Dr. Charles F. “Chuck” DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
JANUARY 10, 2016
1 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. 9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
— Matthew 24:1-14, ESV
Just as Moses gave us five great books to begin the Old Testament, Matthew gives us five great sermons to begin the New Testament (ref. Matthew 5-7, 10, 13, 18-20, 24-25). The Old Covenant was finally fulfilled in the first coming of Jesus Christ, and the New Covenant era will be completed at the second coming of the Lord. The “Olivet Discourse,” as the fifth sermon in Matthew is commonly called, reveals the ending of both covenants in some graphic detail.
We are living in the last days. We are seeing the beginning of the end. The heavens and the earth are experiencing “birth pains” that will give rise to the new heaven and new earth in due season. This message from the Lord Jesus Christ makes some sense of it all, and we shall look at it in several parts beginning with the “birth pains” described in Matthew 24:1-14.
Modern medicine has changed this to some degree, but historically birth pains experienced by expectant mothers are almost unbearable. Though the ages, the only thing that has made them tolerable is the expectancy of a new child, new life. So it is with the words of Christ in this sermon. He speaks of specific events which bring great discomfort, even death, to human beings, including the elect. It would be unbearable except for the fact that these birth pains will one day give birth to glorified life in Christ, to perfect rest in the new heaven and earth. So let us deal honestly with each birth pain and allow them to give new birth to the hope we have in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Maternity Ward
The setting for this sermon is believed to be the Mount of Olives, a genuine olive tree grove that has existed up to this present day just east of the old city of Jerusalem. It is the place of the olive press, or Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed just before going to the cross. It is the place where Christ, His disciples, and other Galilean pilgrims camped during the last Passover before the crucifixion and resurrection. It is the place where our Lord discussed these “birth pains,” in response to two crucial and separate questions asked by the Apostles: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
The questioning involved “these things” Jesus had just declared, namely the destruction of the Jewish Temple. Fall it did, forty years later, when the Romans sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the focal point of the Old Covenant and ended its validity. Some interpreters think this is the only question addressed in the Olivet Discourse (and by the book of Revelation), but this does not seem to be true. The disciples asked about another parousia, or second coming of the Lord, which Jesus said would not occur until “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world.” This did not happen in forty years, and would take at least another two thousand.
The end of the Old Testament age came with the first advent of Jesus and the destruction of the Jewish Temple. The end of the New Testament age will come at the second coming of Jesus Christ. It will be a final, cataclysmic event preceded by many “birth pains.”
The Birth Pains
The birth pains Jesus mentions here are many: spiritual deception or heresy, war and brinkmanship to war, physical and spiritual famine, earthquakes and other “natural” disasters, great tribulation for the church including martyrdom, and anarchy. Anyone could write a treatise on any one of these pains. For the sake of this sermon, however, let me just analyze how one has led to another for the past two millennium.
In one of Jesus’ most definitive statements, He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except by Me” (John 14:6). No other savior nor self will do. If Jesus Christ is not your Lord and Savior, you are lost in a sea of spiritual deception, falsehood, heresy, unbelief. And unbelief is the mother of all other sin.
When we do not love the Lord, we cannot love each other as we should. We take advantage, use, conquer, and dominate one another. When this sentiment becomes national, nation attacks nation, and wars and rumors of wars continually ensue.
The result of unbelief and war is spiritual and physical famine and hardship. One is worse than the other, although the physical is easier to spot than the spiritual. The most moving and graphic photos you will ever see depict the ravages of war or the aftermath of a natural disaster, like an earthquake or a hurricane, more birth pains.
What is harder to see than physical destruction is spiritual danger. It is a famine of the word of God, the absence of gospel truth, spiritual starvation. First, truth is rejected. Then, those who preach it and live by the truth are despised, then outlawed, then attacked. Once truth is effectively removed from society, anarchy and lawlessness takes over. This cycle has repeated itself since the first coming of Jesus, although I do not think it has ever been as focused as in our present day. Can you feel the birth pains all around us?
The Cause of Pain and Suffering
Why must a woman suffer in childbirth? Why must all humans suffer at the hands of false prophets, warmongering politicians, terrible famines, natural disasters, and ungodly persecution? Why does a good and gracious God allow so much pain and suffering in the world?
Let me be short here. The answer is sin, sin, and more sin. Eve sinned against God and invited a curse upon her gender (ref. Genesis 3:16). All men sin against God and suffer enormous repercussions (ref. Roman 3:10, 3:23, 14:23). And God’s gift to mankind of intellectual and moral freedom has resulted in sin upon sin. God does not cause all this pain and suffering. God gave us a choice, and we chose pain when we departed from the Way, ignored and disobeyed the Truth, and failed to take hold of the Life found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Remedy for Death
The bad news is that such sin, and the consequent pain and suffering, is going to continue until Jesus comes again. The worse news is that the punishment for such sin in this life is death and eternal separation from God in the next. The great good news is that, while there is no perfect remedy for preventing sin in the earth, there is redemption from sin before you leave the earth. It is the life-changing, soul-saving, everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ.
There is no remedy against pain and suffering in this life. Sin is too pervasive. But there is a remedy for the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and one day even the presence of sin. Repentance towards God and faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ is redemption for the penalty of sin. The indwelling Holy Spirit is redemption for the power of sin. And the second coming of Jesus Christ will redeem and take all true believers away from even the presence of sin, forever.
So, how do you know whether or not you are redeemed, saved, a true believer in the gospel of Jesus Christ? By the promised reward.
The Requirement for the Reward
“The one who endures to the end will be saved.”
Jesus did not say the one who walks and aisle and prays a prayer will be saved. Jesus did not say that the one who joins a church and attends services sporadically will be saved. Jesus did not say the one who is satisfied with his or her own spirituality, or lack thereof, will be saved. Jesus said the one with enduring faith, the one who endures in the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ will be saved, period.
Birth pains are the most tragic at stillbirth. I feel so very sorry for all the women who have endured the pain only to be deprived of the great gift of the life of a child. Fortunately it is rare, especially in our day and age, but when it happens it is still the epitome of sadness.
What is not rare in our age is the stillbirth of faith. We all have to experience all the woes mentioned in this text, yet most of us do it without a genuine, evangelical, biblical faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith, for most of us, is non-existent, negligent, hypocritical, or superficial. We go through all the pain and suffering of life, give up on God, only to meet death at the end.
Not so, for those of us who truly believe the gospel. We keep believing. We keep building the battered church. We keep hold of biblical truth, even when it is being attacked by every spirit of the age. We praise God in the sunshine, we praise Him in the storm. We endure to the end. And, we will be saved, never to feel even the slightest birth pain again.