Alfred Place Baptist Church

13:28-37 Watching The Warning Signs

Mark 13:28-37 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!'”

This lengthy sermon of Christ is one of the most significant chapters in Mark’s gospel. It begins innocently enough with a brief question which two sets of brothers privately ask the Lord. “At what time will the Jerusalem temple be destroyed?” They’d just been marveling at the sight of it across the valley, “What magnificent buildings!” when Jesus announced that it was going to be demolished; “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (v.2). So they drew him aside and they asked him when this would be. Jesus gives them this extraordinary comprehensive answer – a whole panorama of the future. Let me say this to you, very soberly, that if you’re not playing around with being religious, and if you are sincere about asking Almighty God questions, then the Lord will honour you with deeply thoughtful answers. He will always do two things, he will put a Bible in your hand, and he will direct you to a church which takes the Scriptures seriously. But if you’re not serious, just curious about this and that, you’ll get no answers. Don’t ask God questions for the sake of questions, for example, Where did Cain get his wife? He won’t answer questions like that because they are rarely sincere.

We are now looking at the closing words of Jesus’ sermon. He is summing up what our attitude should be to the momentous events that lie before us. These words of our text are his conclusion and his application. The Puritans closed their sermons with a section they called ‘uses’ and they got that from the greatest Preacher of all. How does Christ end the sermon? He says three or four things:

1. CHRIST’S COMING IS CONFIRMED BY THE WARNING SIGNS.

You see the red lights flashing and you know there is danger ahead. You know the hazard lights are telling you to watch out. “You want to know when the temple is going to be destroyed? I have told you what are its precursors; there will be deceivers claiming to come from God, false Christs and false prophets; there will be wars and rumours of wars; there will be earthquakes and famines; you yourselves will be arrested and punished for preaching about me; there will be betrayals in families; you will see the abomination that causes desolation set up in the temple itself; you will see the Lord’s people fleeing from Jerusalem to the mountains; there will be such days of distress for the people of Jerusalem, such as that city has never experienced in its entire history. Christ made the peril to come to Jerusalem spectacularly clear. “I have told you everything ahead of time” (v.23).

Then did our Saviour gesture to a nearby fig tree? We know that he said to them, “Learn this lesson from the fig tree” (v.28). Can we learn from the other book which God has given to us? It is the book of creation, and the books of general revelation and special revelation can never contradict one another. What does the tree teach us? “As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near” (v.28). I didn’t know that a tree’s twigs got tender as summer got near. Why didn’t I know that? Some of you are gardeners and scientists and plant breeders. You never told me that the twigs of a fruit tree lost their winter hardness in the spring time. I knew of the buds appearing, that then they blossom, but never of the twigs becoming tender.

So we all see the leaves coming out in the spring, and we know the meaning of that sign that summer won’t be long in coming. Just a few more weeks and the days will grow longer and it will be warmer. Who reads the signs? Meteorologists? No, not just them. Horticulturists and gardeners? No, not just them. Everyone. The five year old child takes for granted the spring leaves on the trees are saying that ‘summer is a coming in, loud cry cuckoo’! In how many trees do the twigs get tender in the spring and the leaves come out? In all the deciduous trees – every single one! You don’t have to be an expert to know that. It is so obvious. Everywhere you turn the message is the same.

Then it is also going to be obvious to every Christian when the fall of Jerusalem is imminent. It won’t be that in some meeting one night in a remote house in eastern Galilee they’ll be singing and swooning and praying for hours and finally a women gets up and says, “Thus saith the Lord, there is going to be the destruction of Jerusalem tomorrow.” It’s not going to be like that at all. It never is like that. The divine prophecy about the future doesn’t come to some place far away from where you live, for example, from us who live in Wales to a place like Toronto or Pensacola so that we have to book expensive flights to hear the word of God about the future in some other continent. Not at all! The word is nigh you, in your heart and in your mouth. You received that knowledge from the Book and so did the whole church. Today we need people claiming to be prophets about as much as we need priests. Go to the Book! What does the Lord do? He prepares every Christian for the destruction of Jerusalem – everyone who believes the word of Jesus Christ will be ready for it. That is the only qualification. You don’t have to be spookily ‘religious’ to get the message. Everyone with faith in Christ and with eyes to see what’s going on all around will know that it won’t be long. “Jerusalem Christians look around you! What do you see? This is what you see, deceivers claiming to come from God, false Christs, wars, earthquakes and famines, arrests and beatings for witnessing to Christ, betrayals in families. Then you will see the abomination that causes desolation set up in the temple itself. You will all know from the least of you to the greatest of you these signs that the end of the temple is nigh; its days are numbered. Flee to the mountains!” So our Lord is most anxious that his disciples be prepared for this. He spent precious hours in the last week of his life talking about it to them – at considerable length. It was that important to him that they be ready for these things to happen.

Then Jesus moves on from the events of the last days in the world of old covenant Jerusalem to the last days in the whole present world system, and he prepares us in our generation for that event. Again he gives signs about what is going to happen before that occurs. Once again they are not some esoteric clues so that only a few hyper spiritual or very intelligent Christians can discover what they are. Predicting the future or reading the times is not a competition for prizes. Every single Christian will be aware of these events. It is not for the people who have read the right religious almanacs like “The Late Great Planet Earth,” or the “Left Behind” series of novels. It is not that those illuminati will understand while the rest of the Christian church will be baffled. It is not that those who belong to a certain organisation, or those who are listening to a certain guru will have the secret that the end of the world is in a few months’ time. It is not even that God will withhold this information from sinning Christians. No. Every single Christian in the whole world will know that the time of the coming of Christ is at hand.

2. THESE GENERAL SIGNS MUST CHARACTERISE THE WORLD BEFORE CHRIST RETURNS.

What the Saviour does is first to give us four general signs that show we are now living in the last days, the age that is heading for the end times.

i] The great expansion of the church shows that Satan is bound before Christ returns .

Before the Saviour returns Satan has to be limited in his influence. On the cross Christ has triumphed over the forces of darkness. He has made a show of principalities and powers and put them to shame. “See how helpless you are before me.” By death he destroyed him that had the power of death, that is the devil. The serpent is bound with a great chain. The devil is attached by a chain to Christ and if he goes too far troubling you or me, Christ yanks the chain. Maybe you don’t understand this because you can see his activities plainly in the world today. He is still prowling around seeking whom he may devour. Of course he is, and we must put on all the armour of God to resist him. But he is a conquered adversary. You ask, “In what respect is he bound?” In this respect, that he can deceive the nations no longer. There was a time under the old covenant when Satan had complete dominion over the Gentile world. Every nation but Israel lay in “darkness and in the shadow of death” (Psalm 107:10). Up to the moment of Pentecost Satan held the Gentiles enthralled. We in Wales were in moral and spiritual bondage to druids, living in total spiritual darkness, worshipping the moon and stars. But now that has changed. Whatever the power and influence of Satan in Wales today the kingdom of Christ has made great inroads into our Principality. Europe was once in darkness but there are today gospel churches in every major city and university town across the continent. That was not the case during the Old Covenant.

See what Christ says here, that before he comes again, “the gospel must first be preached to all nations” (v.10). Look beyond Galilee and Judah and Samaria to the uttermost corners of the earth. Let me be specific; before the end of the present age the Rendille people in north-east Kenya must hear of the love of God in Jesus Christ. It is not enough for a Christian hot air balloon covered in big texts in a language the Rendille understand to fly lazily across the sky over their heads. It is not enough that boxes of tracts like confetti be poured down on every village. It is not enough that a four wheel drive vehicle goes to that remote region once a year and they hold open air services in all those localities and then disappear back to where they came from. The good news of Jesus Christ must be brought to them by pastor-preachers called and gifted by Christ to do this work. They must go there and stay there and dedicate their lives to talking holily and clearly and lovingly to the Rendille, urging them to believe the message of Jesus Christ. Those who believe must be baptized and gathered into churches. And what has to be done by Keith Underhill’s men in the midst of an unreached group like the Rendille must be done in the thousands of other unreached and unchurched groups that exist all over the world. I am thinking of vast housing estates where the police are afraid to go alone, the inner cities and red-light districts in every major conurbation in the world. “Preach the gospel there,” Christ says. You can see the vastness of our task. That must happen first, before Christ comes again, so that the work of mission is not some option which a few young people in a few churches might be considering. It is to be a passion and a burden within every single Christian heart. If I pray, “Thy will be done,” then I am asking how can I further God’s will. How can I promote the gospel outside my little creek? The devil cannot stop me spreading the kingdom to any place in the world. In May, God willing, I am going to Albania to preach for a week. You remember that that nation just a short time ago was the one official atheist country in Europe. Its doors were closed to the gospel, but then Jesus decided it was time to open them and the devil could do nothing about it.

ii] The second sign shows that the Spirit has been outpoured before Christ returns.

You protest at the absence of the Spirit’s working in our churches in our day, of the fewness of conversions in European churches, of our lack of impact on society, and that is true. We long for God to revive his work and pour out his Spirit in abundance upon us again, but though they are days of spiritual weakness they are not days of absolutely nothing at all or we wouldn’t be here today. “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (Acts 2:17). During the Old Testament the Spirit was confined within the borders of Israel, but now the Spirit is working in every corner of the world. Whereas in the Old Testament gifts of the Spirit were given to kings and prophets and judges and priests today in this age the Spirit comes on servants and handmaids, old men dream dreams and young men see visions. The Spirit regenerates every single believer, on every Jew and Gentile who believes in Christ. There is not a single Christian who lacks the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit is given to enable us to understand what God has done in Jesus Christ and to assist us to face the hazards of Christian witness with wisdom, and courage, and boldness. Here it is in this sermon of Christ; “do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit” (v.11). “The New Testament evangelists, says the apostle Peter, preached the gospel with the Holy Spirit sent from heaven (1 Peter 1:12). Here again we see the link between the last days and the responsibility of Christian mission. God gave the church an apparently impossible assignment: ‘Go to all the Gentiles! Go to every creature!’ (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15). The church might easily have said to God, ‘These people are dead in sin. They hate you. They’ve slain your Son. They hate your gospel. There’s no point in sending us!’ No. In these last days, we evangelise in the Spirit. The gospel cannot be disjoined from this divine power. Where it is disjoined – where the gospel is unacknowledged from on high – there is an unendurable anomaly, and we must plead with God for the restoration of normal service” (Donald Macleod, “A Faith to Live By”, Christian Focus, 1998, p.257).

iii] The third sign shows that today Christ lives and reigns before he returns.

There is a beautiful hymn sung to the tune ‘Londonderry Air’ which climaxes with the return of Christ. Its final line says, “At last the Saviour, Saviour of the world is king!” Sometimes the words ‘at last’ are even italicised by way of emphasis. Biblically it is an unacceptable thought. King Jesus today reigns with all authority in heaven and on heart. He will decide with his own sovereign will when he shall return. Men hated Christ and murdered him. They nailed him to a cross and didn’t take his body down until he was dead. They buried him and put a guard on his tomb so that no one could steal his body and claim he had risen again, but on the third day, without any assistance from any creature, he rose. He was raised from the dead; his graveclothes were there but he was risen. He appeared to the disciples on many occasions for forty days, on the beach, on a mountain, in the garden, walking on a road, in the upper room, eating and drinking with them, talking of the kingdom of God until finally he ascended to heaven. We know where Christ is today and what he is doing. He is in the midst of the throne; he is head over all things to the church; he sits in heaven and does whatsoever he pleases. He builds his church and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it, and from heaven he will come again to judge the living and the dead. The greatest reality in the universe is the Lamb in the midst of the throne.

I was telling a pastor this week that I was beginning a wee series on the book of Revelation. He told me of some ministers and lecturers sitting in a railway carriage discussing that book and talking of ‘realized eschatology’ and various millennium views and symbolical theology and so on. The old ticket collector came into their carriage and paused and listened to them with interest as they talked. He was a Christian. “We are speaking about the book of Revelation,” one of them said to him, “do you know anything about it?” The ticket collector looked at them and he said, “The Lamb wins.” Amen. He does. When he returns to the world it is not as he came on the first occasion, into poverty and obscurity, gaped at by a few shepherds. Every eye shall see him as he comes “with great power and glory” (v.26).

God’s sovereignty is on the shoulders of Jesus. Of course God always reigned; he was king even under the Old Covenant, but now God the Son, risen and exalted, reigns in our human nature, “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Hebs. 4:15). He reigns to give eternal life to all those whom God has given to him. The unlimited resources of the Messiah are pledged to the furtherance of the gospel. The gospel is not a poor, puny, undernourished and under-resourced entity starved of any means. In this age, today, even as I speak, my Saviour has all authority and he is head over all things for the church. He can move heaven and earth for the sake of the gospel, and we take that gospel into every land where Jesus is already reigning; we go to every land in the empire of Christ. There is no place where he is not Lord. The gospel says, “Our Saviour lives. He is prepared to become your Saviour. Bow to him and acknowledge your sins and receive him as your Saviour and confess him to the world.”

Such a message will witness extraordinary signs. Three thousand converts in a single sermon. 25 year-old Spurgeon preaching to ten thousand people every Sunday for years in London with thousands of them becoming Christians. We have seen greater things than Jesus himself saw. The gospel of the living Christ today has total global impact. This very sermon you are now hearing will soon be on the web and four thousand people a week will be reading this and other messages. Let us rejoice that all things are ours. Let us claim the miracles of grace of the last days, the wonders of salvation erupting into the lives of countless individuals and the salvation of whole communities

iv] The fourth sign is that there is tribulation before Christ returns.

What is the picture you gain from this sermon of Christ? Isn’t it of a groaning creation, with earthquakes, famines and warfare, as nation fights against nation, families spilt apart children betraying parents? How do we go forth bearing witness to Jesus Christ? We do so facing the hostility of the world for being his disciples. Sometimes its hostility is shown in a posture of utter boredom, of postmodern apathy, so that they can acknowledge our right to believe what we want to believe, but “Please don’t try to convert me – don’t even think of it.” Other times its hostility is assassination and murder, the bomb and the bullet, and there is more of that persecution in the world today than at any time in its history.

There was a two page news item in the Times yesterday (5th February 2005) on Muslim persecution in England today of former Muslims who have become Christians. This is how it began, “The first brick was thrown through the sitting room window at one in the morning, waking Nissar Hussein, his wife and five children with a terrifying start. The second brick went through his car window. It was a shock, but hardly a surprise. The week before, another brick had been thrown through the window as the family were preparing for bed in their Bradford home. The victim of a three-year campaign of religious hatred, Mr. Hussein’s car has also been rammed and torched, and the steps to his home have been strewn with rubbish. He and his family have been regularly jostled, abused, attacked, shouted at to move out of the area, and given death threats in the street. His wife has been held hostage inside their home for two hours by a mob. His car, walls and windows have been daubed in graffiti: “Christian bastard”. The problem isn’t so much what Mr. Hussein, whose parents came from Pakistan, believes, but what he doesn’t believe. Born into Islam, he converted eight years ago to Christianity, and his wife, also from Pakistan, followed suit.” What we read here is exactly what Christ said would happen before he returned.

So here is our dilemma. We are under an obligation to keep going into all the world making disciples of all nations until Christ comes again, but we do so in the face of utter indifference and violent opposition. There will be no relief from that until the end of the world. Our Saviour in fact reinforces this with these words, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:10-12). Charles Wesley was grasped by that vision of a dying world needing the gospel writing these words,

“Happy if with my latest breath I might but gasp his name,
Preach him to all and cry in death, Behold, behold the Lamb.”

So here are four general events that are signs that Christ is going to return as he said; Satan is bound; the Spirit is poured out; Christ lives and reigns; there is the persecution of his people.

3. THERE ARE ALSO SPECIAL EVENTS BEFORE THE COMING OF CHRIST.

So there are those four general characteristics of the time preceding the return of Christ, but then there are also some special events which the New Testament declares will occur immediately before his coming. Let’s look at them negatively and positively.

i] First, negatively, there will be a time of great tribulation.

We all acknowledge that persecution and rejection face every godly disciple of Christ every day of his life. Is that all the Bible is talking about when it refers to a ‘great tribulation’? Doesn’t there seem to be something more than that predicted, that there will be a time of great tribulation? Remember the question asked by John on the Isle of Patmos concerning a mass of people in heaven? “Who are these?” And he is told that these people came out of the great tribulation. Every Christian passes through trials, but there are some Christians who pass through the fires. Think of it like this, that it is obvious that the Lord Jesus Christ and his disciples met hostility during the thirty years of his life, but nothing that happened in Jerusalem during those decades can be compared to the tribulation the people of the land knew in the year 70 – that was a great tribulation. Or think of this comparison, that every day Christ was tempted by Satan, but then there was the time of his “Temptations in the Wilderness,” a special intensification of demonic attack, a full frontal attack on Christ which we call ‘the temptations.’ So there are our tribulations and there will be the tribulation.

Of course we are all living in a fallen world and we endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, but I must admit that my own life has been particularly benign. I would be embarrassed to claim that I had “passed through the great tribulation,” but the Reformers in the time of Queen Mary did know great tribulation, and the people of Sudan today, and Christians in the Middle East know it, and converted Muslims know it everywhere in the world, but there will be an international outbreak of unprecedented persecution preceding the return of Christ. That will be orchestrated by the devil as he sees his days numbered. It will be a time of rebellion, that is, of great falling away (2 Thess. 2:3) before Christ returns. There will also be the revelation of the Man of Sin, the Principle of Lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:1-12), who proclaims himself to be God. So these negative predictions are made about events before the return of Christ.

ii] Secondly, positively, there will be a time of great blessing.

There is a prophecy that one day the Jews will be brought back to Christ. This appears to be the undeniable teaching of Romans chapter 11 and verse 25, “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved.” That cannot mean that every single Jew living at some point in time is going to become a Christian. It means that just as today Israel is collectively separate from Christ (though there are many Jewish Christians like our brother Baruch Maoz), one day the proportions will be reversed. Israel collectively will be Christian while a minority will remain unbelieving.

What effect on the world will this have – this conversion of Israel from being against the Lord Jesus to being zealously for him? It will be “life from the dead” (Roms. 11:15). There will be a time of latter day glory in the world, before Christ returns, in which the c hurch will be mightily revived and Christian Jew and Gentile alike will take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world with renewed energy. What a time of gospel expansion that will be. What joy will fill the church. Then she will be the light of the whole world, shining more brightly than ever before. This is the Puritan Hope because it is the biblical hope. Spurgeon was preaching on this event one Sunday and he cried, “The day shall yet come when the Jews who were the first apostles to the Gentiles, the first missionaries to us who were afar off, shall be gathered in again. Until that shall be, the fulness of the church’s glory can never come. Matchless benefits to the world are bound up with the restoration of Israel; their gathering in shall be as life from the dead” (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Volume 17, p.703). A great awakening lies before the coming of Christ such as this world has never seen. That will put steel in the backbone of the church to endure the appearance of the Man of Sin and for the time of great tribulation. She will have been strengthened for it by the years of blessing that will have changed the whole ethos of the world.

4. HOW CAN WE DAILY EXPECT THE COMING OF CHRIST IF THESE EVENTS MUST OCCUR BEFORE HIS RETURN?

This is an interesting question that Christians for many years have asked. If I have given you the correct interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2 concerning the revelation of the Man of Sin, and a correct interpretation of Romans 11 and the conversion of the Jews then aren’t we being told that Christ won’t return until these things have occurred? How can this be reconciled with the teaching in the Bible that the Lord may come at any time and I am to watch for his coming? What a nice question. Have you thought about this? What conclusions have you come to? Maybe the following;

i] One: I’ve got my interpretations of 2 Thessalonians 2 and Romans 11 wrong, but I don’t think so, though it certainly means that I must be very gentle in telling you what I’ve been saying today. You know how infrequently I preach on the future of the Jews and on prophecy. I read this week again our church’s 1689 Confession of Faith and it is wisely silent about all of that. Maybe

ii] Two: I’ve got a wrong interpretation of those passages that seem to suggest that the next great event on the calendar of redemption is not revival, nor the conversion of the Jews, nor the appearance of the Man of Lawlessness; it is the return of Jesus Christ from heaven. No, I have the correct interpretation of that. It is very clear from this very passage before us that we are called to daily watchfulness in the light of the return of Christ. “Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!'” (vv.33-37).

Let me answer the question like this:

i] This was an issue for the very first Christians. They looked ahead to the return of Christ. That was the ground of their endeavour and their supreme comfort. Jesus said to them that he would surely come quickly, and yet he had also told them that first the gospel had to be preached in all the nations of the world. That task would certainly not be accomplished for centuries. The whole world was to be discipled; the kingdom of God was to grow like a mustard seed into a great tree. That wouldn’t be accomplished quickly, but they were still told to be watchful.

I live each day expecting my Saviour to return, but I don’t live convinced that it’s going to be this day. I don’t believe that God wants us to be convinced that it’s going to be this very day. There has not been a day in my life on which I was convinced that this was the day the Lord was going to return, and I believe my experience is the same as all God’s people everywhere. If every generation of Christians were supposed to be sure that Christ was going to come back during their lifetimes then for 20 centuries Christians have been believing a deceit. Maybe there is going to be another long period of time before Christ returns, during which time the gospel is going to be preached with great success all over the world, and Europe won back for the Saviour. I don’t know.

ii] Christians from the time of Peter have been aware that they were growing old and would die before Christ came back. This knowledge did not prevent them being watchful. Remember the Lord Jesus told Peter that he would live until old age, and he would be carried around and die a martyr’s death (Jn. 21:18). That didn’t stop Peter longing for the coming of Christ. His desire was, “looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God” (2 Pet. 3:12). Paul was ready to die a martyr’s death, but his great longing was Christ’s appearing. Someone asked John Elias if he expected Christ to come that year – it was 1841 – and Elias said to them, “I don’t expect to see Christ with my bodily eyes till the last day.” And yet John Elias at the same time was waiting for the coming of Christ.

iii] What is significant is not whether Christ will come in our lifetime or not, nor whether we die first, nor whether he comes ‘sooner’ or ‘later’ but whether we will be with the sheep at his right hand when he appears.

iv] It is the power of faith to bring things very distant close at hand. I have my Saviour’s words. I have seen Christ coming. I have heard the sound of the trumpet and the heavens opening and the sun no longer shining, and the stars falling from the sky. I have seen the graves open and the dead coming forth. I have seen the sea give up its dead. I have seen the great assembly all gathering before Christ. I have heard him say to many, “Come you blessed ones.” I have heard him say to others, “Depart from me I never knew you.” I have seen the glories of heaven and the horrors of hell. But faith I have seen all of this already. They are a present reality to me. By faith it is just a ‘little while’ until he that shall come will come. Moses saw Christ’s day and was glad. I too have seen his day and I am glad. Even if it is a thousand years away it does not diminish the influence of that event on my life. A few short years and I will be dead but my hope is a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. I have seen the stone rolled away and I have seen the angels tell the women that he is not here, he is risen. I have heard him say that because he lives I shall live also. He will raise me from the dust, and it matters not to me when that is going to be.

There are two events that are equally near and equally real to me and I grasp them both. Christ dying for me, near and present, and Christ coming for me, near and present. It is nothing to me that the Lamb of God died almost 2000 years ago. What is that to me? His blood never loses its power. Golgotha doesn’t grow stale. What though there be long ages before Christ returns? That is nothing to me. His promise doesn’t lose its truth. He says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (v.31). Whatever I’m doing, wherever I am, Christ came and died for me, Christ now reigns and lives for me, and Christ is returning for me. Behind me, Christ dying; before me, Christ coming. I live by faith in the one who loved me and gave himself for me, and in the one who said, “And I will come again and take you unto myself that where I am there you will be also.”

Thomas Hall died in 1665 and he said these great words on his deathbed, “I am now going where I shall have rest from sin and Satan, from all fear, weariness, and watching; and from all the evils and errors of a wicked world; even so come, Lord Jesus, for I long for thy coming.”

We are here to do all that God has given us to do with all our might, not as men pleasers but those whose calling is to honour God. We are here to glorify God and enjoy him for ever. We are to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. We are here to love God with all our hearts and love our neighbours as ourselves. We are here to do our duty, to fear God and bring the gospel to everyone. We are not here to get preoccupied overmuch with the world to come. Once there was a meeting of ministers in America and George Whitefield spoke to them. He told them that it was his great consolation that in a short time all his work on earth would be over and he would be with Christ, and all the ministers nodded their heads gravely and agreed, except one. William Tennent said nothing, and Whitefield spotted that he was looking down and was mute. So Whitefield tapped him on the knee and said to him, “Now brother Tennent don’t you rejoice that your time is at hand, and don’t you rejoice that you’ll be called home and freed from all your labours and trials?” Tennent said, “I have no wish about it.” “Come now . . .” said Whitefield, pressing him again to speak about his hope of heaven. “No, sir, it is no pleasure to me at all, and if you knew your duty it would be none to you. I have nothing to do with death; my business is to live as long as I can – as well as I can – and to serve my Lord and Master as faithfully as I can, until he shall think proper to call me home.” That is our preoccupation, to discover how we may glorify God in Aberystwyth and then to do it day by day until we have no strength to do it any more.

There were two Covenanter Christians in Scotland during the time of persecution under Charles II. One of them accepted the indulgence offered him by the crown while the other, Donald Cargill refused it and accepted a horrible death. The minister said to Donald Cargill, “Why do we need to differ like his. We will get to heaven and the men persecuting us will get no more.” “Yes,” said Cargill, “we will get more. We will get God glorified on earth, which is more than getting heaven.”

We will honour Christ by doing our present duties every day. That is a priceless privilege, and those who serve him will not be found wanting at his coming. “Blessed is that servant whom His Lord when he comes shall find him so doing.”

6th February 2005 GEOFF THOMAS