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The End Is Near…But So Is the Beginning

December 31, 2006

Matthew 24:30-36

Have you seen cartoons of a person holding a sign that says, “The End Is Near”? I do not know that I have ever actually seen a person holding a sign like that, but I did see a television program this week on the possibility that the end may very near. That kind of talk comes from three fronts: the fields of science, politics, and religion.

Scientists have issued dire warnings about the problem of global warming. This environmental issue is of intense concern. Climatic statistics indicate that the planet is getting warmer. The snows of Kilimanjaro are melting, and the size and numbers of glaciers are decreasing. Even the polar ice caps seem to be diminishing. The issue of global warming really relates to our use of fossil fuels. Emissions are to blame, and the single biggest offender is the United States of America. We cannot ignore these ominous warnings.

A second front on which we hear warnings is a political front. The threat of nuclear war is rising. President Bush has talked about what he calls the “Axis of Terror.” Countries like Korea and Iran are flirting with nuclear weapons. It is difficult to know just how advanced these weapons are, but certainly the atmosphere of our earth is one of worldwide terror. The very thought that terrorists would have access to nuclear weapons is indeed very frightening.

Third, we hear warnings on the religious front. Christianity is not the only religion offering warnings. We have seen a rise in cultic groups, making proclamations of doom. These groups claim that the end of time is near, that God will soon intervene, that the earth will be destroyed, and that Christ will return. However the groups phrase or frame their message, they are announcing that the end will occur soon.

In the 1600’s, Bishop Usher declared that the end of time would occur on October 23, 1997. He made this prediction almost 400 years before that date. October 23, 1997 has come and gone; and the end did not occur. Nostradamus, a contemporary of Bishop Usher, said that the “king of terror” would arrive from the sky just before the new millennium, 2001. Some people may have thought that Stephen King might take up ski diving and that this would be how the king of terror would come from the sky. That did not happen. The Hindu religion predicted that soon after the year 2000, the avatar of Krishna would arrive, bringing about the end of time. The ancient Mayans, known for the accuracy of the calendar, also predicted that the end of time is near. We have about five more years if their prediction of 2012 is correct. The Jehovah Witnesses, willing to give us two years longer, predict that Armageddon will occur in 2014. I must say that they have revised that date numerous times. Their first prediction was the year 1914.

Edgar Cacey predicts that the end is very near. Several Islamic prophets date the end of time as 2076. Hal Lindsey’s book The Late Great Planet Earth, which sold nearly 20,000,000 copies since 1974, has also predicted the end of the earth. Other religious leaders, most of whom we would consider cult leaders – like Jack Van Impe and Herbert W. Armstrong – say that cataclysmic signs of the end are all around us.

Maybe the last hours of the year 2006 is an appropriate time for us to ponder the question, Is the end really near? Maybe we could phrase it another way: Is our time darker than any other time? Certainly, this is a time of unrest as many events currently happening in the world trouble us. Barbara Tuchman, in her a book entitled The Distant Mirror, describes dark times throughout history. She includes the terrible plague of the 1400’s. The Bubonic Plague, called the Black Death, killed about one-third of the total population from northern Europe down through India. She discusses terrorist gangs roaming the streets unhindered. Other times of unrest included in Tuchman’s book include the Hundred Years War when people thought war would continue forever, the end of chivalry when knights became corrupt, and a time during which people could not trust the church because of its embroilment in tremendous scandal. Certainly, those times were gloomy.

How are Christians supposed to understand scriptures like Matthew 24:30-36? Are we to live in fear that the earth is going to collapse under the weight of melting ice? Are we to live in fear that nuclear bombs are going to wipe out all of us? Are we to live in fear that God, finally somehow fed up with us, is going to intervene in some wrathful act that will put an end to everything?

For Christians, from the time of Jesus until now, the end has always been near. In the teachings of Jesus, we see clearly that we are to anticipate his second coming. In the writings of the Apostle Paul, we find that we are to expect the return of Jesus to happen any day. One problem Paul faced with the church in Thessalonica was that the people were so convinced that Jesus was going to return that they quit working. They went out, sat on a hillside, and merely gazed at the clouds, waiting for Christ to return. Are we supposed to live that way?

I remember the week of Martin Luther King’s assassination. It was Holy Week during the time I was a seminary student. The guest speaker for the week at the church Clare and I attended in Louisville, Kentucky, was Dr. Charles Bodie. I remember this eloquent black man, standing in the pulpit the day after Dr. King was shot and killed. He made one of the most remarkable comments I believe I have ever heard from a preacher: “Christians, the times have always been out of joint. We must always live as if Christ is sovereign.” What a remarkable concept to affirm!

Christians have always known that the end is near. Christians have always lived with a sense of immediacy, but not in fear, not in despair, not in a state of apathy that causes us to sit down and do nothing about the problems in our world. Some say, “Don’t worry about the environment. The end is near. It is not going to matter anyway. Do not worry about hungry people, the problem of starvation in the world. Let them starve. The end is near. Do not worry about trying to make peace. The end is near. Do not worry about caring for the poor. The end is near.” That is not a Christian response. Christians should respond, “Yes, Christ is going to return, but we must do the work of Christ until he does. We must feed the hungry. We must care for the poor. We must be peacemakers. We must certainly care for this environment.”

Are we living in the last days? We always have been. Is God going to intervene? God has already intervened. That is why we celebrate Christmas. Because God loves this world, He sent His only Son to redeem all of us. God has already intervened, and it is our responsibility as people of faith to proclaim that until He comes again.

Is the end near? Yes, but so is the beginning. As surely as 2006 will yield to 2007, the attitude of Christian people is one that says, “We will not be caught with fear and despair.” Apprehension and hopelessness must yield to hope and faith because even though we live as if the end is near, we also proclaim that so is the beginning. “When we are in Christ Jesus, we are created brand new. Former things pass away, and all things become new” (I Corinthians 5:17). We have no better time to affirm that than at the transition between one year and the next. We have no better way to affirm that than by observing together the Lord’s Supper.

The end was near when Jesus had the last meal with his disciples. That is why we call it The Last Supper. The end was near, but when Jesus gave them the elements of the bread and the cup, proclaiming a new beginning: “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (I Corinthians 11:26). It is not only an end; it is also a beginning. People of faith have no better way to mark both the beginning and the end than by taking these elements.

I remind you that this is not Morningside’s table. This is not a Baptist table. This is the Lord’s Table. If you believe in the sovereignty of Christ Jesus, if you affirm it by believing in his life, his death, and his resurrection, and if you allow him to be the Lord of your life, we invite you to partake. Let us celebrate this supper together.

The Lord Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed, took bread. He blessed it and broke it, saying, “This is my body, broken for you” (Luke 22:19).

Let us have now a prayer of blessing for the bread.

Dear Heavenly Father, as we observe the ordinance of The Lord’s Supper, we want to first examine ourselves and immediately think of the suffering Jesus experienced on a cruel cross. This bread is symbolic of Christ’s broken body, followed by physical death, not spiritual death. Through our belief in Christ as our Lord and Savior, we celebrate deliverance from our sins. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Holly McClure: “Captivate Us”

O God, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come,

Our shelter in stormy blast, And our eternal home!

Before the hills, in order stood, Or earth received her frame,

From everlasting Thou art God, To endless years the same.

Jesus said, “This bread is my body, broken for you.” Eat it as often as you eat it in remembrance of him. Eat ye all of it.

We will have a prayer of blessing for the cup.

Our Father, “We love Jesus. Does he know? Do we ever tell him so? Jesus wants to hear us say that we love him every day.” As we end this year and begin a new one, help us to be ever mindful of the love, hope, and joy that serving the Lord Jesus gives us. Share that love with the world that needs to know about him. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Adult Choir: “All the Way My Savior Leads Me”

A thousand ages in Thy sight Are like an evening gone;

Short as the watch that ends the night Before the rising sun.

O God, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come,

Be Thou our guard while life shall last, And our eternal home.

Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). Drink this as often as you drink it in remembrance of him. Drink ye all of it.

A phrase from a hymn by Charles Wesley comes to mind every New Year’s Eve for me. Charles Wesley was an exceptional hymn writer. In some ways, his works linger longer in our minds longer than do the sermons of his brother, John. One of Charles’ phrases is, “Take my moments and my days, Let them flow in ceaseless praise.” It would be wonderful if we could enter the new year with that kind of praise in our hearts. God has done so much for us. Most of all, He has given His Son Jesus as our Savior, a fact we remember as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

Do you have a decision to make? Has God laid a decision on your heart? Do you need to make a decision about your faith, your growth as a Christian, or your church membership? Do you need to yield to a call from God for some specific ministry? What better time than at the end of 2006 and the beginning of a new year to make that decision to acknowledge Christ Jesus as your Savior! As we sing our hymn of commitment, “Search Me, O God,” we invite you, in the name of Jesus Christ, to respond in whatever way God is leading you.

© 2006 Kirk H. Neely

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