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Advent: A Future Promise

Advent 2017  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Introduction

What if I told you that Jesus’ first advent predicts the future for us? After all, it’s the future that we don’t know what to do with, isn’t it? It’s the future that keeps us awake at night. It’s the future that causes the pit of our stomachs to be filled with ulcers and our worst nightmares to be possibilities. It’s the future that could see cancer on an x-ray or our children crashing their cars or our businesses going belly up.
But, in light of all of the threats of the future, it’s a baby that was born over 2000 years ago that tells us what is to come. What does He teach us about the future? Jesus came as the fulfillment of thousands of years of promises. God had promised Eve that her Seed would grow to crush the Serpent’s head, and He had promised Abraham that his descendents would be a Nation that blessed all nations. He promised Moses that a greater Prophet would come and David that his throne would endure forever. He told Isaiah that a baby would be born that would save God’s people and that He would be a Suffering Servant. And then, in the quiet of the Bethlehem night, in a lowly stable, a young teenage virgin gave birth, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Perfectly, thousands of years of prophecies and promises came to bear in an instance. God’s people had long looked to the future, and the future had finally come!
And, that’s how Jesus’ birth predicts the future. It has proven God’s word to be true. And, God’s word has promised a second return of Christ, not in humility but in final victory. Victory over our Enemy and cancer and ulcers and dying children and volatile economies. Jesus’ first advent assures us of the promises yet to come. So, this morning, let’s read Jesus’ words about his return that we might look to the future with unbridled optimism and now with sober eyes.

God’s Word

Read

“Will You Send Us a Sign?”

Jesus is here addressing the second of two questions asked by the his disciples about the future. They had asked him about what signs they might seek so that they would know that his return was imminent. Jesus responds by telling them that there are no signs for them to seek. There will be no pronouncements to alert them so that they can ready themselves. Instead, they must remain ready constantly. Their lives are to be steadily vigilant. God is not interested in a people that live as they wish and then, at the last minute, pretend as though they are sorry when He sends a sign. He is looking for those who really love him and exalt him in their lives, even when they could choose any other path for themselves. So, there will be no signs, He says. And, I say that realizing that it doesn’t sell books to say there will be no signs, and that there are entire ministries that this sadly renders pointless, but I believe that’s the point nonetheless.

A Disclaimer

Now, I feel the need to give some disclaimers for this morning’s text as we talk about Christ’s return. I have encountered two extremes in the church regarding Christ's return. 1) Those who don't care. 2) Those who care about it only. Neither of these is healthy, and both of these should be avoided. Christ’s return is the hope of Christians. It is used to encourage those who are persecuted and to call to account those who are complacent. So, this morning, let’s look at what we can learn from Christ’s second Advent that will be helpful to us this Christmas.
I have encountered two extremes in the church regarding Christ's return. 1) Those who don't care. 2) Those who care about it only. Neither of these is healthy, and both of these should be avoided. Christ’s return is the hope of Christians. It is used to encourage those who are persecuted and to call to account those who are complacent. So, this morning, let’s look at what we can learn from Christ’s second Advent that will be helpful to us this Christmas.

Jesus is coming back, even when it doesn’t seem like it.

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows” One of the things I’ve always appreciated about the ministry of Jesus is that He never pulls punches. He always gives his disciples the truth, even if the truth will be difficult for them to digest. And, that’s exactly what we find him doing here. Jesus is telling his disciples straight-up, “This is going to take a while. It’s not going to happen quickly. A lot is going to transpire between now and then.” It’s implied when He says basically, “Who knows?” Remarkably saying that even He doesn’t know himself! In verse 44, Jesus tells us that He will not come when we are expecting him. Then, Jesus tells a parable about a wicked servant who thinks he can live however he wishes because of how long it is taking his Master to return. The wicked servant assumes that the Master will not return because of how ‘delayed’ He is. So, Jesus is telling his disciples straight-up here: This is going to feel like it’s never going to happen. It’s going to seem like I’m not coming back. Many will give up because they believe that I am ‘delayed.’

God’s Promises Often Feel Delayed

“My master is delayed” This is, perhaps, our most common experience with the promises of God, isn’t it? God’s promises often feel so delayed to God’s people, as we languish in this fallen world. We know all of these good promises of God, but then we look at our lives, and honestly, we have struggle to have faith that they will ever happen. Think about Noah here. God told Noah that He needed to build the ark, a process that would have taken years, not months. And, God never tells Noah when the flood is coming. So, here’s Noah with the promise of God that the flood is coming and that He will be saved, but as Jesus is saying here, Noah has no idea the ‘day or hour.’ In Jesus’ day, they had been awaiting the coming of the Messiah for thousands of years. The youngest prophecies they had about him were 400 years old. Yet, generation would come and generation would pass. Centuries, even millennia would pass, and the Messiah still did not come. So, we have God’s word and we have God’s promises, but we begin to doubt God’s fulfillment.

God’s Timing Reveals God’s People

“One will be taken, and one will be left.....Blessed is the servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.” But, why? Why does God so delay the fulfillment of his promises? Why does it take so long? Notice what Jesus is saying. He’s saying that, in time, it will be revealed who his true disciples are. You have two men and two women. They live in the same community and work the same job. They are perhaps even in the same family. Yet one of them will be judged, and one of them will receive a reward. That is, one of them will be found ready and one of them will not be. They will both live their lives day in and day out and take care of the same responsibilities, but one of them will live their lives for the purpose of God and one will do the very same work, and it will all end up pointless. Then, notice the servant. It’s the same servant left to decide what he will do with his master’s absence. Will he use his master’s absence to serve faithfully and work hard and build up his master’s household, or will he use it to live out his fantasies and berate those beneath him. In each case, it is time that is used to reveal who is faithful and who is not, who is real and who is fraudulent, who is authentic and who is the hypocrite.

Time Is the Clearest Revealer of True Conversion

APPLICATION: God delays in our lives for the same reason that He delayed the sending of Christ on Christmas morning and the same reason that Christ has not yet returned. God’s delays are used to draw out faith or to reveal unbelief. The greatest challenge to your walk with God will likely be God’s timing. The greatest opportunity for faith will be God’s timing. When your life falls apart and everything in your life is failing, in that moment, will you keep believing on God’s promises? Or, when you sin and it seems as though no consequences have come, how will you respond? Will you take a delay in consequence as a license to sin, or will God’s kindness lead you to repentance? The longer you go, the more years that pass by, do you draw nearer to Christ or does his influence fade more and more? God’s timing will reveal God’s people. God is willing to delay his promises to draw out your faith or to reveal your unbelief. Time is the clearest revealer of true conversion.
The greatest obstacle to your walk with God will likely be God’s timing. The greatest opportunity for faith will be God’s timing.
And so, believer, I have good news for you. Even though it feels like forever and even though you pray through tears and even though you feel sick and weak and tired, Jesus is coming back, even if it doesn’t feel like it! He’s coming back and your longsuffering will not be wasted! Your perseverance will be rewarded. Jesus’ first advent is your greatest assurance. Unbeliever, it may feel like it’s not going to happen and it may feel like it’s just preacher talk and it may feel like sin is no big deal, but God has proven that his word will hold up. Jesus is coming back even if it doesn’t feel like it! Take advantage of God’s longsuffering and kindness! Repent!

Jesus is coming back, and true Christians live like it.

“the thief was coming” Jesus is laboring to teach us that He is going to return suddenly. As much as we wait for him and as much as we’ve heard about it, it’s still going to seem abrupt. It’s going to seem sudden. It’s going to be shocking. People will be stunned. This is what happened in Noah’s day. Noah had preached that the flood was coming, but life moved on. People still went to work. People still married and had families and built playgrounds for their children. Office parties with dirty Santa were happening, when all of a sudden the rain began to fall and the flood waters began to rise. And so it will be at Christ’s return. People will be at college graduations and in court and at work. Some will be playing with their children and others will be fighting with their spouse. Some will have just gotten a big promotion and others will have been laid off. And, all of a sudden, the trumpet will sound and the sky will split and there will be the Lion of Judah. It’s going to take your breath away. It’s going to be a shocking day. Like a thief in the night, Christ will return.
“For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark.” If we were to sum up all that Jesus is telling his disciples it would be this: My promise to you is that I’m going to come back, and you who believe me should live like it. You should live ready for me to return always.” I want you to think about why Noah is such a great example of this type of readiness. So, Noah is given God’s word that judgement is coming and the world will flood. Noah didn't know the timing of the flood, but he and his family prepared anyway. They had to be ready to board the ark with all the animals and perishable supplies at a moment's notice. They had to live in a perpetual state of readiness. And, this is exactly the picture that Jesus is trying to paint for his church, his disciples. Judgement is coming. Christ is returning. You don’t know when; you just have his promise. So, you must remain in a perpetual state of readiness.

To Live Ready is to Look Foolish (For Now)

Here’s what the Bible and experience teaches us though: To live ready is to look foolish....for now. Noah built a boat and preached the flood, and his generation thought him to be a fool. The wise servant worked diligently day in and day out, even though the master was away, and the lazy servant couldn’t understand why he couldn’t just loosen up a bit. It seemed over the top; the wise man looked foolish. You live as though you actually believe that Jesus is going to return, you live as though you will actually give an account of your life before God, you live in your high schools and with your unbelieving spouses and at work as though Jesus’ approval and Jesus’ glory is all that matters, and you are sure to be treated as foolish, over-the-top, ‘holier than thou.’ But, brothers and sisters, this is the cost of wise living. This is the cost of a vigilant life. The life of a Christian should look foolish to an unbeliever. If unbelievers can make sense of your life, then you're living it wrong. God is in you!

Not Knowing is a Gift

“Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” And, I think that gets to the essence as to why we aren’t told the timing Christ’s return. If we knew, we’d be tempted to waste our lives. If we knew, we’d waste our lives! So, Christ has set us free from that. Not knowing the ‘day and hour’ is a God-given gift to his children so that we can live and live well.

The Savored Life

If we knew the day with certainty, we would cease to live the lives God has given us and take advantage of the gifts He has brought to us. Date predictors have proven this. They sell all they own, quit their jobs, and prove themselves fools. In other words, they waste their lives. Life is God's gift, and life is our God-given opportunity to know him and glorify him and enjoy him. Life is a treasure to be savored and maximized and invested.
If we knew the day with certainty, we would cease to live the lives God has given us and take advantage of the gifts He has brought to us. Date predictors have proven this. They sell all they own, quit their jobs, and prove themselves fools. In other words, they waste their lives. Life is God's gift, and life is our God-given opportunity to know him and glorify him and enjoy him. Life is a treasure to be savored and maximized and invested.

The Vigilant Life

And, not knowing, keeps those who live in full faith in Christ from becoming complacent. When I worked at Winn Dixie, we had these secret shoppers that would come in. We didn’t know who they were, what they were buying, or when they would come. But, they would purchase various things throughout the store, seek assistance, and write down who helped them and how well. It was a guard against complacency. You didn’t want to be found unready for the secret shopper. And, Jesus is guarding us against complacency in a similar way so that we might not have our lives stolen away by lazy complacency. Complacency is a thief! It steals away your potential. It leads you to a less satisfying life. It keeps you from knowing God as well as He allows. It robs you of your eternal rewards. APPLICATION: Christian, if you want to love your life, if you want to fully enjoy God, if you want to lay on your deathbed and know that your life has not been wasted, you must learn to hate complacency! You must learn to loathe it! Complacency must make you sick!
And, not knowing, keeps those who live in full faith in Christ from becoming complacent.

A Weapon Against a Wasted, Complacent Life

APPLICATION: Christ has given his church a weapon against a wasted and complacent life. He has given us a sermon to preach to ourselves, day in and day out. Today, He may return. Today, the trumpet may sound. Today, the sky may split. Today, the archangel may cry. Today, you may be called to account. So, live well! Carry on with your work in the field, but do it well and do it for Christ! Carry on with your work at the mill, but do it well and do it for Christ! Manage your master’s household, and do it as though Christ were to return, and you’ll be rewarded with an inheritance forever. Savor your life, enjoy your life, live your life, seize the day, and do it all for Christ! Christian, how would you like to be found living if Christ were to return today? How differently would your Christmas celebration be? How differently would you think and spend and love? There isn’t time to waste! Live now!

Jesus is coming back to judge and to bless.

“one will be taken and one left....Blessed is that servant....there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” There is a contrast here between true disciples and the falsely converted. Contrast between saving faith and casual unbelief. We're not presented with one group who is strongly pro-God and the other who is maliciously anti-God. No, we have one group who is vigilant in their faith and belief. They believe steadfastly in the word of God and remain vigilant, knowing for certain that He will return even if He seems delayed. But, the other group is not presented as anti-God, but more indifferent to God. They probably would say that God is there. They just don't live as though He is. This is the contrast. Noah’s generation was not necessarily condemned for not believing God exists. They were condemned because they lived as though He isn’t.’

Jesus is the Dividing Edge of Eternity

Jesus is the dividing edge of eternity. He is the blade the cuts through every generation. There is not middle ground with him. One side will be condemned, and the other side will reap a reward of grace so unfathomable that they will have forever to figure it out. One side will believe in his promises and enjoy their fulfillment. The other side will ignore them and be destroyed by their fulfillment. One will be taken, and one will be left. One will be blessed, and one will be cut in half. One will rule with Christ over all that He owns, and the other will go to a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Jesus is coming back to judge and to bless. His return will be wonderful, and it will be terrible. As the flood surprised, so will Christ's second advent. As the flood divided, so will Christ's return. As the flood provoked some to screams of terror and other to songs of praise, so will the trumpet's sound. So, ignore those feelings of complacency. Disregard how crazy and costly your wise living will be. Deny the desire you have to just carry on. No, come to Christ, and be blessed. Place your faith in the baby born at Bethlehem, in the Suffering Servant on his cross, and the Lion of Judah who is to return!
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