The Red River flows out of the mountains of Appalachia into the Kentucky River south of Trapp, Kentucky, making a meeting place for Clark, Madison and Estill counties. Forty miles upstream the river flows between wilderness rock formations; it is known as the Red River Gorge; close by is Natural Bridge State Park. The Gorge is a wonderful area for camping, hiking, climbing and canoeing.
To reach the Gorge, take I-64 East, veer off on the Mountain Parkway, and take exit #33 at Slade, Kentucky. Turn west for a few miles on state road 15 and turn north on route 77. It is five miles to the Gorge; but before you have gone very far you may see a white frame building sitting on your right, with trees on one side and a house on the other.
My memory tells me it is a rectangular building without a steeple, and the only way we have of knowing it is a gathering place for Christian worship is the simple sign that faces the road. “End Time Tabernacle — Visitors Welcome.” Without pretense, and certainly without social and political power, its very title announces a deep conviction: the End of the world is certain — and very soon.
A Fascination with the End of the World
The mountain church at Slade, Kentucky is a fine expression of the hope we hold as Christians, the blessed hope, as Paul the Apostle called it. But it’s also a fitting symbol of our fascination with the End of time. Many Christians are intently interested in what theologians call eschatology; that is Latin for, “the study of last things”. We are like those first disciples of Jesus who asked the Lord, “Will you at this time bring the kingdom to Israel?”
The current interest actually began more than one hundred years ago. Preachers and teachers in England and America began a serious study of prophesy. Many developed a conviction about the restoration of the Jewish people and the return of Jesus. A few years later, Theodore Herzl launched a move to resettle Palestine with Jewish people. It became known as Zionism.
In 1909 Oxford Press published the first edition of the Scofield Reference Bible. This book introduced into the Christian populace two novel ideas which have become mainstream in evangelical life: the idea, first, of the Church Age which would end, second, with the Church snatched away into heaven in an event called the Rapture.
In 1948, Jewish settlers in Palestine established the state of Israel. Some thought this momentous act marked the beginning of the End. Many orthodox Jews were convinced the redemption of the world was imminent. Some launched a movement to remove the Dome of the Rock so they could build the Third Temple. They called the Dome, ‘the abomination of desolations.’
In 1977, Hal Lindsey wrote The Late Great Planet Earth. Today 34 million copies are in print in 54 languages. He predicted the return of Jesus during the decade of the 80’s. I have in my library a small book by another man: 88 Reasons Why Jesus May Return in 1988.
In 1995, the first Left Behind book appeared, launching the most successful book series in the history of publishing. It started out to be a single book; then a trilogy; now we are up to 14 books. The authors say the end is near, but I wonder!
In August of 1996, a red calf was born on a kibutz in the Jezreel valley. She was named Melody and thousands of Jews and Christians were hoping this animal would fulfill the biblical requirements for a red heifer, a sacrificial animal. Israeli journalist Gershom Gorenberg wrote a book, entitled The End of Days. His chapter on Melody is entitled “Cattlemen of the Apocalypse”. He says thousands of embryos have been frozen that they might survive the End!
Then the dawn of the new Millennium: it came with a whimper instead of a bang; but it did not dampen the enormous enthusiasm for end time religion.
I still remember the first time I heard the stirring words:
The market place is empty, no more traffic in the street;
All the builder’s tools are silent, no more time to harvest wheat
Busy housewives now cease their labors, in the courtroom no debate.
Work on earth is suspended as the King comes through the gate.
The king is coming, the king is coming, I can hear the trumpet sounding, and now his face I see!
All of this is intoxicating! It is captivating! But … is it true? Is it reliable? Is it of real significance in the things of God? How important is this fascination with the rapture, the return of Jesus, and the End of all things? Is this at the center of what Jesus meant when he said, “Come, follow me”?
There will be an End!
This much is true: There is an End; just as there was a Beginning. Jesus said, “I will be with you until the end of the age.” Simon Peter, His disciple, asserted confidently: “The end of all things is near.” Paul the Apostle wrote to the Corinthians: “Then the end will come, when Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father.”
These statements give us a starting point. They help us understand that just as there was a beginning, there will be an End. At one place we read: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” At another place: “And I saw a new heavens and a new earth.”
Between these two points, between the start and the finish, there was the turning point. The Bible calls it “the fullness of time.” It is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God launched this historical sequence; God will bring it to a conclusion. The decisive, divine act leading from one to the other is the Christ event; we also call it the Incarnation, the Passion or the Resurrection. “In Christ, God was reconciling the world unto himself.” It was the pivot upon which the narrative of history turns, the fulcrum by which God moves the world. This is what we mean by history: moving from point A to point B to point C. It is a linear view of world affairs. It organizes and interprets the world as a movement, a straight line movement: in the beginning; in the fullness of time; then the End.
Not all agree with this. It was a novel idea when it was first proposed by the Hebrew prophets. The ancient world, and indeed much of our world today, organized things in a cycle. They took nature as the key: the constant coming and going of the seasons; the cycle of life: birth, growth, maturity, death. They worshiped nature; they made idols of the fertility goddesses; everything comes and goes and comes again. Reincarnation is an old expression of this idea that has once again become popular: everything is recycled.
But Christians affirm that redemption rather than recycling is the future of the world. Our convictions can be summarized very simply: the return of Jesus; the resurrection of the dead; the redemption of the world; the renewal of creation; the reign of God. The End belongs to God!
Isaiah and the Beginning of the End
This confidence began here with the prophet Isaiah. Our text is one of the first glimmers of future hope. Centuries before the birth of Jesus, the word of God came to Isaiah. God gave him visions of a coming Day when “the lamb would lie down with the lion” and swords would be transformed into plowshares. It was the Day of the Lord, when the knowledge of God would cover the earth as waters that cover the sea. It was a vision of hope.
One of Isaiah 40. In fact, it is one of the outstanding texts in the Bible. In any shortened version of Holy Scripture, this chapter should be included.
I have on my shelf at home the Reader Digest Version of the Bible. It is condensed, somewhat, but it is still a pretty big book! If you were asked to select only ten or twelve selections of the Bible for distribution around the world, what would you choose? The Creation (Genesis 1Genesis 2), The Commandments (Exodus 20), several Psalms (Psalms 23, Psalms 40 and Psalms 100), The Birth of Jesus (Luke 2), The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5Matthew 6Matthew 7), The Death and Resurrection of Jesus (Mark 15Mark 16), The Love Chapter (1 Corinthians 13), and The Holy Spirit (Acts 2, Romans 8 or John 14); these perhaps, and also The Messianic Hope in the words of the prophet Isaiah. It is the well-spring of biblical hope. It is the inauguration of end time religion.
It was a time of despair and defeat for the people of God. Their national identity was a thing of the past; exile was the name of the game. God gave this word to Isaiah: ‘Comfort, comfort my people; speak tenderly to Jerusalem; proclaim to her that her warfare is ended.’ Why? Because God is about to intervene; the Lord is soon to interrupt the historical process and bring it to its appointed End. Soon and very soon, God, in all the divine glory and goodness, will appear.
A voice of one calling:
In the desert prepare the way for the Lord, Make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low. The rough ground shall become level, the rugged placed a plain, And the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all people together will see it, For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Handel set it to music, and we cannot read this memorable text without hearing the orchestration and harmony in the background. The eleven verses that serve as our text today provided the words for no fewer than eleven of the arias and choruses of his famous oratorio, ‘Messiah.’ It inspired him; it inspires us; it inspired Isaiah and all Israel.
We cannot read the Isaiah 40 now without thinking of Jesus; but such a focused vision was not so clear to Isaiah. For him, it is a vision of the End: the end of suffering, the end of corruption, the end of violence, the end of death. It was the coming of God, the appearing of God, the intervention of God into human and earthly affairs. Creation itself would be refashioned under the coming rule of God; human life would be renewed according to the will and purpose of God.
Putting Together the End Time Puzzle
Let me be honest. There are many pieces to this end time puzzle. It is a jig saw puzzle, the most complicated one in the Bible.
I love puzzles. This last Christmas I received two puzzles as gifts. One was a jig saw map of the world. I like maps also, and this double quality (puzzle and map) made it a wonderful gift. The map was created out of thousands of pictures: small pictures — pictures of everything, anything. The seas were made of pictures of things blue; the deserts were made of pictures of things yellow. It took me several months of after-work effort to put it together. You know what helped me? The picture on the front of the box! The completed puzzle sits there now, on the table in our bed room; on it I place my wallet and keys and small change each evening.
The Bible is a box of end time puzzle pieces. There are Isaiah pieces, Amos pieces, Ezekiel pieces, and pieces designed by Daniel, Zechariah, Paul, John, Peter, and of course, Jesus Himself. It is difficult to fit these end time pieces together. To make it worse, there is no picture on the front of the biblical box. And even more difficult, this end time puzzle is like some other jig saw puzzles: the pieces are two sided, with a different picture on each side. And to complicate it even more (if that is possible), the pictures on opposite sides of the puzzle are oriented in different directions! One vertical and the other horizontal! This end time puzzle is not easy.
While the puzzle is hard, perhaps impossible, to complete, many of the individual pieces are extraordinary and inspirational. Isaiah gave us many such pieces, including this one we examine today. It is an important piece of the puzzle and worthy of our time. It is a piece shaped by hope and colored by anticipation. The End, he says, is the work of God. God will send Messiah to establish justice, secure peace, reveal truth, and uncover beauty. I like this piece; I understand it; I am helped by this piece; I find inspiration with this piece; I am filled with hope as I contemplate this piece of the end time puzzle. It is for me a blessed hope; it is the hope of blessing.
God Gives Us Hope for the End
“Hope in God,” the Bible says.
Recently, nine miners were trapped 240 feet below the surface, 40 feet of dirt and 200 feet of solid rock. Water was rising; they had one lunch pail between them; they wrote notes to their families, bound themselves together and prayed; then they waited. Their salvation was in the hands of others. They were outstanding miners – veterans of many years in the mines; but they were helpless to save themselves. They waited to be rescued. All they had was hope.
Above ground, there was also hope. Their hope was also expressed through fervent prayer; and also with maps, compass, drill and bit. While those below ground waited, those above ground worked. Both were propelled by hope. This combination of waiting and working is a wonderful commentary on the nature of hope.
Hope is the gift of God. “Hope endures,” Paul wrote. Because hope endures, we embrace the future with anticipation and delight. Hope is rooted in the future, is tied to the future. “Hope ties itself yonder,” Carl Sandberg wrote, and rightly so. Hope is that which keeps us connected to tomorrow, to next year, to the next century, to the coming of Jesus, to “the appearing of our great God and Savior,” as Paul describes it. Hope is this end time word from Isaiah: “You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up to a high mountain; You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your vice with a shout.”
It is good news because it is God news!
Hope is the gift of God by which we reach out to the future, seize it, and pull it back into the present. Hope is infusing the present with the future. It is the power of the future to transform the present. Hope takes its inspiration from the future and transforms it into perspiration today. Hope gets things done because it takes its pattern from the future.
“I see things that are not,” one president said, “and ask, why not?” We see things that are not yet, things that will be, things that are coming, and ask “Why not now? Why not today? Why not here and now?”
We see a coming kingdom that is just, kind, merciful, righteous and altogether lovely and ask “Why not now?” If the future God has revealed is salvation and life and resurrection and transformation, then such a vision alters the present by empowering us to rejoice, to embrace, to reconcile and to serve. We can live today in the power and promise of tomorrow.
Jesus and End Time Religion
The Apostle Peter said this: “The end of all things is near.” Then he commands the people, us, to do four things: pray, love, welcome, serve.
Therefore be clear indeed and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift each has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.
This is a description of how to live while facing the End of the world: praying, loving, welcoming and serving. This is true end time religion.
Who does this bring to mind? Who lived like this? Who embodied this way of preparing for the End? Jesus Christ our savior! Jesus saw the future as delight, as life, as peace and as beauty. Such a vision transformed His living by calling Him to ministry, reconciliation, community and understanding. His mission was to embrace and embody the coming reign of God.
Jesus proclaimed just this: the future is now; the kingdom is present; live under the rule of God. He said, ‘If I by the finger of God cast out Satan, then the Kingdom has come among you.’ Jesus called us to kingdom living: share your wealth; forgive your enemies; receive the children; trust the Lord; enjoy the world; ignore divisions; give cold water; visit the lonely; pray to God. Simply put: follow Jesus. This is end time living.
How Then Shall We Live?
Jesus demonstrates for us how to live as the End approaches. His example helps us make sense of what is happening today; it helps us decide about priorities and practices that make for authentic Christian living.
In Israel today, there are Jewish people, like some Christians, who are making plans to rebuild the temple. They have plans drawn, materials designed and strategies prepared for clearing the site.
When we read John’s vision of the New Jerusalem, he describes the walls, the gates and the streets; then he says, “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God almighty and the lamb are its temple.”
Here is another vision of end time preparation. A few weeks ago, I listened to an interview of Millard Fuller. Many years ago he was a successful professional in New York City. He made lots of money. But he felt called to a different way. He moved to Georgia and affiliated with Koinonia Farms. They developed a kingdom vision. If, they asked themselves, in God’s good future, all will have a safe shelter in which to live, why not now? They developed a plan to begin building these homes. They called it Habitat for Humanity. It was a vision of clean, affordable housing for everyone. He began it with just a few people. Today, in 83 countries around the world, a new habitat house is being completed every 23 minutes. Is this one way to prepare for the end? Is this an example of end time living?
Jesus said, quoting another one of the end time visions of Isaiah: “God has sent me to declare good news to the poor, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom to the captives, bring healing to the lame, and proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
No wonder Jesus’ followers think of Him when they read Isaiah. Here is somebody, they concluded, who is living as Isaiah described it. No wonder they called this a messianic text; no wonder a Christian musician used it to compose the greatest music of the millennium, and called it simply Messiah! No wonder our thoughts turn to Jesus when we read this vision of Isaiah.
The message is: follow Jesus. Live like Jesus. Trust like Jesus. Forgive like Jesus. Show mercy like Jesus. Share your possessions like Jesus. Offer your life as a sacrifice, a living sacrifice, for the world, just like Jesus!
Is This An End Time Tabernacle?
There is much about the Bible I do not understand. There is a great deal about Christianity I fail to comprehend or experience. There is certainly much about the world that mystifies me. And as I have confessed this morning, there is much about the End that mystifies me. But this much I know: The way to prepare for the End is to live like Jesus! This is what it means to be an End Time Tabernacle: a congregation of people gathered to worship God in the power of the spirit and scattered throughout the community and around the world with this one desire, to imitate Jesus. So I ask you this morning, am I preaching today for an End Time Tabernacle?
Up there on state road 77, at the Slade exit off the Mountain Parkway, they are gathered today to worship God. They may be hand-waving, foot-washing, tongues-speaking, snake-handling people; but if they are living like Jesus, if they are praying, loving, welcoming and serving, then they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. More than that, they are an inspiration for us, they are living like end time Christians. So I can say to you, imitate them as they imitate Christ.
There are many differences between that small, white frame structure with its mountain congregation and this large brink sanctuary and your urban congregation. But there is one similarity: the desire to follow Christ.
Is this your desire today? Christ calls you, “Come follow Me.” He says, “Go, and make disciples of every nation'” and then gives this promise, “I will be with you until the End of the age.”

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