1st Sunday of End Times
Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, there’s just enough to make you think it’s true, but it’s not. As many of you know, firearm deer hunting began yesterday. I never deer hunted before I came here to Bemidji, but I’ve been learning a lot about deer hunting and I’m coming to find out it’s quite a sport! There’s actually a lot involved with it. For a moment, try to put yourself in the place of a deer. On November 3, 2012, you walk around in the woods and it seems as though everything is normal, same noises, same quietness, etc. But the reality? Thousands of hunters have descended upon the woods to hunt. You hear a mating call and it sounds like a deer, but the reality? It’s just a hunter blowing through a little contraption. You smell the scent of another deer. But the reality? It’s just a chemical created to smell like it that hunters use. There’s just enough to make you think it’s true, but it really isn’t. It’s the art of deception: to make something appear different from what it actually is. The result of falling for deception, in the case of the deer is often fatal. In a very similar way there is a lot of deception in our lives as well. Things that may appear to be true, but in reality are actually fake and false and if we fall for them the result is our own harm.
In our text for this morning Jesus warned his disciples and He warns us too, to not be deceived. Our text took place during the final days of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Holy Week. A few days from our text Jesus would be crucified. Jesus has just left the massive temple in Jerusalem and his disciples commented, “Wow! Look what massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” Then Jesus soberly told them, “See these buildings? Not one stone will be left on top of another.” In other words, “Don’t be deceived this too won’t stand the test of time, but will crumble.” A little later on Jesus’ disciples came up to him and asked, “When that will happen and what sign will take place to show that it will happen?” That’s where our text picks up.
Jesus doesn’t exactly answer their question. Rather, Jesus answers the question they should have asked. They should have asked: how ought we to live our lives in lieu of this? How ought we to conduct ourselves in light of this prophecy of the end times? That’s our question too. And so in love Jesus gives them and us the preparation we need. Jesus says, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” Literally what a deception is, is a trick to make you believe something that is not true. And as He goes on He wants us to watch out for and to be on our guard against essentially 3 deceptions.
First: “Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many.” The first warning Jesus gives us is don’t be deceived by false teaching. Many are going to come in Jesus’ name, claiming His authority, claiming what only belongs to Him. They are deceivers. They essentially “wear” God’s word as a mere sheep’s clothing in order to hide the fact that they are ferocious wolves. Who are they? They are people who sound very religious, sound like they know something about God, but in reality they spread lies. Certainly throughout history there has been many people claiming the authority that only belongs to Jesus: Mohammed, Buddha, Joseph Smith of the Mormon faith, Charles Russell of the Jehovah Witnesses. Or even modern philosophies like humanism and evolution. The unfortunate fact is that they do end up deceiving many, promoting a way of salvation contrary to God’s Word and their followers will not escape God’s judgment.
But then there are also many deceivers who are more difficult to spot. They claim an adherence to God’s Word an association with Jesus, but in reality they bend God’s Word to fit their own purposes or likes, they add or subtract from God’s Word. Who are these deceivers? Finally anyone who teaches that, “Yes, Jesus is good…but you still have to do your part. YOU need to choose Christ. YOU need to make up for your past sins. YOU need to earn heaven.” The ultimate aim of any false teacher is to lead someone away from Christ. This is the devil’s aim. Because if he is able to lead you away from your Savior, then he has you in his clutches. If he is able to make you rely on anyone or anything other than Christ, he has you.
So, Jesus says, “Don’t be deceived! Watch out! Be on your guard! Don’t let yourself be deceived by these deceivers!” So what’s the answer? How do you stay sharp so you can easily spot a deceiver? The problem is that each one of us with a sinful nature is prone to listen to error and consider it, and the devil, the master deceiver is more than ready to do everything to get you to believe something false in order to lead you astray. So what’s the answer? Cling to God’s Word! Hold on to it! Be so familiar to what God says, to what Christ says that you can easily spot someone who is promoting lies or someone who is coming “in Jesus’ name” but is really not. When you are into God’s Word, God Himself works in your heart, He convinces you of the truth, He makes you stronger in the truth.
The second deception Jesus tells us about is in regard to world events. “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.” When we read in the newspaper about armed conflict in the middle east, terrorist attacks in Libya, hurricane Sandy wreaking havoc on the east coast, all those things shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus says, “Don’t be deceived.” Of course, this week is our nation’s government election. Perhaps your candidate will win, perhaps not. If not, you may be tempted to throw your hands in the air and think everything will fall apart. But we shouldn’t be caught off our guard or left in disbelief or knocked off our feet when we see any of these things thinking the world is falling apart. Why? Jesus has already foretold it. These are all signs that the end is certainly coming. Because of sin the whole earth has been groaning in pain. As sinful people chase after more power, more riches, more glory, more greed there will continue to be wars and rumors of wars. Just like birth pains they show us that the end is certainly coming.
So what’s the answer? Know what Jesus says, cling to His Word. Remember what Jesus said? “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” God raise Jesus up far above all rule and authority, power and dominion…and placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.” You see, Jesus promises to remain in control. Finally, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. He rules over nations and governments. He rules over nature and hurricanes and earthquakes and famines. And yet, he rules in the best interest of His body, the group of all believers, the church, you and me! So don’t be deceived! Jesus remains in control no matter what it might look like!
The last deception Jesus warns the disciples and us against is the thought that we’ve lost. “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them.” Jesus’ disciples and 1st Century followers faced horrid things. They faced public floggings before their own Jewish people. They faced standing on trial before gentile governors and kings. They faced prisons, dungeons, and torture. Why? Because they believed in Jesus. Because they spread the good news.
Jesus says, “Don’t be deceived.” You know, we might think we won’t be affected by persecutions for our faith – we live in America, right? But don’t be deceived. Will there come a time when speaking out against sin will be considered hate speech and a crime? Will there come a time when the government will not permit us to teach creation without consequences? Will there come a time we are forced to suffer for clinging to Christ in faith? Don’t be deceived: hardships, trials, sufferings, it happened to Jesus, it happened to the apostles, it quite possibly could happen to us too.
Interesting enough is that all of these things Jesus predicted would happen to His followers, happened to Him. You see, Jesus was handed over, He was beaten, He was put on trial, He stood before the Jewish councils, He stood before governors like Herod and Pontius Pilate, He was made to look like a fool, He was mocked and embarrassed, but not once did He waver from His position, not once did He waver from His mission. He suffered it all. He went to the cross like a lamb led to slaughter. He died on the cross looking like a failure.
But again, don’t be deceived! The devil thought he won the victory, thought he had triumphed, but then…the deceiver himself was deceived! That death on the cross was not a loss or a failure, but a win, a victory, a triumph! Your sins are forgiven! You are free! You are justified! Christ rose from the dead- he won! His victory is your victory! Your sins are paid! Eternal life is yours! And no matter what, no matter what deception stands before your eyes…that is the truth, believe it, no matter what!
And it is Jesus’ word, God’s word, that tells you about it. Cling to it! Are you looking for the truth in a world of deceptions? Are you wondering what to believe when surrounded by false teachings? Are you nervous seeing the wars and natural disasters in our world? Are you facing ridicule for believing in Jesus? Don’t be deceived! Cling to God’s Word: hear it, read it, study it. Why? Because it’s here where GOD tells you the truth, your sins are forgiven and you are His, no matter what! And that’s the TRUTH, believe it! Amen.