The words of Jesus, found in Matthew 24:13, forms the title for this message.
Let us consider this scene from Revelation.
“And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4).
This scene causes us to ask some questions:
- Are we ready to be physically persecuted for Christ?
- Will our faith take us all the way to facing the fiery furnace or the lion’s den?
- Will we hold onto the promise of God by faith like Caleb and Joshua, or will we reason and compromise?
- What would our response be now, if we were forced to choose between denying Christ or facing martyrdom?
These are very hard but honest questions we need to ask ourselves. In some parts of the world, these are not hypothetical questions, but the reality of daily living. In countries such as China and the Sudan, believers are at this very time suffering persecution and death for their faith in Jesus Christ. We would also be wrong to assume that such things could never happen in our own country. For when God removes the current divine restraints on lawlessness, the entire world will be plunged into great tribulation.
The hope of resurrection
“Knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you” (2 Corinthians 4:14).
Without the resurrection we have no hope!
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundation and cornerstone of our faith.
We have the hope, the hope that Jesus died and was raised, so we can be raised. He has the keys to death. He has the keys to hades. We can face death with absolute confidence and be unafraid.
If we are faithful to the Lord in the small things in our life now, then he will give us the grace we need in the face of persecution.
His grace will be sufficient and his grace will see us through.
A faith refined
We all know how much we all love the Lord now. Imagine how much we will love him, having been immersed in the refining fire of the tribulation—our faith would be put to the test and would be purged and refined as we rely and trust Him more and more with every ounce of strength—we would love him a thousand times more.
As Peter writes:
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honour, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:6-9).
But if we compromise now, would we stand faithfully in the face of persecution?
Will our faith weather the apocalyptic storm?
An apocalyptic storm
Some of the trends prophesied for that harrowing last chapter of history show that it will be a time of:
- Great "apostasy" as believers fall away from The Lord in unprecedented numbers
- Intense military conquest
- Civil disorder
- Severe economic hardship
- General famine, plague and assorted natural disasters resulting in catastrophic loss of life
- Widespread martyrdom of the true believers in Christ
The tribulation period will be so intense, and the challenge it presents to the faith of those believers who experience it so difficult, that our Lord was moved to remark, "when the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth?" “Will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).
Will we be part of the faithful when He returns?
Will we be faithful until death?
Will we endure if we are compromising now?
Compromise makes God sick
If we are compromising now, we will not stand faithfully in the face of persecution. If we are compromising now, we will not endure. If we are compromising now, our faith, love and hope will die under the pressures of persecution.
There is a stream in Asia Minor full of minerals and comes from the earth piping hot and you can drink it while it's hot. Then it flows over the plain and ultimately becomes quite cold and you can drink it while it's cold. But when it's halfway it passes through a little town called Laodicea, and there the stream is lukewarm, and you can't drink it. Jesus, speaking to the Christian church in Laodicea, said you’re like the stream that goes through the middle of your town. Lukewarm people make me “sick,” said the Lord Jesus.
“So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3:16).
In other words, “Lukewarm people make me sick,” says the Lord.
Jesus is warning his followers to be on guard against the danger of being lukewarm. He is saying that the pressure of tribulation will figure prominently in many lukewarm believers apostatising.
Do you belong to Jesus, or to the world?
Large portions of Christianity today is based more on a godless culture than upon the word of God. As a result, many people are deceived. Many “Christians” are as worldly as the world:
- they watch things they shouldn't watch
- they laugh about the things that God hates
- they wear clothing that is sensual
- they talk like the world
- they walk like the world
- they love the music of the world
- they love so much that is in the world.
There is something awfully wrong with a lukewarm Christian. Given the gospel we have to preach, the Christ we’ve received as Saviour, and the heaven to which we are headed, to be lukewarm is unforgivable!
- Woe to the man that does not fear God.
- Woe to the man that says in his heart my master delays his coming and goes back whoring after the pleasures of this world.
- Woe to the man that does not go on believing and go on trusting in Jesus.
- Woe to the man that dabbles in wilful sin.
Are we a part of this culture? Do we make up any part of these numbers? If so, then we need to repent and turn from our ways!
Sin is perilously deceitful
“Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Hebrews 3:12-14).
We are to take heed: sin is very deceitful, very cunning.
Just as the hardening of the arteries in the body restricts the flow of blood and endangers the physical heart, often leading to physical death, so un-repented of sin restricts the flow of truth, hardening the spiritual heart and possessing an equally perilous threat to the Christian's spiritual life. The end of this path leads to to spiritual death and apostasy.
James says the same thing,
“But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren” (James 1:14–16).
Peter describes it in a different way.
“For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire’” (2 Peter 2:20–22).
"Like a dog returning to his own vomit, and pig returning to the mud after being washed”, says Peter.
The same thread runs through the whole Bible—let's not be deceived by sin!
Sin is very deceptive. Sin can entangle us and overcome us. Un-repented of sin will harden our hearts. That's why the scripture urges us to flee from sin. If we were to fall into sin, we need to bring it to the foot of the cross immediately—don't sleep on it.
If there is any wilful, purposeful sin in our life, it must STOP!
Most definitely it would be paralysing our walk with The Lord; I plead with you, and urge you, to make a decision today for The Lord. To bring it to the foot of the cross and to leave it there. Let's not harden our hearts Beloved.
Let's claim the victory we have in the blood of Christ.
As Paul says, “we need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
One of the warnings Jesus gave was,
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
Here Jesus is talking to his disciples before he sent them out as missionaries. If you fear him that can destroy you in hell, you will not fear martyrdom. Because the greater fear swallows up the lesser fear.
Salvation is in Christ
This fear is the beginning of all wisdom, that helps us to work out our salvation.
Salvation is a process, it begins when we first believe in Jesus and it will be finished when he comes back. And we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
We don't have salvation apart from Christ. We aren't given eternal life like a package that is ours apart from Christ.
The Bible says this life is in His Son, and as long as we stay in Jesus we have that life. That is why Jesus said, “I am the true vine” (John 15:1a) “abide in me” (John 15:4a).
In other words, “The branch does not have life in itself. It only has life while it's connected to the vine. And if it separates from the vine, it dies and is cut off and burned,” says Jesus (John 15:5–6).
So we are to abide in Christ. There is nothing we have outside of Christ. Nothing! We haven't been given anything to have by ourselves without Christ. Everything we have, we have in him. And there's no condemnation to those who are in him, not to those that were once in him, but those that stay in him and are in him.
The emphasis on abiding in the vine, on continuing in Christ, on staying in Christ, on going on believing, trusting, obeying and following Christ, runs all the way through the new Testament.
And the verb “believe” is often in the present continuous tense. In other words, “believing,” something we do, and go on doing. For example, listen to the famous verse John 3:16, translated with the present continuous tense emphasised.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever goes on believing in him will never perish but go on having everlasting life” (John 3:16).
It changes the meaning doesn't it? It's not whoever believes once: it's whoever goes on believing.
Everlasting life is not suddenly given to us as a package, but we go on having it by going on believing in Jesus Christ. We must stay in touch with the source of life, Jesus, to go on having it and enjoying it.
It's the same with grace. Grace only exists in Christ, in Jesus. Grace does not exist on it's own. It's not a package we can pick up. It doesn’t exist outside of Christ. There is no such thing as grace outside of Christ.
Apart from faith in Christ no one can do good works; no one can keep his commandments. Good works will naturally flow from a saving faith in Jesus. Paul says;
“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Faith in is Christ
The moment we turn away even slightly from Christ we deprive ourselves of his grace. The minute we take our eyes off Him we start to sink!
That's why Peter started to sink after stepping out of the boat. He took his eyes off Jesus and put them on other things. The Bible tells us, “When he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid” (Matthew 14:30).
Where fear reigns, faith is driven away. But where faith reigns, fear has no place.
Peter had faith. He had his eyes on Jesus. He was doing the impossible. But then he started to sink because he took his eyes off Jesus. In his case, he looked at the wind. In our case, it might be something else. But when we forget God, we will start to sink.
All the verses in the Bible that talk about God's security are talking about God's role in response to our faith. We accept without question that He will hold up His end of the bargain of salvation.
The whole Bible is a dynamic reciprocal relationship between God and man, in which each is affecting the other, which is not one-sided or unilateral. For example both Amos and Moses persuade God to change his mind about what he was going to do to his people. That is an amazing concept of prayer, which is not just lining our self up against God's will. Prayer can change God's ways, and that we should be given such an incredible opportunity as to pray effectively changing God's actions.
Let's look at 1 Peter 1:3-5.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).
What a wonderful promise, but if our faith is destroyed along the way, the power of God cannot keep us!
The power of God keeping us is NOT mutually exclusive to our faith.
It’s not that it’s either all on God or all on us. The Lord does not assume all responsibility for keeping us saved, but neither does He lay it all on us either. The Lord has promised to be with us, to protect and strengthen, guard and sustain all who live by faith—but we must live by faith.
Look at John 10—another wonderful promise,
“No one can pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28).
But these are the ones who are hearing his voice (present continuous tense) and are following him (present continuous tense).
God does not force us
God does not force us to continue to believe. God does not force us to continue to love him. God has given us free will, which is absolutely essential if there's going to be anything like true love. If we don't have a choice in loving God, our love is non-love. To assume God forces us to continue to believe, would be to trash all the warnings given in the Bible.
WARNING!!! Two and a half million people came out of Egypt put only two got into Canaan. That is held as a warning to us by three different writers, by Paul, Jude and the person who wrote Hebrews. All of them say many left Egypt but only a few got into Canaan.
Christians need to take heed and remember this warning!
We need to fight the good fight
We are in the midst of a spiritual fight, we need to keep fighting the good fight of faith.
We need to abide in Christ, in order for him to build a character that can stand in the face of persecution, to build a faith that will endure and make our election sure.
So we need to go on abiding in Christ; being led by the Spirit of God; praying without ceasing; seeking out and listening to God's Word, that we believe His truth, and that we live our lives by the truth, and that we embrace the mission of His Church and help others according to the spiritual gifts we have been given for His glory.
We need to be on fire for the Lord—at boiling point, piping hot, and glowing with the Spirit—full of the zeal of the Lord.
Are we ready?
Consider the scenario painted by this passage.
“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
Will we be part of the faithful when He returns? Will we endure to the end? Let us not compromise!