Allen Jackson - Let's Be Ready - Part 1
It's good to be with you again. Our topic's "Big Trouble Ahead," not frightening, not anxiety. We don't have to hide from it. We can be prepared. That's the point of this lesson. We don't wanna get caught off guard. We wanna be ready for what Jesus has told us is coming. There's some internal work we've gotta do. You know, we want God to bless our plans and give us our dreams, and I'm not opposed to that and I don't think God always is either, but our first and foremost assignment is to want God's will to be done in the earth as it is in heaven. That's how Jesus taught us to pray.
So, when we talk about the future, we don't wanna do it fearfully or with anxiety nor with just selfishness. What we want is the Spirit of God to help us understand the time and the season so that we can take our place to occupy the position that we were created for so that when we step out of time into eternity, we're prepared to receive the rewards that God intended us to have. We're not just church attenders or pew fillers or moralists or people with an ethical attitude. We are children of the King on assignment in the earth. How exciting is that? Grab your Bible, get a notepad; most of all, open your heart. We're living in an amazing season, and God is preparing his church.
The title for this session is "Big Trouble Ahead". We wanna be ready, not a negative profession. When I say "big trouble," the word that the New Testament uses is "tribulation," and I know that's uncomfortable. We're just kind of emerging from a season of unprecedented trouble with COVID and all the things that were attached to that in an election year and all the confusion that was attached to that, and it may seem like we've got a bit of relief from the virus from Wuhan, but the challenges are still before us. In fact, I think the threats before us today, to be honest, are greater than they were a year ago right now. A year ago, we could understand the threat we were facing in terms of a virus, and that can be evaluated in a laboratory, and with enough data, we can understand how to respond to it and we can understand what's safe and what's less so.
The challenges we're facing right now are less obvious. They're more sinister. They share the same commonality in that their all, I believe, ultimately, spiritually driven. They're not about politics or nation states or ideological battles. I believe underlying all of that is a spiritual battle, but there's an undeclared revolution underway, and the outcome of it isn't clear yet. The adversaries to the purposes of God are more brazen than I've seen them in my lifetime. There's a violent attempt to overthrow the worldview that has shaped much of the globe. There's an intent to cast off any attempt at restraint that would come from a Judeo-Christian worldview, and the church still, for the most part, I think is, if not asleep, we're still a bit groggy, but God is beginning to awaken us.
I have hope in the midst of that, but again, I wanna reiterate the power behind the struggle is not political or ideological; it's spiritual, and the outcome will be determined by God's people. Please don't feel powerless. Don't imagine you weren't invited to a significant seat. If God's people are awakened and respond to him, we will see his deliverance. The Bible is filled with examples of that. If we remain distracted and disinterested, we're going to forfeit a great deal, and I think the outcomes are still unclear. So, I'm excited, I wanna unpack that a little bit, this notion of "big trouble ahead". Christians respond to this in different ways.
You know, there's one segment within the church or those that stand underneath the umbrella of the church. You know, you can have a church that includes Christians, but it may not be a Christian church. You have to hold a Christian worldview. You have to hold a high view of Scripture. You have to believe in the divinity of Jesus. We're a little confused. We've been a bit addled. We've had some luxuries that are not really presenting themselves right now, and there's some segments within the church that just refuse to acknowledge that there's any trouble taking, "It's always been like this. There's always been problems. Don't talk to me about that. I don't wanna think about that. Everything is cyclical. It'll be okay. Summertime, let's have a party".
Then there's another segment within the church that just seek to avoid the trouble. They don't wanna talk about the big trouble. They don't wanna think about it. They'll compromise if necessary just to get broader acceptance: "if we just don't say anything, if we don't cause any division, if we stay quiet, if we keep our faith very private". Another version of that is we just kind of develop an escapist theology. "Well, God will get me out of it. Well, our God is a deliverer". And people always wanna know when I think the rapture is going to happen. I have an opinion, but the truth is I could argue several positions from Scripture. I want out of here on the first load up. However, I wanna be prepared if I have to wait for the last load, and I want you to be prepared. Say, "Well, I don't wanna think about it".
I've already talked about that group. It's not helpful, and then there's a third group when we talk about this trouble that's ahead and they say, "I wanna train to be ready. I don't wanna be caught unaware". And that's really kind of the focus of this session is, how do we improve our readiness? How do we not just try to wait out the difficulties so we get to a happier place in time? Well, there's some things I can tell you about the big trouble ahead, and I'm not gonna belabor these points. We've worked on this psalm in previous sessions, but I just wanna tag 'em real quickly. The first thing I can tell you is it's unpredictable. The timing of it is beyond us. It's inscrutable.
If somebody tells you they have a complete timeline, just smile at them, turn, and sprint the other direction. Jesus said no one knows the time or the hour of his return, that the closest approximation we could come would be seasonal awareness. This time of year in Tennessee, you don't know whether you need a coat or shorts.
Last weekend, we had church outside and you wanted jackets. It was cool. Tonight, not so much. Luke chapter 12 and verse 35, Jesus is speaking, he said, "Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It'll be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, and he'll have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or the third watch of the night".
The second watch is 9 p.m. to midnight. The third watch is midnight to 3 a.m. Pretty drowsy times. Verse 39, "But understand this", he's calling attention to this next phrase, "understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he wouldn't have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you don't expect him".
Now, I feel like these last months, we have had a graduate-level course on the unexpected: things we didn't anticipate, things we didn't see coming. I never anticipated churches being told to close. I'd never anticipated them saying that churches were non-essential and the government taking a position in opposition to churches serving people. That's a break with our history. I didn't see it coming, and there have been many things beyond that that were totally beyond my imagination, so it doesn't take great faith for me to imagine that the season ahead of us is going to be beyond our ability to anticipate fully. There's gonna be an unpredictable component to it, but the assignment we've been given is to watch, to pay attention, to watch and listen, to think.
We've talked about that. In Revelation chapter 3, I think I took it out of your notes, I ran out of space, but it's a message to the church in Sardis, and this is what the Spirit of God said to them, "Remember of what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent". Do you have the imagination that the Spirit of God would say to those of us in churches, "Remember what you've received? Repent"? Listen to the next line: "If you don't wake up, I will come like a thief, and you'll not know at what time I'll come to you".
Don't just rest upon your laurels of previous experiences. Don't recite your curriculum vitae of your spiritual journey. I'm happy for all of those benchmarks. They're valuable and important and significant, but more relevant is your attitude and your posture and your awareness today. There is uncertainty ahead of us. We don't have to be afraid or anxious or uncertain, because the One we serve is not threatened, but if you imagine that you can secure your future by prudent planning and anticipation, I assure you, what is ahead of us is beyond anticipation.
There's a second component of the big trouble, and this isn't particularly pleasing, but the Scriptures suggest to us that it's going to be a minority response, a small percentage of the population that will choose to honor the Lord. It's not going to be an overwhelming majority. That's uncomfortable, isn't it? Jesus in Matthew chapter 7, verse 13: "Enter through the narrow gate. Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it".
Those were Jesus's words. They're both groups are willing to follow a path. They're on a journey, and Jesus describes one as being broad. It leads to destruction, and many will go that way. The alternative, he said, is a small gate and it's narrow, but only a few find it. It's not a subtle theme of Scripture. I don't wanna disrupt the certainty that you have of your confidence in the Lord. I do wanna disrupt your self-righteousness. I wanna disrupt any casual attitudes you have towards the Lord, any smugness. I do want to disrupt an attitude that "I don't really need to pay much attention to the Lord. I've said the sinners' prayer, I've been baptized, I've read through my Bible, I go to church when it's convenient enough, I haven't declared myself to belong to another religion, I'm a Christian".
I don't want you to spend your days with that being the prevailing attitude in your heart. It concerns me. It concerns me for myself. I don't wanna point at my past journey. What's most of interest to me is what's happening in my heart and my life in these days, and tragically, we have coached the church, in America at least, for decades that if you hit certain benchmarks, you can forget it. You can stop thinking about it. You don't need it to be an issue in your heart. It doesn't require attention. Let your emotions and your energy and your desires be directed elsewhere because you've addressed your significant God business. Folks, the Scripture, and particularly our Lord, invites us to a different attitude.
In Luke chapter 13, it says, "Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem, and someone asked him, 'Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?' And he said to them, 'Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.'" I don't, that sobers me. There'll be many who will try to enter. Many'll have some interest, some casual attraction, but they won't enter in. We're gonna talk about the cross and how we access Jesus's redemptive work before we finish this session, so I'm gonna do my best to articulate it as clearly as I can, and it's free, it's open to everybody, it can't be earned, there's no qualification based on height or weight or IQ or bank balance, hallelujah.
There's no accent test. You don't even have to know how to make sweet tea, but having said that, it's not cheap. It wasn't free; it required the life of Jesus, and he said, "If anyone would be my disciple, you have to take up your cross daily". And I'm not certain that we have lived with that attitude towards our faith. It concerns me, because we've entered this season of disruption. In 1 Peter chapter 2, I won't read you the verses. You could check me later. It starts in about verse 4. Peter's talking about two times that Jesus compared to the end of the age, before he returned, the days of Noah and the days of Lot, and Peter pointed out that there were only eight people saved on board Noah's Ark.
Noah and seven members of his family were the only ones to escape judgment, and then when judgment came to Sodom, it was only Lot and his family, and they didn't all make it. It's a sobering message. We will work diligently to extend the grace of God to anyone who will receive it, but we don't want to lead presumptuous lives. Jesus told a parable about the ten virgins. They were waiting for the bridegroom to arrive. Do you remember the parable? It's in Matthew 25, and they're waiting into the night, and the bridegroom is delayed, and when the message finally comes that the bridegroom is coming, of the ten who were waiting for him, five were prepared and five were not.
Now, this is a group of people who are anticipating the arrival. They meet all of the requirements and the thresholds for purity. They're not caught unaware in the sense that they don't understand that the bridegroom is coming. They understand that event is in front of them. They understand it's eminent, but at the point of presentation, they haven't given the concern to be prepared. So when I talk about being prepared for the big trouble, I'm not talking so much about beans and bullets. I'm talking about the condition of your heart. If your heart's right, the Lord will make provision for you. There's a third component of the big trouble and, again, I'm not gonna belabor. This we've talked about it more, previously, but there are, the Lord has been very gracious to us to give us directions, to give us descriptions of the season so that we won't be caught unaware.
A lot of people are moving to Tennessee these days. If you've never been in Tennessee in the summertime, let us help you. It's going to be humid. There's a haze that settles over us. It's not holiness. It's humidity, and it goes with the season. It's why our tomatoes grow so beautifully and so many other good things happen, but it's a part of the place. I'll spare you the rest of summer in Tennessee. Well, Jesus has given us some directions around the season before he returns. He says lawlessness will increase. We are watching that in ways that we, I never imagined possible, that as a nation, we would simply eliminate any imagination of borders, that we would take "illegal" out of our vocabulary, that we would talk about defending our police, that we would look at skyrocketing rates of violence in our major cities, and at the same time, talk about defending our police.
Lawlessness is escalating as we've never seen it before, and there isn't anything suggesting that that escalation is going to be checked in the immediate future. Jesus said that would happen to the point that our love would grow cold. He said endurance would be required of us, that we should anticipate antagonism. We haven't anticipated antagonism, folks. We've tried to avoid it. "Well, if you don't want me to talk about Jesus, I won't do that. You know, if you're not comfortable with me having a Bible, I just, I'll leave my Bible in a private place, and if you don't want the Ten Commandments in the school, let's just take them down".
We took the Ten Commandments down and we had to put officers in the buildings. Is anybody paying attention? Once again, I'm not encouraging you to be antagonistic or obnoxious, but we need to understand we're going to have to endure because our capitulation is not creating a more peaceful, hospitable environment. Every point of concession has been imagined as a weakness or a lack of enthusiasm to defend the space we've been told to occupy, and at some point, we all have to decide retreat is no longer advantageous, and we will, having done everything we know to do, we'll have to stand in that space. It's biblical. "So I don't like conflict". No, I'd much rather sing a hymn or a chorus or hold hands and hum "Kumbaya," but I will not yield the Lordship of Jesus.
Then Jesus said there's gonna be a great harvest of righteousness, an unprecedented harvest of souls, people with an enthusiasm for the kingdom of God that's unprecedented in human history. We have tools to communicate the gospel today that are, we've never had such tools. Little church in middle Tennessee can turn on the lights and people all over the globe can join us for worship. It's amazing to watch what's happening, but Jesus said, at the same time that's happening, there'll be an unprecedented increase in wickedness, that the wheat and the tares are gonna ripen at the same time, the same climactic conditions, that the one come to fulfillment will allow the other to come, but he said don't put your eyes on that, don't focus on that.
At the end of the age, when the angels gather in the harvest, the judge of all the earth will take care of it. Don't give your hearts to the increase of wickedness. Don't stare at it, don't gawk at it, don't carry it as a burden. Keep your attention on the Lord and what he's inviting you to do. There our hearts around you more open to the gospel than at any time in your life. There are some that are not. Move on. Keep telling your story to the ones that will listen. In the book of Jude, it talks about snatching others from the fire. You've got an assignment, folks. There's trouble ahead. We still have freedom and liberty. It's still daylight. We can work while it's daylight. Let's go. Let's go.
We're gonna pray before we go, but I wanna take just a moment to encourage you, if I may. You know, we have had a few decades where we can flourish in our faith with a rather passive attitude towards Christianity. You know, we had prayers in schools and prayers in courtrooms and prayers in operating suites. It's been a part of our lives for a long season, and I think we counted on the Constitution or the Bill of Rights or the politicians or somebody to secure our faith and our culture. Well, that world seems to have shifted with the introduction of COVID and all the things that came with that.
Maybe it's just broken into the open, but it's certainly a different environment than we have been in previously, and one of the lessons is we have to learn how to stand, stand in ways we haven't had to stand, be vocal for our faith, not belligerent, not angry, not condemning, but we've got to be willing to stand for the truth of Jesus Christ, and to do that, we will need the help of the Holy Spirit in ways we've never known him before. So, I wanna pray for you that God will give you boldness and courage and wisdom to know how to be an unrelenting advocate for Jesus of Nazareth in whatever circumstance he has planted you. Are you willing? If you are, let's just turn our hands to the Lord to receive what he has for us today, his boldness.
Father, I thank you for the honor of this unique season of standing for the name of Jesus. I thank you that through the blood of Jesus we have been delivered out of the hand of the enemy, and I pray that we would have the courage and the boldness and the wisdom to stand in such a way that your name might be exalted and that you would be pleased with us. I thank you for it, in Jesus's name, amen.