Now I want you to turn with me to the book of Acts, the 1st chapter. How many have your Bibles? Lift them. Fine. Thousands of Bibles.
The 1st chapter of Acts, beginning at the 8th verse, "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost [will] come upon you." This is Christ speaking now. "And ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth."
Now that is not as simple as it may sound. Jesus is giving His parting instructions to His disciples. He says, "I want you to be witnesses." Now, what is a witness? A witness is a person who tells what he has seen and heard. His disciples had seen and heard a risen Christ. Jesus said, "I want you to go out and tell it."
Now that is the reason, in the book of Acts, why you find such a tremendous emphasis on the resurrection of Christ. They had seen and heard Christ. They had experienced Christ. They went out to tell it. They went out with such fervency and such dedication that in a short time they turned the world upside down. They did not have any seminaries; they did not have any Bible schools. They did not have any Bibles, even. They did not even have any version of the Bible to argue over. They did not have any churches. There were no printing presses, no radio, no television, no automobiles.
Then, you say, how in the world can you witness without all these things? How in the world can the church exert a witness in a community without big churches and without lots of money and without seminaries for training of preachers? Well, they did in the first century. Why? They were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they had seen our living Savior. They turned the world upside down. I wonder if, in our generation, we don't need to catch something of the dedication and the spirit and the fervency and the fire of that early church.
First, it was "in Jerusalem," and that was not easy to witness in that city. You see, their enemies were looking for them there. These people had crucified Christ right in Jerusalem, and now they were out looking for the disciples. It was not easy to go out on the streets where people were liable to stone you, or crucify you, or kill you, or throw you in jail because of a true witness for Christ.
Then He said, "Go into Judea." Judea was where they had beheaded John the Baptist [see Matthew 14:10]. That was not a very safe place to go and witness. But Jesus said, "I want you to go to Judea."
Then He said, "I want you to go into Samaria." Why, the Jews had nothing to do, in those days, with Samaritans. That was a terrible thing to try and witness for Christ to those three places, and to the uttermost parts of the earth. That meant going way out beyond the borders of the Roman empire where no men had ever gone before. Go witness for Christ, even though it meant suffering and hardship and persecution.
Then we go on to read verse 10 [Acts 1]: "While they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel." We don't know who these two men were. There is a lot of conjecture as to who they were. Some say they were two angels; some say they were Moses and Elijah. I do not know who they were. But they were two heavenly visitors who, like these disciples, were watching Jesus disappear; and tears were trickling down their cheeks because their Master and their Lord was leaving. They said, "Why stand [you] gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven" [verse 11].
Ladies and gentlemen, the hope of the second advent of Christ has filled the church for centuries. Our Lord Jesus Christ first uttered that prayer which we prayed a moment ago, "Thy kingdom come" [Matthew 6:10]. Someday that prayer will be answered. God's kingdom shall come; His church shall be triumphant. But it shall not come until there is direct intervention from heaven.
Now the world today is in a mess. I do not need to tell you that, for you know it. Anyone who can read a newspaper or watch a television set knows that there is something wrong with the world in which we live. One of the great British philosophers, Bertrand Russell, said a few weeks ago, "I wouldn't give you a fifty-fifty chance that one person will be on this planet forty years from today." That is the thinking of many of our people today.
I was invited a few weeks ago to address the Sanford[?] Research Center. Eight hundred scientists were there. I was the first minister they had ever invited. I felt like a fish out of water because I know very little about science. I didn't talk to them on science. They did not invite me there to talk on science. Dr. Carter[?], who is the head of the research center, said, "The thing that we are dealing with is actually the human equation." He said, "Science needs the help of the church!"
Scientists today have come to the point where they are turning to the church to help them for an answer. There is nothing but darkness and blackness as the scientist looks out into the future. He sees the possibility of making a wonderful world. Then he looks into the human heart and realizes that the greatest scientific things of our day are building engines of destruction. So what could be the possibility of a glorious world if man is actually building bigger and better bombs and missiles for his own destruction?
The Archbishop of Canterbury, writing a paper to be delivered at Lambeth Conference in England, stirred up a hornet's nest when he said, "It may be God's will for man to destroy himself."
In a recent issue of Religion in Life, which is published by Abingdon Press in Nashville, Tennessee, by the Methodist Church, an article was carried entitled, "The Christian Hope: Its Meaning For Today." And they had three men writing on that subject. One was Dr. Arnold Toynbee, the famous British historian; another was Dr. Amos N. Wilder, the well-known theologian of the University of Chicago; and the other was Dr. C. S. Lewis, the famed English scholar and a professor at Cambridge University.
Toynbee sees the world divided into two camps as a result of technological changes which have made all men neighbors without giving them tolerance, love, and understanding of one another. The Christian hope, according to Dr. Toynbee, is to fight man-worship, materialism, and collectivism.
Dr. Wilder, on the other hand, doubts if man can find a Christian hope within himself. Redemption, he believes, must come from spiritual resources outside the human race. Dr. Wilder says that if the human race is to be saved, God will have to do it. Man does not have the capacity to save himself.
Dr. Lewis of Cambridge University frankly declares, "It seems to be impossible to retain in any recognizable form our belief in the deity of Christ and the truth of the Christian revelation by abandoning or belittling the promised return of Jesus Christ." Dr. Lewis accepts literally Paul's definition of the Christian hope: "Looking for that blessed hope, and . . . glorious appearing of [our] great God and . . . Savior Jesus Christ" [Titus 2:13].
Dr. Lewis says in that article there are three reasons why people scoff at the coming of Christ. One, he says, because many professed Christians say it is a false teaching since the second coming of Christ did not take place in the early church as predicted. In other words, why has not Christ come thus far? Christ predicted He was coming. All right, two thousand years have passed and He has not come. That is exactly what the Bible predicted in 2 Peter, that in the last days scoffers would say, "Where is the promise of his coming?" [3:4]. So, you have a lot of people who scoff at the idea. They dismiss it, or they try to rationalize around it.
Secondly, Dr. Lewis says the theory of evolution keeps many from believing. If we believe man is progressing ahead of himself, we will never accept the promise of Christ that He will return and bring an end to sin and death. In other words, those people who think we are getting better and better in every way, every day, they don't want to talk about the coming of Christ. That interferes with their belief in the divinity of man himself, that man somehow is going to save himself. He doesn't need God, and he will save himself with history.
Then, thirdly, Dr. Lewis says that the doctrine of Christ's coming cuts across the plans and dreams of millions of people. They want to "eat, drink, and be merry" [Luke 12:19] without interference in their selfish course of action. That is exactly the reason why the scoffers in Noah's time refused to believe in a flood [see Luke 17:26,27].
You are making money, you have got a comfortable home, you have got a fine family. Why should you want Christ to come? You would be embarrassed if He came. So you don't want to believe it, and you cast it aside.
Then there's another reason, I think, which He did not add. I think this might be one reason why we in the church--we ministers--sometimes neglect this subject, is because during the past many years there have been so many fanatics on this subject. And I mean fanatics. So the church had a reaction against that sort of thing.
I remember reading some years ago about a group of people up in New England who had decided the date when Christ was coming back again. They put on white robes, and they climbed up in a tree to wait for His coming. By midnight He had not come. Somebody, however, blew a trumpet. And they jumped down, thinking that was the coming of Christ; and they fell down and broke their legs. Everybody made fun and said that's where such an idea will take you, that's where fanati-cism will take you. That has frightened away many people, including many ministers.
Surely the time has come for helping the church to give to the people the right view concerning the blessed hope, that Christ is coming again. Dr. Bryan Green, the Episcopal rector of Birmingham, England, arrived in Australia some time ago and was addressing one hundred Anglican clergymen. Here's what he said: "I really feel we are going to move into a dark age of civilization. The only real light for Christians is a faith in the second coming of Christ."
The Interpreter's Bible was edited by Dr. George Buttrick, and is used by many ministers in the preparation of their sermons. In the exegesis of Matthew 24, page 541, he says this: "Christ wishes to awaken in His heroes a vivid expectation that He will come in glory, in person." He goes on to say that the teachings of Jesus Christ in these chapters teach that the world as now constituted will come to a catastrophic end. This age will be superseded by a permanent order of righteousness and bliss, the kingdom of God on the earth. This will come about not as a result of evolutionary processes but by God's direct action. Many of our modern theologians are beginning to preach and write that Christ is coming again. I predict that in the next few years there will be a tremendous swing within the church to eschatalogy, which means a study of the last things and future events. Indeed, unless the church can hold out a hope to its people and hope to the world, communism will sweep the world.
The communists say, "We are going to build a new world; we are going to build a kingdom on the earth." What is our answer to communism? Are we ready to say, "We, too, by God's grace and with His help, when Christ comes are going to build a kingdom." We are not going to lose. We have got to emphasize this point more than we have done in the past. The Bible teaches that Christ is coming again.
In the New Testament, baptism is mentioned twenty times. We emphasize baptism. Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Methodists, and the Episcopalians emphasize baptism; and it is important that every Christian should be baptized.
We believe we should repent of sin. Jesus said, "Except you repent, you shall perish" [see Luke 13:3]. Do you know how many times repentance is mentioned in the New Testament? Seventy times. Do you know how many times the second coming of Christ is mentioned in the New Testament? Over three hundred times! That is the importance which the Holy Spirit gives to this truth--the coming again of Christ. It is mentioned in almost every book of the Bible.
John gives the great promise to all the leaders: "Now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" [1 John 3:2]. Jude says, "Behold, the Lord cometh with ten [thousand] of his saints" [verse 14]. And the entire book of Revelation is given over to picturing the last things, the coming again of Christ. Church leaders of every denomination of the past have believed it and accepted it. This book is your hope, and it has been called "the blessed hope" that Christ shall come again.
You say, "Well, Billy, you think that Christ is coming. When is He coming?" Well, I am going to give you a date. I am going to give the date that Jesus gave. Some people came and said, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom [of] Israel?" [Acts 1:6]. And Jesus said, "It is not for you to know the times [nor] the seasons, which the Father [has] put in his own power" [verse 7].
Jesus said in Matthew 24:36, that "of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only." None of us knows the day or the hour. It may be a thousand years from now, it may be a hundred years, it could be today. There is no use speculating. There is no use trying to set a date, because Jesus said at that time He did not even know. He said, "The angels do not know; only my Father knows." Then why should we try to speculate? But I tell you this. He told us to be ready, "For in such an hour as [you] think not the Son of man cometh" [Matthew 24:44].
How many of you think He is coming today? Very few. You have not made your plans for Him to come this afternoon, have you? You've got the afternoon all planned. He said, "When you think I am not coming, that is when I am going to come."
However, He did leave certain signs to guide us, certain indications that would lead us to believe that when these things are taking place, His coming is drawing very near. I believe we see certain signs today which indicate that the climactic point of history is about to be reached.
In Matthew 24 He listed several signs. First, He said, "Many shall come in my name, saying, I am [the] Christ; and shall deceive many" [verse 5]. Now, we had quite an experience with that chapter not long ago. We were in San Francisco, California; and we had about forty thousand people in the great stadium. That evening they called on a woman to read the Scripture. She got up and read the entire 24th chapter of Matthew in a great booming voice--all the fifty-one verses. It is a gripping chapter, the 24th chapter of Matthew.
Now, when you read it, you have to understand that in part of it Jesus is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem which took place in 70 A.D. when Titus came and destroyed Jerusalem. Now He is using it as a type of that which is yet to come.
One of the things that Jesus said would happen is this: "Many shall come in my name, saying, I am [the] Christ; and shall deceive many" [Matthew 24:5]. I take that to mean that there will be resurgence of interest in religion. There will be an interest in religion all over the world, and we are certainly seeing that today. We are seeing today the greatest interest in religion, probably, in the history of the world. I doubt if there has ever been a time when there has been such a revival of Mohammedanism, of Hinduism, of Buddhism, or Christianity--of all the religions of the world--as we are seeing today. All over the world, men are speculating. All over the world they are talking about God. They are talking about religion, because the world sees the hopelessness that we are in. So we have a revival of religion, but that does not mean that we have a revival of true religion.
In Christendom today, all over the world, in every church, there is the church within the church. There is usually a minority of people that do the work in every church. Those are the ones the pastor can count on all the time--the ones that tithe, the ones that are there rain or shine, the little crowd that are there at the prayer meeting. Oh, on Sunday morning everybody is there. But there is that faithful number that believe, there is that group born again by the Spirit of God; and nobody knows who they are. Within the church, the wheat and the tares grow [see Matthew 13:24-30].
And that's the reason there is no such thing as a perfect church. I know a lot of people that jump here and jump there, looking for a perfect church. You'll never find it. If you found a perfect church, the moment you joined it, it would be imperfect. None of us is perfect. The wheat and the tares grow side by side.
I know people who carry their Bibles with them. They can quote you one verse after another. They are orthodox to the core, but it is questionable if they have ever been born again of the Holy Spirit. They have become cold and hard and callous, like the Pharisees. There is no warmth; there is no love.
We have others today who give intellectual assent to Christ. They believe in the Bible, yet they have never had a personal experience with Christ. Their lives have never been transformed. Their talk and their conversation and their thoughts are on the things of the world entirely. They give themselves to pleasure and to business, and have little time for Christ. They want to be a Christian if it's not too inconvenient. If it is going to cost them anything, they don't want to pay the price.
Then, secondly, Christ said, "[You] shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet" [Matthew 24:6]. In other words, Christ said until the end there will be wars and rumors of wars. He said kingdom shall rise against kingdom [see verse 7]. And some people feel that great alliances would be formed to fight other great alliances, which brought us to two great world wars and the possibility of a third world war. Christ is saying, in effect, "War is a part of the degenerate economy; and because men refuse to go my way, there will not be real peace among the nations until I come back."
Ladies and gentlemen, I think every one of us should do everything we can for peace. Every day of my life I pray for peace. We are told in the Scriptures to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem" [Psalm 122:6]. We are told to work for peace; we are told to pursue peace [see Psalm 34:14]. And I believe that is why we should back every effort of the United States to bring peace. But after all is said and done, the very best efforts of man will fail. Men will still fight as long as there is hatred in the human breast. As long as there is prejudice in the human heart, men are going to fight. As long as there is greed within men, they are going to fight.
Jesus foresaw all of that. He knew that as long as human nature was separated from God, there would be wars and rumors of wars. And He said when these great wars get devastating and worldwide, the end is not far.
A third sign: "And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another" [Matthew 24:10]. Pick up your Charlotte_Observer this morning and you find an article by Dr. Karl Menninger, the great psychiatrist from Kansas. He has an article on hate. How much hatred there is in the world today! This seems to involve mental problems.
When has there been a moment when the American people had such prosperity, and when there are so many mental breakdowns? Psychiatry is busy today with nervous breakdowns in such a frantic effort to patch up our jangled nerves that I am told psychiatrists are going to each other for help.
Do you know how many chronic alcoholics we have in America? We have five million! Think of it, five million chronic alcoholics in America.
You know how many sleeping pills we take every night? Twenty-one million. Twenty-one million sleeping pills a night to put us to sleep. I don't know how many wake-up pills we use to get us up.
How many people are taking tablets and pills just to dull them from the realities of life?
Never before in history has there been a nation that had so much and is so bored with life. Walter Reuther says that he wants to bring about a four-and-a-half day week. Well, that sounds fine. But I am going to ask you: What in the world are we going to do with our leisure time? If we are going to invest it for the kingdom of God, let us have it. But if we are going to give it to the devil, let us work six days a week.
Then, fourthly, Jesus said, "As [in] the days of [Noah], so shall also the coming of the Son of man be" [Matthew 24:37]. What were they doing in the days of Noah? They were eating and drinking and making merry. In the days of Noah, they were not against God, they were not antagonistic to God, they did not hate God. They were religious; they believed in God. But they just did not have time for God. They were too busy with their eating and drinking and making merry. They were too busy with their work. They were too busy with their pleasure. They were too busy with their own selfishness to give any time to God at all. They were marrying and giving in marriage. Do you know what that is? That is the divorce problem.
We have one out of every three-and-a-half marriages in America that goes to the divorce court. How many changing of lives we have today. Jesus indicated that there would be a tremendous increase in immorality. We have got to the place that if some actress can have three or four husbands, the more she can attract them at the box office. I don't blame the star so much. I blame the people. The morals of the people have got so low that they are buying the filthy literature. Don't blame the man that is publishing it. Blame the people that buy it. We are in the position today that a man can commit immorality and the people don't even think anything about it. They just accept it.
And Dr. Sorokin, the head sociologist of Harvard University, has written a book that everybody, every American, ought to read. It is entitled THE AMERICAN SEX REVOLUTION. He says that it is the greatest revolution in history; and he says that that revolution is going to defeat us, and not communism. Jesus said it is a sign of the end.
Fifthly, "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached [to] the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" [Matthew 24:14]. The Gospel today is being preached for the first time in history to all the nations. Every nation in the world today can hear the Gospel. Nearly every tribe in the world is in the process of being reached. I am on the board of trustees of Wycliffe translators at the University of Oklahoma. Wycliffe translators are now in the process of translating the Bible in scores of languages and dialects all over the world. And they say that it is now possible that, within the next ten or fifteen years, every language in the world will have a Bible.
We get letters every week from Russia and from the satellite countries, from people who have listened to "The Hour of Decision." I got one since I've been here from a man in Moscow. He wrote and said, "I heard 'The Hour of Decision' last night." That's just one little program. Thousands and thousands are listening to the Gospel all over the world by radio and television for the first time in history. Christian literature is now around the world. And the prediction of Christ that looked hopeless at that time, that looked hopeless a hundred years ago, is now reaching fulfillment.
Then there is another sign that He gave us in Matthew 24:10 and 12. He called it the great falling away. Second Thessalonians 2:3 mentions it--the great apostacy, the great falling away. We are seeing that today. That means a desertion of Christ. A person who has once known Christ and then falling away. To the church at Ephesus he wrote, "I have somewhat against thee, because thou has left thy first love. Remember from whence thou hast fallen, and repent, come and remove thy candlestick" [see Revelation 2:4,5].
There are people who used to believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of the living God. They used to believe in God's holy Words, but intellectually they have fallen away. They no longer believe. I have a friend who recently left the ministry because he no longer believed. He fell away.
There are others who fall away morally. They still believe intellectually, but they fall away. Very much like "Demas hath forsaken me." The same word is used, "Demas [has] forsaken me, having loved [the] present world" [2 Timothy 4:10]. You can fall away by Phariseeism. You become cold and hard and callous, still believing the creed and the dogmas, but not producing the fruit of the Spirit. You have lost your first love, that freshness with which you first came to Christ--the joy, that bubbling-over radiance that characterizes every Christian.
Yes, I believe the signs all point to the fact that Jesus may soon come. There are many other signs. In the 3rd chapter of 2 Peter, I believe you will find a description of the atomic bomb. Nobody could explain those passages of Scripture until the bomb fell on Hiroshima. And now no theologian dare deny that that can take place, in which a third of the world can be burned up!
Oh, there are so many things you could talk about. You could talk about the tremendous happenings within Israel which many people believe is a sign of the end. That doesn't mean that we are to become hysterical. It doesn't mean that we are to become morbid. It doesn't mean that we are to sit down and say, "The Lord is coming; we shouldn't work."
But I'd like to ask this: How will Christ come? First Thessalonians 4:16, "For the Lord himself shall descend from [the heavens] with a shout, [and] with the voice of the archangel, and with the [trumpet] of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" [verses 16,17].
There is going to be a resurrection of all your friends that have died in Christ--your loved ones, your mother, your father. You say, "But, Billy, their bodies have disintegrated." Why, scientists have already discovered that no chemicals disappear. The same God that made us in the first place can certainly bring us together again. We will not have actually the same literal body. It will be a spiritual body, a body like unto that of the Lord Jesus Christ had after His resurrection. You will be able to recognize them. They will look the same, but it will be an eternal body. It will be a body that will never decay. We shall be rejoined with our loved ones, and we shall ever be with the Lord.
I don't pretend to know all the details and events that surround the coming of Christ. I only know this: that He is coming! It provides hope for every one of us. We may be in a minority here. We may be suffering here. But the sufferings of the present time, Paul said, are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be ours later [see Romans 8:18].
Do you know Christ? Are your sins forgiven? Have you been born again of the Spirit of God? Have you had this encounter with the living Christ? Have you come to Him?
I tell you, His coming could take place at any time. I know theologians who believe that prophecy has been fulfilled to the point that Jesus could come at any time. I have found that in talking about this subject to businessmen who have given up, and men who are pessimistic about the world today, that this brings a new light and a new interest in their eyes. They want to know about it.
The Bible is filled with hope. It is filled with anticipation. It is filled with glory of the future. It is filled with the fact that this same Jesus shall so come in like manner.
One time I was watching a checker game by two friends of mine. Both of them were excellent checker players. I saw one of them make a move that I thought was very foolish. Then he made another foolish move, and I thought something had happened. He is going to lose the game. He lost two men. But all of a sudden I saw the plan that he had: He jumped three men of his opponent, put his man on king's row, crowned him, came back and swept the board, and won the game.
God said to Hitler, "Make your move." "Mussolini, make yours." "Napoleon, make yours." "Stalin, make yours." "Khrushchev, make yours." "Devil"--Satan, that arch enemy of mankind, that enemy of God--"make your move." And the devil today is making his great, grand move.
But then one day God, by divine intervention and divine action in the coming of His Son, is going to snap history in two. The climactic point of history will be reached. God is going to crown Jesus King of kings and Lord of it all. There will be a coronation in the sky. What a moment that is going to be! All of us are there in our white robes, and the orchestras of heaven are going to play. The choirs are going to sing; the angels will furnish the music. What a moment that is going to be. The stars will sing together. They are beginning to find now that stars do sing. They send forth rays that make music to ears that can hear. The stars will sing, and our ears will be attuned to the songs of the universe.
And then, as someone has written, the angels will fold their wings. They will sit down, and then we are going to sing. We'll stand and sing redemption's grand theme song, "Saved, saved by the blood of the crucified One." The angels can't join us because they never knew the joy that our salvation brings. I'm glad to be a Christian today. I'm glad that I'm a Christian. Are you?
There are three basic things taught in this 24th and 25th chapter of Matthew: what we are to do when Jesus comes. First, we are to be prepared. "Be [you] . . . ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh" [24:44]. I want to ask you today: Are you ready? If you are not ready to meet Christ, you be ready before you leave here today. You can make ready by coming and repenting of your sins and receiving Christ. It's just a very simple act. It's a sincere act by which you present yourself to Jesus Christ and say, "Lord, from this moment on I'm yours. I want to receive you, I want to follow you, I want to live for you."
Why do I ask you to come forward? Because Jesus said, "If you are not willing to confess me before men, I will not confess you before my Father, which is in heaven" [see Matthew 10:33]. I ask you to come out of your seats and stand here and say today, "I want to be numbered among that blood-bought throng. I want to come to His cross so that I can go to His coronation." Only those that have come to His cross where He died for sin are going to be able to go to His coronation up yonder and receive a crown.