David Jeremiah - In the World of the End, BE DETERMINED
Flying across the Sahara Desert of North Africa is an incredible experience if you have a window seat. For hours and hours and hours, the only thing you'll see is scorching expanses of sand. This is the hottest, harshest desert on the Earth, and it's as big as the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii. Along with sand dunes are gravel-covered plains, salt flats, and barren plateaus. The eastern boundary of the Sahara is the Red Sea, and the western edge is the Atlantic Ocean. It's like America between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, except it's all Death Valley. One November morning, three men dipped their toes in the cold waters of the Atlantic in Senegal and they began to run. Their goal was the Red Sea, some 4300 miles away.
Charlie Engle, Ray Zahab, and Kevin Lin were attempting something never before conceived in history, to run across the Sahara Desert. They were doing it to raise awareness of the millions living in Africa without access to clean water, but according to Charlie Engle, he and his friends were also driven to be pioneers, the challenge of doing something that had never been done before really appealed to all of them. Their journey was plagued with challenges, some of which were geographical. Their route ran through six different nations, Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya, and Egypt. They endured blazing temperatures, sandstorms, government corruption, and sometimes had to run on two-lane highways where cars whizzed by at over 100 miles an hour. The physical challenges were even greater.
The three friends averaged almost 40 miles a day, and there were several days in which they ran the equivalent of two marathons back to back. Each runner had to work through more than 50 blisters on his feet. They lost weight, they faced dehydration, and they slept no more than five hours every night. But the biggest obstacle for the runners was mental. "It was much more of a mental exercise than physical," said Engle. "It was much tougher on the mind than it was on the body". Near the end, the runners were seriously breaking down. Two suffered from severe tendonitis, all three were dealing with intestinal viruses. Their feet had swollen into another shoe size.
The youngest runner, Kevin Lin, began to talk openly about giving up and going home, as expedition leader Charlie Engle encouraged him to stay the course, to keep trying as hard as possible until the last moment. "It's something I've learned from adventure racing," Engle said. "Don't ever pull yourself off the course. Go until you can't go because something might change. You keep going". And they did. They dipped their toes in the cold waters of the Red Sea after 111 grueling days. If you were to check through the dictionaries and online resources, you probably couldn't find a better definition for endurance than Charlie Engle's statement, "You just keep going". You just keep going. That's what it means to endure. That's what Jesus communicated to his disciples on the Mount of Olives.
As we have learned so far, the signs of times about which Jesus prophesied were frightening, and frightening to me. He warned about deception from the outside and inside the church. He warned about famines and earthquakes and pestilences. He foresaw tribulation and persecution, lawlessness and lovelessness, and "even those who profess to be Christians," he said, "would fall away". But all the negatives lead to an incredible positive: a phenomenal promise found in the 13th verse of Matthew 24, "But he who endures to the end shall be saved".
Now I know that sounds a little bit contradictory to what we normally talk about when we talk about salvation, but if you'll give me a little leeway here, I'll straighten that all out for you a bit later. The promise was true for Christ's earliest disciples as they endured attacks from the Roman Empire and the religious leaders of their own community. That promise has been true for all who have remained faithful to God's kingdom throughout the ups and downs of history. And that promise is especially critical for us today, as we approach the world of the end. Yes, we're gonna face obstacles and difficulties. In so many ways, this world is a giant Sahara Desert, but we have a race to run and we cannot give up. We must keep going with enthusiasm, with the strength of Christ within us, and the victory in sight.
So let's begin our journey through this passage and this short verse with the strength of our stand. Let's look at the first part of Jesus's promise, "But he who endures". Hm, the scriptures are packed with admonition and encouragement for God's people to keep going in tough times. That's why we love the Bible, because we go through tough times, and we open the Bible and there's something to help us get through it. We certainly face obstacles and difficulties. In so many ways, this is like a Sahara Desert. But the scriptures help us, and the biblical writers employed many terms to describe the quality of character that it takes. Endurance, steadfastness, faithfulness, perseverance, and so on. But the basic idea is for followers of Christ to keep following Christ all the way, no matter what happens. Jesus said, "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God". Paul instructed Timothy to keep going in the face of trials. "You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ".
Sometimes, people ask me, "How are you doing"? And I hear myself saying, "I'm soldiering on". We soldier on, don't we? We keep going. A few verses later, Paul added to Timothy, "Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel, for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory". And then James wrote, "Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him".
Now the Bible word for endure in Matthew 24 means to stay or remain, to lock your feet in place and not move. So the picture Jesus used to describe those who endure is those who are determined to stay under the load until Christ lifts the load. It refers to submitting to a specific directive or command and choosing to stay in a certain spot, even if others have moved on or moved away. We might say that today while we're watching all the values of our world being decimated, "We are not going there". We lockstep in a place that we know is right and true, and no matter what else is happening, we shall not be moved. In today's terminology, we might say it's the person who hangs on to the end who shall be saved. That's not easy. Takes a lot of strength to hang on. We often think of endurance as passive. It's not passive, I promise you.
Did you ever endure a lecture from a boring teacher? That's passive. Or what about suffering through an all-night shift? Well, that's passive endurance. But Jesus is not talking about passive endurance. He's calling for endurance and it's a command for his followers to take a stand, to push against the current and refuse to be moved, to hold firm in their convictions and their character, even when it seems like the whole world is against them. Paul wrote to the earliest believers these words. He said, "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand".
Did you know that in the Bible, there is no instruction for us to attack. The instruction is for us to stand firm in the ground that we have. We didn't get that ground ourselves. It was given to us by Almighty God. He doesn't ask us to do anything except stand strong and defend our territory. There's no place where we attack. We stand. And standing is hard. You know why? 'Cause we want to attack. Almighty God says, "I want you to have the endurance and the strength and the courage and the steadfastness to believe what you believe, to know what you believe, and stand strong in that belief, no matter what anybody else is saying". Let them believe what they want. Some of it's so crazy, you wonder how any intelligent person could believe any of it. And yet, here we are. The strength of our stand.
Notice, secondly, the stamina of our stand. Running across the Sahara Desert takes stamina, which is a word having to do with resilience. We not only endure, but we endure 'til the end. Notice the middle section of our Lord's sentence, "But he who endures to the end will be saved". The end of what? It's widely debated, and if you read ten commentaries, you might get nine different answers, but to me it's not difficult. A perennial stamina. First, we're to keep on going until Jesus comes for us or calls us home. We are perennials, not annuals. By that, I mean we just keep coming back again and again. This is not for a short time, this is all the time. We have two stopping points, the Rapture or death, and we keep going until one of those two things happens. God has called us to be faithful.
John 17:4 says, "Jesus said, 'I have glorified You on earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.'" Those are the words of Jesus as he talked to his Father toward the end of his time here on earth. He said, "I have finished the work that You gave Me to do". We're to pursue the Lord's will and calling for our lives until we can say, like Paul the apostle, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith". What I'm talking about today is in this generation in which you and I have been placed, not because we chose to be here, God could have put us down, I could have been a Renaissance man, and you, you could have been anyplace, but he put us here. And there's never been a time like this, I admit that. I watch television every day and I think, "Oh my goodness, where did that come from"? This is crazy, what's happening.
And so, we've gone through this whole series of all the stuff that's happening, and it's almost like at the end, the Lord is wrapping his arms around us and saying, "Look, here's what I want you all to know. Stand firm in what you believe. Stand strong in what you're committed to. Don't be wavering by what's going on around you. You don't have to attack it, just stand against it, and stand strong". We don't have to use our own strength, even, because we pray like the prophet Isaiah prayed in Isaiah 33:2, "Be our strength every morning". Isn't that a great prayer? You can personalize it, "Lord, be my strength every morning," Isaiah 33:2. Or we can claim Isaiah's promise, "Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength".
For those of us living in the world of the end, Jesus's words are a call to keep going as the signs of the times are exploding around us. We're to run through the smoke, we're to run through the trembling earth, through the spinning battlefield, and through the agitation of our age. We cannot stop until Jesus comes. Our calling is a road that has no off ramps. It's a road straight to where God has called us to be. The attitude doesn't always appear as public feats of gallantry. This is not something we get on television with. Usually, it shows up quietly in our lives.
Raymond Edman of Wheaton College used to tell his students, "It's always too soon to quit". I wanna ask this question, and you don't have to answer. You can grunt if you want to. Have you ever thought about quitting? Mm, yeah, we all have, haven't we? When it comes to our faith, there's no quitting place. Paul felt this way in Acts 20. He told the Ephesian elders this. Listen to this. "See, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit tells me that in every city, chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me," he said. "Nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify of the gospel of the grace of God".
I love that little phrase in the middle of that verse, "None of these things move me". Talk about all you wanna talk about that's happening and I'll not even start in on the list 'cause it'll derail us all. But none of these things should move us. You know why? Because we're locked in place in the center of the will of God, and Jesus Christ is in our hearts, and the Holy Spirit infills us. And whatever's going on out there, it might be uncomfortable, and it might be something we wish desperately wasn't happening, but what really is important is Jesus Christ is at the center of our lives, and we're standing strong in him. You see, what everybody wants you to know is that all that's going on out there, that's reality and what's going on inside is just sort of a quiet spirituality. Totally wrong. This is all temporary. This is permanent. Everything that's happening out here is headed toward a disastrous ending. Everything that's in here is headed toward eternity with the Lord Jesus Christ. I am an eternal son of God and so are you, an eternal daughter of God, if you're in faith.
The Living Bible says this. "Life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus, the work of telling others the Good News about God's mighty kindness and love". What a slogan that is. So what I want to encourage you to do today, I hope you're getting this message, is that in the midst of everything that's happening, the thing you need to do is be strong in the Lord, know what you believe, believe what you know. Don't be afraid to be a student and get stronger in the Word. But while these things are happening, put your anchor down deep and don't be moved. "I shall not be moved". Because that's what the enemy wants to do. He wants to come with all these influences and move you off the sweet spot of your relationship with God. He has no other purpose than that. He wants to devour you and destroy your influence and remove you from the joy that is found in your walk with Jesus Christ.
So you get up every morning and you say, "Lord, I don't know what's gonna happen today, but I shall not be moved. I'm with you and you're with me. We're going forward together, and we'll face whatever happens". Then there's personal stamina, and here's something that every once in a while I get a little tempted to be a little grammatical with you. And I love grammar, and I love the way if you look beyond the words, you find meaning that you wouldn't find if you didn't study it. So let me show you one situation like that. It's in our passage today. A careful analysis of Matthew 24 gives us a clue about the stamina we need to endure to the end. It's personal.
You see, in the Greek language, the word you can be either plural or singular. For instance, Jesus used the plural you in these verses in Matthew 24. When you go through this with me, you'll understand what I'm saying. In Matthew 24:2 he said, "Do you," plural, "not see all these things"? He's using you in the plural. In Matthew 24:4 Jesus answered and said to them, "Take heed that no one deceives you," he's talking to the group. In Matthew 24:6, "You," plural, "will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you," plural, "are not troubled". This is the plural you. In Matthew 24:9, "Then they will deliver you," plural, "to tribulation and kill you," plural, "and you will be hated by all the nations". But there's a shift in Matthew 24:13. It's a wonderful shift. The word translated he in that verse is not plural, but singular. "But he who endures to the end shall be saved". We don't endure as a group. We endure as individuals. The you here, the he here is singular.
Here in verse 13, Jesus spoke to you and to me as individuals. He was encouraging each of us to hang in there and keep on hanging in there for as long as it takes. Enduring as a follower of Jesus requires not only strength, but also perennial personal stamina, and so don't be afraid to take your stand for what you know is right and what God has communicated through his Word, then keep standing no matter what comes your way, and remain steadfast until the end. As a pastor, I'm a pastor-watcher. One of the most grievous things to me, over these last few months and years, has been to watch guys that I knew and respected who had strong positions on the social issues that the Bible addresses, but because of the pressure of their community, because of the pressure of the people they're trying to reach, they didn't go out with the right strategy. They changed what they believed. They went soft on the issues. They no longer declared, "Thus saith the Lord". They allowed the social pressure to come in and change what they said, and they lost their power. They lost their ability to make a difference.
Listen, if all we are going to do is try to figure out how close we can get to what the world is, we got nothing to offer them. The world doesn't need what they already have. They already have people that are willing to give up their positions on no matter what situation they're in. But so many of the guys I know, and thankfully, not all of them, but so many, I look up and I read an article and I think, "Oh, my goodness, not another one. Not another one who used to believe what the Bible says, but now believes this". It's frustrating. It makes me more determined than ever, I'm gonna be a grouchy old man to the end. I love that phrase, "I shall not be moved". You're not gonna change that. I'm not changing my position on that. As we approach the world of the end, we're gonna have to learn what it means to strengthen our stand. And then we come to the satisfaction of our stand. Let's look at the last phrase of Jesus's promise. "He who endures to the end shall be saved".
Now here's where I'm gonna straighten out this apparently misunderstanding of this verse. A biblical word like salvation is similar to a diamond. It has many facets and many faces. That term occurs more than 150 times in the Old and New Testaments. And in different settings it can refer to different things. For example, when the children of Israel were trapped by the Red Sea, Moses told them, "Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord". He wasn't talking about being saved from your sin. He was talking about being saved from the Egyptians and the Red Sea. In that context, the word implied Israel's deliverance. In Romans 13:11 Paul said this. "Do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awaken out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed". He's talking to Christians who have already been saved. What he meant by that was the moment when we will be saved from this evil world and raptured to heaven.
So here's the word salvation not used for being saved from your sin but being saved from a situation. In Acts 4:12, however, Peter put it the way we normally refer to it. "Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved". He's talking about eternal salvation of our souls from sin, death, and hell. What did Jesus mean then when he said, "Those who endure to the end will be saved"? Well, let me tell you what this salvation is not. He was not teaching salvation by works. It's not our ability to endure that saves us. It is Christ alone. We can never erase the reality of our sin by being strong and having stamina. We are saved from sin by grace through faith. Our ability to endure to the end grows out of an intimate connection with Jesus our Savior. We stand because we know him. We don't earn that connection by standing for him.
Jesus was not promising us guaranteed safety chutes for every difficulty in life either. Jesus is very pointed about that. He said, these are his words, John 16:33, "In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I've overcome the world". The apostle Paul said, "Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution," or tribulation or trouble. Can I get a witness? Isn't it true, when you know Jesus, there are some things that happen to you that wouldn't happen to you if you didn't know Jesus? Not all of them from the perspective of today are good things. You get ripped on because you're a Christian. Peter gave his readers the same warning. He said, "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing was happening to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, when when His glory is revealed, you may be glad with exceeding joy".
There is no attempt on the part of the Bible to tell us that if we become Christians, all is well. All is well between us and God, but life on this earth can be pretty brutal, and many of you know that. That's what salvation is not. What is this salvation? For instance, in AD 64, the Roman Emperor Nero accused Christians of starting the fire that destroyed Rome. In his demonic rage, Nero came against believers with a vengeance. As we saw earlier in one of our messages, the apostle Paul was tracked down. He could have been betrayed by Alexander the coppersmith, remember that? And he was thrown into a dungeon to await beheading. From there, he wrote his goodbye letter to the church. Listen to what Paul said at the end of that letter. He's at the end of his life, "The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever".
I believe that's what Jesus meant. This is the satisfaction of our stand. For those who endure to the end, the Lord will rescue them from evil and bring them safely to the heavenly kingdom. If we endure, we will be safely delivered to heaven by death or the Rapture, one way or the other. So, when he says, "Those who endure to the end will be saved," he's not saying, "saved eternally". He's saying, "Be saved out of the situation they're in," like the people at the Red Sea and other places in the Bible where that word is used. So we have the strength of our stand and the stamina of it, and the satisfaction of it. Let's finish this in a strange way, with the start of it. When we consider topics like endurance or perseverance or steadfastness, it's easy to think of them in the abstract or to project them into the future.
"When I face opposition in the future, I'll make sure to endure". Or "When I'm old at the end of my life, I'll be sure to remember the importance of finishing strong". That's not how it works. The determination to follow Christ regardless of cost isn't something that just flashes into our souls as a moment of truth. It starts now and takes a lifetime to develop. It's a day-by-day process. It's not standing for him in the future by and by, it's standing for him tomorrow. Tomorrow in the place where you work, not giving up ground to the enemy. This is a choice you and I need to make. There are some practical ways to get started, and I'd like to give you a couple of them. First of all, determine to run the race.
You say, "Well, Pastor, doesn't every Christian determine to run the race"? A lot of Christians that you and I have met are determined to do one thing, get saved so they can go to heaven, forget everything else. The Bible says there's something we're supposed to do. We're supposed to endure. We're supposed to be strong. We're supposed to not give ground when people try to push us off our beliefs. This is a choice we make. We determine to run the race. Jesus said in Luke 9:23, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me". Not weekly, not monthly, not yearly. Take up your cross every day. Make up your mind that nothing will deter you from God's will, that no one's gonna draw you from his path, and that no fall will defeat you and no sin will stop you.
I mentioned earlier that followers of Christ must be prepared to endure trials of various kinds. Jesus himself promised that we would face tribulation. But here's a principle and a promise that can help us keep striving. Those trials, those tribulations, can actually become fuel for our endurance. No matter what the world throws our way, we can recycle those experiences in such a way that through the power of God our pain is transformed into power. James 1:2 through 4 says, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness," that's endurance. "And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing". The Bible says you know how you learn to be steadfast? You go through trouble. I mean, that's the way it is. You don't have to endure if nothing's testing you. You can just float along with the tide. But when something comes against you, you have to decide, do I really believe this? Do I believe this enough to not be like everybody else, and this is where I stand no matter what else happens?
Romans 5:3 through 5 says, "Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us". Some people say, "I used to pray for patience, but I quit doing that because the Bible says tribulation works patience. I don't need that". Trials and suffering can make it more difficult for us to run the spiritual course, but they don't have to. With God behind us and beside us, suffering becomes steadfastness, pain becomes perseverance, trials are transformed into a blessed hope that can carry us even toward perfection and completion. So how will you handle the bumps and bruises you receive in your effort to follow Christ? How will you do that? Will you allow them to slow you down, or will you climb up on top of them and go forward?
According to the scripture, you get to make that choice. Determine to run your race. Determine to react with radiance. Speaking of choice, it's important that we address our own actions and attitudes and encounter difficult circumstances in the right way. What do I mean by that? Well, I've known some lemon-faced Christians in my day who were high on endurance but low on love. They were determined to persevere in the midst of persecution, but they made sure everybody around them knew how miserable they were in the process, and they made life miserable for many others who happened to encounter them in the middle of their race. And that attitude is not what the Bible is talking about. It's not befitting of servants of the King of kings. As Christians, we're called not only to run with endurance and finish the race, we have been commanded not only to be disciples of Jesus but to make disciples for Jesus. And for that to happen, we have to reflect the love and grace and goodness of the one we follow, the Lord Jesus.
My point is this. When we're confronted by all the ugliness Jesus predicted in the world of the end, we can respond by radiating the love of Christ. We can live as Paul commanded. We can rejoice in hope, we can be patient in tribulation, and we can continue steadfastly in prayer. So, determine to run your race. Determine to react with radiance, run your race happily, don't put your head down and become a martyr. Nobody wants to be around a martyr. You won't win anybody to Christ by being a martyr. You win people to Christ by being joyous in the midst of a thing, and a joy comes from your heart where Jesus lives. It's a joy inexpressible. Nobody can understand it if they're not a Christian. How could you be joyful in times of trouble? Finally, determine to reach your goal. This is a lifelong thing we're talking about here.
So if you're a little bit discouraged that you haven't been doing this very well, there's still a lot of time. You can do this, no matter where you are. I learned some stuff about my own life and about what I can do better. Never a time to quit learning. Being steadfast in our service to God means choosing to run your race. Choosing to react to difficult circumstances with the radiance of Christ, and finally choosing to run until you reach the end of your course. It means choosing to keep going until you reach your rest.
I'm reminded of Shizo Kanakuri, who was the first athlete to represent Japan in Olympic Games. This was the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, and Kanakuri was an exciting newcomer for the marathon event. At just 20 years old, he had set a world record the year before. Expectations were very high. Unfortunately for Kanakuri, things did not go as planned. After a brutal journey from Japan that took almost three weeks, he was in rough shape prior to the start of the Olympic marathon, and, to make matters worse, that event was run on an especially balmy day in Sweden with high temperatures and skyrocketing humidity. After about 16 miles into the race, Kanakuri faltered. He stumbled into a local garden and collapsed. He was eventually found by a Swedish family who nursed him back to health with raspberry juice, cinnamon rolls, and a comfortable bed. Despite that kindness, the Japanese runner was mortified at his own failure, and he didn't know what to do. He quietly returned to Japan to deal with his shame. He left so quietly, in fact, that the Swedish officials had no record of what happened to him. He was considered a missing person for almost 50 years.
Thankfully, there's a happy ending to Shizo Kanakuri's story. In 1967, Swedish officials arranged for the now elderly runner to return to Stockholm and finish the race, starting where he had left the course all those decades ago. Kanakuri completed the course with a mind-boggling time of 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 5 hours, 32 minutes, and 20.3 seconds. And here's my point. Despite a long delay, Kanakuri completed the race. He reached the finish line, and there he was greeted by not only his children, but his grandchildren. Those are great rewards, indeed. And that's the overwhelming message of scripture.
That's what I wanna tell you as we end this series. Yeah, there's a lot of stuff going on that Jesus said would happen. We see some of it starting to happen now. It makes us nervous, uncomfortable. What is our call? Here's our call, be determined. Be determined to stand where you know you should be. Be God's person in the middle of all this. Don't get pushed around by all this craziness. They can't make you believe what you don't believe in. Some of those people, listen, they think because they don't believe in it, it's not true. We know what's true. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and we've pinned our hope and our future on him. We stand before him and with him in the midst of the uncertainty of our world.