I’ve never been a fan of passages like the one we are reading today, Matthew 24. Jesus uses a lot of apocalyptic language, and some of what he is saying can seem very obscure – impossible to understand fully. And, of course, because he is discussing with his disciples the signs of his second coming, Bible passages like this one are used by people who try to predict the end of the world and the last days.
Of course, people who make those kinds of predictions are trying to do the impossible because, “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” And so I’ve found it wise to ignore anyone who claims to have figured it out. Unfortunately, that’s also caused me also to lose a bit of my interest in Bible passages like Matthew 24. So today’s reading was a challenge for me.
I think Jesus would probably tell us it isn’t healthy to agonize over the timing of his return. The disciples wanted to know “when.” And they wanted to know by what “sign.” I’m not sure Jesus was as much interested in answering that question as he was in urging his disciples to wait patiently, to stick to their faith, and to endure to the end.
“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
I suppose that’s the line that captured me as I read this passage today. Do I have the capacity to endure to the end? When things get difficult and there is hatred and betrayal and deceit and lawlessness and love that grows cold – can I endure?
Endurance is an interesting thing. Physically, it is something that is built up over time. I like to run long distances. I’ve been doing this, off and on, since I was in the seventh grade. That’s almost 30 years now. And I’ve learned a person doesn’t simply go out and run 10 miles. You have to build up to it. Day in and day out, you run. And you gradually add distance to your runs – and, if you are so inclined, you might even add a little speed as you go. And some of those runs are painful. Your legs burn. Your lungs ache. But eventually your endurance is built up, and a person could run 10 miles, or 20, or even 100 without stopping.
But our capacity to endure long workouts like that doesn’t happen overnight. It is built up, slowly, over time. It takes discipline and practice.
Jesus wants us to endure to the end. And he makes clear that the road between here and there is marked by tribulation. It’s not all downhill. And there are choices to be made. Do we believe all the things we hear? When we see something dramatic, how do we respond? What’s the response to persecution, should it come? What’s the response to times of prosperity, should they come?
Am I, as a Christian, built to endure to the end?
We live today in a time when we aren’t having church worship services. We aren’t gathering each Sunday like many of us have spent our whole lives doing. And one question that came to mind in reading Matthew 24 is whether we as individual Christians have the capacity to endure in faith through this unusual time. And can we continue to build up our endurance even now?
That weekly gathering is important. It’s a command if Scripture for us to gather. And it’s a really important method for us to achieve growth both as individual believers and as the community of faith – the kingdom of God. But I know there are some (myself included) who rely perhaps too much on that Sunday gathering. For some, that’s their only spiritual “workout” of the week. And a person can’t run a marathon if he or she only runs once a week. It’s impossible to build up enough endurance. (Moreover, a church isn’t a church only one day a week.)
The Christian life is a daily, moment by moment, walk with Jesus. Jesus gathered together his disciples. He lived life in community. But he also stepped aside frequently to be alone with his Father. His prayer life was rich. Enduring to the end, even when the community fell away, was the way of Jesus – and it’s his enduring to the end that has saved us. His relationship with the Father was so rich and personal – and his devotion to his Father’s mission was so pure – that he could endure.
Is my relationship with Christ that strong? Have I built moments into my days to spend with him, to listen to him? Am I building up spiritual endurance even now, away from our worship gatherings, as I devote more time to prayer? Think about your own spiritual practices. Are your spiritual “legs” growing weak right now because your one “workout” of the week has been removed?
Maybe we can use this time when we aren’t meeting on Sunday to build up some other spiritual practices in our daily lives that will help us grow in Christlikeness – things like reading our Bibles and spending time in prayer and reaching out to our brothers and sisters in Christ with words of encouragement. Maybe those spiritual practices, new or old, will help us as a church when we finally are able to come back together in our gatherings. Maybe as we practice those disciplines on our own, our times together will be enriched.
With all of that said, we are made for community. There is no such thing as Lone Ranger Christianity. When we were called to Christ, we were called into community. I would go so far as to say we can’t live fully as Christians outside the community. People who say they are doing that – who say they love Jesus but hate the church – are people to be wary of.
Can we still be the community of the faithful in this time when we have temporarily lost our ability to gather? Maybe this is a time where we continue building up our community in other ways. Maybe we still can be “faithful and wise servants” and give each other what’s needed at the proper time – even in this time. I wonder what that means for me. I wonder what that means for you.