O Come, Desire of Nations
I was born on February 14, 1955. In my almost 58 years of life there have been no less than 60 end-of-the-world predictions by various individuals or groups.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock or cloistered in a monastery somewhere, the doomsday predictions of the end of the world—or at least the beginning of the end of the world—was supposed to have taken place on Friday. For those who were disappointed that it didn’t happen, don’t fret. Depending on one's interpretation of when the Mayan cycle known as Bak'tun begins, the end of the world might actually be some time today. You may not have missed the big show after all.
Millions of people all over the world took Friday’s doomsday prediction seriously. Consider some of the events that have taken place in just the last two weeks:
- So many religious pilgrims were trekking to Uritorco, a sacred Indian mountain peak in Argentina, that authorities blocked access to it earlier this week for fear of a "massive spiritual suicide."
- The mayor of Bugarach, a tiny mountaintop village in the French Pyrenees believed to be a frequent rest stop for alien spacecraft, banned end-of-the-world UFO watchers who were streaming into town, but undaunted local farmers continue renting out their houses for $2,000 a night.
- Tikal, a large Mayan archaeological site in northern Guatemala, is awash in New Age spiritualists and Star Wars geeks who believe the ancient city is certain to play a key role in the Mayan spectacular. Local police have been generally tolerant, but did eject 13 naked women dancing and chanting around a fire near temple ruins last week.
- If you were planning to wait out the apocalypse on Rtanj mountain in eastern Serbia, where space aliens supposedly concealed a protective pyramid during a secret visit more than a thousand years ago (oops, guess that cat's out of the bag now), better forget it. All the mountain's hundreds of hotel rooms are booked.
- In China, the Christian group Almighty God told its followers that Friday was going to be the apocalypse.
- NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has received so many phone calls from panicky citizens that it produces a video for its Website explaining why the world is not ending this weekend.
- Various cities throughout Russia and Lithuania have experienced survivalist runs on everything from salt to candles to vodka. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, in a televised plea for everybody to calm down, probably didn't help matters when he said he didn't believe the world was ending but then added gravely: "At least, not this year." Then, under the misimpression that he was off-camera, joked to reporters that the first things presented to a new Russian president are a briefcase with nuclear launch codes and a folder identifying all the secret space aliens hiding out in the country. Many Russians didn’t believe he was joking.
- A Bomb-shelter manufacturer in the United States has reported that while it normally sells one pre-fabricated bunker per month, that since December 1st it has been selling one a day—at $100,000 a bunker.
Obviously there has been great fascination—and anxiety—with the approach of the so-called “Mayan Apocalypse” as the 13,000-year cycle of the Maya Long Count Calendar drew to a close just twenty-four hours ago. According to an international poll carried out by Ipsos Global Public Affairs on behalf of Reuters News, 22 percent of Americans believe they will experience some kind of Armageddon in their lifetime. When asked specifically about the idea that an ancient Mesoamerican calendar can foretell doom, 12 percent of Americans agreed with the statement: "the Mayan calendar, which some say 'ends' in 2012, marks the end of the world." That means thirty-six million Americans are either disappointed or relieved or perhaps a little of both.
Whether frightening or funny, the end of the world is a topic of considerable interest and much debate. I know that some of you are thinking to yourselves, “Whoa ... what in the world does this have to do with Christmas???” I’m glad you’re thinking that question, because the end of the world has everything to do with Christmas. The season of Advent has always been a time for the people of God to reflect not only on the first coming of Christ as a baby born to take away the sins of the world, but on his second coming as Lord of lords, and King of kings.
I. THE FIRST ADVENT IS A TIME TO REFLECT ON CHRIST’S GRACE
- look again at our text for this morning ...
- “so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:28, NIV84)
- when Jesus came the first time He was offered up by God to bear the sins of many people
- why did God have to do this? ...
A. MEN ARE SPIRITUALLY LOST AND WITHOUT HOPE
- that Jesus was sacrificed to take away sin implies that men have a sin problem
- our sin problem alienates us from God
- the Apostle Paul speaks to the sinner’s spiritual condition in his Letter to the Ephesian Christians
- “Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done n the body by the hands of men)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” (Ephesians 2:11–12, NIV84)
- in theses verses, that Apostle Paul reminds the Gentile converts of their former state of life without Christ
- he uses language that his readers clearly understood
- Separated from Christ
- their spiritual life was like a large, empty expanse—a wasteland
- if you are not united with Christ, then you are separated from Christ
- there is no middle ground of almost being a Christian
- men who are separated from Christ have nothing about their character or conduct that commends them to God
- “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6, NIV84)
- the word commonwealth recalls the concept of ancient Greek city-states, whereby a city or country provided numerous valuable advantages, benefits, and privileges for its citizens, but withheld them from foreigners
- Foreigners to the Covenants of the Promise
- out of His sovereign grace God elected Israel to be His chosen people
- that choice began with the calling of Abram and was re-emphasized again and again through God's covenant promises to Israel
- under the Old Testament covenant, the Gentile nations had been excluded from that covenant relationship
- they were spiritual strangers and alienated from the love and grace of God
- they were like aliens in a foreign land who have no legal or social standing
- Without Hope
- ILLUS. Some of you remember Bill McGlohon. He was an elderly man who moved to Linn many years ago to attend Linn Technical College and earn a degree in Avionics. To this day I believe he still their oldest graduate earning his degree at the age of 77. One night, about 2:00AM the phone range. It was the Jefferson City Police telling me that they had a gentleman in their station who was needing help. (Why were they calling me?) They said I knew him. Then, in the background I heard this voice say, “How you doing pastor?” I recognized Bill’s voice. He had driven to Jefferson City the following morning for a doctor’s appointment and to run some errands. In trying to get home he had gotten hopelessly lost. He drove around for sixteen hours trying to get on Hwy. 50 East heading to Linn, but kept making wrong turns. The police finally stopped him because at 1:00 AM he was going about twenty-five miles-an-hour on Hwy. 63 headed toward Columbia—where he’d already been once. I went and picked Bill up and drove him home. After a few hours sleep, I picked him up and drove back to Jefferson City so he could get his truck and follow me back to Linn. When I asked him if he’d stopped and asked for directions he said “Nope.” When I asked him why, he said, “I just knew that I could find me own way home. Beside, I didn’t want to admit that I was lost!”
- there are hundreds of people in our own community who are like Bill McGlohon
- they are driving around in spiritual circles, unwilling to stop and ask for directions
- until they do, they will never have any confidence that heaven is their eternal home—they are without hope
- the phrase without God is one word in the original language of the New Testament and is the word for which we get our word atheist
- the Gentiles were not atheists in the modern sense, for the gentiles of that day believed in many gods
- they were atheists in the sense that they did not believe in the One true and living God who has revealed himself in Christ Jesus our Lord
- this is why the First Advent had to take place
- the First Advent had everything to do with bearing sin
B. THROUGH THE BLOOD OF CHRIST SINNERS CAN BE RECONCILED TO GOD
- our Lord Jesus shuts the door in no one's face who comes to him in repentance and faith
- the blood of Christ opens the way for sinners and Jesus invites both Jew and Gentile, male and female, bond or free, the mighty or the lowly to accept the peace that God offers
- why did God come in the flesh?
- He came to redeem us—to cover our sins by paying the ultimate price
- He came to reveal God's character and nature to us
- if you want to know all about God, then simply get to know all about Jesus
- He came to reconcile us to Himself
- when the sinner comes to Christ Jesus in repentance and faith, God gives us spiritual peace
- "For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14–16, NIV84)
II. THE SECOND ADVENT IS A TIME TO REFLECT ON CHRIST’S GLORY
- the First Advent had everything to do with bearing sin
- the Second Advent will have everything to do with victory over sin
- Hebrews 9:28 tells us that, when Jesus comes a second time, He will not come to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him
- at the close of the First Advent we saw Jesus holding a reed and wearing a purple robe with a crown of thorns on His head
- He was surrounded by a mob of people mocking Him
- at His Second Advent He will hold the scepter of Lordship in His right hand and be clothed in splendor, and upon His head there will be a crown of glory
- He will be surrounded by ten thousand times ten thousand angels and the innumerable Saints already in Heaven who come from every nation and ethnicity
- the First Advent was all about bearing and defeating sin and destroying the works of Satan
- the Second Advent will be all about claiming the victory and setting up an eternal kingdom and casting the Devil into the Lake of Fire
- the First Advent makes us anticipate the Second Advent
- “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Philippians 3:20, NIV84)
- death and judgment are unavoidable
- the First Advent—which we celebrate this week— is God’s response to man’s appointment with death
- it provides salvation from sin through grace and mercy for all those who receive His Christ by faith
- the Second Advent—which we eagerly anticipate—is God’s response to man’s appointment with judgment
- it will save all those who have received mercy and grace by physically removing them from everything that is evil so that we will never experience it again
A. THE SECOND ADVENT WILL BE A GLORIOUS DAY FOR THE SAVED
- Christians know that this sinful and fallen world—that is, the world order alienated from God, in rebellion against Him, and under the rule of Satan—will pass away
- the Bible tells us so
- and while evangelical Christians may debate the order of events yet to unfold, we can all agree on seven biblical truths about how the world will end
- First, the world will end when the Father says so (not when a Mesoamerican calendar says so)
- Jesus makes this clear in His narratives and parables
- He tells His followers, "Now concerning that day and hour no one knows – neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son – except the Father only" (Matt. 24:36)
- the first-century Jew hearing the parable of the 10 virgins understands that no wedding begins until the father declares everything is ready
- meanwhile, Jesus cautions us to "be alert, because you don't know either the day or the hour" (Matt. 25:13).
- Second, the world will end with the visible return of Jesus
- again, Jesus makes it clear that His Second Advent will be clearly visible to all the world
- “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” (Matthew 24:30–31, NIV84)
- "This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen Him going into heaven" (Acts 1:11).
- Christians are divided as to whether all people will be resurrected at the same time, or whether there will be two resurrections separated by a 1,000 years
- regardless of how we interpret the when of the resurrection Jesus plainly taught that
- “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” (John 5:28–29, KJV 1900)
- “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,” (Hebrews 9:27, NIV84)
- believers will appear before the judgment seat of Christ and be rewarded for our faithfulness (2 Cor. 5:10)
- unbelievers will stand before the Great White Throne and punished for their works against the kingdom of God (Rev. 20:11-15)
- Jesus promises His followers, "I will come back and receive you to Myself, that where I am you may be also" (John 14:3)
- unbelievers, however, are cast into hell, which Jesus describes as "outer darkness," a terrifying depiction of eternity far away from the Light of the world
- the Apostle Peter gives us the image of a fiery purging in which our sinful and fallen world is refined into new heavens and a new earth
- “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.” (2 Peter 3:10–13, NIV84)
- the restored earth will be our home and His throne
- in the Book of Revelation, the Aposlte John hears a loud voice from God's throne declaring, "Look! God's dwelling is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God" (Rev. 21:3).
B. THE SECOND ADVENT WILL BE A GNASHING DOOMSDAY FOR THE LOST
- "As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:40–42, NIV84)
- “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:47–50, NIV84)
- the lost man has every right to feel anxiety at the prospect of the end of the world
I have no idea when my Savior is going to return. But because of His First Advent, I know that there will be a second. I should be constantly longing and waiting. Remember the stories of Simeon and Anna? The second chapter of the gospel of Luke tells us that Simeon was an old man who was righteous and devout looking for the consolation of Israel. Anna was also advanced in years. Like Simeon she was also looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. Both of them were blessed to see the baby Jesus before they died. Just like Simeon and Anna, we need to keep our level of anticipation at a constant high.
Is the world going to end? Absolutely. The real question is whether it will be met with faith
in the living God. As the late Chuck Colson wrote, “Christians know that God is working out His purposes in history, and that faith removes all anxieties.” The Psalmist said it this way: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging” (Psalm 46:1-4, NIV).