Faithlife Sermons

The Return of Christ

Advent 2022  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Be prepared because you don't know when that final day will come.

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Floods

Well, we’re nearing the end of 2022, and while 2020 and 2021 will be remembered for all of the Covid disruptions, as we reflect back on 2022, I suspect that all of the flooding will have to be a very dominant feature - because there has been a lot of it.
There’s been so much of it that it’s hard to remember most of it.
You probably remember the two floods of Lismore, where the record flood level of 1974 was not only beaten, but exceeded it by about 2 metres. But before that flood, Brisbane had only narrowly missed a record breaking flood as well.
After Lismore, Sydney then flooded. And then Lismore again. And then Sydney again.
Some in the Hunter Region, up around Scone also was flooded in July.
And then we were told a third wave a La Nina - the meteorological phenomenon causing the flooding, was coming.
In October, Victoria saw flooding. And then Tasmania.
And then some more in New South Wales.
And then, only two weeks ago, we saw some absolutely devastating images come from the Central West of NSW.
On Sunday, the 14th November, it started raining heavy. Only thing, over the last fortnight, it had already been raining heavy. Everything was saturated.
But then Wyangala Dam started spilling. Except that, when I say spilling, it wasn’t just some water flowing over the top. In fact, I don’t think even saying a big torrent does it justice. I’m not quite sure what the right description is, but just the most amazing amount of water started flowing and moving down stream.
The towns downstream new things were happening, but I don’t think anyone really expected the enormity of it.
There was one town in particular that got a real surprise - the town of Eugowra. An evacuation was ordered, but it really came too late. At 6:14am on Monday the 15th November, it was like a tidal wave hit the town.
All people could do was to move to the highest ground possible.
It’s been estimated that one in five residents of Eugowra needed to be rescued by helicopter.
Whole houses were lifted off their foundations. Cars were thrown around like toys.
Worst of all, lives were lost.
While all of the floods throughout the year have been devastating, there was something about this Eugowra flood which stands out. It was the speed and unexpected nature of it.
In one news report I heard, most people didn’t have flood insurance, and the reported suggested, it wasn’t just because flood insurance was so expensive, it was because no one there expected a flood.
Now I’m not here to point the finger or blame anyone. I recognise that these are deeply complicated things, and trying to predict this sort of thing is next to impossible. But yet it reveals a glaring gap that can be so vital. If they accurately knew what was going to happen, lives could have been saved. Trauma could have been avoided.
Again, don’t hear this as criticism… I recognise the difficulties… but just imagine there was a way to predict these floods with accuracy. People could be given warning.
I’d be interested to know though how many people would actually pay attention, or how many would think they knew better.

Biblical Flood

Now, while these floods were massive, they would have been almost nothing in comparison to the flood in the days of Noah. But yet this idea of being caught unaware is similar.
Let’s just recall that story now.
We’re going way back in time now. In fact we’re in that period of history where it is difficult to date.
We’re back even before Abraham which is usually dated somewhere in the ball park of 2000 years before Christ. Some people have tried to date the flood based on the genealogies listed in the Bible, however, this can prove problematic.
But whenever it was, we find ourselves in a time when people have started to become scattered over the world, and as they’ve become scattered, they’ve also lost sight of God as their compass for life.
As a result, they have become corrupt in all of their ways.
Noah is the standout - why? - well, actually we’re told in Genesis 6 because he walked faithfully with God.
And so God tells him to build an Ark.
Now, the biblical account actually doesn’t elaborate on how the people around reacted to Noah’s unusual construction although many modern story tellers have had fun imagining it.
You can imagine the ridicule he would have faced. Until of course it started raining.
Although, then again, even on that first day, I don’t think they would have been too bothered. I’m imagining that really heavy sort of rain, where puddles are forming and rivers start to rise - but even still, the vast majority of the water would flow away.
The second day however, eyebrows are raised. Maybe we need to be careful here. But then again - there’s always higher ground. The third and fourth and fifth day come. Waters are flowing over areas they have never flowed over before. People are picked up by these unexpected rises and and taken away.
The days keep ticking over and the rain keeps coming. Houses are now completely underwater. Only the hills remain above water. But then, even those are covered.
These people never suspected a thing - until that day came, and like that moment at 6:14am at Eugowra on Monday 15th November, a wave comes and a town is decimated. One day things are going along as normal. The next, everything is changed.

Advent

This morning, we come to the first Sunday in Advent. It’s the start of the season when we think about the coming of Christ. And while we’re going to get to his first coming as we get nearer to Christmas, we start this season by keeping in mind that we are here now waiting for the second coming of Christ.
When we think of the second coming, sometimes we can sometimes it can all be a bit much, owing to the fact that there is substantial differences in how different Christians understand many of the specifics of his return.
However, I want to suggest that it is wise to actually put aside many of these specifics.
Because when we speak about the second coming, there are some facts that pretty much all Bible-believing Christians will agree on.
We can all agree that Jesus has promised that he will return, and when he does, there will be a sorting of those who belong to Christ, and those who do not. This will be the end of the age as we know it now, and the start of a new.
If we were to drill down a little further into the details of how we understand these events to occur, we would start to notice different Christians having quite divergent interpretations, but I want to suggest that those differences should not divide us. Because I want to suggest that even when we stick to what we agree, we can actually find that we can be equipped with what we need to live the life that God requires of us now.
And this is essentially what I want to do this morning,
You see, as we explore our passage this morning, what we’re going to find is that Jesus is going to bring into picture what I’ve just been discussing… that is, this idea that a decisive time is coming when events will happen very quickly, at which time it will be too late to act.
And so the big question for us is, how do we prepare for that decisive moment?

Matthew 24

Okay, well, to do that, let’s move to Matthew 24.
Now, Matthew 24 is set in that final week before the death and resurrection of Jesus.
You might recall that Jesus stationed himself in and around Jerusalem for that week, and it’s a week that the Gospel writers give quite a bit of attention to.
Matthew, Mark and Luke each record essentially this same account that we’re about to look at, but you will find slight variations in each as they each have a slightly different focus in mind.
If you go to the start of Matthew 24, you’ll see that the temple is in view.
Now, this actually links us in with the end of the series that I’ve just finished last week.
You might recall that Haggai and Zechariah were in the context of encouraging the Jews in the rebuild of the temple.
This temple was very important because it was the focus of worship for God’s people. It symbolised the dwelling place of God.
Well, shortly after Haggai and Zechariah’s days of prophecy, the temple rebuild was complete, however, fast forward around 400 years, and Herod enters the scene. Now quite possibly when you think of Herod we have negative thoughts, perhaps owing to the fact that when Jesus was born he ordered the killing of all the babies in the area - so we’ve got good reason to not like him.
But, interestingly it was actually Herod who did major renovations on the temple and made it the truly spectacular spectacle that the disciples were marvelling at in the start of Matthew 24.
And it was while they were gazing with wonder at it, that Jesus told them how the temple was about to be destroyed.
Now this is what I absolutely love about scripture, because in that statement we actually get many layers.
On one level, Jesus is the temple which is about to be destroyed and so while the focus may be on a physical object, there is also more immediate fulfillment.
On another level, Jesus is also predicting something that is going to happen in what will be about 30 or 40 year later - the physical destruction of this temple.
I won’t go into all of the details just now, but in the year 70 AD, the Romans marched into Jerusalem and completely destroyed this temple.
Now it’s interesting because a considerable amount of what we read in this chapter can very clearly apply to this event.
And then there is the level in which many of you will likely be more familiar, and that is of the second coming of Jesus.
Now I want to suggest that sometimes when we fail to see the various layers, we miss a bigger picture of what is happening. When we limit this chapter to just the second coming, we fail to see the broader patterns which emerge in our world which show how God is operating at all times throughout history and into the present and into the future.

A time unknown

But let’s jump down to the specific passage that was read out earlier.
When we get to this section, while I was just mentioning the various layers of this chapter, it starts to become clearer that we are talking more specifically about the second coming.
That certainly seems to be the inference when in verse 42 Jesus tells them: ‘Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come”.
And this is the main idea of what Jesus is saying between verses 36 and 44.
We don’t know when Jesus will come again, so therefore we need to always be ready!
It’s most clearly stated in verse 36 when we get the emphatic statement: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”.
I’m sure you can all think of examples where this verse has been conveniently ignored while someone will tell you when Jesus is about to return.
If anyone ever tells you they know the date - I can confidently tell you… they don’t!

Noah

Okay, so we don’t know the date, but this is where Jesus starts talking about Noah’s flood which I talked about earlier.
Right up till the day in which it was too late, the people just kept living their life.
Noah entered the ark, and they kept on living.
And then they didn’t.

The decisive day

And here’s the thing.
Something very similar is going to happen.
Such a large percentage of the population just don’t want to acknowledge God. Now there is a lot of variation in how that plays out. Some just flat out reject everything to do with God. Others will acknowledge his existence, but are not keen for him to have control. Other’s have a distorted view of who they think God is.
Either way, in just the same way that people were swept away in the flood, Jesus pictures two men in the field. One is taken. One remains.
And then two women grinding a hand mill. One is taken. One remains.
The activities are not important. What is important is that this day represents a separation. It represents a finality.
People will be doing what people normally do. And then they won’t.
And you do not know on what day that will be.

Thief in the night

Jesus then gives us another image in verse 43.
It’s the image of a thief in the night.
You don’t know when that thief will come, so you need to always be prepared.
This image has become very real to me in the last twelve months. On at least two occasions, I’ve had a thief come on to my property and steal bikes.
The reality was, I had not been locking my shed. I was not prepared.
I can tell you I lock it now. I’ve learnt my lesson - I’m prepared now.
But Jesus is telling you, you need to be prepared to, because you do not know when the Son of Man will come - because it will be on a day you do not expect.

What does it mean to be prepared?

Well, this talk begs a question: what does it mean to be prepared?
Can I suggest that our preparation does not need to be in trying to match the prophecies with current events so we can see when the day comes.
This can be an interesting an fascinating exploration, but I don’t really think it helps in becoming ready for the return.
So if it’s not in a prophecy watch, what is the way to be ready?
Well, given that Jesus brought to our mind the story of Noah, perhaps it might be worthwhile going back to that story.
Now what was it about Noah that meant he was not one of the ones to be swept away?
It effectively told us that right at the very start of the account of his story.
Genesis 6:9 says: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God”.
Now, let’s not for a minute pretend that Noah was perfect. You might recall his little drunken episode after the flood which might put a stop to such a thought.
But I want to suggest that it was the end of the verse I just read which is the important part. That is, “he walked faithfully with God”.
As we’ll see throughout scripture, this is what righteousness is actually about. For example in the account of Abraham, it says that it was by faith that he was credited as being righteous.
What set Noah apart from the other people of his time, is that he was faithful to God.
And I want to suggest that as we ask, what does it mean to be ready for the return of Jesus, we get the exact same answer. We need to remain faithful to God.
This is not always easy.
It’s not easy, because our every inclination is to be all about ourselves. This is the message that the world gives us - be yourself.
Me. Me. Me.
But being faithful to God means saying, no, this isn’t about me, this is about God who has a perfect design for the world and who has included me in it. As we remain faithful to God, we actually get a bigger picture of what it means to be me.

In a hard world

It’s hard to do, because this world is a hard place to live in. And because it is so hard, we are even more tempted to protect ourselves. If we don’t protect ourselves, this world will eat us alive. At least, that’s what we are meant to believe.
But as we start this season of Advent, we realise how foolish such a notion is.
Advent reminds us of this much bigger picture of what God is doing in this world.
It reminds us that even though things do seem so off kilter, God has not lost control, and if we only remain faithful to the end, on that unknown day in the future, we will be counted among the faithful, and we will live forever with God.
This is the hope that we have as believers.

Conclusion

A day is coming. A day when Jesus will appear.
Don’t worry about missing it. It’s not like you might miss the trumpet blast. You won’t miss it, because it is going to be very decisive.
We don’t know when it will be, but on that day, you will either be counted among those who have remained faithful. Or you will be counted among those who have not remained faithful.
Which will it be for you?
If you’re not sure whether you have that saving faith, then I would love to have a talk with you afterwards.
But if you do, then keep exercising that faith. Let every step you take be a step of faith.
If you have taken that step of faith, then you can know that on that day, you will be with Jesus forever.
Let me pray...
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