The Signs Of The Times—Part 1
Second chapter of Matthew, first verse. “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.”
The wise men sought Him; the wise men are seeking Him today. When I was a young fellow out in Wyoming we had a good many wiseacres out there in the little town where I lived. Some of you have heard me tell about this wonderful town of ours. It had four principal houses—one of them was the water-tank, and another our great one-story department store. Some of you folks think you are smart with your Marshall Fields and your John Wanamakers, but in our department store, if you wanted nails you went to the back of the store, and there they were in a box there in the nail department; and if it was horseshoes, they were in a box next to the nail department, and silk on top of that; and overalls next, then gloves. All the departments were so convenient. You didn’t have to move out of your tracks to shop in three at once.
Other Wise Men
The store grew so large that the fellow that owned it had to get a ladder after a while, so that he could put other departments higher on the side of the wall. And the fellows used to come in there and sit around the stove in winter; sit around, and “chaw tobaccer” and spit and philosophize—and, my, how wise they were!
There was one that knew how to tan a coyote’s hide, and we thought he was about the wisest fellow that ever lived; I remember looking at him and thinking, “How did he ever get all that into one head?” Another could tell you just what kind of a winter we were going to have from watching the caterpillars come out of the woodpile. He would say: “We are going to have a hard winter, boys. The littler feller’s fur coat is mighty thick, mighty thick, I’m tellin’ ye.”
Then there used to be another old fellow who had the loveliest beard, and he would stroke it down on the west side, and then on the east side, and rock back and forth, and finally tell us when spring was coming. He was the fellow we liked.
O, if any of you folks weren’t raised in a country town, I pity you. You don’t learn much in the city—you just pick up a few things, but you can’t know things as they do in the country, right where it all grows.
I used to think about these different wise men, and how wise they were. One day a fellow died—was drowned in a little river—and they asked my father to preach the funeral sermon. We went out to the graveyard, and standing out there by the open grave was this old fellow I thought was the wisest man, stroking his beard, and rolling and pulling it. They patted down the dirt and all the rest of them went away, and I saw him just standing there with the tears rolling down his cheeks, and I heard him say: “I guess that fellow (speaking of father) he is about the wisest man I ever heard, because he talks about the things that are going to happen after we die.” That old fellow was converted a week later. He thought he was pretty smart up to that time, but then he said: “Now I am beginning to get wise!”
Jesus came, and said to the Sadducees: “When it is evening ye say ‘it will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning: ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and lowering.’ Ah, ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?”
There are hundreds right here in this congregation, with the war raging in Europe and all the awful things that surround us, who have not waked up to the fact that Jesus will soon be back on this Earth again. You can put your chin up and act as wise as you please about it, and say “None of that stuff for me”—but my friends, those wise men, because of the “signs of their times,” got on their camels and made their way across the desert; they saw the star in the east, and that light was what they were waiting for. Surely the wisemen of our time should see the signs of our times and herald His coming.
The Jews had gone out, out over the known world and carried with them the Bible and their knowledge of the Scriptures. They were backsliders themselves, but God had raised up the Jewish race not because He loved them any better than He loved any other race, but because He had a special purpose in them for all the races. “In thee shall the nations of the earth be blessed,” is His promise. He wanted them to preach the Living God to the ends of the Earth and especially revealed Himself to them for that purpose.
If I wanted to educate the people in Annan, and should take twenty-four people, twelve girls and twelve boys, and put them through our schools and then sent them over to teach those folks, just because I spent my money on them is that saying that I loved them any better than I love the folks in Annan? No, I love the folks in Annan; that is the reason I especially prepare the twenty-four teachers.
He expected His chosen people to receive His Son with open arms as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world, and then to proclaim Him to the ends of the Earth. But they went back on God and are now scattered among the nations.
Daniel a Wise Man
The Jews went around the world, with their knowledge of the Bible, and these old wise men in the east had picked up the Scriptures, and prophecy of a coming King. You remember how in the time of the captivity how God talked to the Jew Daniel about things to come while he was the subject of a heathen king. Daniel was president of a crowd of wise men while he was captive, just like these wise men who came to seek Jesus. They had read the prophecies in the book, and they said: “Things are kind of shifting around in the world—something is going to happen.” They looked at the signs of their times. They were students of the stars, and they said: “The heavens portend it.”
The king says to these men: “If this wonderful Messiah is to be born of the Jews, a king born of the Jews, every last one of you go up there, and I will supply you with the camels and the gifts…”
Government and Gospel
O, we can easily enough fit out a ship to go to the North Pole, but who ever heard of a government fitting out vessels like this king fitted out the wise men and sending them to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of world? It is easy enough to get money for an army, for flying machines, but what government has ever roused itself enough to act and say: “We will start the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world?”
But these wise men said: “Now we see this star”—and so they followed it. Every Jew ought to have known that Jesus was coming. There was a prophecy in Genesis 49:10 with which they should have been familiar: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between His feet until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” Here is Herod, a king of Idumaean descent, on the throne, ruling the Jewish people, and every last Jew ought to have said to himself: “The Messiah will be here pretty quickly.”
But what did these wise men find when they came? The Jews generally not interested in the coming Messiah at all; they had gone to sleep over it, just as the church of our day has gone to sleep about the second coming of Jesus, and the wise men, those who are biblical students, have to get up conferences…and demand of our sleeping church members that they look over their Bible and find out what God has written in its pages about the signs of our time.
So these wise men from the east came over the desert sands; came to the court, and said to Herod: “Where is He?” And Herod says: “Where is who?”
“Where is He that is born King of the Jews? We have seen His star in the east and are come to worship Him.” And Herod began to be troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; Herod knew what the prophecies were for that King of kings; he could read it in the Old Testament; and he sat with fear and trembling on his throne. He gathered the chief priests around and said: “Hurry up, now, dig in here—where is this King going to be born? Shall I let a King from the east send his emissaries here demanding their information of me? I must know of this King.”
At the Door
O, my friends, there are lots of you who don’t know about this King. There are lots of you who have pored over your Book for years, and don’t know that King Jesus is at the door tonight. Almost any time the clouds are liable to break away, and He will be with us again. God is to round things up. There is to be a final consummation. Nation is rising against nation today, awful things are happening, but nations are to go down some soon day before the King of all kings. Jesus is to judge the nations. We can see the signs of His coming. You can see them if you look around today.
The crowd that Herod asked about the place of Jesus’ birth found it was to be in a little town of Bethlehem. Micah, the prophet, tells of it, and says: “Thou Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto me, that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old from everlasting.”
Wrapped in the virgin’s womb with the clothing of humanity, He came forth; the Personality, from everlasting.
And what were the conditions in Jerusalem besides Herod on the throne? This, the Jews were asleep, like the church of our day; the story of the ten virgins gives a picture of the condition of the church when Jesus comes back. Five of them were wise and five were foolish, and at midnight there was a cry heard: “Behold, the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him.” And the wise virgins went out to meet him, but the foolish said to the wise: “Give us of your oil, for our lamps have gone out.” But they said: “It is too late.” And as they go on in the march of the bridegroom the five foolish go to buy, but while they go to buy the bridegroom comes and shuts the door. They come to the door and say: “Let me in!” But He says: “It is too late.” Now is the time to wake up, friends, to His coming and be prepared.
O! God help you to wake up and be ready for Jesus—most any time, most any moment—to meet Him! My friends, I am not waiting for old age to take me away. “They that are alive and remain shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air—and thus shall they ever be with the Lord.” Hallelujah! It is no dream; if you are a wise man you will search and find out about these things, and look at the signs of your time, and get ready and wait for Him.
The wise men bid Herod good-by and push on to Bethlehem, where God’s Word says Jesus was born, and there at Bethlehem the star stopped over the manger. There they found him. There they presented to Him their gold and frankincense and myrrh.
When you find out how the typical words of this old Book illuminate the truth of His personality and what He came to do and to be to the world, with power over its every expression, look at the words, “gold frankincense and myrrh.” God uses words to work out patterns more wonderful than the patterns worked out by thread. You know I can wipe my face on a towel without that fancy work pattern on the end of it; I can wipe my mouth with my napkin just the same, whether I have a P or an X or a G wonderfully worked in the corner of it. But I tell you a secret—I like it; it is all right; it is good stuff; it looks nice, doesn’t it? And all done with a needle and thread.
If we didn’t have these women to fix up a home, some of you fellows would be living in a barn like a horse. How I love to come to the table and see a napkin all worked up sticking alongside of me.
It is a great joy to see that kind of fancy work. Out at the San Francisco Exposition we saw stuff wonderfully made out of silk by the Japanese; there was a tiger that looked alive, all made with silk threads and needles in Japan, wonderfully made. There was a waterfall, a pheasant, a forest.
But, O, friends, when you get into God’s book and see how He puts the thing together, see His handiwork and follow the golden threads God puts through His Word, you will shout for joy. Only God can make such stitching; only God’s finger, only the Holy Spirit, can ever put a book together like this book is put together. O, it is wonderful when you see it. Look at those words again:
“They presented unto Him gold and frankincense and myrrh.” We know that Jesus is called in the Scriptures our Prophet and our Priest and our King. Now, gold is always the sign of kingship; and they, wise men from the east, are bringing Him gold and presented it to Him as a king should have it presented, with worship. Then there is the frankincense. Here was the brazen altar in the center court of the Tabernacle, there the brazen laver for the priest to wash, and over there the altar of the incense; and it was the priest’s duty to burn frankincense to God. These wise me recognized Jesus in their gifts as the priest of the most high God and to be high priest for humanity, who was to go through death and opened the veil, and open the way to God, slain from the foundation of the world. Yes, those wise men’s gifts recognized Him as the priest of God, who was to make intercession for the saints and bring back the souls of men from the devil. Here they are recognizing the one who now holds the keys to hell and death. God help you to trust Him tonight as your priest.
Oil was obtained from the myrrh, and the oil is the sign of the prophet. You remember how Samuel went down and had the oil with him and poured on little David’s head, anointing him to be King, and “The Spirit of the Lord was with him from that day.” The wise men’s gifts included the myrrh from which the oil was made, and thus recognized Him as prophet. These three gifts recognize Him to be the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is prophet, priest and king—and the wise men presented their gifts to Him on that basis. God help this congregation tonight to come to Jesus Christ and present the same kind of gifts; to say to Him: “You are our King—our Coming King.”
What Are the Stars Today?
What did the wise men follow? They followed the star. Is there any star for you to follow? The heavens are full of them tonight. Will you bear with me for just a few minutes? Let us be Bible students just for a minute: find the stars in our firmament, and if you look at them you will say to yourself God’s book is filled with stars leading to His coming.
We are in the touch-button age today; we are in the day of electricity, gasoline, of the motor; of these great automobiles, of flying machines; everything built for speed. These are marks of our age. Before Jesus came the first time, in addition to the prophecies of His first coming, the prophets wrote of His second coming and to portray the time they described the conditions of our own time, and described them exactly. You can look at these prophets’ descriptions and say: “Lord, I am living in that day, and that day is now.”
First of all, let us turn to Nahum, the 2nd chapter, the 3rd and 4th verses. Listen: “The chariots shall be with flaming torches”—when?—“in the day of His preparation.” See? He is coming back again; He came in the cradle the first time, but the next time He comes to sit on the throne, thank God. Our day is the day of His preparation. In these times in which we are living He is getting ready, marshalling the hosts of heaven; picking out of a congregation like this anyone who wants to be saved; sending out missionaries to the islands of the sea, to China, to Africa—not getting the consent of everybody in the world to be saved, but offering to save them if they will. As He picked the Jews out in their time, He is picking a called out people now that in the next dispensation, when Jesus shall come back to Earth to reign, this called out and saved people shall be the reigning and sovereign people with Him, to execute His rulership over all the Earth. And we will have a body like unto His glorious body.
Begin with Him
He is sitting on His Father’s throne, and if we “overcome” we are to sit down with Him on His throne, even as He has overcome and has sat down with His father on His throne. There are two thrones; He is to have a throne here, He is to be King of the Jews. Listen to me: He never has been. They cursed Him as the King of the Jews, and He has never sat on a Jewish throne yet; and this Book is full of prophecies that the Son of David shall sit on the throne of His father David. Jesus has never yet sat as King of the Jews, but thank God He will; the day is coming.
Now, then, back to what Nahum has to say about what will happen in the day of His preparation. Here he gives a sign that we are in that day, for, says the prophet, “The chariots shall be with flaming torches in the day of his preparation,” “and the chariots shall rage in the streets.” Say, who ever heard of “raging chariots” before an automobile came around with its chunk-chunk? A chariot doesn’t rage; but these chariots, they rage; they snort like horses that won’t be held back with their bits. And when you find yourself in front of one you know whether something is raging or not. Nahum goes on enlarging to show you for sure that the automobile is the sign of the day of His preparation. He says further:
“They shall jostle one against another in the broad ways.” What do you think of that? He even puts down the names of the streets—the “Broadways.” I have no right to say it is street names, but the prophet knew very well we were going to have the pavements, the broad ways that we have today. “And the chariots shall jostle one another in the streets.” They jostle so now that they only allow them to stand alongside the curb for just so long, because the jostle gets too great. You find this prophecy is away beyond anything a chariot could be, or a horse chariot could be. “They shall seem like torches, they shall run like the lightning.” How are you going to get back to the old-time chariots? There never was a chariot made that could “run like lightning” until our time—“In the day of His preparation.” And the auto came.
This is part 1 of a two-part article. Part 2 can be found here.