That Great Getting’ Up Morning

Heritage Presbyterian Church

November 13, 2022
23rd Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture readings: Malachi 4: 1-2a and Luke 21: 5-19

The End of the World…

The End of Days…

The Second Coming…

The End Times…

The Apocalypse…

Or as that great gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson sang, “That great getting’ up morning!”

Whatever your title, we are talking the return of our Lord Jesus Christ to judge every single human being once and for all.

The topic itself is a little unsettling…even a little bit scary.  The various bits and pieces that we have from the Bible paint a picture of war and desolation and judgment and a final reckoning that no one will be able to miss, or hide from, or avoid.  Every single person will face the music.

In the days of Jesus – and for many years following his resurrection – early Christians believed wholeheartedly that they would see Jesus return before they died; when the faithful began to die and Jesus did not return, this caused widespread disappointment, confusion, and uneasiness among the remaining church.  What is the final plan?  What is going to happen and when?

And we’ve been trying to figure out the answers to those two questions ever since: what is going to happen and when?

It may seem curious to you that I am attempting to deliver this message today without any references to the Book of Revelation.  After all, Revelation contains the most complete picture of the end of days in a step-by-step manner – even as it also contains so much imagery, references to obscure things, and characters from our worst nightmares that it is often murderously difficult to follow.  Even the most learned scholar tends to hedge his or her opinions when commenting or writing about Revelation.

Besides, did you know that there are more than 300 references to the End of Days in the New Testament – and that many of them are not contained in Revelation?  That leads us to other sources that perhaps are a little simpler to comprehend, a little easier to read, a little more encouraging for anyone who tends to doubt on occasion – like most of us.

So, let’s just focus our sights on the two readings for today: chapter four in the Old Testament book of Malachi and Luke’s Gospel.

First, in Malachi, we are given words that make perfect sense to any reader; no hidden meaning, no figurative language that leads to confusion, no wondering about interpretation.  We are told that only those who are faithful to God the King can see the situation as it really is.  

Question:  Is Malachi talking about his own time or the end of the world?  

Answer: Does it even matter?  Consider the quote we just heard: only those who are faithful to God the King can see the situation as it really is.  That makes sense to us, no matter the context, time, or meaning.  If you are a faithful follower, you will see and comprehend what is going on; if not, then chaos will be your view with little understanding at all.

Question: Why isn‘t Malachi’s description of the End – whichever End he is referring to – done to strike terror into the hearts of the wicked?

Answer: Because Malachi, as God’s prophet, was delivering a message to his devout believers, and so that message was designed to comfort them because of their faithfulness.

Question: Will anything else be revealed besides what Malachi reveals?

Answer: Yes, whatever we know (or think we know), there will be more to come, more to be revealed.  Who will stand and who will be destroyed by their sinful pride is the final test of the devout and the condemned?

The ultimate reward for believers and all those who hang on until the very End – salvation, saving grace from the Almighty, and love and safety forever.

Now let’s look at Luke’s message from chapter 21.

Notice that Jesus did NOT start this End of the World discussion; his apostles did.  They noted the majesty and the wonder of the Temple in Jerusalem, but Jesus told them that even that mighty building would fall.

I’m sure that got their attention.

The Temple they were viewing was NOT the same one that Solomon had built 1000 years earlier.  The Babylonians destroyed that one in 585 B.C. and carried off all the golden items inside back to their own kingdom.  The Temple the Apostles and Jesus were seeing was built by the original King Herod as a way to curry favor with the Jewish people and to solidify his standing as the Roman-supported “King of the Jews.”  It may have been larger than the original Temple, it may have been more impressive, but it was NOT the original Temple.  It was a substitute that was used to worship God and to try to capture a sense of that golden age when the nation of Israel was mighty, and Yahweh was their God and their guide.

That day was passing quickly.  Small wonder that when Jesus told them about this Temple being destroyed his Apostles might not have been that startled.

However, one thing they might have missed was that Jesus was speaking in a metaphor.  When he said, “not one stone will be left on another,” he was speaking of the Temple of his own body, THE symbol of belief in God Almighty.  If Jesus was speaking of the building itself, he was mistaken because you can journey to Jerusalem today and go to the Western Wall which was one wall of that long-ago Temple…it still stands.

Next, the Apostles asked for signs and a timeline for the End Times.  That’s probably what any of us would have asked too.  
We want to make sure we know when it’s coming, Lord” would be our motivation for doing so.  But we would be forgetting about two things:

  1.  Everyone on the earth will know when Jesus returns.  There will be no mistake.
  2.  If we have faith in the words of Jesus, then we do not have any reason to fear this event – no matter how it looks, when it occurs, or what we are doing at the time.

That’s why Jesus could tell his Apostles – and all believers too – that all-to-common phrase, “Don’t be afraid.”

Then Jesus got specific with his answer.  Note what he said as the signs:

  • Nations will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom;
  • Great earthquakes, famines, pestilences in various places;
  • Fearful events and great signs from heaven.

Yes, these are specific events, but also yes – they have been happening all over the world since the days of Jesus.  We cannot look at war, disease, earthquakes, and weird stuff in the sky to pinpoint when Jesus will return.

Finally, Jesus reminds the faithful that this time will not be an easy one for them.  The wicked will get what they deserve, but the faithful will also be persecuted.  Many will appear claiming to be Jesus Christ, and many good people will be fooled into following that person; we are told NOT to follow him.  Other times, hands will be put on believers, they will be dragged into courts and prisons, they will have to answer before kings and judges.  They will be betrayed by relatives and friends who do not have the same level of faith.  “Everyone will hate you because of me” Jesus said.  That is a lonely, miserable way to be, isn’t it?

So why on earth would Mahalia Jackson gloriously sing of “That Great Gettin’ Up Morning?” 

Let’s review so we don’t miss it:

  1.  The devout will see everything clearly.  There will be no confusion.
  2.  Jesus promised, “Not a hair on your head will perish.”
  3.  Jesus also promised, “Stand firm, and you will win life.”  He means life everlasting in Heaven with Him.
  4.  Remember…remember…REMEMBER that Jesus told them, “Don’t be afraid!”

When we look at the state of our world today, it is easy to lose our faith.

When we hear of all the senseless death and destruction of wars around the planet, it is easy to be afraid.

When we learn of diseases that kill thousands of people every single day – especially in war zones, in refugee camps, and in areas of famine going on right now, it is easy to lose hope and hang our heads down low.

Yet, we are told to stand firm.

We are told that we will see clearly.  I like that one particularly.

Yet, we are told that despite all the fine buildings and magnificent things that exist in our world, not one stone will remain upon another.

Yet, we are told not to be afraid.

We are supposed to have faith.

We are supposed to be devout.

We have Jesus coming to get us all someday.

And that will indeed be a great gettin’ up morning!