A Pastoral Message Regarding Current Events
To The SMCC Family,
One of the values that drives us at SMCC is our commitment to explaining the Bible in a helpful and hopeful way. At this moment, with the ongoing devastation, loss of life, and violence in the Middle East, we want to provide some extra hope and help.
If you’re anything like me, the last few weeks have produced feelings of confusion, fear, anger, worry, and sadness. To put it simply, I’ve felt overwhelmed. I’ve had to dig into the Bible, connect with my community, and go to the Lord for wisdom and clarity. As a church, in our services and prayer gatherings, we have held tightly to a few things. We’ve held tightly to our passion for justice. We’ve held tightly to mourning for the loss of life. We’ve held tightly to our hatred of evil. We’ve held tightly to our unity with Jesus followers from every people group. We’ve held tightly to our appreciation of God’s work throughout history with the people of Israel. We’ve held tightly to our hope in Jesus, the King of Peace, who will renew and reconcile all things.
As these current events continue to unfold you might have questions like these: What can I do? How should I live? What does the Bible say about the end? I wanted to take some time this weekend and provide some helpful and hopeful answers from the Bible to these questions.
Of course, thousands upon thousands of pages have been written on these topics already. There are many things I could address. For some people, an explanation of Genesis 12-21, an overview of a 4,000 year old conflict, and a world religions discussion could be helpful. For some, an explanation of prophecies in Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation could be helpful. For some, an explanation of Israeli and Palestinian politics, Islamic militant groups, and U.S. involvement could be helpful. To be honest, there are lots of differing opinions, perspectives, and beliefs from people who love Jesus and take the Bible seriously. Today, I want to move us beyond the less clear to that which is most clear. Here are 5 ways I want to invite every Jesus follower at SMCC to engage in these current events. I will explain each from the Bible in order.
Stay on mission.
Matthew 24:36-44 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. 42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
In this chapter of Matthew, Jesus makes a few things crystal clear. First, Jesus is going to return. Second, we should prepare ourselves for this reality. Third, no one knows when Jesus will return. There are some challenging things to interpret in this chapter but these three truths are not difficult to interpret. Jesus uses the example of the Noah narrative to describe people who did not stay alert. They were inattentive and careless to the way of God. As a homeowner stays focused and diligent on keeping the house safe, so too, we should stay focused, diligent, and attentive to Jesus and His return. We should be ready for it. How?
Stay On Mission
2 Peter 3:3-10 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
In this incredible passage, Peter is dealing with a common objection to the reality that Jesus hasn’t returned yet. It had felt like a while 2,000 years ago. He hasn’t returned yet. The reason for this is that God is patiently waiting for many people to trust Him and receive the gift of salvation. Jesus’ return and judgment (v.7) of all things is again taught to us and once again the imagery of a thief is presented. We see here that Peter is well aware of the image Jesus used earlier. Your SMCC leadership team met this week to discuss our approach to shepherding people in this season. One of our take-aways from that time was to continue to invite people at our campuses to trust Jesus and be saved. While we can’t control what’s happening in the Middle East, we can choose to lead in specific ways in Utah. Staying the course in helping as many people as possible take their next step towards devotion and delight is a clear pastoral application from this passage in Peter. By staying on mission as a church, we live out clear teaching surrounding the return of Jesus.
2 Peter 3:11-15 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. 14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.
How should you live in light of Jesus' return? You should pursue a holy and godly life with joy and gladness as you await His coming. His coming will mean a renewal of all things (v.13) and so we want to live a renewed life at peace with Him and others (v. 14). We do this by confronting the idols of our hearts and seeing Jesus for who He is. We do this by confessing our sin and taking our next step. Peter again connects salvation (v. 15) to the return of Jesus which only reinforces the idea that we stay on mission as a church.
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
In this incredible passage, Paul is the one who uses the imagery of a thief while stating again that we will not know the day and time. Please avoid people who say that they do know the day and time because they do not. Here we see a similar passion to stay on mission, to stay devoted by living as light in a dark world and he also adds a point about love, encouragement, and building others up (v.11). Let’s not allow differences around eschatological beliefs to divide us. We are to clearly be a group of people who stay united even with differences around these current events. We are to be people who build each other up in our faith, hope, and salvation.
This passage also gives us another metaphor about Jesus’ return and current events. It’s the imagery of labor pains. Staying sober-minded means to be serious and focused about the moment at hand. When intensity and frequency increase, the arrival of a child is at hand. In much the same way, as intensity and frequency of events with Israel increase, it tells us that Jesus’ return is close. How close? No one knows. Jesus, Paul, and Peter taught us that. While we don’t know the moment of His return we live united, holy, and missional lives as we wait. I’m not sure how to understand every prophecy surrounding Israel but I’m convinced that the Bible says too much to look away when Israel is involved. As sober-minded people, we pray, we think, we feel, we reflect, and we focus. Sober-minded people give serious attention to our lives, to Jesus, and to the Bible; always.
As a staff, we are living out these 5 things and are prepared to connect with you to encourage the same. Now that we’ve addressed 5 clear things the Bible says about living in light of Jesus’ return, let me speak to 3 common responses. For some reading this, you are responding to this moment with delighted anticipation. You long to experience 1 Thessalonians 5:10. You know that you won’t experience wrath but will simply be with Him. The world as we know it, with its evil and suffering, will end and we will be with our King. So many of you live with this hope! Praise God. For some, these passages produce some fear. Perhaps you haven’t been on mission, you haven't been alert, and you haven’t been devoted to Jesus. The clear teaching from the Bible is not to get your politics right but to turn to Jesus who is patiently waiting for your return before His. Finally, some of you might feel some indifference. Perhaps, you have ‘current event fatigue.’ I understand that. Please don’t let that push you into a ‘sleep’ as Paul describes.
Your pastors are prepared to take this written message and make it personal with you. You can connect with your leadership team below. SMCC, let us stay alert, on mission, devoted, united, and sober-minded today!
Pastor Eric and the SMCC Leadership Team