Forecasts

And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and trying him asked him to show them a sign from heaven.
But Jesus answered and said unto them, “When it is evening, ye say, ‘It will be fair weather: for the heaven is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather to-day: for the heaven is red and lowering.’ Ye know how to discern the face of the heaven; but ye cannot discern the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of Jonah.”
And he left them, and departed (Matthew 16:1-4).

We easily can get obsessed with forecasts. We turn on the television to obtain weather forecasts to see what the weather will be like. If we are interested in business matters, we may read the paper or listen to news about stock market forecasts. There are political forecasts, sporting event forecasts, and a host of other predictions for other situations in life.

While these forecasts are not always entirely accurate, we use them to try to get a sense of what will take place during the day. We like having some idea of what is coming at us. We do not want to be caught off guard, and it is always good to have that “edge” in any situation.

We put our time and at least some of our trust into forecasts involving worldly matters. But do we consider the spiritual forecast?

During the days of Jesus, many sought to see signs done by Him. Yet the signs were everywhere. Jesus was the right person at the right place at the right time doing the right things (cf. Matthew 11:4-6). The signs were everywhere– they refused to accept them or see them! Furthermore, no “sign” would have been sufficient for such persons, for they did not want to understand. They would understand and trust the signs that humans could understand relative to the weather, but refused to trust the signs that pointed to Jesus as the Christ.

People have sought signs to this day, and the reality remains the same. The creation attests to the hand of God (Romans 1:18-20), and the message of Scripture provides complete confidence in the revelation of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God (John 20:30-31). If we are willing to trust in various forecasts of men, we ought to be able to trust the forecast of God as revealed in Scripture!

If we believe in God and trust in His Word, do we take stock of our spiritual forecast? Granted, we may not get a specific message about precisely what will take place on any given day, but we are guaranteed that we will suffer difficulties because of our belief in God (Acts 14:22, Romans 8:17), have opportunities that we ought to use for God’s glory (Ephesians 5:16), and constantly suffer the barrage of temptations for sin (1 Peter 5:8). We also have the “forecasted” return of our Lord which could happen at any time, and for which we must always be prepared (1 Thessalonians 5:1-10)!

If the weatherman predicts rain, we grab the jacket or the umbrella. If the economic forecaster sees a downturn in a stock, we may feel compelled to sell. When God forecasts difficulties and temptations to sin, do we likewise prepare ourselves so that we may stand firm and do what is right when the situation comes about? Or, despite trusting in the forecasts of men, do we not discern the signs of our times? Let us take advantage of God’s forecasts, resolve to advance His Kingdom and His purposes, and go out and do so!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Wars and Rumors of Wars

“And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that ye be not troubled: for these things must needs come to pass; but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be famines and earthquakes in divers places. But all these things are the beginning of travail” (Matthew 24:6-8).

As Jesus begins to describe to His disciples how the end will come for Jerusalem, He encourages them to not be disturbed at all the rumors of destruction that they will hear. Instead, He lays out precisely what will happen, and how its destruction will be made evident, and how He will be vindicated on that day (Matthew 24:9-36).

Ever since Jesus spoke these words, there have been the proverbial “wars and rumors of wars” regarding His final return in glory. The number of predictions of Jesus’ imminent return is legion; a generation sees signs of the end in their own day and age. They go the way of all flesh, and the generation after them still finds all kinds of reasons to justify why it is that the Lord will return in their own generation.

This is no different today. 1843, 1844, 1914, 1975, 2000, among other dates, have all come and past. Now we hear of 2012. After that another date will crop up. Yet more “wars and rumors of wars.”

Let none be deceived: a day will come upon which the Lord will return. If you believe that the creation will continue just as it always has, Peter would like to remind you of the days of Noah, and how no one was expecting the apocalypse that took place then (2 Peter 3:1-9; cf. Genesis 6-9). Thus it will be when the Lord returns: the day will come as a thief in the night (Matthew 24:43, 1 Thessalonians 5:2). No special predictions, no special warnings. In fact, it would hardly be surprising if the Lord intentionally does not come back on a popularly set forth date for that very reason!

Believers in Jesus Christ are not to be troubled by these “wars and rumors of wars.” Instead, they are to be perpetually ready for His return (Matthew 24:45-25:30). If you are a servant of God faithfully serving God daily, will it matter if the Lord returns tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, or even in the next millennium?

Let us be sober-minded, realizing that our generation is no more or less special than any generation that has gone on before us. The Lord may return in our generation, but it will not be because of the “wars and rumors of wars.” If Jesus returns after we die, He has not proven unfaithful to His Word! Nevertheless, we should be prepared, for we do not and cannot know exactly when He will return. Let us be profitable servants of God while we have the chance!

Ethan R. Longhenry

God’s Trash Pit

“Ye serpents, ye offspring of vipers, how shall ye escape the judgment of hell?” (Matthew 23:33).

Imagine, if you will, a trash dump. It is full of all kinds of garbage, including dead animals and human bodies, all of which in various levels of decomposition. Then imagine that this trash dump is on fire.

Is this a place that will be high on your vacation itinerary? Does this sound like a place where you want to be?

Such was the Valley of Hinnom in the first century CE. The Valley of Hinnom lay immediately to the south of Jerusalem; it represents part of the border between Benjamin and Judah (Joshua 15:8). In the days of the kings, the Israelites would burn their children alive there at the Valley of Hinnom to the god Molech (2 Kings 23:10, 2 Chronicles 28:3). Even though Josiah defiled the place, it maintained its reputation as polluted land. What better place, then, for Jews to place their garbage and burn it? And thus it was. Every Israelite knew exactly what the Valley of Hinnom was like. No one really wanted to go there or be there!

Jesus recognizes these things, and twelve times in the New Testament, He calls hell by the Greek word gehenna: the Valley of Hinnom. Such would be the destination of the Pharisees if they would not change their ways, as seen above in Matthew 23:33; their disciples would go there too (Matthew 23:15). In Matthew 5:29-30, among other places, Jesus establishes that it is better to lose an eye or a hand than to have the whole body cast into Gehenna. In Matthew 5:22, those who revile their brother will experience Gehenna. We are to fear God because, unlike mankind, He is able to cast both body and soul into Gehenna (Matthew 10:28).

While talking about hell may not be popular or politically correct these days, Jesus speaks about it more than anyone else in the Scriptures, and the Valley of Hinnom represents one of His consistent descriptions of the place. He uses that description not because He relishes the thought of burning souls like trash, but because He does not want anyone to go there! Who wants to be part of a trash pit that is perpetually burning? Who would sign up for such a thing? Who would want their loved ones to go there? Who would even wish that upon their worst enemy?

And that is precisely the point: hell is not a fun place. It is not a place anyone should want to go or should want anyone else to experience. God certainly does not want anyone to have to go there (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:7-8)!

If this message has thoroughly disgusted you, I pray that you are not offended, but will instead use that disgust to provide greater motivation to serve the Lord Jesus and encourage everyone you know and love (and, for that matter, those you don’t like) to serve the Lord Jesus also, lest anyone end up in that terrible trash pit!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Our Waiting Glory

And there came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls, who were laden with the seven last plagues; and he spake with me, saying, “Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:9).

Most people, even if they do not know much about the Bible, have a definite picture in mind of what Heaven is like. Many people think of pearly gates and a city of gold. This view is reinforced by all kinds of spiritual songs that are sung. “We will walk on streets of purest gold,” according to Ira Stanphill’s “Mansions Over the Hilltop.” A lot of people think about Heaven and look forward to being in a large and magnificent city.

These images come from Revelation 21 where John describes the “new Jerusalem.” The city is described as a roughly 1,380 mile cube (Revelation 21:16) with a golden street, a jasper wall having foundations of precious stones (Revelation 21:17-20), and the glory of God shining brightly (Revelation 21:11). There is no night there and no Temple; the Father and the Son dwell there all the time (Revelation 21:22-25). It sounds like a great place to go!

Yet a major aspect of the image– and part of its encouraging message– is lost when we think that the “new Jerusalem” is a city to which God’s people go. The “new Jerusalem” is also “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb,” as we see above, and that Bride is the Church (Ephesians 5:22-32).

And what is the Church? The Church is nothing more than its constituents: people (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, 1 Peter 2:4-6)! Therefore, no one is going to be going to the city described– the redeemed of God will be the city!

No one is going to be walking the golden streets– those who conquer through the Lamb are the golden streets (cf. Revelation 21:7). The large city and the shining wall all represent the glory which God will bestow upon those who trusted in Him!

We ought to recognize that the picture of the “new Jerusalem” represents the best attempt that can be made of describing the indescribable, as is made evident from Romans 8:18 and 2 Corinthians 4:17:

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward.

For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory.

How can anyone describe that “eternal weight of glory”? Human language fails. To a small, persecuted, and mostly poor group of believers, the most fantastic image that can be imagined is a large city full of great wealth. For those conversant in the Old Testament, a city of gold with the glory of kings coming into it evokes the days of Solomon and the glory days of Israel (cf. 1 Kings 3-10).

Therefore, when we consider the new Jerusalem of Revelation 21, we ought not think of it as a place to which we are going as much as the glory which God eagerly awaits to bestow upon all those who conquer through the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony (cf. Revelation 12:11). It is fantastic, wonderful, exhilarating, breathtaking, and beyond our wildest dreams.

This is, indeed, the call for the perseverance of the saints, and the invitation of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Do not go outside the city or remain outside the city in filth and defilement– obey God in Jesus Christ, be cleansed and purified in the blood of the Lamb, and let us not grow weary in pressing upward to be that city!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Ultimate Pop Quiz

Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath set over his household, to give them their food in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, that he will set him over all that he hath. But if that evil servant shall say in his heart, ‘My lord tarrieth’; and shall begin to beat his fellow-servants, and shall eat and drink with the drunken; the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he expecteth not, and in an hour when he knoweth not, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:45-51).

Those who have experienced high school remember the “pop quiz.” Many times a teacher would announce to the class that a pop quiz might be given at some point during the class over a week or so.

Some students would pay little to no concern and expect to fail anyway. Other students would be more forgetful or concerned with other matters, be it other subjects or various extracurricular activities. Such students would either cram at the last minute or hope that the pop quiz would come on another day. And then there were the students who studied the material and were ready. It would not matter whether the pop quiz were today, tomorrow, or merely an idle threat. All would be well.

Jesus has made it clear that one day we will all experience the ultimate pop quiz: a judgment on our lives, based on our deeds (John 12:48, Romans 2:6-11). The “pop quiz” may come because Jesus has returned and the Judgment is taking place (cf. Matthew 25). The “pop quiz” may instead come because your life on earth has ended, whether expected or not (James 4:14). Regardless, this is no idle threat– each and every one of us will stand before God one day (Acts 17:30-31, Romans 14:12)!

What students will we be like? Will be like the students who have no concern, and be people so active in sin that we pay no regard to righteousness, and expect to be condemned at the Judgment (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)?

Or will we be like the students who were forgetful or concerned about other matters? Will we get so busy in life’s various activities, whether profitable or not, and either forget about or not have time for service to God? Do we put obeying God out in the future, expecting the opportunity to “cram” our time of service when we get just a little older, get a bit more settled, gain some maturity, wait until the children are grown, and so on and so forth? Do we secretly hope that Jesus will put off His coming for just a little while longer?

Or are we as the prepared students, serving God and striving to do the best we can to please Him at all times?

When that day comes, there will only be two types of people: those who are ready, and those who are not (1 Thessalonians 5:1-10). All the excuses and justifications in the world will not be sufficient to release us from condemnation if we die or the Lord returns and we are like the wicked servant or the foolish virgins (cf. Matthew 24:48-25:13). Failing a pop quiz– or even a class– was not the end of our world. But failing this ultimate Judgment means condemnation– weeping and gnashing of teeth (cf. Matthew 24:51)!

We do not need to live in perpetual fear of the Lord’s return. We need to be His obedient servants, doing the best we can with the gifts we have been given to glorify God (Matthew 25:14-30). If we are in that condition, we can be ready for Jesus to return today, tomorrow, or in a thousand years. It will not matter if we leave this earth today, tomorrow, or many years from now. Let us be continually prepared for the ultimate pop quiz and serve God daily!

Ethan R. Longhenry