Our Leader Teaches Us the Facts for Life
Dear friends in Christ,
When I was in the fifth grade I had a classmate whose mother died. It was totally unexpected. There were four children in the family. Two of the kids had special needs. As a fifth grader, I wanted to say something and do something for them, but what was I to do? Selfishly, I remember thinking how glad I was that it didn’t happen in our family. I don’t know how we would have made it without Mom.
When I was in the sixth grade another classmate’s Mom died while she was at school. I remember how she was called out of the classroom. She came back in tears as she got her stuff to be taken home. Her Mom had a brain aneurysm. She had a brother a year older and a sister a year younger. I wondered how they would make it without a Mom. I hugged my Mom when I got home that day. It makes life hard not grow up with both parents.
In recent days Hurricane Sandy mauled the states of New Jerseyand New York. Other states got battered too. Have you ever wondered how you would make it through with a house in shambles and your possessions out on a pile in the street because it was broken or soaked? Some are living without electricity for the third week. I really don’t care to find that out either. Maybe some of you do know. Perhaps you have gone through a disaster - a house fire, a premature death, a bad announcement by the doctor. You have seen the eyelids of someone very dear to you close in death. These words from the prophet Daniel speak to us about the reality of life now and the promise of a better life to come. As we continue our sermon series on our Leader, Jesus Christ we see how “Our Leader Teaches Us About the Facts For Life.” 1) Don’t pursue this life of trouble; 2) Do pursue the life of triumph.
I as a pastor have often pondered the balance between realism and optimism in the sermons I preach and the Bible classes I teach. There is sin; that’s the realism. There is grace from God; that gives us every right to be optimistic. Robert Schuler had a great following in his message of the Power of Positive Thinking. Yet the Crystal Cathedral he built to house all those people who liked that message is no longer part of his ministry. His ministry is bankrupt. He preached optimism to the nth degree. Do we as preachers put on the rose colored glasses and make everything pink and pretty?
There is good and bad in this world. People from ancient times have saw that and tried to explain it. There was a self-proclaimed prophet inPersiaby the name of Mani who said that there were two gods – a god of good and a god of evil. He began a religion called Manichaeism. Many followed. There are those who are wildly optimistic, and frankly wildly wrong, who believe that man is basically a good creature. Yet the facts don’t seem to bear that out. If man is good, then explain why there are 14,600 murders a year in this country. Many attempted beyond that. If man is basically good, why are there are 3600 crimes per 100,000 people annually?
There is the real reason for evil. It isn’t about two gods who struggle with one another; it’s not about mainly good people who just get sidetracked. It goes back to God’s perfect creation. Angels were created but many rebelled. God did not create them to be robots. Sin really started with angels who didn’t like their position and rebelled against God. God cast them out of heaven. The Bible says, “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment.” Sin came to and sin came from Eden when the leader of the rebellion taunted and tempted the crown of God’s creation – Adam and Eve! Instead of honoring and worshipping God, they said “No!”, “The woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, and she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Full fledged disobedience and rebellion against God ensued!
Satan, the leader of the evil angels, is still at it. He is fighting for control of you and me and everything else in the world. He doesn’t want to be alone in hell. He wants our presence with him. Perhaps with more people there, he thinks that the punishment will be diluted a bit so he doesn’t receive as much.
Someone made the observation that the TV show M.A.S.H. which had the Korean War as its background was on TV longer than the war lasted. The war that Satan has been waging goes back to the beginning. Not a day passes without those battles with people. With him there is no cease-fire. There is no peace treaty.
But the war battles are going to end – on the last day. Daniel speaks about it. “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then.” Daniel introduces us to Michael. His name is mentioned five times in the Bible. In the book of Jude he is called an archangel. The Bible tells us there are different types of angels. There are seraphim and cherubim. There appears to be guardian angels too. Michael is an archangel. In Daniel 10 the archangel Michael fights against Satan’s agents in the Persian government to guarantee success for God’s people returning from their exile inBabylon. In fact, it appears that Michael is busy fighting Satan and his demonic kingdom in each of the Bible references. The war is being waged in the spiritual realms that our eyes cannot see. While many think this is fiction, just look around at the evidence that this is all true. God wrote about it in his word. That’s all we need to know to know that it’s true.
The earth is really a battlefield. The forces of God battle against all the anti-God forces. Their commander in chief is Satan. This is the way until the end of time. In fact, as the end gets closer “There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then.” Jesus spoke to his disciples about that very time, “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.” In other words right before the end will be most distressing. I know the question that you want to ask: Are we living in those days?
There have been a lot of distressing things that have happened for a long time. Already in 536 AD in the city ofAntiochwithin theByzantine Empirethere was a monstrous earthquake. It killed between 250,000 to 300,000 people. In 1556 an earthquake hitChinawhere the estimate that 800,000 people were killed. In 1908 there in a meteorite or comet exploded over the skies ofSiberia, it shook the earth 100 miles away. It devastated 800,000,000 trees. Thanks be to God that it didn’t occur in some population center. Some estimated that if it had taken place in New England the population fromBostontoWashingtonDCwould have been incinerated. In 1931 a flood inChinakilled up to four million people. Instead of receiving an average of two cyclones a year, that year there were ten, seven in July alone. It was just eight years ago when a tsunami killed a quarter of a million people in theFar East. According to estimates famines and small pox have killed hundreds of millions of people since 1900. The point is: all that seems to point to the fact that we might be living in that time of distress.
And the distress isn’t just about physical things, but the spiritual and moral. It is about the lack of respect and honor for God. Right is wrong and wrong is right and the wrong is our right. The Bible says “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” That’s realism. That’s the distress. Could we be living in those days? Absolutely!
Not long ago, someone asked me about retirement. They also asked me what kind of legacy I wanted to leave - what kind of gift to the next generation. I have to admit that second question kind of shocked me. A legacy? Presidents leave legacies in the libraries they build so people can remember the kinds of decisions and programs that they advocated for the country. Bill Gates wants a legacy to give most of his money away to beat cancer and AIDS and all kinds of diseases. He is trying to get other billionaires to do the same. My legacy is this instruction to you: Don’t pursue this life of trouble but do pursue the life of triumph. Thanks to Jesus that life of triumph is in our hip pocket.
“But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” Someone once said that the death rate has never changed since the Garden of Eden; the death rate is still one per person. But the day is coming when the death rate and its dominance will be broken. “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake.” Jesus said it like this, “Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live…Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.”
When the last day comes, it will be absolutely spectacular and yet it is pretty simple. No matter where the bodies of the dead are – whether in a wooden coffin within a cement vault in the belly of earth, or in a sealed urn that sits on the mantle, or on a shelf in a closet, or as dust scattered over the waters of the sea, God is going to raise all whomever or wherever they might be. Those who spent their earthly lives evading God will be raised all right. They, however, will hear God say, “Very well! You wanted to be without me; now be without me, forever!” There will be a forever divorce from God into an eternity of shame and contempt. While that fact goes down hard with some people, understand God is not some spineless being who only warns and once in a while slaps people on the hand and never acts. This is the God who is just and punishes the lack of faith. Remember he threw oceans of water over the mountain tops and drowned all kinds of screaming people in the flood. He scorchedSodomandGomorrahwith a hurricane of fire because they chose not to repent and change their ways.
In sharp contrast God’s people will rise to everlasting life. We will live in an existence that is perfect and never ending. He even says, “They will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” On Judgment Day we will not only stand before God and be inspected, we have the promise that we will pass the examination. Through faith in Christ perfect life and his death for the sins of all God delights in us and promises us eternal victory. Those are the facts for Life.