Wednesday, November 28, 2012

We Are A People Who Dare To Hope...A Prayer for the First Sunday Of Advent... Hope

Over the past few months because of the way we have been structuring our services I have not been writing prayers... with a more relaxed informal time of sung worship at the beginning of our services it seemed fitting to invite people to bring extempore prayers of thanksgiving. With advent I'm changing things round a little which means that I will be doing a more structured prayer of Thanksgiving in the service for the next four weeks.

This is a prayer based on the theme of Hope, the readings from the call to worship I am using for the service (which includes Advent candle lighting) and also some reflection from my daily bible reading and a reflection I wrote on a photo called the Pale Blue Dot a few years ago.

The New living Translation version of Lamentations 3:21-24 reads like this

Yet I still dare to hope
when I remember this:
22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
23 Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”
One of the things that struck me was the idea of daring to Hope, that despite all that was going on the writer of this lament was willing to take the courageous step of hoping, looking forward to a better day, to live forwards trusting in the goodness of God, when lets face it he had ample evidence to dismiss the reality of a good God all together.  We are called to be such a courageous people who because of the faithfulness of God shown through the sending of his son Jesus are invited to Hope for courageously hope and live for a better day.
Behind the second stanza (if I may use poetry terms for my humble writing) is Carl Sagan's comments about the photo called the Pale Blue Dot, and the fact that Christmas actually gives us an alternative perspective.
while the prayer may seem to end with a staring off into space hoping for a quick trip from an imperfect world to a comfy cozy heavenly home it is far from the case. In our services we are working our way through Jesus teaching on the end of the age in Matthew 24 and 25 and  waiting and watching are anything but a wishful longing rather they are a hope filled engagement in bringing transformation into the hear and now... Mark Woodley commenting on Jesus parable of the Faithful and Unfaithful Servant in Matthew 24: 45-51 says...
"So preparing for Jesus' return never leads to loveless escapism; instead it curves its back into the world with down-to-earth acts of love and service."
Matt Woodley. The Gospel of Matthew: God with Us (Resonate) (Kindle Locations 2933-2934). Kindle Edition.
 A long introduction? Yup. A lot of justification and explanation? Yup. As with all prayers I write and all material I put on my blog please feel free to use it if you find some help and solace in it.

We are a people who dare to hope

Not because of who we are

Our ingenuity, ability and determination

But because of who you are, O God

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases

Your mercy never comes to an end


We are a people who dare to hope

Living on a speck of dust caught in a beam sunlight

Floating seemingly alone in a dark, dark universe  

But those who live in darkness have seen a great light

You who created it all step into our world

We have seen you and your love revealed by your sons light


We are a people who dare to hope

Amidst tyranny, oppression, poverty and terror

Amidst homelessness and fleeing for refuge

You sent your son, born of Mary

With a message of a new way of living

A kingdom of heaven and of peace


We are a people who dare to hope

Caught and held fast by our wrongdoing and shame

Dead and lifeless in our transgression

You came and paid the price

You broke the chains and set us free

Your death has bought us life.


We are a people who dare to hope

While Injustice arrogantly crows its victory

Consumerism and comfort stupefies to apathy

You call us to be salt and light

You dwell within us to enable us to fight

Through us you cry justice and peace


We are a people who dare to hope

It does not simply carry meaninglessly on

Time does not continue to simply tick away

You are the alpha and omega, beginning and end

You are the soon and coming king

We faithful wait and watch for you
let's affirm our daring to hope by saying together the prayer that Jesus Taught his disciples.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Pararble of the wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)...Until the End of the World (part 3)

I first met this couple while I was closing up the Eskdale church in the Hawkes bay.  They drove up in this beaten up old Bedford Camper Van. The van stopped in a puff of smoke and the graunch of gears. Out piled the kids and initially I thought they had simply broken down on their way up the Napier-Taupo Highway, I walked over to see if I could help. It turned out I could because they were out scouting a place to get married. So a month or two later I officiated at their wedding ceremony.

Now when I take a wedding I normally tell the bride to be about ten minutes late. It gives guests who have had to struggle getting kids or their husbands dressed and into the car and struggled through traffic to arrive before the bride. Also it builds up the tension for that grand entrance into the church …And let’s face it… Brides are worth waiting for …right ladies… so they’re worth waiting for…. But in this case Forty minutes after the service was due to start I was still nervously standing outside the church waiting for the bride to arrive. Thinking all those things you think at that time. Maybe my imagination was shaped by a diet of bad TV shows and rom com movies… was this going to be my first no show? Had she got cold feet? Had something tragic happened?

 But it seems I was the only one who was nervous. Firstly everyone knew that the bride didn’t need an invitation to be late that was her natural state, so they, even the groom were relaxed. Secondly they were using that old camper van as a bridal car… and it had to coaxed across town at a stately dawdle, I think it had to stop a couple of times or it would have overheated. Besides they were all txting her and keeping track of her progress.

Almost an hour late the bride turned up. I breathed a sigh of relief, walked into the church, let the groom know he needed to put his jacket back on and then invited people to stand… we were now ready for the bride.

Jesus uses a similar situation from the wedding traditions of his day to encourage his disciples to be watchful, because you don’t know the hour. Matthew has included it as part of a longer block of teaching which we call the Olivet discourse. A section of teaching that Jesus gives in response to his disciples questions about his comment that  the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed, and their confusion about when Jesus would come as king.

 Jesus had started byworking his way through a list of signs that would happen before these eventstook place, like birth pangs, but says Jesus no one will know the hour or theday of his arrival, the important thing was to remain watchful and ready. He articulates that in four parables that we are working our way through.

While we may be tempted to fall into the same mind set as Jesus disciples wanting to know when things will happen, David Turner is right when he says ‘Jesus teaching on the unknowable hour and day makes this a folly, eschatological (the study of the last days) correctness is ultimately about ethics, how we live, rather than speculation.’

The parable of the wise and foolish virgins is quite strange to our ears because we are not used to the etiquette and wedding customs of Jesus day.  We are used to waiting for the bride, where as in the ancient near east and in many cultures today the groom comes in a procession to the bride’s house.  He comes to claim his bride; A New Testament image used of Jesus and the church. As in all of these parables there is a delay. We are not told why he is delayed maybe it was a normal occurrence in those days. There may have been stops along the way to various family members and important people and hospitality was an important part of this culture at the time, and people would want to celebrate with the groom on this wonderful occasion, and it was hard to get away.

The ten virgins are brides maids, the brides attendants and it seems that part of their role was to welcome the groom to the house and they needed lamps because the procession could come at night. They would have had clay oil lamps, with them that would need to be refilled every so often to keep them burning, so part of their duty and role for the wedding would to be ready. People used to carry a small vile of olive oil attached to their figure for such an eventuality.

The foolish virgins therefore find themselves unprepared and there isn’t enough oil to share and well what olive oil merchant is going to open at midnight, remember this is before 24hr shopping. It may seem that the punishment that these girls face is rather severe being shut out from the marriage feast, not recognised by the groom. But some of you are probably used to a culture where there are high expectations that people will perform culturally mandated tasks at such events and if they don’t they are shunned. It would be like the modern day bestman actually forgetting the rings. While a playful slap dance pretending to have forgotten them is permissible and a tension relieving gag, to forget the rings would be an unforgivable faux par.

This says Jesus is supposed to be a warning and encouragement for us to be watchful.

What are we to make of this parable? How are we to interpret it? How does it help us today as we endeavour to follow Jesus, through world changing times, until the end of the world?

Firstly, Jesus starts off by saying ‘At that time the kingdom of God will be like…’ There is a sense that Jesus uses this whole wedding scenario to make the one point that the reality is we won’t know who the wise and foolish are until the bridegroom comes. Jesus told a similar parable in Matthew 13 about weeds being sown by the enemy in a field of wheat. The only time that the weeds could be identified and removed without damaging the wheat was at the harvest time. The wheat would produce its crop and the weeds would then be gathered up and burned.

Maybe after the parable of the two servants we may have been lured into thinking that we are saved by our ethical behaviour. But here Jesus goes beyond that. Because in this parable all ten bridesmaids were virtuous, they are virgins, it isn’t a matter of ethics that differentiates them. And all ten get sleepy and fall asleep waiting for the bridegroom to come. It’s one of the problems with oil lamps, not only do they give off light but also make it a smokey environment. It wasn’t a matter that the wise virgins stayed awake and the foolish didn’t. The difference between the wise and foolish is that the wise have enough oil to trim their wicks and provide light too joyfully, and oil in the Old Testament is often connected to joy, greet the coming groom.  It begs the question for all of us in the midst of all that could go on, in the midst of the whirl and swirl of history, in the face of persecution even the challenge of keeping our faith alive and healthy even through the sameness of everyday life, what keeps our faith burning bright. I have meet many people who have had an encounter with God that has meant that it’s been like a fire has caught in their life, but as time goes on it dwindles away again. It is only living out of that saving relationship with God and investing into that that gives us the spiritual oil to keep on going to the end. That enables us to keep doing what Jesus has said for us to do.

One of the issues when it comes to Jesus parables is how to interpret them. Parables are stories that have one spiritual truth behind them.  Down through history  however people have treated them as allegories; some of the ones we have interpreted by Jesus for us have that feel. But we can go too far, wanting to identify this and that in the story with very specific things. I want to go out a limb here and focus on something that I believe is important, here. It would be easy to simply see the oil in terms of salvation, or religious fervour but If I may I want to focus on something else.

I want to use this parable to talk about the Holy Spirit. In scripture one of the symbols of the Spirit of God is oil. Just as priests and kings were anointed with oil for their position so it was that God would pour out his holy spirit on them.  He would presence himself with them. The Holy Spirit of course is the third person of the trinity. Matthew does not mention the Holy Spirit much but the gospel starts and finishes with the Spirit of God at work. In Matthew 1 we see that it is God’s Spirit that starts the incarnation, Mary becomes pregnant by the Holy Spirit, while not mentioned by name it is the Holy Spirit that is behind the last verse of the gospel, where Jesus says behold I am with you to the end of the age. Again it is God’s Holy Spirit that makes Christ present in our lives.  In John’s Gospel that is articulated as Jesus speaks to his disciples at the last supper, ‘I will not leave you as orphans, rather when I go to the father, I will send another like me, the spirit of truth that will dwell within us. Luke of course is the only gospel that has a sequel to the story of Jesus life, and Luke tells of the coming of God’s Holy Spirit on those first disciples at Pentecost, which gives them the power to live and witness to the risen Jesus.

 It is the Holy Spirit that enables us to witness to Christs resurrection, It is the Holy spirit that gives us the gifts to minister to each other in love and service. It is the Holy Spirit working within us that grows Christ like fruit in our lives, it what stops our salvation being by works, rather it as we allow God’s spirit to guide our steps and we walk in relationship with the Spirit that we are changed to be like Christ and to love one another. It’s the spirit of God within us that shows us of our need for God, that opens the scriptures to us and brings change to our lives.


Down through the centuries the church has often forgotten that they need the Holy Spirit, we tend to think it depends on our won efforts or our own intelligence our own spiritual passion, but it is the Holy Spirit's  presence and power that enables us to be who God has called us to be, to follow Christ. Put crudely it’s the petrol for our tanks ore in terms of this parable it can be seen as the oil for our lamps.

Some people see it as an optional extra like leather upholstery or hands free blue tooth in a luxury car, or that it is for special people, but not for me. Of course the prophecy in Joel 2, quoted in Acts at Pentecost, that talked about the coming of the messianic age was that God would pour out his spirit on all people, on all who believed, despite their gender, age, socioeconomic standing or societal status. In John’s Gospel Jesus says if you love me you will keep my commandments, and I will give you an advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will be with you forever. Sadly some of the excesses of the charismatic and Pentecostal movements in the past have put people off. They equate it with weird stuff, yup, that happens but the Spirit is a gentle person and does not override our self… it’s being filled not possessed… The spirit ultimately brings shalom, peace and wholeness to us.

All the way through the service today we’ve had as our resting image, a picture of a lamp and Paul's words from Ephesians 5:18, be filled and because of the Greek tense of the verb, it also reads and keep on being filled, with the Holy Spirit. It’s a command to an on-going relationship with God’s Spirit in our lives. It’s why it wasn’t simply a matter at the end of the parable that the virgins without the oil could simply get some from someone else. It’s important that we continue to allow God’s spirit to fill us up. My friend Jim Wallace says when people ask him why he needs to keep on being filled he relpies because I leak. There are times when other things mussel in and take God’s place in our lives. We need to be asking God to continually fill us afresh with his spirit.

I resisted singing that children’s song today ‘Give me oil in my lamp keep me burning’ But that is the prayer I want to leave us with today. And we can pray that pray trusting God to answer it. Because as it says in Luke’s version of Jesus Knock, seek and ask saying that we encountered in the Sermon on the Mount… If we are evil and know how to give good gifts to our children how much more will our father give the spirit to those who ask him.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Parable of The Two Servants... Until the end of the world part 2 Matthew 24: 45-51

How would you get ready for a parousia?


It might help I hear you say if you knew what a parousia was.


Would it help to know that we have had a parousia in New Zealand this week. Any Ideas what it is?


Parousia is an ancient Greek word for a royal visit, an official visit from a high ranking official.

This week in New Zealand we’ve had Prince Charles and Camilla in our country.


It’s taken months to organise this visit. Everything had to be done just right. We wanted to show them our best side. They were greeted at Whenuapai airbase by dignitaries and an honour guard. Special events were scheduled, ceremonies planned welcomes arranged, leading up to it the media was full of the preparations, there was even a feel good story of the world’s oldest flash mob being organised for the royal couples walk down Queen street.  A vendor at the fielding farmers market had done his homework and was going to present Charles with some trees that he didn’t have in his royal collection. A special party was arranged for Charles’ 64th birthday, there was a special performance of ‘HarryMacleary from Donaldson’s dairy and special screening of the soon to be premiered Hobbit movie.  We spared no expense to make it a memorable occasion; we even paid for camellias hairdresser to travel down with her. They had gone to a school that needed a boost and spent some time in Christchurch to bring encouragement after the earthquake.


Parousia in theological terms refers to Christ’s coming as king; the second coming. That parousia forms the context for the parable of the two servants we had read out to us this morning.

Matthew tells us Jesus had entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey, an act full of symbolic and prophetic meaning, the crowds had sung hosanna, and waved palm branches. His disciples would have been thinking that at last Jesus was going to  be recognised as Israel’s messiah and crowned king. He had entered the temple and instead of the religious leaders recognising him they had questioned his authority. As Jesus and his disciples left that day to go back to where they were staying, the disciples had pointed out the temple building to Jesus, it had just finished being rebuilt and refurbished, maybe that was part of their heightened expectation, and Jesus had told them that the temple would be destroyed and not one stone would remain standing on top of another. On the way home as they walked over the Mount of Olives, they asked Jesus when would this thing happen, when would Jesus come as king, when would be his parousia, and when would to be the end of the age?


 Jesus responds by telling them that he did not want them to be deceived, he gives them a list of signs that would happen, like birth pangs, but then says a strange thing. He says that no one would know the time of his parousia, it would be like a thief in the night, so they and we were to be ready.  Then in a series of Parables he invites them and us to explore what it means to be ready for his royal coming.


Down through history as people have thought of the parousia they have often focused on trying to interpret the signs of the times. Trying to know when the plane will land. They have looked at the latest news through the lens of biblical prophecy, a pass time which David Turner says Jesus teaching about the unknowable time exposes as folly, he maintains that eschatological (that’s the study of end times) correctness is ultimately a matter of ethics, how we live, not speculation.


Imagine the scene at Whenuapai airbase if everyone was lined up and ready and had no idea when the royals were actually coming.  You couldn’t simply wait there indefinitely. Being ready says Jesus  is not a matter of having the red carpet vacuumed, the band practised, the best cloths laid out, the honour guard lined up and at attention, the flags waving and the itinerary all sorted, rather it is a matter of continuing to do the things Jesus has asked us to do.


Scholars point to the fact that in the first generation of believers, the church that Matthew was writing to, that there was the expectation that Jesus coming was imminent. As I mentioned last week it maybe that Matthew was writing to a community that had lived through the destruction of the temple in 70AD or at least were going through the tumultuous times leading up to it. But there was a seeming delay and they were becoming disillusioned so Matthew recounts Jesus parables to encourage them to keep on persevering. In these parables the master or the bride groom is delayed, he hasn’t come when he was expected. For us two thousand years later that is helpful as well, many of course have interpreted these parables to mean that well we don’t know when we will meet our maker, so we need to live ready.


In Jesus day and the times of Matthew’s first reader’s servants being left to look after their master’s household would have been a scene played out all the time. It is infused with echoes of  Old Testament imagery of Israel as God’s servant. The wise and faithful servant continues doing what the master has asked them to do. They feed and care for their fellow servants. The second servant, thinks to themselves, well the master isn’t coming I’ll goof off, and starts to mistreat their fellow servants and joins the ranks of the drunks.


In the wisdom literature of the Old Testament the wise person was seen as the one who lived out their life very much aware of the presence and the nature of God and the fool was one who lived life with no reference to God, their god became their own appetites. Jesus had finished his sermon on the mount with another parable of two people, the wise builder… who heard Jesus words and put them into action and the foolish builder who heard them but did not act on them, here we see that it is not just acting but continuing to act on them and live them out that makes one wise.  


Maybe it would be easy to read Jesus parable and its teaching on ethics through the lens of the carrot and the stick, write large on the canvas of eternity. The faithful and wise servant receives a reward of being placed in charge of all the masters’ possessions. It is the reigning with Christ that Paul talks of in 2 Timothy 2 :12 ‘if we endure with him, we will reign with him’. In the NIV it says the punishment is to be cut up into little pieces, which sort of brings up images of slasher movies, and the hell painted in Dante’s inferno, but when taken with and finding a place amongst the hypocrites in a place of wailing and gnashing of teeth it has sense of being cut off from the presence of the master, finding oneself in a place of darkness, regret and sorrow when being aware of the presence and sovereignty of God.  Christian ethics, living out what Jesus tells us to do however is not based on a prospect of reward, or avoidance of punishment. In John’s gospel at his last meal with his disciples, Jesus says if you love me you will keep my commandments, the wise do not simply serve God because of the reward but because of the reality of God, and his love for us. The second servant we are told did not trust that his master would do what he had said, this servant does not have that love relationship with his master.  We do however need to be aware that Jesus being king does have eternal consequences. But fear or expected reward are not sufficient motive for consistent faithful service.

What are we called to faithful continue doing?

Well the passage was spoken first to the disciples, people Jesus had called to bear witness to who he was and that he will commission to go into the world to make disciples. John’s gospel finishes with Peter being called to feed my sheep. This parable calls those first hearers and all who would take up leadership roles in the service of Jesus to faithfully continue to do that work. The call to leadership is one of caring and feeding God’s people, sadly Church history is full of times and places when leaders have forgotten about this and have abused their power and mistreat fellow servants and when they thought it was about their own position and status.


Beyond that it is a parable for all who would call Jesus Lord… Our eternal destiny says mark Woodley does not call us to care less about our present world but to care more. To care not only for our household’s basic needs, loving people who need you, but in light of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount that expands to caring for the uncared, the marginalised and forgotten, the unattractive and even our enemies.  Yes there are going to be times when we fail, remember we are called to be faithful not successful, there will be times when we fall asleep on the job. This parable and its warnings need to be seen in the wider context of the gospel, with Jesus offer of grace and love and forgiveness to all. But we also have the high and hard calling to be watchful and faithful to the end.

Well how do you get ready for the parousia?


If we knew the time of the coming we’d be all lined up with our best faces on, like a mask, maybe we will find ourselves being relegated to that place with the hypocities. The reality is that we are called to faithfully live out our love for the master by loving our fellow servants.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

An Amazing Tree in Auckland Domain... and yes it has got me thinking

This is a photo of an amazing Pohutukawa tree at the Auckland Domain. The heart of the tree looks ripped out twisted and broken. You would think that it is dead or at least dying and on its last legs... yet at the margins there if fresh growth, green leaves and a sense of vibrancy. It has begun to put down new roots as branches have touched the soil and this has given this old tree new life.

There is great beauty and a sense of solidity and strength in the structure at the middle... but it's not where the life really is. I admire the beauty of the shape of the tree but it seems empty and barren and some of that beauty is in the starkness of the trunks. It has held up the life and growth of this tree for so many centuries but it wasn't able to maintain the growth now, the tree had to find new ways of maintaining its life.

Now as I saw this tree I couldn't help but think of the challenge that the church in the west is facing (sorry predictable I know). You can go and see many great buildings that are amazing examples of architecture and engineering and that have for centuries held the life of God's people, and you can go and see denominational structures that have done the same... but in many cases it might be hard to find the vibrant growth and vitality that is able to sustain reproduction. yet as the branches have set down in the soil and planted roots in new places, developing new structures, sustaining life in different ways then that life and growth has happened.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Lots of Signs But No Definite Time... Until the end of the world: the Olivet discourse part 1 (matthew 24:1-44)

I don’t know about you but Matthew 24 for me brings up images of the lunatic fringe standing on the street corner proclaiming imminent doom.


Maybe when you’ve seen the poster’s for the sermon series on Matthew 24-25 that I’ve put up round the church and on our website and my facebook page , you heard a splashing noise and thought ‘Is Howard about to jump off the deep end and join that lunatic fringe?’ I’ll leave that call up to you, after today’s sermon OK.

Part of the reason I wanted to look at Jesus teaching in what is called the Olivet discourse, Jesus teaching on the end times, at this time, is because we have been living through a time when there is a heightened expectation amongst some people that the end is near. There is the whole Mayan calendar supposedly running out on December 21st 2012, popularised by the 2009 apocalyptic movie  ‘2012’, we have just enough time to fit this in before then. Radio preacher Harold Camping made worldwide headlines  last year when he said that the rapture, that is one understanding of scriptures view that believers would be taken up to heaven before a time of significant turmoil that would signal Christ’s return, would happen on May 21st 2011. When it didn’t happen he told people it had been delayed till September to give people a final chance to turn back to God. 


We actually live in a time of significant social change and upheaval that have got some people pondering is this the end. That has got some people talkn bout the end of the world. In our nuclear age we’ve lived with the doomsday clock set at 5 minutes to midnight.

and we find ourselves faced with the possibility that the end just may be a slow sinking under the effects of our own rampant consumerism.  We see in our headlines each day new discoveries and new ideas that will change the world as we know it.


I thought In the middle of all the muddle it would be good to get our head around what Jesus actually had to say. We’ve just been looking at the Sermon on the Mount at the beginning of Jesus ministry as it recorded in Matthew 5-7  and now it is good to look at what Jesus has to say to his disciples at the end of his ministry, in the midst of Holy Week, right before his death and resurrection, in the shadow of the cross you could say. How are they and we going to live out this radical new way that Jesus has invited us to live in the midst of what Jesus tells us is going to be times of change and turmoil. How are we going To follow Jesus until the end of the world. 

Matthew 24 and 25 contain this teaching of Jesus. It starts with Jesus leaving the temple for the last time and his disciple’s admiration of the beauty and seeming permanence of the Temple which had just finished being rebuilt. Jesus tells his disciples that the temple will be destroyed, that not one stone will be left on top of the other (v1-2) and later as Jesus is sitting on the mount of olives, between Jerusalem and where it tells us in the other gospels the Jesus  was staying, the disciples ask him two questions about what he had Just said. For them as Jews the temple was the centre of their faith and the political aspirations of the Jews as a people. It was the sign of God’s abiding presence with his people.

 Jesus answers their questions by giving them a list of signs and warnings , that we are going to look at today and then Jesus goes on in a series of four parables to tell his disciples how to live out their faith in him until the end of the world, which we will be looking at over the next four weeks.  That’s a long introduction lets turn to look at the passage we had read out to us today.

The disciples had accompanied Jesus into Jerusalem, on what we celebrate as palm Sunday. Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem to the accolade of the crowd. If the crowd didn’t fully get the significance of what was going on Jesus disciples did, there was the expectation that Jesus was going to pronounced king and that Israel would be freed from roman occupation. They had been in the temple and Jesus had spoken out strongly against the corrupt religious order, now they were heading out of the temple to head back to where they were staying. They try and draw Jesus attention to the temple which would have just been rebuilt and Jesus drops a bomb shell on them. He tells them that this building will be destroyed , that not one stone will be left on top of the other. You can imagine that this had the disciples rather confused. It would be like going to Christchurch before the earthquake and being told as you stood staring up at the cathedral that it would very soon be just a pile of rubble.


So they ask Jesus two questions, when is that going to happen? And as they realise it means Jesus isn’t going to be crowned as king right then and there, what will be the sign of your coming, literally your royal appearance, and the end of the age. What we have in the rest of Matthew 24 is Jesus response. Jesus tells them there will be many signs but he’s not definite about times.


He warns them that he does not want them to be deceived, that there will be many false messiahs and begins to tell them that there will be signs like earthquakes and famine and wars and rumours of war that these will be like labour pains of the coming age. He says that the disciples will be persecuted, but despite all this the gospel would be preached to all nations or tribes. That there would be a sign that was foretold in the book of Daniel, of a pagan statue or symbol that would be raised in the temple grounds, like had happened in the time of the Maccabean rebellion. That after that would appear signs in the sky, that may just be poetic language like in the Old Testament to talk of the rise and fall of empires and civilizations and that the whole earth would be aware of the coming of the son of man. He goes on to say that the disciples needed to stay awake and be on watch. No one would now the hour or the day.

Historically there have been many ways of understanding this passage. There are two extremes time wise. The fist could be likened to a camera lens seeing the action of the day. The reality is that in 70AD the roman’s sacked Jerusalem and burned the city and dismantled the temple stone by stone. What Jesus said came to pass, and some scholars have said that everything Jesus said had to do with that historic event, those who see Matthew’s gospel as written after 70 AD would go so far as to say it was added into the gospel narrative with hindsight. But you can point to definite earthquakes and famine and wars and rumours of war.  Caligula had planned to build a statue of himself in Jerusalem in 40 ad and the roman imperial standard were bought into the city and temple area in 70AD. The Christian Historian Josephus even records the Christians in Jerusalem fleeing and not becoming part of following false messiahs who were looking for a military response to ending roman rule. They point to verse 34 where Jesus says that that generation with him now will not pass away without seeing these entire thing coming to pass. Likewise they see Jesus royal coming in his crucifixion, portrayed in Mark and john’s gospel as a coronation and his resurrection.

The other temporal extreme could be likened to looking through a telescope  seeing these things as far off and yet to come. That while they can point to certain things that happened in Jesus day they await their fulfilment a some future date. In fact there is the tendency of people to look for these signs in the events of their own day. I remember my New Testament lecturer saying that when he was a student he had seen a bible in an incinerator and being a good Christian lad he didn’t think that was right so reached in to save it. The bible had been printed in the 1940’s and had notes all through it interpreting the prophecies in the Old and New Testament  in light of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power.


I think we need to look at this passage and its signs and warnings through both lenses. Historically and prophetically, they have happened and they will keep happening. In every age the church has experienced world shattering events, faith shaking tribulation, the symbols of faith and certainty have been destroyed or replaced; there is also the constant existence of false teachers, false messiahs and false prophets.

We can get caught up in the signs, and actually miss what Jesus is telling us. We can focus o  the signs and miss the person.

We can speculate about dates and interpret world events. I had a friend frantically come looking for me as the whole of the world watched pictures of the 9/11 terror attack, wanting to know if anything like this was foretold in the bible.  But says Jesus that’s not what it means to follow Jesus. Jesus is telling us these things so we will not be caught out, but we need to always be ready because the kingdom of God will break into human history at a time when it is least expected. In fact says Jesus despite all those signs life will continue as normal.  There will be big events but from the look of it life will continue as it always has. We need to live out our faith in our everyday life. He gives the example of a burglary saying that if the burglar advertised a head of time when he came the owner of the house would be ready. But we don’t know the time so be ready now. Live like Christ was coming today.


Let me finishing by teasing out what that means, and remember we will look at it more fully in the next few weeks. So these are like scribbled notes.

The first thing is not to be deceived, all the way through this passage Jesus warns about false messiahs and false saviours, false teaching that will draw people away from him. It is easy as we move through times of change and upheaval  or even comfortable and settled times to look to other false messiahs. In the last period of the church declining in the west church leaders have been guilty of chasing this new programme or this new teaching, or this leadership style, this new technology, or worship style like it is the answer, instead of a fixed focus on following Jesus, on living out the sermon on the mount in obedience to Christ. We are constantly invited to see answers and messiahs to life issues and problems in consumer goods and services, or in technology and modern medicine, or we can put our hope and trust in the rituals and traditions that we have known in our life, and they can become our hope Rather than the person they point to, not that those things are not good and helpful. But if we see them as the answer and the purpose of life we are deceiving ourselves, it is only found in following Jesus.

Secondly, amidst all that can go on in the world we can lose sight of the sovereignty of God. Underlying Jesus knowledge of what will happen is the reality that God is at work and control in the world. Despite the seeming swirls and whirls of history the rise and the fall of empires and nations, political systems and ideologies, God is working his purposes out in human history. Despite the persecution of the early church the gospel is preached and continues to be preached to all peoples. In fact when you read the book of Acts persecution is one of the ways God gets his people to move out of their comfort zones. There is the assurance that while heaven and earth might pass away that God’s word will not. It allows us as Christians to have hope, to trust God and to persevere.

Finally and I’ve already allured to it. In the swirl and whirl of all these thing you and I are called to continue simply following Jesus… loving each other… keeping the fire of love and devotion for Jesus alive… investing in the Kingdom of Heaven… caring for the lost and the least as in doing that we will encounter Jesus.