Allen Jackson - End Time Pressures - Part 1
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It's a privilege to be with you today. Our topic is "End Times Pressures". You know, the world is growing more intense and the question I'm so often asked: "Is this the end of the age"? Well, it very well could be. There's certainly some biblical things that point to that. If this isn't the end of the age, if it's not the end of time, it's our last days, so we need to understand how to live aware and to make decisions that bring God's best into our lives and the generation who follows. Grab your Bible and get a notepad, but most importantly, open your heart.
You know, we all have opinions and we talk about how we feel and what we think and God gave us the ability to think and feel but, at the end of the day, I wanna subject my thoughts and my feelings to the authority of Scripture. And I'd like to begin at that point, asking you not just to formulate your response to the topic based on what you think or what you feel. Because if your thoughts and your feelings are really not anchored in Scripture, they're not authoritative. You know, I think we should be able to eat M&Ms and lose weight, but my thoughts do not agree with reality. We'll start in John chapter 8 and verse 12: "Jesus spoke again to the people, and he said, 'I'm the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.' The Pharisees challenged him, 'Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.'"
Just in passing, I think it's worth noting that Jesus has been challenged since he was here physically. He's still challenged. His word is still challenged, his perspective is still challenged. Don't feel awkward about that. If they had the audacity to challenge Jesus when he was here in the flesh, I promise you they will challenge his disciples. So let's just decide that's gonna be a part of the journey, and continue to be advocates for Jesus. But the sentence before that when Jesus was speaking, he said, "I'm the light of the world, and whoever follows me will never walk in darkness". That's a very important perspective. Psalm 119 said: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path". Without God's Word, we will walk in the dark. This isn't complicated. It's not God's will that we walk in the dark. He intends us to have a pathway that is illuminated, but if we're gonna have light, we've gonna have to pay attention to God's Word.
Now, that will put you in opposition to much of contemporary thought. The theater of the absurd continues to produce new presentations. It's almost impossible to keep up with the irrational, often immoral and typically destructive activities of the week. It's just bewildering. I pray that you're taking time on a daily basis to not only read your Bible but to think about what you're reading, to meditate upon it, to talk to the Lord, to pray. That is the doorway to walking in the light. The alternative is walking in the dark, and walking in the dark is frightening. You meet things you didn't expect. You bruise and bump and fall and stumble. No matter how agile you are, walking in the dark is dangerous. So this really isn't one of those options, "Oh, I'm gonna follow the Lord, but I'm not gonna walk in the light". It won't work.
So establish in your heart that you will allow God's Word to be authoritative for you. It is such an important decision. The context of this study that we're starting in this session is really to try to understand the pressures that will be unique at the end of the age. I wanna present it in a somber way, maybe even as a warning. But I want you to understand it isn't a threat. In fact, quite the opposite. The way I understand the Scripture, it's a promise of God's engagement with us. And I think, oftentimes, we'd rather not think about it or we'll try to deflect it or we'll look for a reason to disrupt the timeline, because it's somehow unsettling to us. I would acknowledge it's sobering, but it's also filled with the promise of the arrival of a King, and that's worth the effort.
Now, I'm very aware when we talk about the end of the age, that many have expressed opinions across many years that that's right now. You can be a casual student of church history and know that or have just been awake a bit around the church, but there's a significant difference in our present situation and all the previous circumstances when Christians had thought that the age was closing. And I will readily acknowledge that almost every generation thinks they're the terminal generation. The first time in history that it had such widespread impact was about 1000 AD. The church throughout Europe was almost totally convinced that at the end of that first 1000 years the Lord would return. I mean, it filled the literature, it filled the discussion, it's an inescapable part of the history.
So the predictions of the end of time go back a long way. But there's one significant difference today than in all those other times. It's not complicated, and it's not up for debate. Israel has been restored as a nation. The Jewish people are living in their own land. That little strip of land at the end of the Mediterranean God promised to the Jewish people way back in the book of Genesis. He said it would be their land forever. But from 70 AD until 1948 the Jewish people didn't live in the land of Israel. I mean, there may have been a scattered handful of people who lived there, but the Jewish population was scattered to the four corners of the world. And that difference is important because there is much of what the Bible has to say about the end of the age that is determined by the Jewish people living in the land of Israel, independently and autonomously.
And so that discussion is different today. I wanna take a moment with this notion of Israel and the church. The regathering of Israel has set the stage for the final drama that will bring about the close of this age. And then people go, you know, "I just don't know if I believe that". Well, okay. But at least get your Bible out and have an informed opinion. Stubbornness will not earn points with the Creator of all things. There is two things I can tell you with confidence that I believe God is doing in the earth and they're happening simultaneously, they're both reflections of the supernatural omnipotence of God, that he can do whatever he wants, any way he wants.
The first is the regathering and establishing of the Jewish people to the land that he promised them, the most improbable of outcomes. The second thing that God is doing and he's doing them in parallel, at the same time. He is purifying his church. I'm gonna submit to you as we walk through this that there's a significant parallel between the restoration of Israel and the restoration of the church. In fact, if you'll allow me, I would submit to you that Christ followers have a need of restoration that's just as great as the needs confronting the Jewish people.
I'm not gonna take the time to draw a lot of extensive biblical parallels between Israel and the church. Maybe we'll do that in another season. But I do wanna hand you a couple of Scriptures and then I wanna focus our attention on what God is doing in the church. But let's start with Jeremiah 18 and verse 1. It says: "The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 'Go down to the potter's house, and there I'll give you my message.' So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: 'O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?' declares the Lord. 'Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.'"
Now, I would submit to you that in those verses from Jeremiah there is a principle and a clear prediction. And I believe it gives us a great deal of insight into what God is doing with the Jewish people in the land of Israel. As Jeremiah watched the first time, the potter attempted to create a vessel, the outcome wasn't what was desired. But the second time, after the potter reshaped the clay, he arrived at a vessel that he intended. Well, I would submit to you in a similar way, this is the story of Israel and the Jewish people in the land that God promised them, didn't turn out in the desired way. But God didn't throw Israel away. He resolved to make them again. That is the promise of Scripture. And I believe that is precisely what we're watching God doing at this time. You know, on more than one occasion, we've had a potter and the potter's wheel in the church. We said it was for the kids but I think the adults enjoyed it more.
And I have watched the process. The clay rests on that potter's wheel. And the wheel spins but the base of the clay is the wheel, but it's shaped by the potter's hands and where he happens to apply pressure. He shapes the clay by applying pressure at a very specific point to create the desired change in whatever it is he's shaping. Well, if you'll allow me to continue with Jeremiah's picture, for the past almost 75 years God has been reshaping the regathered people of Israel by applying pressure. The pressures to which Israel and the Jewish people have been subjected have been tremendous, almost beyond imagination. If we step back to the season preceding the birth of the modern state of Israel, the pressure of the Holocaust is unimaginable. It's too horrific to describe. You can't bear the pictures. You'll look away.
I've walked through the Holocaust Museum with hundreds and hundreds of people, then I watched the impact it has on us. But the Jewish people returned from many nations, from more than 100 nations, different cultures. They spoke different languages, they ate different foods, and they're thrown together in this upstart nation and they had to become a single people overnight. They really had no choice. In 1948 when the modern state of Israel was born, when it was recognized in May of '48, war was declared immediately by the surrounding Arab nations. A collective body of people that represented more than 40 million persons declared war on tiny Israel. There were about 650,000 Jews in Israel at the time. There was no way for them to survive.
The British were there and they were withdrawing, acknowledging the end of their mandate to be there, and they ceded the strategic locations to the Arab legion, leaving the Jewish population vulnerable. They had no standing army, they had no armaments other than what they had cobbled together in the flea market of the world. And against all reason and all logic, tiny Israel survived. It was a miraculous victory. And I would submit to you, at least from my perspective, that above all else, the primary objective of the pressure was to force them to be one. If they weren't united, they weren't gonna make it. They hardly shared a common language. It truly was a melting pot. The only thing that enabled them to stand together has been the continuous, unrelenting pressure.
The Israelis understand today that it's a matter of life and death. Take a moment with that because I would submit to you, I've spent my life in the church. The church hasn't felt this need yet. We bicker over petty things, over secondary issues. We are filled with selfish ambition, we're jealous of others who are perceived to be successful. We argue over the best way to do something, the best architecture, the best music style, how many people should be at the church. That one's too big to be godly, that one's too small to be godly. Something, almost anything but unity. We will argue over secondary biblical ideas. Folks, if we can disagree on a point and both go to heaven, hush and help one another.
Now there are some things that can't be negotiated away. But let's not wait until the pressure is so overwhelming. I'll give you one more passage 'cause I feel like I've watched this one be lived out. Amos chapter 9. Amos was a farmer, so it's not surprising to me that he's gonna talk about crops and, says: "'The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills. I'll bring back my exiled people Israel; and they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They'll plant vineyards and drink their wine; and they'll make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land that I have given them,' says the LORD your God".
For almost 400 years the Turks held authority over the land of Israel and their tax system, one of the ways that they appropriated taxes was based on the number of trees that you had on your property. Well, if your taxes go up per tree, what would you do? I'd be investing in a chainsaw. And the land of Israel was almost totally denuded. One of the things they began to do is when the people began to immigrate back, was they planted trees feverishly, but the land was literally stripped as if giant locusts had eaten every green thing there. And yet, today, Israel leads the world in so many agricultural practices. For hundreds and hundreds of years, the Jewish people often were not even allowed to own land, particularly across Europe. It's why they were money lenders and shopkeepers and they weren't allowed to own the land, so it became a matter of national pride that they could learn to grow crops.
And they could make a land that the world thought was useless and worthless become the garden spot as it is today for Europe. The fruits and vegetables from Israel fill the markets of Europe. And in the last 2 or 3 decades, the vineyards of Israel, from the Golan Heights in the North to the desert in the South, the hills of Israel are quite literally covered with vineyards. It's as if God had shown Isaiah a picture of what was coming, and he described it with his words. I have been a witness to the hand of God in the land of Israel. My parents took me when I was a boy. I was in the 6th grade, and when you visited Israel then, you had to treat it as if you were visiting a developing country. You couldn't drink the water unless it had been boiled. You couldn't eat fresh vegetables, you certainly couldn't eat a salad. You could only eat things that had been cooked and well cooked.
And then the roads were two-lane, many of them still gravel and tar. It was clearly a nation that was struggling to emerge. You visit Israel today, if you choose to, the food is so good and the hotels are so luxurious and the beaches are so beautiful that many simply visit Israel for a vacation with little or no interest in its biblical significance. They lead the world in so many technological categories and agricultural categories. God has kept his promise to the Jewish people. It makes this point in history unique. We can say things today that we could not say 100 years ago. We have literally watched God fulfill his Word. You should take note. People say to me frequently, "I don't know why you pay attention to Israel". And depending on my mood, I'll either just smile or I'll say, "Well, I don't understand why you don't".
What I would point out is that God is operating in a very similar way with the church of Jesus Christ. I believe the church has failed just as grievously to fulfill our destiny as the Jewish people struggled to fulfill theirs. I think I can support that from Scripture. The Jewish people have never turned against one another as violently or as brutally as the Christians have turned against one another. Our history is deplorable. It is staggering, and the line of history that is worth remembering is the history that we forget, we're doomed to repeat. And Matthew 16:18 is the verse that changed my life. Jesus said, "I'll build my church, and hell won't overcome it".
Jesus is in the church-building business. He's the head of the church. And it says in the New Testament that God has put everything beneath his feet, so we're somewhere between the head and the feet. We're under the authority of the head, and we look forward to seeing his enemies made his footstool. But I brought you two passages. They're both from Luke. One's at the end of the Gospel, and the other's at the beginning of the book of Acts, but they speak to the assignment that we have been given. "Jesus told them, 'This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.'" That's the assignment. "That repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations".
I think we could say with some confidence that repentance and forgiveness of sins needs to be preached in the nation where we live. But then in Acts chapter 1, "Jesus said to them: 'It's not for you to know the times or the dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you'll be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'"
It occurs to me when I read that that at least in my experience in the church, we have much greater interest in the times and the dates of when the King is coming than we have interest in fulfilling the assignment that Jesus gave us in being empowered by the Spirit to be witnesses to the uttermost parts of the earth. I know that as a matter of fact. I know the titles that get better responses. We're far more interested in asserting that we're right about our timeline and our charts than we are about our effectiveness in seeing the gospel of Jesus Christ be shared. We have to repent. And I read that verse 9 because I think it adds tremendous significance. "After Jesus said this, he was taken up before their very eyes". Those were Jesus' last words.
Folks, the church has an assignment. We've had 2 millennia to complete the assignment. The Jewish people, the monarchy, was established about 1000 BC, so they had about 1000 years in Jerusalem with, I mean, in Israel with Jerusalem as the capital. We've had twice as long with the assignment we've been given. Let's not arrogantly cast stones at the Jewish people. Let's in humility begin to talk to God about the degree to which we have been distracted, disinterested, ambivalent, unconcerned.
Oh, we wanna go to heaven, we wanna be blessed, but we don't know that we wanna be necessarily encumbered. There are pressures being applied to the church that we have never experienced. And I think if we're honest, the American church has lived with less pressure than almost any other part of the body of Christ. I'm grateful for that, but I have to be candid with you. The season has changed, and I believe we're gonna have to prepare and understand or we are, it's a very high degree of probability we will abandon our faith. Folks, the future is not going to look like the past has been. It's a different time. There are different forces in play.
You know, the reality of life is that pressure transforms us. It either transforms us in a destructive way into something that's no longer useful or it shapes us into something of greater value. And my prayer for myself and for you is that we will cooperate with the pressure God allows to become something more useful in his kingdom. Let's pray:
Father, we choose you and we choose to say Yes to you and to cooperate with you. Forgive us for complaining. We want your best, in Jesus's name, amen.