DO NOT BE DECEIVED
In about 2 hours time on ITV there is the start of a two part drama called 'The Second Coming'. It is written by an atheist who is fascinated by the Bible and tells of a Mancunian video shop employee who believes he is the Son of God, turns night into day at Maine Road, the home of Manchester City FC and sleeps with his girlfriend. As Jesus states in these verses in Matthew 24:
"Many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many."
Tragically many have in real life. Some of you will remember Jim Jones whose followers all committed suicide at his command. Others of you may remember David Koresh and the siege at Waco in Texas when there was a shoot out and a fire killing many or David Icke the TV personality who claimed to be the Son of God. So Jesus says here in v 4:
"Watch out that no-one deceives you."
The real Jesus is coming again as Judge. He will return at the end of history, at the end of this world to wind it all up. The world will not be ended by a nuclear holocaust but when Jesus returns. Those who are his will go to eternal life, those who are not will go away to eternal punishment says Jesus in Matthew 25. And when Jesus does return there will be no doubt about it. It will be utterly unmistakable. In v26-27 of Matthew 24 Jesus says:
"So if anyone tells you, 'There he is, out in the desert, do not go out, or 'Here he is in the inner rooms, do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man [Jesus]."
And let no one deceive you about when Jesus will return because only the Father knows. Not even Jesus knows. When he does it will be sudden and unexpected. As Jesus says in v36 of this chapter:
"No-one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on which day your Lord will come."
Are you ready for Jesus' return as Judge? The only way to be ready is to be trusting in him. Are you trusting in him alone? Do not be deceived by false Christs or false prophets or other false religions and philosophies. Someone or something which is false cannot fill emptiness and only leads us away from the truth and to despair and ultimately to destruction. I wonder if anyone here this evening is in despair? Jesus said: "I am the way the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me." I am the truth and the truth will set you free. I am the life - I have come that you might have life in all its fullness. I am the only way to heaven. Earlier in Matthew's Gospel Jesus said (Mt11:28):
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest."
Who needs to do that this evening?
And don't be deceived by those who say that war and rumours of war are definitive signs of Jesus' imminent return and the end of the age. We cannot date Jesus' return. We do not know on which day our Lord will come. Look at v6-8 of Matthew 24. Jesus says:
"You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains."
We are therefore not to be alarmed by the present war against terrorism or the rumours of a war against Iraq in this sense: that they are definitive signs that the end is about to happen. Some will no doubt say so but Jesus says,
"Watch out that no one deceives you."
On March 29, 1948, the Niagara Falls suddenly stopped. An estimated 500,000 tons of water rush over Niagara Falls every minute. But suddenly nothing was rushing. People living within the sound of the falls were awakened by the overwhelming silence. They believed it was a sign that the world was coming to an end. It was thirty hours before the rush of water resumed.
Wars and natural disasters are part of human history. According to one historian in the last 3,400 years of recorded history there have been only 268 years that have been free of war. The last century was the worst in terms of horrors of war. "Such things must happen", says Jesus, "but the end is still to come". They are just the beginning of birth pains.
Of course we are to be concerned about wars and rumours of wars in other ways. We are to pray for all those in authority, writes Paul to Timothy,
'that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. [The peace of the Roman Empire helped the spread of the gospel and so it is good that evil is restrained.] This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men.' (1 Tim 2: 2-5)
And we need to pray for people to come to know true peace - peace with God. That is the only peace that will truly last. Some people may ask why hasn't Jesus already come? Why doesn't he come now and wind it all up before a war with Iraq happens? Well we do not know what the day or hour will be but 2 Peter 3:9 says that one reason why Jesus hasn't returned yet is that:
"The Lord is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."
Which brings us to my second and final heading from v14 of Mt 24.
So do not be deceived instead…
REPENT AND BELIEVE THE GOSPEL - THE GOOD NEWS
What is this gospel of the kingdom, v14, which will be preached in the whole world before the end will come? Well in miniature this gospel or good news is this from John 3:16:
"For God so loved the world [world meaning rebellious humankind under God's judgement] that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life."
Another part of the Bible says: "The wages of sin [of putting ourselves first, of living without reference to God] is death [eternal death] but the gift of God is eternal life [life with God forever] through faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Ro 6:23). You see in the gospel we discover we are far worse off than we thought and far more loved than we ever dreamed.
This gospel or good news demands a response. For where we spend eternity depends on our response to it.
But some of you may be thinking doesn't everyone who's lived a good life go to heaven? Why do I need to be born again? What is the problem? Or others of you may be asking why believe in Jesus? Why do we need a Saviour? Why did God give his one and only Son? Is he really coming again? Isn't this life all there is? Or if it isn't don't we all get a second chance in some form or other?
The answer is in John 3:16&17. Have a look at those verses:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him".
One morning Martin Luther, the great Reformer, and his wife Kate were reading the account of Abraham offering his son Isaac on the altar from Genesis 22. Kate said, 'I do not believe it. God would not have treated his Son like that!' 'But Kate', Luther replied, 'He did'. Because of his great love for you and me. But some of you ask, how can God love me?
A certain speaker started off his talk by holding up a £10 note. "Who would like this £10 note?" he asked. Hands started going up throughout the audience. He said, "I am going to give this £10 to one of you, but first let me do this." He proceeded to crumple up the note. He then asked, "Who still wants it?" The same hands went up in the air. "Well," he replied, "What if I do this?" He dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe. He picked it up, all crumpled and dirty. "Now who still wants it?" Again, hands went into the air. "You have all learned a valuable lesson," the speaker said. "No matter what I did to the money, you still wanted it because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth £10. Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by the decisions we make. We sin and are sinned against. As a result we may feel as though we are worthless. But no matter what has happened or will happen in this life, you will never lose your value in God's eyes. Dirty or clean, crumpled or finely creased, you are priceless to him." God loves you and gave his Son to die in our place. And if you're broken, worn or torn (Jonathan tears the £10 note) he can make you whole.
God loved us so much that he gave his one and only Son to die on the cross so that if we believe in him we will live. He sent his Son Jesus into the world to save us.
But why? To save us from what? John 3 teaches us that God has acted out of love in order to rescue a world in rebellion against himself. You see there is something badly wrong between us and God because of our sin. Sin simply means 'I' in the middle, me first and not God and sin separates us from God. The truth is every one of us has failed to treat God as we should. As the prophet Isaiah wrote: "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way" (53:6). Or as Frank Sinatra sang it, "I did it my way". As a result we walk in darkness committing sins of commission and omission, which grieve God and hurt other people. You see what causes wars? The Bible says this in James 4:1-2:
"What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight."
We may not all have committed as much evil as Saddam Hussein but the Bible teaches that,
"There is no difference all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Ro 3:23). John, the author of this Gospel, also wrote that, "if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us" (1 Jn 1:8-9).
Sin separates us from God, which means that we are under judgement and heading for eternal death because God is holy and just and has to punish sin, until and unless we believe and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a hell, as well as a heaven. It is possible to perish says v.16 and we cannot save ourselves, no matter how good we are or how many times we go to church. But God has acted out of love to save us: he sent his Son to save the world through him; he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. As I mentioned earlier Jesus said, "I am the way the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me". Not through good works, not through any other religion but only through Jesus. Paul's letter to the Ephesians says that, "we are saved by grace through faith in Christ - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works so that no-one can boast".
Jesus came into the world to take on himself the death and judgement that we deserve so we could be forgiven. That's what happened when Jesus died on the cross. Because he was God, he'd never sinned. Because he'd become man, he could take our place, face our judgement. So that sins have been punished. He has paid. And sinners, such as you and me, can be forgiven if we believe in him and cross over from death to life (Jn 5:24) and have peace with God (Ro 5:1).
George Bush reported this story after meeting with President Putin of Russia. When Putin was young, his mother gave him a cross to wear around his neck. Although he initially hid it in a jewellery case, he eventually decided to wear it. He even had it blessed while on a trip to Jerusalem. It became a treasured symbol of a mother's love and her cherished faith. When the cross turned up missing following a house fire, Putin was greatly disturbed. He dispatched an employee to sift through the charred remains of the building to try and find it. After an exhaustive search, the employee reported to Putin and held out a closed hand. He opened it and revealed the prized cross. Putin told Bush: "It was as if something meant for me to have the cross." To which the President said, "Mr. Putin, that's what it's all about-that's THE story of the cross. Jesus died on the cross in our place so that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life."
Now after hearing all of that have a second look at verses 16&17:
"For God so loved the world [that includes you, whoever you are (even Saddam Hussein), whatever you've done, whatever your attitude to God is right now] that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him should not perish [which means eternal death, eternal separation from God, eternal punishment in hell as Jesus tells us in Mt 25], but have eternal life [life with God forever which begins when we put our trust in Christ and a place in heaven]. For God did not send his Son Jesus into the world to condemn the world, but to save [or to rescue] the world through him".
That's the greatest love of all: that the God we've all turned our backs on so loved us nonetheless, that he sent and gave his only Son so that we could be forgiven and rather than perish, have eternal life. So that we can experience new birth, by God's Spirit, whatever age we are; have a fresh start at whatever stage of life we're at, with God in his rightful place, before we meet him and it's too late. That's what God has done and why, but what is our response?
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son". That part of John 3:16 applies to everybody here this evening. Whoever you are and whatever you've done, God wants you back that much. The question is are we in the second part of the verse? "… that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life". Do you believe in Jesus? And when John uses the word 'believe' he doesn't mean do you believe Jesus existed, he means do you believe and trust in Jesus as your Saviour and Lord? Have you personally put your trust in Jesus' death on the cross so as to be forgiven and given a fresh start with God?
If you do believe and trust in Jesus then you are not condemned (v.18), instead you are forgiven and have a sure and certain hope of heaven. But if you don't believe, if you don't accept God's free gift there are serious consequences. Look at v.18: "Whoever believes in Jesus is not condemned. But whoever does not believe stands condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son".
Will you believe in Jesus Christ? The difference between perishing and living, and between condemnation and salvation, is faith in Jesus. There are no second chances when we die or when Jesus comes again. Two of the astronauts who died when the Columbia space shuttle exploded last weekend were Christians and they are now safe with Jesus. Jesus promises life in all its fullness but he doesn't promise an easy life as a Christian. In Matthew 24: 9 Jesus says to his disciples:
"You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me."
Many Christians throughout the world today are experiencing just that and Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him. Are we willing? 'Those who stand firm in their faith to the end will be saved', says Jesus in v13.
Well it maybe that you are ready to take that step of believing in Jesus as your Saviour and Lord. If so simply believe and trust in him and in a moment I'm going to say a prayer which you can use. The words are printed below. Have a look at them as I say them through before I lead us in prayer.
Dear God, I know that I am not worthy to be accepted by you. I don't deserve your gift of eternal life. I am guilty of rebelling against you and ignoring you. I need forgiveness. Thank you for sending your Son to die for me that I may be forgiven. Thank you that he rose from the dead to give me new life. Please forgive me and change me that I may live with Jesus as my ruler. Amen.