Sermon 5th November 2023

 Readings Matthew 24, 1-14  1 Thess. 2, 9-13


“…You accepted the word of God, not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God which is indeed at work in you who believe”.

These words were amongst the first written to new Christians, before the gospels had been written when the stories of Jesus were still told orally around fires and in secret corners. Before they’d be written down and interpreted by the gospel writers for their readers.


The word of God, the logos as John was to write, Christ himself, present before creation, incarnate through Mary, crucified by humankind, raised by God. The word of God at work in you. Not a human word. The way of Christ. The logos, the logical outcome of following Jesus. The way of God, the way of love. At work in you who believe.

It's what Paul wrote in these first letters, and it was a subject he returned to again and again in all his subsequent letters- yes there was much teaching about how to live as Christians, how to overcome squabbles in the church, how to stand against persecution and argument, but the central premise did not change.

The logos, the word of God, the Christ the way of love.

Which works in and through you who believe.


It is that way of love, revealed most clearly in Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross which we remember, we celebrate we take into us again as we share communion later in this service.


But when we then come to our gospel reading, we find a passage which is one of the most debated passages in Matthew’s gospel, with many an interpretation being given to it from theologians, commentators, and preachers. There are the fire and brimstone evangelists who have, over many years, used this passage to predict that the particular time they are preaching from is a sign of the end times, something that would be very easy to preach looking at the world today with the situation across the Middle East, in Ukraine and other countries and the immense impact of climate change caused by humankind. “Jesus is coming again” they preach “will you be ready?”.

It’s a call to repentance and changing a sinful, selfish way of life, a guilt trip to church (well the church of that evangelist anyway)- “the world is going to end, turn to us!”


On the opposite end of the scale are those who say no, it’s nothing like that, you have to read it in context. It’s all about the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD and the persecution of the early Christians. It was a call to the disciples to remain faithful no matter what happened.


And then there are those who say it can’t be about the second coming because the disciples didn’t even know about the first coming yet, they hadn’t witnessed Jesus death and resurrection, so how could there be a second coming? Was Jesus talking about his death and resurrection, or what?


Those are just a few of many interpretations put on this passage, so where do we begin, what should we think?

It’s useful to first look at the context. Palm Sunday, Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem was a couple of chapters back, then the parables about the kingdom, some of which we have studied in recent weeks, then Jess’ condemnation of the Pharisees and scribes hypocritical religiosity. All things leading inexorably to Jesus’ trial; and death.

For the disciples, they had seen the triumphal entry, their Jewish scriptural background and expectations of an all-conquering Messiah who would re-establish the Jewish nation would have been in the back of their minds. They were expecting great things.

They are in the Temple, a grandiose magnificent building, maybe imagine something like St Pauls Cathedral or St Peter’s at the Vatican but even grander. And they look around, marvelling to Jesus, “Just look at this, it’s incredible” they say- thinking perhaps that he will come to be Lord of it.


And Jesus effectively replies- “It will be gone, it is nothing”

as he leaves the Temple for the very last time, turning his back on it and taking the path back to Bethany where they were staying, up into the small mountains surrounding Jerusalem.


They take a rest break on the Mount of Olives, where the whole city lay beneath them, the Temple the focal point of their gaze. And the disciples, perhaps silent to this point, raise the question that’s been burning since the temple:

“What do you mean, when will this happen?”


And so Jesus teaches them, about his veracity, about other’s who will deceive them, about war and destruction, natural disasters and chaos, about how they will be persecuted, hated because of their faith in Jesus, that some will turn away, betray each other, go over to other teachings. That love will become cold. But that those who will stand firm will be saved.


And he speaks of the good news, the gospel of the kingdom being preached everywhere, the good news of this kingdom of which all the parables he had spoken of taught, this way of life which is the true way of God.

Not the religious pomposity and hypocrisy of the Pharisees who he had just condemned, but the truth of the kingdom, the way of God, as we have said in the last few weeks, the way of love.

No matter what happens, that is the truth, God’s plan for humankind will succeed, and he, Jesus is the way that will be achieved.


You can interpret the apocalyptic passage how you like, as many have, as I have already said, but the basic truth is there- God’s way, the way of love, ultimately will come, through what Jesus was about to do, his death and his resurrection.

The gospel. The good news.


And what does Jesus ask of his disciples, what then through Matthew’s gospel is asked of us?


To not let our love grow cold even in the face of the worst the world can bring, wars, famine, disasters, persecution, abandonment by friends or the encroachment of selfish quasi  faith. Don’t let your love, God’s love in you go cold. And those who stand firm will be saved.


If we stand firm, if we really listen to what Jesus taught, if we avoid the religious hypocrisy that faith can so easily become, if we trust God even amongst the horrors and wickedness we see in the world, if we stand against the injustices of greed, the quasi-faith of materialism and self-centredness, if we stand firm when we are persecuted for our faith or for standing up for the vulnerable then our love will never become cold.


Because we will reflect the love of God for us and all of humankind. And when we do that, we further God’s kingdom until, if we have faith enough, God’s kingdom will be seen across all the earth, as it is in heaven.

Maybe not in our lifetime, just as it never was for the disciples, but if we have faith enough, we know that God’s plan, God’s plan of perfect love will come.