‘And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.’ (Matthew 24:14)
‘The end!’ When my children were younger and first learning about reading books, these words were some of the first they picked up. They knew that when you ran out of pages and closed up the book, you were done. And so you say, ‘The end!’ And whenever they said it, there was always this sense of pride and accomplishment to it. It was as if they were saying, ‘Good job! We did it! Hooray!’ The end had come, but it wasn’t a sad thing, it was a good thing.
We don’t normally think in this way, but getting to the end of something can actually feel quite good. Like when you’re having a terrible day and everything seems to go wrong, getting to the end of that day feels pretty good. Or when it’s Friday afternoon and you’ve been sitting in school all week, the end of the day feels awesome. But, of course, there are other endings that feel quite bad. Like when you’re at a birthday party and having all kinds of fun, but then it comes time to go home. Or, like when Grandma and Grandpa are in town visiting for a few days, but then they have to leave. Those endings certainly don’t make us shout for joy.
So what about the ending that Jesus talked about today; is it going to be a good one or a bad one? Well, let’s see. In the verses just before this one Jesus said, ‘Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.’ (Mt. 24:9-13) That certainly sounds like a good ending, doesn’t it? All kinds of horrible things are going to stop and people are going to be saved? That sounds great!
But later on in this chapter, Jesus says this: ‘Immediately after the distress of those days “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.’ (Mt. 24:29-30) That doesn’t sound good. Destruction and devastation and mourning? That sounds awful!
So which is it: a good ending or a bad one? One that brings tears or one that brings joy? Well, it all depends on what group you are a part of when the end comes. Are you among the lost or the saved? Do you have faith in Jesus, or not? For those who do not believe it’s going to be terrible. It will mean a descent from bad into worse. It will mean pain never ending and tears everlasting. It will mean an eternity suffering in the horrors of hell. But for those who believe the end is going to be awesome. It will mean an ascent from the imperfect to perfection. It will mean freedom from all that is bad and wicked and harmful. It will mean an eternity rejoicing in the glories of paradise.
So this then begs the question: how does one become a believer? How does one get saved? Do you have to be born in the right family? Do you need to follow the right rules? Do you have to be a super nice person? Well, what did Jesus say needed to happen before the end would come? ‘And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world…’ The only way that anyone can become a part of the kingdom of heaven is through the Gospel.
That’s a word that I bet you’ve all heard before. But do you know what it means? In short, the Gospel is good news. But what kind of good news? Good like getting to go to Disney world? Good like the Huskers going undefeated this year? Good news like winning a million bucks in the lottery? Actually, it’s even better than all those put together. This is the Gospel, spoken by God himself, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3:16) ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8) ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ This is the greatest news that the world has ever known. And only by hearing this amazing news can anyone come to faith and have that amazing end in heaven.
So it’s a really good thing that Jesus promised that this gospel will be preached in all the world, don’t you think? How awful it would be if not everyone got to hear it? How terrible would it be if some had no chance at a happy ending? But the LORD declares that this good news is going to get out there. So I guess that means we don’t have to do anything, right? I mean, God says it’s going to happen, so why should I even worry about it?
Well, let me ask you this: how did you come to know Jesus? Did he appear to you in a dream? Did you wake up one morning suddenly knowing everything there is to know about the Son of God? Did the Holy Spirit just zap you one day as you were walking along and turn you into a believer? No, someone shared the Gospel with you. Someone told you the good news. Mom and Dad told you that Jesus loves you. Your teacher told you that Jesus died for you. Your pastor told you that Christ rose from the grave for you. Yes, God is the one that brings the Gospel, but he brings it through people like you and me.
Jesus promises us that the Gospel will be preached so that we don’t despair. As children of God we want what He wants. We want the whole wide world to know the good news of Jesus. But there are just so many people out there and so many places to go. It seems impossible that everyone could be reached. What if some don’t hear it before the end comes? What if they get lost forever without ever having a chance? But to this Jesus replies, ‘I won’t let that happen. The whole wide world will hear it, to the farthest reaches of the globe, so that all may know the truth and be saved.’ And with this promise he then sends us forth with confidence. The Gospel will be preached and people will be changed. Even in people and places where you would think it could never happen.
The country of Nepal has been called one of the least Christian countries in the world. Only one percent of the population is Christian. It is one of the darkest countries in the world, but even there the light of the Gospel is shining. Our synod’s friendly counselor to Nepal shared this amazing story.
Every time he would walk by a certain house he could hear the woman screaming. He was certain she was possessed by demons. He knew that Jesus could help her. So one day he knocked on the door and told the family, ‘I know who can help your daughter.’ Later that day the older brother came to see him, deeply offended. ‘We will never bring our sister to you. You are lower than the lowest caste in Nepal—you think you can help us?’ But he simply replied, ‘I cannot help your sister, but Jesus can.’ The brother left in anger and with the promise, ‘Never will we bring her to you.’
A few days later there was a knock at the door. The family brought in the possessed woman on a cot. Her father begged, ‘Please help my daughter.’ This pastor and his wife took that woman into their home. They prayer for her and over her every day. Nothing special, nothing dramatic, just prayers in the name of Jesus. After four weeks, the demons left. She became a totally different person with no memory of her past. Upon witnessing this miracle and hearing the Gospel, almost the entire family became Christians.
I don’t expect that any of you will make it to Nepal any time soon. But there is something for all of us to do, from the youngest to the oldest, in every church and every home, at work and in school and at play. It’s something very simple: proclaim the Gospel. Proclaim it in your prayers, holding God to his amazing promise, asking him to bring the light of grace to every dark corner of the globe. Proclaim it with your offerings, giving to the mission work of our church that preachers may be sent out near and far. Proclaim it with your own words, speaking the simple truth of God’s love in Jesus to those who have not heard it. Proclaim it in your actions, with deeds of kindness and mercy, showing that as God so loved the world, so also do you. Proclaim it in whatever way that you can, in all the ways that you can. And when the end comes, you will be able to celebrate with all the lost souls that have been found and rejoice that the kingdom has come to so many. Amen.