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Written by Jim Jordal   
Sunday, 08 September 2013

DISCERNING THE TIMES

By Jim Jordal

 The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing him, asked him to show them a sign from heaven. But he answered them, "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' In the morning, 'It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.' Hypocrites! You know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but you can't discern the signs of the times!

Matthew 16:1-3 WEB

Today Jesus issues the same challenging observation to many in the religious community: "Hypocrites! You know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but you can’t discern the signs of the times!" The Pharisees and Sadducees wanted some supernatural act to persuade them that Jesus spoke the truth. But Jesus threw the question back at them as he accused them of a spiritual blindness so profound that they missed all signs of his coming, ministry, death, resurrection, and eventual kingdom here on earth. They looked for signs; he looked for a discerning or knowingly accepting truth.

I fear that the generic church of today is often too busy gathering in souls and dollars to be very concerned with discerning the times. We spend too much time planning structures, programs, strategies, drives, and rallies; and too little time in the prayer and Bible study that might help us determine exactly what is happening in today’s world and what is our place in it. In our misdirected efforts at organization and effectiveness we too often become blind to the increasing oppression, injustice, lies, cruelty, and hatred practiced by modern political and economic institutions on a scale far beyond anything in the post-Civil War era. Like the Pharisees, we read and understand the signs of changing weather but not the signs of changing times. And we suffer many unnecessary consequences.

Why has the church lost its voice concerning the pressing modern issues of global warming, political chicanery, concentrated economic power and a general trampling upon the helpless and indigent of society? Does Scripture say nothing against these evils? Do these issues fall within the secular or profane world outside our concern? Is it because Scripture counsels Christians to accept whatever government does? Is it because we have ignored truth so long that the Holy Spirit has left us? Is it because we have nothing that young people want? Or is it some combination of all these, or something we have not yet realized?

Again and again the various prophets of Israel spoke out against egregious evil amid the apathy of their people and leaders. Usually they failed to turn the tide until God brought some disaster (war, famine, plague, slavery) upon the nation. At that point the people surrendered their pride and stubbornness with the result that God sent them deliverers like Joshua, Gideon, or Nehemiah. Romans 15:4 and First Corinthians 10:11 indicate that the Old Testament experiences of the Israel people were recorded for the learning and admonition of the people "upon whom the ends of the world are come."

And Jesus himself taught the necessity of discerning the times. In his Olivet discourse recorded in Matthew 24 he answered the disciples’ questions concerning "when shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" Jesus replied that they should allow no man to deceive them because there would be many false teachers and much warfare among nations. There would be religious persecution and tribulation among nations sufficient that the very heavens would be shaken. But the end was not yet to be, so his followers were to wait and watch, trusting in the one thing that remains constant---the eternal word of God that would not fail even though the heavens should pass away.

That’s the posture for God’s church today: active watching and obedient waiting as faithful servants shepherding God’s sheep up to the end of the age. So we don’t set times or choose dates, but we do attempt to actively discern the times so we will not be caught unprepared for that great day.