Lonely Port

Chapter 9

The Forgotten Prayer

 For better than half a century the prayer was remembered. But in later centuries it would be forgotten.

Christ was nearing the end of His earthly ministry. Only a few days stood between Him and Golgotha. One day He was seated with His disciples on the summit of the Mount of Olives. Spread out before them, across the Valley of Kidron, were the massive battlements and pinnacles of the Temple at Jerusalem. Constructed of massive blocks of white marble, it was surrounded by outer walls, covered colonnades, terraces, stairways and gates.

His disciples, seated around Him, remarked on the immense stones that formed the foundation of the Temple. Josephus, a contemporary Jewish write, of that time, tells us that the temple was made of massive blocks of stone that were forty-two feet in length.

But, at that moment, they were numbed to the silence of utter shock as they heard Him say, "See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." Matthew 24:2.

Slowly recovering from their amazement, His disciples pled with Him to tell them when this would happen—and to explain the rest of world history down to the end of time. "Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?" Matthew 24:3.

The reply of Jesus fills Chapter 24 of the book of Matthew. It contains warnings—serious warnings. It has information we need as we face into the future. And it also contains help—precious help—for souls trying to stay close to Jesus in these times that try men's souls.

All through history, crises have come to the people of God. In verses 15 through 20, Jesus describes what to do when the crisis comes and we must flee.

And then in verse 20 He gives us the prayer to keep sending up—in all coming ages till He returns to earth for His own:

"But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day." Matthew 24:20.

And then, speaking specifically about the final crisis, just before His return, He gives still further counsel in verses 21 and 22.

During His earthly life, Jesus had continually given an example of obedience to the Moral Law of Ten Commandments. And He told His disciples to obey it also.

And then having taught His followers how to live godly lives, He was crucified. At His death the disciples faithfully observed the Bible Sabbath—the Seventh-day Sabbath, and then came back on the first work-day of the week—the first day—to anoint His body. since they had not had time on Friday to do it. (Read Luke 23:50-24:4; Matthew 27:55-28:2; Mark 15:42-16:9.)

And they continued to keep it later during their missionary work (Acts 13:14-16, 40-46; 16:12-15; 17:1-4). They declared that we ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5: 29), and Paul could sincerely say of himself and his fellow believers: "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law." Romans 3:31.

And all through those years the prayer that Jesus gave them was sent up by humble believers in the Word of God. As the crisis neared they prayed for help and strength to obey God and keep His Sabbath in spite of what might happen. And over and over again that prayer was answered.

Then came the first great crisis—the very first great crisis that Jesus warned in Matthew 24 was soon to come-the crisis of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. Thirty-five years after it had been predicted, the storm suddenly broke with a fury unimaginable. In the hills of Samaria and in the byways of Galilee where Jesus had walked and talked with His disciples, men by the thousands perished by the sword and engines of war. One by one the Jewish strongholds were reduced to smoking ruins. Even the lake that Jesus once ordered to be still of storms became, during the battle for Taricheae, bloody from the dead and dying.

But all through this time, men and women of God were praying the prayer that Jesus had given them.

The beginning of the end came to Jerusalem in August of A.D. 66. For the next four years Jerusalem was to know no peace as Jew fought Jew or Roman, within and without its walls. But the Christians continued to pray as Jesus had directed them to do.

Then came the day that a Roman regiment was cornered in Jerusalem and massacred, and Cestius Gallus, Roman legate of Syria, marched southward at the head of 30,000 troops. Burning Joppa and subduing Galilee and the coasts, he headed for Jerusalem. The siege of the capital city began, and the moderates within the walls were on the verge of handing the city over to him—when a strange thing happened: The Roman general, Cestius, suddenly retreated from the city, for no reason. This unexplainable withdrawal encouraged the Jews to rush out of the city after them, and to attack the retreating Roman forces so severely that history tells us only the coming of nightfall saved the Romans from annihilation. The Jews captured Cestius' siege engines and killed 5,300 Roman foot soldiers and 380 horsemen. "Running and singing," the Jews returned to their metropolis, ignorant of the terrible ordeal that awaited them before the next three years would be concluded.

Jesus had promised His disciples that they would know when to safely flee. And the promise was fulfilled. Praying the prayer given them thirty-six and a half years before, the children of God pled with Him to protect them and help them to escape—and not to do it on the holy Sabbath day.

When Cestius suddenly retreated, and the Jews sallied forth after him—the Christians knew that the time had come. The entire countryside was empty of warriors; all were engaged in the battle taking place north of Jerusalem. Immediately, every Christian left Judea and fled to Pella, in the land of Perea, east of the Jordan River. In answer to prayer, God had sent help. The flight was not on the Sabbath, and it was made safely. We are told that no Christians perished in the later destruction of Jerusalem. The date: October of A.D. 67. It was the twelfth year of Nero's reign.

And what did the flight save the Christians from? Come, let us see the power of prayer. This is what God spared His people from experiencing:

On May 10, A.D. 70, the shadow of Titus, general of the armies of Rome, fell across the walls of Jerusalem. Son of Vespasian, Emperor of all western civilization, Titus was thirty years old and a seasoned veteran of war. But his legacy was a difficult one: to capture Jerusalem.

When Cestius mysteriously withdrew from it in October of 67, the city was given a little more time. The following year, in July, Vespasian was about to surround it, when Nero committed suicide and Vespasian began a three-month fight to become the next emperor 

But now there was to be no more reprieve. It took Titus' army of 65,000 men 139 days to gain control of the whole city—and during that time every horror took place by Jew and Roman. Every tree within twelve miles of the city was cut down to make crosses to crucify captured Jews upon. But in spite of what was taking place outside the city—a terrible slaughter of Jew by Jew took place within it.

Finally, with the help of battering rams, banks, seventy-five-foot towers, and machines that hurled immense stones, darts, and javelins nearly five hundred yards, the Romans gained possession of the two outer walls.

So many were trying to escape from the harrowing scenes within the doomed capital, that Titus now encircled the city with a five-mile wall, and then went on with the siege.

On August 7, the morning and evening offerings at the Temple were stopped "for want of men to offer it." Titus pled with the Jews to fight with him elsewhere so that he would not have to defile the Temple. In reply, John of Gischala mounted his artillery on the gates of the sacred building and Titus was forced to continue attacking it.

But then fires were started in the Temple gates, and Titus, determined to save the Temple, sent soldiers to put out the fire. But they were attacked by Jews as they tried to quench the flames. The ensuing fight brought the soldiers alongside the Temple. Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived, at that time, tells us what happened next:

"One of the soldiers, without staying for any orders, being hurried on by a certain divine fury and being lifted up, by another soldier, set fire to a golden window, through which there was a passage to the rooms that were about the holy house on the north side of it. .The fatal day had come, it was the tenth day of the month of Ab, [the same day upon which it was formerly burnt by the King of Babylon.]" Josephus, Wars of the Jews.

 The end had come.

"Titus rushed to the place, followed by his generals and legionaries, and commanded the soldiers to quench the flames. His words were unheeded. In their fury the soldiers hurled blazing brands into the chambers adjoining the temple. . Titus found it impossible to check the rage of the soldiery; he entered with his officers, and surveyed the interior of the sacred edifice. The splendor filled them with wonder; and as the flames had not yet penetrated to the holy place, he made a last effort to save it, and springing forth, again exhorted the soldiers to stay the progress of the conflagration. The centurion Liberalis endeavored to force obedience with his staff of office; but even respect for the emperor gave way. .to the fierce excitement of battle, and to the insatiable hope of plunder.

"The soldiers saw everything around them radiant with gold, which shone dazzlingly in the wild light of the flames; they supposed that incalculable treasures were laid up in the sanctuary. A soldier, unperceived, thrust a lighted torch between the hinges of the door: the whole building was in flames in an instant. The blinding smoke and fire forced the officers to retreat, and the noble edifice was left to its fate." The Great Controversy, pp. 33-34.

All this happened because the chosen people of God would not obey the Ten Commandments and live godly lives. And so the God of heaven had to separate from them and call those who would hear and come and obey Him. Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed, just as Christ predicted nearly forty years before, because a nation would not submit their ways to the Word of God.

"It was an appalling spectacle to the Roman—what was it to the Jew? The whole summit of the hill which commanded the city, blazed like a volcano. One after another the buildings fell in, with a tremendous crash, and were swallowed up in the fiery abyss. The roofs of cedar were like sheets of flame; the gilded pinnacles shone like spokes of red light; the gate towers sent up tall columns of flame and smoke. The neighboring hills h were lighted up; and dark groups of people were seen watching in horrible anxiety the progress of the destruction: the walls and heights of the upper city were crowded with faces, some pale with the agony of despair, others scowling unavailing vengeance.

"The shouts of the Roman soldiery as they ran to and fro, and the howlings of the insurgents who were perishing in the flames, mingled with the roaring of the conflagration and the thundering sound of falling timbers. The echoes of the mountains replied or brought back the shrieks of the people  on the heights; all along the walls resounded screams and wailings; men who were expiring with famine rallied their remaining strength to utter a cry of anguish and desolation." The Great Controversy. p. 34.

Josephus tells us that 1,100,000 Jews were killed in this siege and conquest of Jerusalem. And yet not one Christian died in that siege—because the followers of Jesus were praying the prayer He had given them, and all made their escape when Cestius suddenly retreated.

But that prayer of Jesus has yet to meet its climax. We are still living in a terrible world; every day it becomes more terrible. And today we must pray that prayer—that Jesus will  protect us in the days ahead and that we will be enabled to keep His Sabbath—the Bible Sabbath—on the Seventh day of  the weekly cycle. We know from historians and astonomers that this weekly cycle has never changed down through the ages. The Seventh day of the week today—is the same day that Jesus kept as the Bible Sabbath when He was here on earth 2,000 years ago.

And that prayer is for us today. For centuries men have forgotten it. The Church of Rome has been quite successful in blotting out the observance of the Seventh-day Sabbath. And yet God has not changed, and His Sabbath has not changed.

In Genesis 2:1-3 God gave the Seventh-day Sabbath to mankind when He first created our world. Indeed, we are to keep it in honor of His creative power. In Exodus 20:8-11, He included it as the fourth of the Ten Commandments. But following that time,-never has God declared in Scripture that He has changed the sanctity of the Seventh-day Sabbath to Sunday, the first day of the week. We can not obey God's Sabbath requirement by keeping a different day than the one He specified in His Word.

Although many have forgotten that prayer that Jesus gave us in Matthew 24:20, it is time for men and women to come back to it. Their own eternal safety depends upon it.

Will you and I—just now-begin praying that prayer again?

"And as He sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto Him privately saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?

"And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars. .For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers [ various] , places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. I

"Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall I kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for My name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets I shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall I abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. .

"But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day. For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened. .

"And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds." Matthew 24:3-31.

It is clear that Jesus was predicting the future all the way down to His Second Advent. We were to keep the Sabbath all through those long ages. And we are to keep it today.

Men are embarrassed because of the real reason that the Protestant churches keep the first day of the week holy. The real reason is because Constantine, in counsel with the church leaders at Rome, tried to change the Sabbath to Sunday in A.D. 321. But what Constantine and apostate church leaders attempted in that Sunday law is a little late: It came 290 years after the death of Christ on Calvary , and 226 years after the last book in the Bible was finished.

Sunday sacredness is simply not in the Bible-anywhere. It does no good to say that we know that the Sabbath has been changed to Sunday because the disciples ate a meal that day. And it does no good to say that we should keep Sunday instead of the Bible Sabbath "in honor of the resurrection of Jesus." The truth is that we are to do what God tells us in the Bible to do—not what we imagine we would like to do. Yes, indeed, please God—but don't do it at the cost of giving your approval to a man-made change in the Ten Commandments!

We want the living fire of the Holy Spirit kindled and burning within our hearts—in hearts dedicated to serving and obeying Him in every way.

Otherwise we may find a fire kindled in our gates that will destroy us.