Matthew 24:9-14 ~ "The Growing Weight of Apostasy"
Let’s pray and ask the Lord for his help this morning and then we will get to work.
Father we thank you for your word. We thank you for Jesus’ instruction and teaching to us. We thank you father for his courage and his fearlessness in facing all those who oppose the goodness and the beauty of your truth. Lord we embrace the Son we and say hallelujah to the King. We welcome His return. With the apostle John in the book of Revelations we say, will you come quickly? We want you to come quickly. We also know Lord that you have purpose for your people to go through difficult days. Days of darkness, days of persecution, and days of hatred as your word says. Lord, none of us relish the thought of being hated or persecuted. Yet, we know these things must happen and that all this will take place according to your work. So, as we look this morning Father at your word, we pray God that you would forewarn us and that your spirit will strengthen us for our coming day. We ask these things in Christ name, Amen.
There are many suggestions regarding the moment of apostasy. Who was the first? He was the individual who first stepped away from the Lord and who first turned his back on the Lord. There are examples, in fact, within the New Testament. You don’t have to look at the early church fathers. You don’t have to look at the early church history. There are many names provided for us in the Scriptures. Demos was one of the associates of the apostle Paul, but it wasn’t Thomas, it was before Demos. Indeed, the first apostate that we encounter within the Scriptures is none other than Judas Iscariot. In John 18 the mob comes, having been led there by Judas, to the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest Jesus. As the mob approaches we find Christ there in the garden with his apostles, his disciples, praying and preparing himself spiritually for the physical suffering and the ordeal that is about to come upon Him. As they approach Jesus, knowing what would happen to Him, He comes forward and he addresses the mob. In John 18 He says “whom do you seek?” They answer him “we seek Jesus of Nazareth” to which Jesus replied “I am a He.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. Notice that Judas, who betrayed Jesus, was standing with the armed mob, the company of soldiers and all those who accompanied them. Verse six makes an interesting statement, when Jesus said to them “I am He”, they drew back and they fell to the ground.
When you read that verse you think that maybe something supernatural happened and indeed it was supernatural. We get this idea that some unseen force, some supernatural power just pushed them back and as they were pushed back they fell to the ground. A closer reading of the text says that is not what actually happened. They did fall to the ground and indeed there is something supernatural about this, but the statement is “they drew back” which is an active verb and not a passive action. When Jesus said I am the one you are seeking, something took place in their souls and in their hearts as they are confronting the majesty of the divine they take a step back. Perhaps in their shuffle they stumbled over each other and fell to the ground or perhaps something supernatural did overtake them and they fell down, but that first response, that first action is having encountered Jesus they stood away from him. They took a step back. This statement is preceded by the statement that Judas, one Jesus is own disciples, was not with Jesus and was not standing together with the apostles. He was standing with the armed mob. That’s the nature of apostasy. Jesus on this morning in the Olivet discourse has been talking to the disciples about the signs that they can anticipate and will experience within the church, within our company, within our fellowship when the end of the world. We will experience individuals who will make a choice to stand apart and mourn. Our text this morning begins with this statement “they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death.”
This is nothing new. The church has been persecuted throughout the history of it existence. There is persecution happening all over the world today and there are many countries that are closed, where if you go there as a Christian and openly confess the name of Jesus Christ you will be imprisoned, you will be tortured and worse. There are countries in the world today where if you confess the name of Jesus Christ you will be murdered because, as Jesus says here, they will hate you not because of who you are but because of the name of Jesus Christ that you profess.
Verse nine: “They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.” Being persecuted by the world is one thing. One of the signs that the end is approaching is being hated by those who would consider themselves Christians and who would call themselves followers of Jesus. Those who call themselves that but are not actually that. Look at the passage from verse 10, Jesus makes a statement “and then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.” Now the first verse said that the world will hate you for the name of the Lord for the sake of his name. We understand that. The next verse says and many will fall away. Now as you encounter this verse here, we are presented with the idea that this group of individuals are somehow followers of Christ or at least they claim to be followers of Christ. They have given some indication that they worship Jesus and they have given some idea some profession that they hold on to Christ. The ESV translates it for us “this morning,” we then get this idea that having grasped a hold of Jesus, having grabbed onto him, something’s happened and they have let go and they have as the text says “this morning they have fallen away.” It sounds as though they just couldn’t hold on. It sounds as though as a result, perhaps of the pressures of the world, there was this moment of decision where they said I just can’t do this anymore because of how difficult it is and so they fall away.
Look closely at what the rest of verse 10 says, “many will fall away and betray one another.” This is why I want you consider carefully the text this morning. The Greek word here is apostasia from which we get the modern day word apostasy. It’s in the affirmative which means it is not actually trying to denote inaction, saying that this individual just falls away, and it’s not simply a passive act of just letting go and falling away. The true nature of this particular word is that they choose to stand apart. They are making a moral choice for which they are accountable; identical to the choice that Judas made. Looked closely, “many will fall away,” it’s not simply an “its tough being a Christian and I’m not going to be Christian and more.” decision. They take it another step, they fall away and then betray one another and they hate one another. Those are active verbs. Those are actions that they are taking as a result of their falling away.
Consider carefully what’s going on here in Hebrews chapter 3. The author of the book of Hebrews is writing to a group of Christians, most likely Jewish believers who have converted to Christ, who are experiencing pressure from their Jewish families and perhaps and are being encouraged and pressured to abandon Christ and to return back to the Jewish system of worship, temple observance, and sacrifice and all of that. The author of Hebrews is writing to this group of Christians to encourage them to hold fast to Christ. He makes a statement in Hebrews chapter 3 in verse seven “therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, today if you here His voice, do not harden your heart as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, they always go astray in their heart.”
Notice that, “they always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways. As I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter my rest.” Verse 12 is the application to that Scripture. They’ve always gone astray in their hearts; verse 12 “Take care, brother, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you,” you will notice the ESV translates this the same way - to fall away - as a relaxing letting go way of doing it; listen brothers, an evil unbelieving heart will lead you to follow away from the living God. Again the word there is apostasia from which we get apostasy.
Another way to understand these verses is “take care brother lest there may be in any of you an unbelieving heart leading you to commit yourself to the act of apostasy from God.” To stand apart. It’s a combination of two words aposta-, to revolt: apo-, apo- + histanai, to stand, place; literally to cause one’s self to come apart from or stand apart from someone us. That verse means it is not a passive decision; it’s an active choice.
The same author says that is possible within the company of our church, within our fellowship of the church to have individuals who are outwardly professing Christ and maybe even to a certain extent are self deceived about their love for Christ, but they have not truly surrender to Jesus.
Turn over to Hebrews chapter 6:4. Going on to a little bit more detail, the author of Hebrews tells us that these individuals are not committed followers of Jesus though they may think that they are, but they are actually committed to something else. In Hebrews 6 “For it is impossible, in the case of those who having once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age of to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucified once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” Now the author says they started off good, they were part of the church, but it says once they’ve made this choice and once they’ve chosen to stand apart, having tasted and partaken of all of these blessings that we encounter with in the company of the redeemed, once they make that choice the author of Hebrews says that it is impossible to restore them again. Now there’s a lot more that can be said about this verse. I’m sure many of you are eager for me to say it. For our purposes this morning I’m not going I’m to unpack for you all of the spiritual realities of apostasy and what that looks like and how that happens. It’s important to note that the Scriptures speak about its and that as the church enters into the final days, Christ’s suggests that it will become regular common occurrence within the church.
Look back at Matthew 24. He makes a statement “then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another” and in verse 11 it goes a step further and says “many false prophets will rise and lead many astray.” While not attempting to exhaustively pick apart every detail of apostasy we can come to two conclusions: 1. apostasy is a choice that is made by individuals who are not totally committed to Jesus Christ and have not fully surrendered the heart to Jesus Christ and 2. Apostasy is cultivated. It is cultivated in the hearts of individuals who, having made an initial profession of faith in Christ, have not totally surrendered. It is cultivated by false teaching which leads to wrong belief. This is something that is routinely taught throughout the Scriptures. There will always be false teachers and false prophets who will oppose the message of the gospel. The Scriptures warn us against them. In Matthew chapter 24 we are warned that there will be many false prophets and many false teachers.
I’m going to give you three examples to be forewarned against. The first one is the most obvious one, the heretic. The heretic is perhaps the most common individual mentioned throughout the New Testament. If you’ve been attending with us on Sunday evenings you know that pastor Al has been preaching through first and second Peter. Peter warns us of the reality of false teachers. In second Peter chapter 2, Pastor Al preached on this not too long ago, false prophets amongst the people just as there will be false teachers among you. He is saying in the history of Israel they have false prophets and just like they have false prophets, you the church in the present day will have false teachers. It’s just going to be a fact of life. He says that false teachers will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. This is a foregone conclusion. Jesus says this is a reality and something that we can expect to see; although, we pray we will never see it here at First Baptist. The heretic is most likely a gregarious charming figure, he’s good with words, he is smooth in his speech, he is adapt at bringing people into error by disguising error. To teach heresy is to teach that which directly contradicts the Scriptures. From the churches early stages she’s been afflicted by the heretic. He continues even today. Sometimes this happens by contradicting the truth and sometimes the heretic works by adding to the truth. The heretic operates by dissecting the scripture and dividing it, emphasizing one part over and against another part or he will add additional things to it.
Arius did it in third century by distorting the documents of the Trinity. It is the same as the Pentecostals do today. Many, like Marcus Borg and other prominent scholars today, will do it by denying the fundamental truths that the Scriptures clearly affirm such as the Virgin birth or even the resurrection. Like Jehovah’s witnesses the heretic may alter or like the Mormons may add to it. These are two groups that we would say clearly are denying Jesus Christ through their abuse of the Scriptures. The first one we have to be aware of is the heretic and that’s not hard to do so long as you have a bible in your hands.
Second one the tickler. Now the tickler is a little bit more subtle. He is going to be a false teacher who doesn’t really care for what God wants, but he does what he does for the praise of men. He is a man pleaser rather than a God pleaser and he is going to tell you what you want to hear. Paul warns in second Timothy 4:3 “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and will wander into myths.” The tickler creates popularity and craves your praise; therefore, he will tell you what is most agreeable rather than telling you the truth. We saw this in the 19th century with preachers such as Henry Ward. We’ve seen it in the 20th century with preachers such as Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller; never getting a bit more subtle.
Probably the most subtle false teacher or false prophet of all is what I would like to call the innovator. He innovates and he side steps with novelty and originality. He engages in speculation he says “yes here’s what the word of God says,” and he will drive you into these random convoluted obscure passages ignoring the rest of Scripture. He will unbalance the word of God to give priority to certain passages that the Scriptures minimize and he will make the main things secondary and will make secondary or even third things the main things. He will innovate. The author of the book of Hebrews warned us of strange teachings in Hebrews chapter 13. Also, Paul warned us in 1 Timothy. He told Timothy to protect the church against any different doctrine. Again, we have from Jude 3, the clear statement of the faith that has been once and for all delivered to this Saints. The goal of the preacher is not novelty or innovation; the goal is faithfulness to what has been written. This leads to wrong believing. Wrong teaching cultivates wrong believing and for an individual who is deceiving himself about his commitment to Christ and is not totally surrendered to Jesus in his heart, the false teacher provides just the opening that this individual is looking for to allow their soul to wander off into these false beliefs.
I’m just going to comment on what we see happening here in the Western Hemisphere today; although, it’s not just restricted to us, we see this happening all over the world. There is now a global movement that is very prominent in the U.S. and is sweeping Canada as well, that challenges and confronts any normal standard of sexuality. The Bible is very clear and I’m going to read you the Scripture and I’m going to walk you through how this happens in first place. Corinthians 6 verses 9-10 has Paul writing to the church at Corinth, he makes the statement do not know this is a rhetorical question? “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
The Bible is clear; to become a follower of Jesus Christ is going to require the renouncing of certain and sinful practices. And yet, what we see all too often is Christians marching in favour of things like the gender nonspecific bathrooms where public washrooms are no longer associated with boys and girls, but now it’s a free for all where you can go to any bathroom that you feel like identifying with. As a father of two young girls I am absolutely appalled and horrified at the notion of going down to the park knowing full well that for five-year-old bladder control is an issue. She is going to have to go to the bathroom at some point in time and yet I wonder who will be in there waiting for her. You see this taking root in legislation being passed in the states you see also taking root in legislation proposed here in Canada. The question is, while the Bible says clearly male and female and gender is a part of our unique person who God made us to be, how can you march in defiance of the person that God has bestowed? To which is the response, which I call it the art of pious ignorance, all too often given to us from so-called Christian brothers and sisters who stand in support of gender nonspecific or transgender is an that they insists that all the relevant biblical passages on the stated subject are exegetically confusing and therefore unclear.
Therefore, because they’re unclear, we cannot know the mind of God on that particular subject. They will even say that they are the ones being humble. There is nothing humble about reading “God made them male and female,” to be confusing. God made them female and male; he created them that way. That is simple, clear, and direct. It is not humility to say “I don’t really know what God means when he says that.” That is an attempt at games to deny the clear and straight forward word of God; that is not humility. They say because we cannot know, because the passages are confusing we cannot come to any conclusions, so pious ignorance is what is practised today. They claim piety while also saying that they cannot know what God is saying. For example, a recent article in a book along the same lines by D.A. Carson, noted and brilliant evangelical scholar, he argues that items such as homosexual marriage, transgenderism, gender identity and gender non-specific identity should be placed among things over which we as Christians are free to disagree; that we can’t have any absolute certainty.
As I already alluded to, this has resulted in Christians marching in support of these types of things. 1 Corinthians says do not be deceived by those who practice these activities, they will not go to heaven. So we see a drift into apostasy. But it doesn’t start there. That’s just the outward manifestation that is taking place today. It doesn’t start there. You say will where does or does it start preacher? How about the publishing ventures of the so-called Christian community? Zondervan recently released a book called “Two views on homosexuality, the Bible and the church” and is one of these books for people who take up different positions and a look at these different positions and argue that you can be a Christian and hold to a different view. Sometimes those books can be incredibly helpful. This book has affirming and not affirming views, there are two scholars that support each side and both sides, we are told, argue from the Scripture. If the affirming side was once viewed as a stance that could not be held by conventional evangelicals then this book published by Zondervan declares that not only the non-affirming stance, but also the affirming stance are represented within what is considered acceptable Christianity for the evangelical camp.
Of course in response to this I can say the Jehovah’s Witnesses also argues from scripture, but we would all agree that their exegesis is woefully inaccurate. I have read this book and I cannot help but chuckle at the arguments that are made and I cannot help but wonder if anyone would look at these passages together and read them in context, how in the world could the ever think that this is a legitimate position? Here is what happens when you present a Christian company publishing literature like this, it opens the door to the view that we can actually, maybe have different ideas on these things and that maybe God’s word isn’t clear.
It starts with a questioning of the Scripture. You say “yes preacher that’s where it starts,” but no, that is actually not where the seeds of apostasy start. The seeds of apostasy can start right here in a conservative church like this one right here at First Baptist Church with a mistake that I make which some of you might embrace. It’s what I would call an embarrassment of my heart before certain passages of Scripture. I can’t recall ever actually saying this, but I don’t doubt that I probably have some point in time. Let say for example, we are preaching the word of God and come to passage that mentions hell. My duty to the Lord is to preach to you a message about hell and if I introduce the topic in a way that says “listen everybody, the Bible talks about hell and so I have a job to do. I have an obligation and I want you to know that I’m going to do my job, I’m going to be faithful to the Lord and I am going to preach the Bible and I am going to talk about hell this morning. But, just between you and me, I personally find the subject distasteful and I don’t like it. I wish I didn’t have to preach on it and I wish there was no such thing as hell.” Now I can’t recall ever actually saying that, but I wouldn’t doubt it if I did. I know I have heard preachers introduce the topic that way and have always thought that it is a good way of gently introducing a difficult subject. As I reflected on it, it is duplicitous, it’s hypocrisy. Jesus talked about hell more than anyone and if you go back and you read all of the gospels and you read through all of the different instances in which Christ taught hell you’ll notice he never introduced that way. If I suggest to you that this is a distasteful topic and I wish we didn’t have to talk about it and I wish we didn’t have to look at these things then I have with my lips honour the Lord, but with my heart I am far from him. I’m suggesting to you in that moment that yes, what God’s word says is true but, we are still free at the raw emotional level to say that somehow we are more loving, more caring, more compassionate, or more kind than Jesus Christ. This is a lie and also wicked. If I introduce a topic in that way it is because I am on a raw emotional level embarrassed about what my Father says. That gives cover to those of us in this room who do not want to agree with the Scriptures. While we say yes, here is what the Bible says we are still free emotionally to reject it. See, apostasy starts in the heart. We know that this type of preaching is quite common. That’s what starts. So as you look at the text, Jesus makes a statement “then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another and many false prophets will arise and there will be many lead astray and because lawlessness would be increased the love of many will grow cold.” That word love is an emotional word. It encompasses both the intellect as well as the heart. It is a choice of action based upon what you value, what you determine is good and beautiful and true; it is also a word that encompasses the emotions and feelings of your soul. Jesus’ statement is that when lawlessness is increased there is a pressure that is placed upon the church. When the open preaching of rebellion and the application of sin is in the church, it has a spiritual impact upon us here where our love grows cold.
That belief in different things can mean us not wanting to believe certain things are true and it can leave us not feeling a joyful heart of love for the Lord. When lawlessness is increased the love of many grows cold. That is a subtle thing that can happen even here. How do we gird ourselves against this departure? How do we ensure that none of us here is being tempted to potential apostasy?
Go back to Hebrews chapter 3:12 where it says “take care brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” Verse 13 gives the prescription. It says “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called today, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” The remedy to apostasy is the fellowship of doctrinal and grounded brothers and sisters who are not afraid to say “how are you doing?” and who aren’t afraid to ask the pointed question “how are you believing?” Let’s take a step further and ask “how are you doing hoping in the one who can save you?”
As we go forward we are going to see much more of this in the world. Hatred of Christians, hatred for you, hatred for me, persecution, ostracism, the ridicule and mockery is just the beginning. How will we exhort and encourage each other? Involvement in a care group of some form where you can share about those moments in which you have been persecuted, in which you have encountered ridicule or mockery and you can be encouraged by your friends and by your brothers and sisters in this church. The second solution is one that we have been hammering the drum for the last four or five weeks now: Making sure that we are girding ourselves with biblical truth and sound doctrine. Participate in a tenant talks on Sunday mornings. A number of individuals have stood up and invited you to their tenant talks. What they don’t tell you is that we’ve been digging in and researching for the last 2 months for the tenant talks. We are doing are working vigorously to make sure what were saying is totally grounded in the Scriptures and completely accurate and true. We want to build deep in your soul a bulwark against any temptation to unbelief. A reasonable faith is grounded in that what God says is true. We want to put that deep down in our hearts and hide it away as a bulwark against the coming suffering. When Jesus says to the mob “I am He” they take a step back, they stand apart and we notice that there are still 11 that stand together with him. As we entered dark and uncertain times there will be people, even within this church, who will take a step back and will choose to stand apart. This is not necessarily meant for discouragement; although, I’ve been there and I’ve observed individuals who have taken a step back. It does hurt and it does discourage, but it makes the fellowship of those who remain so much sweeter. When you band together with each other in the face of people walking away in, front of persecution, in the midst of ridicule there is a bond that is forged which, if you’ve ever tasted it, if you’ve ever experienced it, you know it to be one of the sweetest and greatest treasures of Christ given to his church.
We call it koinonia fellowship. Jesus is dragged off, he’s taken before Pontius Pilate, Pilate says tell me the truth are you or are you not a king? Jesus’ response to Pilate is “I am a king. You say that I’m a king and it is for this purpose that I was born and it is for this purpose that I’ve come into the world to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” We have an opportunity to become children of truth and to listen carefully to the voice of Jesus and as we do that we stand together with Christ.
I just invite you First Baptist Church to take this opportunity to stand with Christ.
Let’s pray. Father we love you and we thank you for your word. We know Lord that this is a difficult teaching. Father we say that not out of any displeasure or any desire to stand above the text or to speak in a condescending way about what you say, but Lord which is freely confessed. Lord we pray that this word reveals to us something that is deep in us. Something where we would love the world and we would have fear of men rather than fear of God, where we want to cherish and hang onto our friends even as they are walking away from you, we would value their company over the company of your son. That is what makes it difficult for us Lord, not that there’s anything unkind or unloving about what you just said, but that you were exhorting us stand together and truly love you. We pray father that you give us the endurance that you talk about in this passage, the endurance to persevere until the end. The more we know that you do give us, that endurance to help us to tap into it, to trust in it and to hope. We love you God and we pray these things in Jesus name, Amen.
The Gospel of Matthew is a story about a once and coming King. Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of David, the long awaited for Messiah. He has come once, and Matthew tells the story of His arrival, ministry, sacrificial atoning work on the cross, and His promise to return soon.