The following is the text of the sermon for Sunday, July 12, 2020. A video of this sermon is available on our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/4409sspotswoodrdgordonsvilleva. ]
SIGNS OF THE TIME
I was visiting at a relative’s house the other day and noticed that they had a 1,000 piece puzzle spread over a table. They had just gotten started working on this puzzle, but seemed to have had made quite a bit of progress in fitting the pieces together. So I asked them how they were able to get so much done in a relatively short period of time. They explained that they sort out those pieces that have straight edges because those are the border pierces. And then they fit together as many of those border pieces as they can until it forms the frame of the picture. And sure enough, I could see that seemed to be working quite well because the picture was shaping up as they were adding pieces and working toward the middle. And I thought about that because, in a manner of speaking, the same thing applies to God’s prophecies concerning the “end of time”. In the Bible, we are given so many pieces to the puzzle about Jesus’ Second Coming and the establishment of His Eternal Kingdom. And we need to sort out those pieces and fit them together to begin to see the overall picture more clearly. And doing so will provide us with clues as to when Jesus will return again, and how we should live our lives in the meantime.
Now having said that, we need to be mindful of the fact that no one being will ever know the exact day or hour when the end of time will come. In fact, when Jesus’ disciples asked Him to tip them off as to the precise time when the world would end, Jesus told them: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Matthew 24:37 (NIV) But even so, Jesus told His disciples that there are certain definite signs to be on the lookout for—because Jesus wanted them, as He wants us, to be ready when the end does come. In both Matthew 24 and in Luke 21, Jesus summarized these signs of the End Times as follows:
6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. [Matthew 24:6-7 NIV] 11 There will be great earthquakes, and there will be famines and plagues in many lands, and there will be terrifying things and great miraculous signs from heaven. [Luke 21:11 (NLT2)] 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. 9 Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. [Matthew 24:8-14 (NIV)]
WARS & RUMORS OF WAR: So, let’s consider these signs of the end of time that Jesus has given us. First, ask yourselves: “How many signs are there today of ‘wars and rumors of war’”? Well, as we gather here this morning, there are so many different conflicts going on all at once among the nations of the world.
- Mounting tensions between the U.S. and Russia continue to rise with the news that Russia may have paid bounties to Taliban militia for each American soldier that they were able to kill in Afghanistan.
- On the Korean peninsula, tensions remain high between North Korea and South Korea. And, North Korea continues to openly develop its long-range nuclear missile capabilities to potentially threaten not only Japan, but this country as well.
- In Southeast Asia, China continues to construct military bases on artificial islands in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. In response, the U. S. has increased its naval presence in the area as tensions rise between the world’s great nuclear powers.
- In the Middle East, already terrible relations between the U.S. and Iran have only gotten worse, as Iran has significantly increased its nuclear weapons program, presumably to make good on its threat to annihilate the nation of Israel.
- There is civil war in Syria, and political instability in Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq.
- The armed conflict between Turkey and Kurdish rebels continues.
- Wars rage in Syria and in Yemen.
- The on-going Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a powder keg that threatens world peace.
- On the African continent, Boko Haram continues its atrocities in Nigeria. There is civil war in Libya and South Sudan.
These are the signs of the time with virtually every place on the planet either at war or in close proximity to armed conflict, political instability, violence and chaos. And with all of the social unrest and violence in this country over the past months, you have to wonder where we will be in a year from now—assuming Christ does not return by then. Indeed, our world today is one wracked by “wars and rumors of war”—so much so that the present state of affairs could well qualify as a sign that the end of time may be very near.
EARTHQUAKES: Jesus said earthquakes would mark the beginning of the end. Here in Louisa itself, you have experienced the devastation of such earthquakes. The National Earthquake Information Center reports that there are approximately 20,000 earthquakes each year. And, in the last 50 years, records indicate that we have exceeded the average number of major earthquakes in at least 11 different years. Just another sign of the times?—It could well be.
FAMINES: What about famines? Jesus said that the end of time would be preceded by famines which will result in great food shortages. Scientists predict that climate change will result in a scarcity of food to the point that almost a quarter of the world’s population will experience food shortages. It is expected that these dire predictions will only worsen in the near future. And while deaths from famines had been decreasing significantly in the past several decades, that is no longer the case. Starting in 2017, world hunger has been on the rise with the United Nations reporting that famines have once again re-emerged in Africa putting 20 million people in danger of starvation in Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen and Somalia. These things are all signs of our time.
SIGNS IN THE HEAVENS: What about those “wonders” in the heavens of which Jesus spoke? We tend to think of Jesus’ reference to these signs as being limited solely to those things that we can see with the naked eye—things involving the sun, moon and stars that Jesus actually alluded to elsewhere in the Scriptures. [See, Matthew 24:29.] And while those things will come to pass quite visually at the very end, even today we are “seeing” wonders in the skies that have never been seen in the history of mankind. But, we are not “seeing” them with our eyes. For instance, take the mysterious black holes far out in space that NASA scientists are beginning to study intently. But they can’t actually “see” these black holes because their gravitational pulls are so strong that no light can escape from them. Rather, scientists “see” them by using complex instruments which can detect the gravitational forces and energy footprints that spiral around them. And the awesome gravitational forces they generate have the capacity to actually swallow up nearby stars into nothingness. So, these wonders in the heavens may well be part of the signs that Jesus referred to as pointing to the end of time. Maybe they are signs meant to remind us of something else as well. The Jesuit brother, Guy Consolmagno—who is also an astronomer and the Director of the Vatican Observatory—puts it well when he says: “A fascinating spiritual analogy may be to recognize that a black hole is a perfect example of something we believe in even though we cannot see it or touch it.” Of course, he speaks of the reality of God—and so these heavenly wonders known as black holes point us away from their own darkness to the Light of God. What an appropriate sign to give us just before the end of time!
CHRISTIAN PERSECUTION: Jesus also mentioned that near the end of time there will be a great increase in the persecution of Christians. So, what is the situation in the world in which we live? Today, world-wide persecution of Christians has risen to unprecedented levels. Listen to these examples from the watch-dog group, Open Doors, that monitors Christian persecution world-wide:
- “A woman in India watches as her sister is dragged off by Hindu nationalists. She doesn’t know if her sister is alive or dead.
- A woman in Nigeria runs for her life. She has escaped from Boko Haram, who kidnapped her. She is pregnant, and when she returns home, her community will reject her and her baby.
- A group of children are laughing and talking as they come down to their church’s sanctuary after eating together. Instantly, many of them are killed by a bomb blast. That’s the way it was on an Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka.”
These people all have one thing in common: They are followers of Jesus Christ and they are persecuted solely for being Christians.
And today in the United States of America, Christians are on the verge of persecution that our forefathers never imagined possible—another sign of the times. You can see it if you read between the lines of some of the things the leaders of this country say. Back in April, I mentioned that the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, couldn’t stand the fact that Franklin Graham’s organization, Samaritan Purse, had set up tents in New York City in Central Park as field hospitals. It was there that Christian doctors, nurses and aids were treating the victims of COVID-19 and helping to bring the number of deaths down. Cuomo was so annoyed by their efforts that he stated: “The number is down because we brought the number down. God did not do that. Faith did not do that.” And now Cuomo’s son, Chris Cuomo, being a chip off the old Cuomo block, has provided us with his words of wisdom. During his CNN broadcast last week, Chris Cuomo insisted that looking to God is not the answer to overcoming this pandemic in which we continue to struggle. Rather, he asserted: “If you believe in one another and if you do the right thing for yourself and your community, things will get better in this country.” Then, pointing a defiant finger to heaven, Cuomo proclaimed: “You don’t need help from above, it’s within us.” And yet he doesn’t tell us what that “IT” is that he claims is “WITHIN” us. But, I am afraid that what’s within so many of the people of this country is the same sinful arrogance of Chris Cuomo and his blasphemous father that deny God’s comfort and healing especially in trying times like these.
PLAGUES: And finally, Jesus told us that just before He comes again, the world will experience great plagues. And certainly, I do not need to remind you of the incredible rise in new viruses, diseases and plagues—the likes of which the world has rarely seen. In the early 1980’s the HIV/AIDs epidemic seemed to kick things off and continues on today—having claimed the lives of 35 million people. But, just since the turn of the 21st century, these plagues seem to have come in waves, one after the other. At the beginning of this century, SARS and the Swine Flu started things off. Then came MERS, West Nile virus, and avian flu followed by Ebola. And now the world is contending with a pandemic brought on by COVID-19, a novel strain of the coronavirus that the world’s medical community has yet to find a cure or vaccine. As of the end of last month, this most recent plague has claimed the lives of over half a million people worldwide. How many more will fall victim to the ravages of this plague, we just do not know. But what we do know is that Jesus’ warning about an increase in plagues just before the end comes fits our life now in the 21st century to a “T”.
Wow—it really looks like all the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place. All the signs that Jesus alluded to are happening right now! So is Jesus about to come again? What are these signs telling us? And what is the proper response to them? For some, it will be great fear because they are just not ready. And they are not ready for the simple reason that they are not right with God. But those in Christ offer a wholly different response. It is the one provided by the Psalmist who proclaims:1 “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. 2 So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea.” Psalm 46:1-3 (NLT2)
And can these most terrible of things—these awful and trying events that we are now experiencing—can they separate those who love Christ from their Savior? The apostle Paul gives the answer and encourages us as these fearful signs all come together and we look to the future horizon pondering if the end is in sight. Paul tells us not to worry, God will be faithful to us if we will just be faithful in looking to Him as our only hope. Paul asks the question and provides the reassuring answer as follows: 35 “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? . . . 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. 38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35, 37-39 (NLT2)
What Paul proclaims is absolutely true—No one or anything can separate us from the love of Jesus!—not the coronavirus, not the Red Chinese, not the Russians, not the North Koreans—not even the Cuomo’s of this world. We need not fear the vast emptiness of black holes. The only black holes that we need to fear are the ones in our hearts. Those black holes that create such terrible vacuums that they threaten to pull our souls into the darkness and away from the Light of God. People try to fill the hole in their hearts with many worldly things. But, the 17th century mathematician and theologian, Blaise Pascal, rightly said: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing. It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.” The Good News is: Jesus is coming very soon. All the signs point to it!
Yet, isn’t it strange that we refer to “THE END OF TIME” when the Bible actually teaches that upon Jesus’ return it will be a “NEW BEGINNING.” In fact, Revelation 21 assures that when Christ comes again He will sit upon His throne and proclaim: “Look, I am making everything new!” And though many look to this so-called “end of time” with dread and fear, those in Christ see it as a time of great joy. We see it as a time when Jesus will “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain”—for those things will be forever gone. And there will not be any more wars. For as the prophet Isaiah tells us: 4 “He [Christ] will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” Isaiah 2:4 (NIV)
So why does Jesus tell His followers to look out for these things—these wars, earthquakes, famines, plagues, heavenly wonders and persecution? His point may well be that these things, indeed, will intensify just before He comes because the Tribulation will be a very horrible and difficult time. But, Jesus is also telling us that these “signs of the time” have always been with us, because they are signs of a world broken by sin. They are signs of Man’s broken heart. And so Jesus calls us to always be ready. And to be ready, we must repent and turn to Him to heal us of the most deadly virus of all—the sickness of sin. These ongoing signs have posed great trials throughout the history of humanity and will continue to do so. Therefore, heed them and be ready by being right with God. And know this: Despite these difficult and trying times, they do not matter because Jesus promised us something that is all we need. Jesus said: “Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 (NLT2)
If your life is like a puzzle that has something missing, it could well be that the missing piece is Jesus Christ. He can fill that vacuum in your heart with peace and joy that no earthquake can shake, no famine can starve, no plague can kill and no persecution can overcome. And so, that is why we, along with all of God’s people can look to the heavens and pray: “Yes, come, Lord Jesus!”—Come today!
Let us pray.
Forest Hill Baptist Church
July 12, 2020
Darvin Satterwhite, Pastor
©2020 All Rights Reserved
 Kim Hjelmgaard, Tom Vanden Brook, Deirdre Shesgreen, “Do 'bounties' on US troops in Afghanistan reflect a line crossed or 'nothing new' in long US-Russia history?” USA Today, www.usatoday.com (July 3, 2020).
 Council on Foreign Relations Global Conflict Tracker, (updated July 2, 2020), www.cfr.org/global-conflict-tracker.
 Council on Foreign Relations Global Conflict Tracker, (updated July 2, 2020), www.cfr.org/global-conflict-tracker.
 “Why are we having so many earthquakes?” www.usgs.gov.
 Kathy Spahn, President, Helen Keller International, “The Changing Climate for Zero Hunger,” https://www.hki.org (December 14, 2018).
 Wikipedia: "Famine Trends Dataset, Tables and Graphs – World Peace Foundation". Sites.tufts.edu. Retrieved 15 October 2017. David Pilling (22 March 2017). "As democracy retreats, famine makes a comeback" Financial Times. Retrieved 1 April 2017.
 NASA, “What Is a Black Hole?” www.nasa.gov (June 4, 2014).
 Guy Consolmagno, “Can you find God in a black hole?” America the Jesuit Review, (April 10, 2019).
 Open Doors, “Christian Persecution,” www.opendoorsusa.org.
 Jim Denison, “Gov. Cuomo Explains Declining COVID-19 Cases in New York: ‘God Did Not Do That’”, ChristianHeadlines.com (April 21, 2020).
 Milton Quintanilla, “‘You don’t need help from above, it’s within us,’ CNN Host Chris Cuomo Asserts,” ChristianHeadlines.com (July 2, 2020).
 Nicholas LePan, “Visualizing the History of Pandemics,” Visual Capitalist, https://www.visualcapitalist.com (updated from March 14, 220).
 Revelation 21:3-5 3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” 5 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” (NLT2)
 Psalm 16:8 I know the LORD is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. (NLT2)
 Revelation 22:20 He Who gives this warning and affirms and testifies to these things says, Yes (it is true). [Surely] I am coming quickly (swiftly, speedily). Amen (so let it be)! Yes, come, Lord Jesus! (AMP)