Luke 17: 22-27 “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. Men will tell you, “There he is!” or “Here he is!” Do not go running off after them. For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulphur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.’”
As Christians what are we to expect from the world we live in? We know what we are to expect from the congregation; the preacher will constantly preach the word to us and pastor us in our obedience to it; the two ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper will be observed; when we gather everything will be done decently and in order, and we will seek to love one another as Christ loves us. That is what the church will gives to us. What will the world give us? What should be the present experience of Christians? What does our Lord teach us? Is it health and wealth for every one of his people? Is it endless happiness? Are we to live on tiptoe, constantly anticipating at any minute, very soon – today, or tomorrow – the world is going to end? Certainly one day it is going to end. This is a great warning note in this sermon. The Lord refers to the days of Noah and the end of Sodom. People at the time of Noah were suddenly confronted with catastrophe. Men and women living in the city of Sodom were faced with immanent destruction. So what are we to expect until those end times come? In these fascinating verses before us Jesus Christ lays out for us what our expectations are to be while we live in the world.
THEY WILL BE YEARS OF LONGING FOR BETTER DAYS.
“Then he said to his disciples, ‘The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man” (v.22). Our days are going to be days of longing. There’d come a time in the life of these disciples when they’d look back to the time of hearing his unmistakable voice, seeing his face, hearing his preaching, seeing his miracles, or being an eye-witness of his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. “Oh for one of those days again,” they would say to one another often. They didn’t know what they’d got until it was gone. The first generation of Christians would look back to the apostles’ work, to Peter preaching on the day of Pentecost with a hint of a tongue of fire still resting on him and his words coming from heaven. Others would look back to times when they heard the apostle Paul exalting the Lord Jesus, great days of blessing, of the felt presence of Jesus Christ, days when the gospel came not in word only but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much assurance. We can all look back as Christians and remember days that were better than good days, days at camps and conferences, services when Dr. Lloyd-Jones preached to us, specially convicting inspirational sermons on Sundays – one of the days of the Son of Man. We long for more of them. Our prayers are that God would revive us again, that he would visit us with his salvation, that he would rend the heavens and come down and the dark mountains of wickedness would tremble at his presence. That longing must characterize every exercised, earnest Christian until the end of his earthly pilgrimage. We long to see God’s kingdom coming.
THEY WILL BE YEARS OF RUMOURS AND FALSE ALARMS.
The Lord Jesus says, “Men will tell you, ‘There he is! or ‘Here he is!’ Do not go running off after them. For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other.” (v.23). I am told that after the debacle of Harold Camping announcing the end of the world on October 21 nine days ago that that muddled man has ‘retired.’ I hope he has also greatly repented and will never open his mouth to speak publicly again. But if he be silent many others will take his place and will tell us that this sign or that sign means that Jesus is coming very soon or has come already. Our Lord tells us here that his coming again will not at all be a secret event that only the illuminati know about. No. It will be as visible as bolts of lightning. Everyone in the whole area sees the flash and hears the bang seconds later and knows that it’s lightning. The return of the Lord of glory is not going to be like osmosis in a tree. We know that osmosis must be taking place but we can’t see it. We are taught that it happens. The return of Christ will be like a thunder and lightning storm. We’ll not need a meteorological expert to assure us it’s occurring. We will never need pipsqueaks to tell us that the Almighty One is here or that God is there. But these rumours and false alarms will never stop.
3. THEY WILL BE YEARS OF SUFFERING FOR BEING CHRIST’S PEOPLE.
Jesus took this opportunity to again warn his people that before him lay suffering and rejection; “First he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation” (v.25). How reluctant they were to accept the necessity of this. Didn’t their Lord have authority over creation, over water, over winds and waves, and over olive trees. He had authority over demons, over disease, and over death itself. He had authority over men. He could say, “I AM” and a platoon of Roman soldiers would fall on their faces pole-axed before him. When the synagogue leaders in Nazareth tried to throw him off a precipice he could just walk through their midst and no one could lay a hand on him. There was no reason at all for him to die on a cross. Walk away, Jesus! It seemed to them that he had a death wish, that he was thinking morbidly. They were consumed by the glory of the kind of heavenly kingdom he could set up. The mother of James and John wanted her boys to sit on each side of him there. She wasn’t thinking that suffering was necessary. When Peter heard Christ speak like this he could get quite angry and certainly frustrated with our Lord, but Jesus never ceased preparing them for his crucifixion. “The Son of Man must suffer many things . . .” He told them this over and over again. There could no atonement for them without his sufferings. The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many. This is the nature of God; this is how God is; without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sins. The wrath of God against our lies and lawlessness and lewdness can only be propitiated by the death of God the Son. So he must suffer many things; he must. He could easily have avoided it, humanly speaking, but at the cost of stopping loving them, and he had come into the world to do the will of his Father. God must smite him that we might never be smitten. So suffering in the name of Christ will be a part of Christian experience. So Christians are going to live in days of longing, and days of wild rumours, and days of suffering. Finally . . .
THEY WILL BE YEARS OF MATERIALIST TEMPTATIONS.
That will be the background against which we have to live our lives, a world consumed by shopping seven days a week and evenings too, and absorbed by relationships. Our Lord speaks here more of this feature than anything else as he describes the experience of his people before the end of the world: “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building” (vv.26-28). Jesus gives us four pairs that embrace many foundational activities of mankind, eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, buying and selling, planting and building. Food, family life and jobs – all of this quite essential from Adam’s until now. The problem only arises when this is what men and women do exclusively. There is no mention of worshipping God at Noah’s time; no one at all listened to Noah’s preaching, and there was no Evangelical Church in Sodom. No one was heeding God’s word and doing it; no one was serving and pleasing him, glorifying him and enjoying him, preparing themselves for being with him in a new heavens and earth. These people back at the time of Noah and at the time of Abraham were simply immersing themselves in these basic human activities exclusively, eating, drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, living as though this was not God’s world, not created by him, not sustained by him, not judged by him. Their belief was that our brief lifetimes in this world were all there is. That ‘stuff’ and relationships are the only important things. That is materialism. Think of these recent long days when the politicians and bankers of Europe have given themselves to discussing the plight of the euro during the last weeks. Materialism, I fear, is one of the fundamental causes of this crisis and the problem will never go away.
If there is one dominant philosophy that characterizes life in Wales today then you would say that we are living in a materialist Principality. Welsh people are living largely without God; it’s people and stuff that are exclusively important. I’m sure that those values affect us too even in this Christian congregation. Many of us are being torn between two opinions, materialism and trusting God. It influences us far more than we’d acknowledge. Our faith is affected. For example, we might be motivated to memorize Scripture if we were offered five pounds for every verse we learned. Or we think more of the pleasure we’ll get from new computers and I-phones and notepads rather than the ways we could use such devices to glorify God. We are prepared to sacrifice a lot of family time simply to keep up our standard of living. We find it difficult to obey God’s word telling us to be content with food, shelter and clothing. We are more likely to be grieving over our lack of material possessions than over our lack of holiness. I am saying that in too many Christians there’s a battle with a materialist mindset. We are too much like the world system which we inhabit.
In Noah’s day there was one utterly non-materialist family in the world. It was unfazed by all the progress, and the reports of travel to exotic places, and the new houses that men were building around the ark. That family had one steadfast, high intent, that it would escape the corruption of the world and the unavoidable judgment coming on it. Now that would be a family to be mocked and despised. When conversation ran dry down the pub then one of the materialists there could toss out the name ‘Noah!’ Pathetic, fanatical Noah! Everyone grinned knowingly. How then do we describe the people of the age of Noah and Abraham – and of our age today?
i] They were trusting more in their own resources than in God. Paul wrote a letter to Timothy and he told him that in one of his sermons, from time to time he should have a word for the rich people in the congregation. Get up in the pulpit, look them in the eye, and, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (I Tim.6:17). David in one of his psalms has the same warning, “though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them” (Ps. 62:10). How great is your debt to God? What do you owe to God? Who gave you your family, your intelligence, your health and strength? Who put you in your job? Who has prospered your business? Your debt to God is 100% isn’t it? Every resource for obtaining wealth has come to you from God. Our God knows how much stuff is good for us and how much will lead us into misery and destruction.
Again let me search you concerning this question, whether you pray before you buy something a little more expensive than normal. Do you make sure you pray earnestly about it? I was speaking to one of my daughters during half term week, and she and her family have moved house this year. “We didn’t have to move, Dad,” she said, “but we prayed and talked a lot about it, and came to the decision that we would move nearer the schools, and the church, and where Glyn works. Now we find that we’re not all that happy with our new house, but we’ll see. We’ll stay there for a while.” That is exactly the attitude we must all have. We talk and pray and finally make a decision and we exchange one set of problems for another. Concerning our homes; they have their good points, but we wish some things were different. Our heavenly home has been prepared for us by the Lord Jesus and it is perfect, and our preparing ourselves for that mansion is far more important than living today with a state of the art kitchen and a perfect bathroom. He that has that hope in him purifies himself as God is pure. “We prayed about moving home . . .” Do you pray before every big purchase, the car, the new laptop?
You know that the media announces occasionally vast wins of many millions of pounds on the lottery. Do you spend time day-dreaming about what you’d do with a lot of money? That’s such a waste of time. If you are in trouble do you find your comfort in God’s love for you and his being your Father and Sovereign Protector and Provider, or are you consumed with worry about financial provision? I have watched UCCF relay workers over the last twenty years having to support themselves while working with college students and every one at the end of the years speaks of God’s faithfulness in supplying their needs. What else do we know of materialistic people at the time of Noah and at our time today? They were trusting in their own resources, and what else?
ii] They lacked contentment. Materialists never know when they have enough. We live in a discontented age. Love of money can’t coexist with contentment. Either the contentment is going to kill the love of money or the love of money is going to kill the contentment. The two concepts are incompatible. You know how the Bible exhorts us again and again about being contented with what we have. Hebrews 13 and verse 5 “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’.” Those words mean nothing to the materialist. Or again Paul speaks to Timothy and it is very easy for a young pastor to be restless having to depend on the kindness of his congregation for his support. Paul has been there for years, and this is what he says to Timothy in solidarity with him – the great ‘we’ of the apostle; “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (I Tim. 6:6-8).
Thomas Watson – everyone’s favourite Puritan – has written a book called The Art of Divine Contentment. In it he talks about regulating our ‘fancy.’ That’s a popular Puritan word. You know how we can fancy going to New York for a holiday, or fancy buying this camera or this computer or this car or this dress. 1000 women have fancied the dress Pippa Middleton wore to her sister’s royal wedding and they’ve all ordered one from Debenhams for 600 pounds. They fancied it, and they’re getting it. Fancy is very powerful in a materialist age. I have changed some of the items to which Thomas Watson refers; I have made them contemporary items updating them, otherwise this is how he preached. He says, “It is fancy which raises the price of things above their real worth. What is the reason why one dress is worth 20,000 pounds while another isn’t worth 600 pounds? Fancy raises the price. The practical difference is more imaginary than real. Why is it better to have 100,000 in the bank rather than 10,000? It’s because men fancy that it’s so. If we could fancy having just a few simple things then it would be far more desirable. Sparkling water is just as sweet when it’s drunk from your old mug as when it’s drunk from a crystal glass. Things are as we fancy them to be. Since the fall fancy looks through the wrong spectacles.” That’s Thomas Watson urging us not to be dominated by fancy. I would think John Bunyan would put Miss Fancy to live in Vanity Fair. That is how a Puritan preacher talks to his congregation about the dangers of materialism. They lacked contentment and were ruled by fancy. How else do materialists live?
iii] They were storing up for themselves treasures on earth. They deny life after death – though Jesus Christ rose from the dead. The grave-clothes were there, in the empty tomb. The stone had been rolled away, but the body was not there, the body that no one wanted. Then our Lord began to appear, many times, in many places and hundreds of his people saw him and they were transformed from being cowardly men to being ready to lay down their own lives for the truth that he had risen again from the dead. Hundreds of people who had met with him alive for over six weeks would die for that conviction, some of them dying the most lingering, horrible deaths. “We cannot deny what we have seen and heard,” they said to their judges.
That is all rejected by the materialist. “All we have is here and now,” he says, and so all he has is that disappearing stuff that thieves or the government or our own folly or disease and certainly death can take from us. Last week Colonel Gaddafi was killed. It was claimed that he was the richest man in the history of the world with 600 billion pounds stolen from his people and salted away in banks everywhere. What good did all that do for him in the last year? What good is it doing him now?
I want to plant this thought in your minds and water it, that there are things you can invest in during your life here which can be sent on ahead of you in the life to come. You can’t take them with you but you can send them on ahead of you, like Christian parents, or a Christian husband or wife have already gone on before you. Please think of this . . .
A) Will anyone or anything be able to take from you your relationship with Jesus Christ? Death can’t do that. This covenant relationship begins in your repentance and trust in him; it begins in his determining to become your Lord and Saviour, and it lasts for ever. “For he himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you”’ (Hebrews 13:5). That is something to invest in!
B) Will anyone or anything be able to destroy the Scriptures, their truths and promises? Has any scientific discovery undermined our faith in the promises of Scripture in the last century? Modernism is a romantic movement not a scientific one. You can still trust the Bible. “Forever, O Lord, your word is settled in heaven.” (Psalm 119:89) “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away” (Matthew 24:35) “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Peter 1:24,25). Live by investing in the Bible; its truths never wear out, or get out of date.
C) Will anyone or anything be able to annihilate your service for God? The time and the effort you’ve spent ministering to others — people to whom you witness, those you encourage and build up in the Lord, those you pray for, and those you serve in countless tangible and intangible ways, the Christian Book Shop, the putting out of the chairs, serving tea and coffee, the deaf and those with learning difficulties, all your hours of voluntary work – for all of that you’ll receive recognition in heaven that must be given. Listen to Jesus’ words; “And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.” (Matt. 10:42). How much more will your lives of service be recognized. Great will be your reward in heaven!
D) Won’t your holy living fit you for a holy home in heaven? The Spirit of God himself is determined to sanctify you and transform you progressively into the image of Christ, and this is what Jesus referred to when he exhorted his disciples to lay up for themselves treasures in heaven. Listen to these words of Paul to Timothy, “Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7b-8). Keep fit spiritually, the apostle is saying because it has eternal benefits. Many of you are trying to keep in shape, walking each day, keeping your joints active, your muscles healthy with some sporting activity or a time in the gym. That is very good, but you are to show the same diligence spiritually because there is “a life to come” and you must prepare for that too. Ever race ends. Where will your race end? The refreshing things we experience day by day are meant to be like those tables at the side of the road on which are rows of plastic cups or bottles of water so that marathon runners slow down to scoop up and drink from them without stopping. Then they throw them to the side because they are on their way to the finish. He would be a strange runner who would brag about the free glass of water he’d drunk on the marathon rather than that he got to the finish and won a prize. We would be strange people if we thought when we met Jesus Christ in glory we’d tell him about our huge bank balance or the cracking investment we’d made in the stock exchange or even the happy times we had had on our journey to his throne! We will talk of him and his love for us that’s brought us there. There are going to be many temporary comforts to sustain us on our way to heaven but our lives don’t revolve around those things. We are building our lives on eternal things that cannot be taken away or destroyed Again, what characterizes materialists?
iv] They’re more anxious about losing pensions than losing virtue. Money is more important to them than sin. “What if I die before getting my pension?” people ask as if that would be the greatest disappointment of all. The Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs wrote a book called The Evil of Evils and its central point is that there is more evil in the least sin than in the greatest affliction. So the Christian should always choose suffering rather than sinning. Everyone is afraid of such providences as cancer or loneliness or Alzheimers or unemployment or the death of loved ones. All of us fear those things, of course, but we disciples of Jesus Christ also fear sin – sin in our hearts and in our words and by our deeds and we flee from it as we’d take all precautions not to be infected by an incurable virus. My daughter and her husband watched a new film last week about the spread of a virulent plague through the world. In this purely fictional story this new virus kills a million people; it spreads like wildfire one day just one or two people are affected and yet within a week is it thousands and soon a million. The story had clearly impacted my daughter. When people coughed or sneezed in the cinema she said people glanced in that direction and she felt like putting a hankey over her nose and mouth. The same thing happened on the bus afterwards, and then she and her husband became temporarily very sensitive trying not to touch any door handles or knobs or hand-rails that other people had touched! People are more troubled at the thought of getting ill than of becoming more sinful. Sensitive to a virus, but are you sensitive to other things, for example, what you see on the world wide web, and what you read, and the company you keep and their influence over you? The blessed man of Psalm one does not want to be contaminated by sin and so he does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of the scornful. Are you as careful as that?
v] Materialism makes people selfish. People who serve Mammon don’t acknowledge that what they’ve got comes from God. They have earned it. You remember the wretch character Bart Simpson saying this blasphemous grace, “Dear God, We paid for all this food ourselves, so thanks for nothing.” The Christian believes that everything he has he has by the grace of God. He has freely received all of it, and so he freely gives! When he reads the following words of the apostle John it rings a bell in his conscience; “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (I Jn. 3:17). Paul tells Timothy that when he got up in the pulpit and saw his mixed congregation, the penniless beggars, the slaves, the sick and unemployed and also the rich members that Timothy was not to be afraid to instruct them all like this, “Do good, be rich in good works, be generous and ready to share” (I Tim. 6:18). Tell them that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.
I have warned you about materialism, about how it was in the days of Noah and in Sodom and Gomorrah, and that is also going to characterize the age in which we must live in the new covenant church before the coming of Christ? Amongst us disciples of Jesus Christ there will be a longing for better days, days when the Son of Man will be glorified. There will be days of rumours and wild claims that he’s come or that he’ll be here in a few months or even a day or two. There will be days of suffering because the servants are no better than their Master; he was despised and rejected and so will his people be, but most of all we have to keep our hope alive in the coming of the Lord from heaven in a climate of materialism.
I am saying that that means we must be on our guard. We must never lose our focus on the most important fact in the future, the blessed hope and glorious appearance of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, because we can be corrupted by money. Let me tell you what the devil does. We are going along the narrow way that leads to life, and we come across a path leading away from it, and we are about to turn our eyes away and resolutely keep going on the narrow way when we see just down that other path the glint of something on the road. We wander across and there are few pound coins, and we go over and pick them up, and then further on we can spot something else and we go up to it and it’s a bundle of money, five pound notes. Then, after we’ve picked that up there is something else further along and we hurry on, and there’s another bundle of notes, ten pound notes and we race across before anyone else spots them to gather them, and now we are looking and we can see another bundle of notes, and then another bundle, and then a money bag and another. And there along the road just around the next bend is the devil going, and he is the one dropping this money, just in sight of the next pile, and we are going further and further from the way, further and further from our pilgrimage as we hurry to gather more and more riches, until finally we are weighed down with our newly acquired wealth. By now we much prefer this rewarding and enriching way than the narrow path where we’ve been walking so long, and we are already making plans concerning how we are going to use this money that’s come to us. We are already spending that money in our minds, a bigger house, a better car, a vacation in a five star hotel, and on we go gathering more money and more money utterly forgetting the pilgrimage to glory.
Don’t think that it couldn’t happen to you. It happened to the one who heard Jesus preach the Sermon on the Mount. He was in the boat with Jesus when the Saviour calmed the storm. He saw Lazarus rise from the dead, but thirty pieces of silver were more important to Judas than Jesus Christ. Don’t think that the love of money can’t take your eyes off the glorious coming of Jesus Christ and the new heavens and earth. He’ll come one day and we’re to be ready for him by living a holy and loving life, rich in good works to others, generous and self-denying. I have money, yes, we all have money, and I think John Wesley gave as good advice about this, in a short compass, as you can hear “Gain all you can; save all you can and give all you can.” That is what I am to do until the Saviour returns from heaven.
30th October 2011 GEOFF THOMAS