I Told You Ahead of Time
It is good to know ahead of time. You could avoid many problems if you knew about them ahead of time, couldn’t you? This fact is so true and so important that there are dozens of proverbs we use in our every day life that echo this fact: First:An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Second: Forewarned is forearmed. Third: And now you know; and knowing if half the battle. This morning that is what our Savior does for us. He tells us important details ahead of time. In Matthew 24, we read: “15 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.” (Matthew 24:15–21 NIV11-GKE)
In these words Jesus is telling the people of his own time about the persecution that would happen to the people of Jerusalem in the decades after his death. But then, as quickly as he brings these details up about his own time, he then looks ahead. He lets us know that in the last days—the days we are in, there will be persecutions too. And here, today, we see that these words are true. Across the world there is immense pressure put on the Christian church to give up the truth and conform to what the world wants. In China, Africa, and in Indonesia, there are real consequences for holding to your Christian faith. And here in our own land there is persecution too. It is not as ‘in your face’ as it is overseas. But it’s here. If you hold to what the bible says about gender or marriage you will stand out in our society. And our society will let you know that you are out of step with what they preach. So Jesus tells us ahead of time. There will be big persecutions. But what also will there be? “22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.” (Matthew 24:22–23 NIV11-GKE)
Notice how bold Jesus is. In his own way, he is telling us to not be naïve. We teach our children that not everyone who wants to give us candy at Halloween is a friend. Jesus is telling us that not everyone who claims to be a Christian prophet or pastor should be trusted. And then he even adds some more details to this: “24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time.” (Matthew 24:24–25 NIV11-GKE)
Notice what Jesus says here. For these words are easy to overlook. In these last days there will even be false preachers who will even be able to perform miracles. Now here is where it’s important to think about these details. I used to think that if God were in favor of a prophet and his teaching he would allow that man to perform miracles to confirm what he is preaching. But notice the pattern that Jesus lays down for us here in these last days. In these last days the ones who are held up as being false teachers are the ones who perform signs and wonders. Years ago I asked myself the question, ‘why would the Lord allow this?’ And in our first reading God gives us the answer: to test us.1 We know who the true teachers of God’s word are not because of signs, wonders, and miracles in these last days. Instead, we look to their teaching. If what they teach and preach is in line with the bible, then we listen to them.
So notice what Jesus tells us: First, there will be big persecutions in these last days. Second, there will be big signs from false prophets. And Jesus says, “I told you ahead of time.” But, sadly, our temptation is that when Jesus says “I told you ahead of time,” we can get bored and uncaring. Persecutions—that’s what happens to other people in other countries. I can tell you that there are many Christian Parents who brought their children to church Sunday after Sunday, but then when those children went to high school and universities, they were, month after month pressured to give up their faith. And they did. And those parents would tell you that the persecutions are subtle, but they are real and sustained.
And the same is true when it comes to false prophets. Jesus speaks very often about false prophets. But when a faithful Christian pastor goes into detail, showing areas where there are churches that preach the truth and, on the other hand, there are areas where there are churches are not in line with God’s word—when a Christian pastor does this, it is ever-so-easy to become uncomfortable that he’s correcting the false teaching or false teacher. Or just as bad, we can conclude that false teaching in Christian churches isn’t really that bad at all.
Those are our temptations to sin: to not care when it comes to pressure from the outside the Christian Church or from false preaching from within the church. We repent of those sins. And look what Jesus does. He gives us good news. And here the good news is to tell us ahead of time.
First, he gives us details of what it will look like in these last days ahead of time. It’s as if he’s giving us this big check-list for our comfort. Wars and rumors of wars: check. Persecutions: Check. False prophets: Check. How comforting this is that when it seems as if the world around us is falling apart and our churches are crumbling from within, Jesus tells us ahead of time. He lets us know this is how it’s going to be. But he preserve his church for us—for the sake of the elect.
Second, Jesus promised a payment for our sin. It’s not just the persecutions and false prophets he told us about ahead of time. It’s also what will happen on Judgment Day. When the last day comes or when we die, we will stand before Jesus and all the times that Jesus was sober, alert, zealous, and diligent will cover over all the times we were careless. Jesus promises us this ahead of time.
Third, Jesus tells us ahead of time a massive detail that we need to know: “26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.” (Matthew 24:26–28 NIV11-GKE)
Jesus tells us ahead of time with such words of comfort that we are not going to miss his arrival at the end. He gives us two pictures. First, the lightning. When there’s a massive thunderstorm, it’s hard to miss. The ground shakes and the light flashes from one side of the sky to the other. You can’t miss it. That’s what Jesus return will be like. Second, You can’t miss where the carcasses are. In PA I used to visit a shut-in in Altoona. And, on many occasions I’d travel down a mountain valley. And there at the other end of the valley there would be all these birds circling around. And when I got close I found what they were circling over. There was a dead deer there. When I saw this, what could I be sure of? Whenever I saw the birds circling overhead, I knew there was a dead deer below. You can’t miss it. Jesus tells us ahead of time that we will not miss his return.
In three ways Jesus says to us good news. He does this so that we would know our sins are forgiven and look ahead to heaven. But he also does this so that we would repent, wake ourselves up and recognize that there will be big persecutions from the outside of the church. And there will be false prophets with big miracles from within the church. Jesus tells us all this ahead of time. And now you know…and knowing is half the battle. Amen.
1 Deuteronomy 13