  There are many around us who are in need.  God’s desire is for us to meet these needs.

In his letter to the churches of Galatia, Paul revealed an important principle about the Body of Christ that we would do well to remember:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ. 9

We have not lived out this unity the way the 1st century Church did.  We may not have “slave nor free man” today, but for those Believers living in poverty, slavery is something that is still understood.  It is the responsibility of Believers to care for those around them.  As midnight approaches and tribulation increases, it will become even more important for Believers to reject the urge to hoard what God has provided them and look only to meet their own needs.  We must strive to be used of God to see the needs of those around us and meet those needs.

Too often we spiritualize the teachings of Jesus.  ­­Don’t make that mistake with the Parable of the Talents.  As we will see in the next chapter, what we do in this life is directly related to the rewards we will receive in the next.  There is a heavy expectation put upon us to use what the Father has given us to care for others.  James wrote:

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works?  Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?  Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.10

What an incredible warning!  Real faith – the type of faith that results in our redemption – will lead to action afterwards.  What will the Master say when He returns to call each of us to account for the resources He’s entrusted to us: “Well done,” or will He call us “wicked and lazy?”  Will we be rewarded or punished?    Let’s take a deeper look at this question.

Part 8: Reward or Punishment

1. Isaiah 55:8-9
2. Genesis 1:26
3. Genesis 3:15
4. Romans 5:19
5. Ephesians 2:10
6. Matthew 25:15
7. Matthew 4:23
8. Acts 2:42-47
9. Galatians 3:28
10. James 2:14-17
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Why are we here?

Read Matthew 25:14-30

Carl was a simple man.  He didn’t need professional achievement.  He just wanted to do the best job that he could.  He didn’t need to be rich.  He just wanted to take care of his family.  He didn’t need to have friends over to his house all of the time.  He just wanted to be a friend when he was really needed.  He didn’t need to have an official position or title at the church in which he volunteered as choir director for thirty years.  He just wanted to make sure that everything was done excellently and that the church was worshipping God.  The best description of Carl was “faithful.”

He would never be described by his family and friends as “perfect.”  He had a temper that could be set off over some of the smallest things.   And no one was more competitive than he was.  One day he was playing a card game with his family that he hardly ever lost.  Suddenly, his son won the hand much earlier than Carl could have anticipated.  The result was that Carl was stuck with hundreds of points left that would count against him.  He stood up and threw his cards down on the table, yelled “dog gone it” (as was his usual custom when he lost his temper), and stomped downstairs into the basement where he pouted for about an hour.  But after that hour was over, he came upstairs laughing about getting beat so badly.

Still, Carl was always looking for a way to meet a need for someone.  He had an old 60’s-era Corvair that he had driven for years.  It was so special to him that he had even named it “Arthur” – no one knows for sure why.  One day he heard that a family in the church was in need of a car.  This family couldn’t afford to go to a car dealer and buy one.  So he called up the father and invited him over to his house.  After they chatted for a few minutes, Carl took the man outside and handed him the keys to “Arthur.”  The man was overwhelmed, and refused to take it for free.  Carl had an ability to read situations like that perfectly.  He knew that this man’s self image was at stake.  So Carl sold it to him for $100 and they called it even.

The church where he served as choir director for thirty years never had any money to upgrade equipment or buy choir music.  So Carl, who was never financially well off himself, would head to Radio Shack or the local Christian bookstore to purchase whatever was needed.  It was never a question of whether or not he should.  The decision was easy.  The church needed something that would help the church members and guests worship.

He worked hard.  Most of his adult life was spent working seventy or more hours per week.  He would wake up at 10:00pm every night and leave for work, returning around 3:00pm or so the next day.  He’d eat dinner, see his family for about an hour, and then try to catch five or six hours of rest before starting over again.  Even on his days off, he’d check in on his job to make sure that everything was ready for the day.

After decades of this routine, at seventy years old, he was finally able to retire.  Now he would be able to do the things he’d wanted to for years.  One Saturday morning a few months later, he woke up coughing and unable to catch his breath.  He had suffered from asthma his entire life, but this wasn’t like anything he’d experienced before.  He knew that something was wrong.  He hated going to the doctor, but this time he knew there was no other choice.  After a series of tests, he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.  He’d never smoked a day in his life, but that didn’t matter.  The doctors told him he had six months at best.  So rather than feeling sorry for himself, he decided to do something.

He called everyone he could think of with whom he had a broken or even strained relationship, and started setting up times to see them.  If there was anything he could do to make things right, he did.   Then he composed a pamphlet.  This pamphlet answered a question that he was asked often after that initial diagnosis: “How are you handling this so well?”  His answer was simple: “Jesus.”  The pamphlet told of why he had a hope for the future, and that there is more to life than what we see in this world.  He compelled his friends and family to give their lives to Jesus.  He spent the days and weeks writing out names and addresses of friends and family.  After his passing, this pamphlet was sent out to all those he had listed.

Very early one morning, as the song “Hold Me Jesus” began playing on the radio, he knew his time had come.  The doctors had warned him this would happen. His end was heralded by what is called the “death rattle.”  His lungs completely filled with fluid, his breathing became very labored, as each breath rattled, forcing its way through his lungs.  Just a few short hours later, with his wife and two children by his side, he lifted his eyes toward Heaven.  They focused on something near the ceiling to his right.  His eyes followed whatever it was as it made its way to the center of the room, and then directly over his head.  His eyes grew wider and wider the closer it came to him.  Then, just as suddenly, his eyes closed.  He let out a soft, quiet breath.  And he entered eternity.

Carl understood why he was here.  While he will never be remembered for any monumental achievements, this simple man, simply cared about loving God and loving others.  Not with words, but with actions.  And there is no doubt that as he closed his eyes in this world, he opened his eyes in the next to see his Savior, arms opened wide, as he heard Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”1

Carl lived out the message of the Parable of the Talents –  the second step on the pathway to worldwide revival: being faithful to see the needs in those around us and meeting those needs. The Master is returning soon.  Build His Kingdom.  Be faithful.  It’s not about what you can gain for yourself.  It’s not about recognition.  Everything belongs to Him anyway, so use everything you’ve got to do His work.

Let’s take a look at the three servants in this parable.  In it, we have two servants who are focused on hearing and obeying their Master, while the third is more concerned about his own needs.  Our purpose in this world is to live with the goal of hearing the words, “Well done.”  Sadly, not all of us will have that honor.  First, let’s explore the ones who will.

Part 7: Building the Kingdom

1. Matthew 25:21, 23
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