He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:2).
One doesn’t need to be in the Navy to know the saying, “Red at night—Sailor’s delight. Red in the morning—Sailor take warning!” Yet, it’s true that bad weather is of special concern for those aboard boats and ships. That’s why we sing the prayer, “for those in peril on the sea.”
It shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus assumed the people of his day knew the meaning of signs in the skies. Living without wristwatches and smartphones, many generations of people looked to the sky for information. Generations back, many were able to tell time just by looking at the sun. A stage of the moon told people when it was time to plant peas in their garden and oats in their fields. They reminded one another, “A ring around the moon means a change in weather soon.”
We watch the Weather Channel. We see cold fronts and weather systems moving across high definition screens. We receive weather alerts through televisions and text messages. We view live videos of tornados and hurricanes. Never before have people watched the signs of weather as we do.
Yet, the rebuke of Jesus still stands: “…but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”
It was dangerous for countries to ignore what Winston Churchill called “The Gathering Storm” as Nazi Germany ramped up its war machines. It’s always dangerous to miss the signs of any approaching disaster. Many a life has been lost because the danger was seen too late.
“Keep watch!” Scripture exhorts. But we need to know what to watch for. We need to know the signs of approaching disaster.
The signs of deadly danger for people of Jesus’ day were the same as the signs in Churchill’s day—and the same as in our day.
Signs of wars and rumors of wars? Yes, we have seen them, too. Famines and earthquakes? Indeed! But Jesus said these were just the beginning of the perilous end times.
He warned the days would come when his followers would be persecuted, killed and hated by all nations. Many would turn away from the faith; even betray and hate each other. And false prophets? There will be many. They will deceive many.
As these storm clouds grow darker, a chill will fall upon human life. Jesus put it this way, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold (Matthew 24:12).
Of course, these signs have been there before! Some were seen in Jesus’ day. Dark days have come and gone in the history of the world since then. But we cannot escape noticing that when they receded a little, they often returned with greater intensity.
A look around at the world of today can be enough to scare a person. The storm clouds seem to be gathering from all directions. Wars have been fought before, but now weapons of mass destruction could wipe out entire nations. False prophets have often raised their voices, but now they shout from all corners. Once-faithful voices have joined them.
Wickedness? Greed, corruption, and lies are setting records. Just 25 years ago, how many expected that sexual perversion would not only be tolerated in America, but it could demand respect and protection under penalty of law?
The gathering storm…A final sign? Jesus said, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations…” He concludes, “And then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).
Who would have thought 25 years ago that the tiny Wisconsin Synod would be reaching great numbers of people in places like Pakistan, China, and opening a seminary in Vietnam? What part of the world has not yet heard the gospel? Makes us wonder how close to the end we are now at, doesn’t it? But scary? Not for children of the heavenly Father! “The one who stands firm to the end will be saved”, Jesus said.
In the closing words of the Book of Revelation Jesus told us, “Yes, I am coming soon.”So, we watch the signs—and join the Apostle John in praying: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” Amen.
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain, and Liaison to the Military. Provided by WELS Ministry to the Military