This past Sunday Allen read from Matthew 24 during the confession time. The NIV text of Matthew 24:37-39 says:
“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.”
This text is a powerful reminder that Jesus will return and his return will be a complete and utter shock to many, just like the flood was a complete shock to many. Matthew Henry says: “What words can more strongly describe the suddenness of our Saviour’s coming! Men will be at their respective businesses, and suddenly the Lord of glory will appear. Women will be in their house employments, but in that moment every other work will be laid aside, and every heart will turn inward and say, It is the Lord! Am I prepared to meet him? Can I stand before him?” Charles Spurgeon adds: “That Jesus will come, is certain. That his coming may be at any moment, is equally sure; and, therefore, we ought to be always ready for his appearing.”
Mark read a powerful quotation from Francis Shaeffer commenting on Genesis 7:16 when God shut the door of the ark. This is what Francis Shaeffer said: “Genesis 7:16 is a striking verse: “And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him: and the LORD shut him in.” This is a hard verse, and I am thankful that Noah did not have to shut the door. Knowing that men would soon be drowning all around him, I don’t see how Noah could have done it. But he wasn’t asked to. He was asked to be faithful—a preacher of righteousness. He was asked to believe God and God’s propositional promise. He was asked to build a boat. But after he built the boat, the time came when God shut the door. That was the end of the time of salvation. It was closed because God had closed it at a point in the flow of history.” These words from Francis Shaeffer made me think about Matthew 24 and the return of Jesus. I powerfully felt in my soul that when Jesus returns that will mark the end of the time of salvation. Missionary martyr Jim Elliot wrote in his journals that: “Thoughts of Jesus’ coming flicker and make me tremble.” I tremble as well, and this Sunday at North Avenue as the words of Francis Shaeffer were read I thought of all the people in my life who don’t know Jesus. There are just so many who don’t know Jesus and the end of the time of salvation is coming. Jim Elliot who died trying to reach the unreached with the gospel wrote in his journals: “I know inside that the flesh would like more training—and perhaps I’m fitted to train more—everybody seems to be planning on it around here. But those generations passing away at this moment! They must hear of the Savior! How can we wait? O Lord of Harvest, do send forth laborers! Here am I, Lord. Behold me, send me. How deaf must be the deafness of the ear which has never heard the story; how blind the eye that has not looked on Christ for light; how pressed the soul that has no hope of glory; how hideous the fate of man who knoweth only night! God arouse us to care, to feel as He Himself does for their welfare.” Yes, Father arouse us to care, not only for the unreached but for the lost and unsaved that we rub shoulders with every day!
Walking With God
Mark actually started off his sermon recapping some previous chapters of Genesis. We were reminded how we can read the Bible in a way that doesn’t commune with God at all. For example we can go to the Bible and read it just to gain knowledge and not meet God in our Bible reading. This so often is my own problem. We can easily make an idol out of doctrine. We should be seeking to meet God in our Bible reading. So, we can read the Bible in wrong ways, but we can also avoid reading the Bible altogether. Why do we so often neglect Bible reading? Well, Adrian Rogers says that he has read lots of books, but the Bible is the only book that reads him. As Mark said as you read the Bible it talks to you. James tells us that the Word of God is a mirror. The Bible tells us what we ought to be, and we avoid reading it at times because we know how far short we are falling. We are afraid that we might actually meet God and He may confront us and our sins. The Word of God exposes us and we don’t want to be exposed. So, at times we leave our Bible’s on the shelf to gather dust because we don’t want to be exposed.
We looked at Genesis 5 and Enoch, who stands out in that chapter. Genesis 5:21-24 says:
“When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. 22 Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. 23 Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. 24 Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.”
The New Testament tells us that Enoch and Elijah are the only two people in the Old Testament who avoid death. I just want to spend a little time talking about what it means to walk with God. The great evangelist George Whitefield (1714-1770) says: “Enoch walked with God; that is he kept up and maintained a holy, settled, habitual, though undoubtedly not altogether uninterrupted communion and fellowship with God, in and through Christ Jesus…walking with God consists especially in the fixed habitual bent of the will for God, in a habitual dependence upon his power and promise, in a habitual voluntary dedication of our all to his glory, in a habitual eyeing of his precept in all we do…”
Matthew Henry at the end of his life told a friend of his: “You have heard many men’s dying words, and these are mine: a life spent in communion with God is the pleasantest life in the world.” You may say, but doesn’t the Bible say in 2 Timothy that ‘all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted? How can communion with God be the pleasantest life in the world then? George Whitefield says that it is true that the people of God are frequently afflicted, persecuted, and tormented. “But what of all this? Does this destroy the pleasure of walking with God? No, in no way; for those that walk with God are enabled, through Christ strengthening them, to joy even in tribulation, and to rejoice…I believe I may appeal to the experience of all true and close walkers with God, whether or not their suffering times have not frequently been their sweetest times, and that they enjoyed most of God when most cast out and despised by men?”
Communion With God Through Suffering
I could give hundreds and hundreds of examples of Christians who have enjoyed some of the sweetest times with God while suffering. I will share one from missionary John Paton. John Paton was an amazing man of God. John Piper gives a wonderful biographical sketch of him, that I would encourage you to listen to here.
John Paton went to the New Hebrides Islands which were filled with cannibals. Today these Islands are called the Vanuatu Islands. John Piper says: “To the best of our knowledge, the New Hebrides had no Christian influence before John Williams and James Harris from the London Missionary Society landed in 1839. Both of these missionaries were killed and eaten by cannibals on the island of Erromanga on November 20 of that year, only minutes after going ashore. Forty-eight years later John Paton wrote, “Thus were the New Hebrides baptized with the blood of martyrs; and Christ thereby told the whole Christian world that he claimed these islands as His own” John Paton feels the call of God to go to these same Islands. Many people from his home church protest and try to discourage him from going. One man in particular Mr. Dickson angrily confronts him and exploded: “The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals!” ‘The memory of Williams and Harris on Erromanga was only 19 years old. But to this Paton responded:’
“Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.”
You have to love John Paton! May it be true of all of us that we will all ‘live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus!’ So, John Paton and his wife go to the New Hebrides Islands in 1858. He deals with much suffering and persecution. Let me just share two of those stories from Paton. Here is one when his house was surrounded by the natives:
“when natives in large numbers were assembled at my house, a man furiously rushed on me with his axe but a Kaserumini Chief snatched a spade with which I had been working, and dexterously defended me from instant death. Life in such circumstances led me to cling very near to the Lord Jesus; I knew not, for one brief hour, when or how attack might be made; and yet, with my trembling hand clasped in the hand once nailed on Calvary, and now swaying the scepter of the universe, calmness and peace and resignation abode in my soul.”
So, in these life and death situations John Paton is walking with God. He is clinging close to the Lord Jesus. Mark said that walking with God means that we walk in repentance and faith. So, Paton takes his trembling hand of faith and clasped it in the hand once nailed on Calvary, and now swaying the scepter of the universe. Then ‘calmness and peace and resignation abode in his soul.’ Let us follow John Paton and walk with God in this way. The throne of grace is wide open, and sweet communion with the Lord Jesus will follow. As Paul says in Philippians 4: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
The last story that I will share from John Paton I will let John Piper introduce: “One of the most powerful paragraphs in John Paton’s Autobiography describes his experience of hiding in a tree,…as hundreds of angry natives hunted him for his life. What he experienced there was the deepest source of Paton’s joy and courage.” Paton writes:
“I climbed into the tree and was left there alone in the bush. The hours I spent there live all before me as if it were but of yesterday. I heard the frequent discharging of muskets, and the yells of the Savages. Yet I sat there among the branches, as safe as in the arms of Jesus. Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among those chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior’s spiritual presence, to enjoy His consoling fellowship. If thus thrown back upon your own soul, alone, all alone, in the midnight, in the bush, in the very embrace of death itself, have you a Friend that will not fail you then?”
So, Paton’s question is when we are in the very embrace of death itself do we have a Friend that will not fail us then? Well, for the first 23 years of my life I didn’t have this Friend. I was “dead in the trespasses and sins in which I once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” I was “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and a stranger to the covenant of promise, and I didn’t have any hope and was without God in the world.” I didn’t have this Friend that Paton speaks of. However, the door of God’s salvation didn’t close on me as it did in the days of Noah. God pursued me and now in Christ Jesus I who was once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Jesus is the true and better Ark. He endured the flood of God’s wrath on the cross. “What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear!” Matthew Henry says: “Christ,…hath by his sufferings already prepared the ark, and kindly invites us by faith to enter in. While the day of his patience continues, let us hear and obey his voice.”