Looking Forward to Christ's Return
First Sunday of Advent, Year A,
Church of the Resurrection, Cranberry Township, PA.
Dec. 2, 1989.
Texts: Matthew 24, Acts 1, Romans 13
Subject Looking forward to Christ's return
I. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas has always been one of my favorite times of year. As a boy growing up, I used to love the smell of wood burning in fireplaces and the crisp, cold air. And as the time for Christmas approached, the excitement and enthusiasm would begin to build slowly and grow- big things were in store!! Mom and Dad would lock us out of their room as sounds that sounded suspiciously like wrapping paper would emanate from behind that door. The house would get decorated, cards would begin to pour in from friends and family, and Mom would start cooking and baking a lot of neat stuff.
A. And then it would be Christmas Eve. I remember one year in particular. I must have been about 5 or 6 and I had finally understood the deepest mystery about Christmas. I had finally figured out at that ripe old age that Rudolph the Red-Nosed reindeer was the headlight for Santa's sleigh and all I had to do if I wanted to see Santa coming was to stand at the window and watch for that red nose! After all, in my vast experience, every time Christmas rolled around, Mom and Dad assured me that it was Santa who had brought all those neat presents every Christmas morning. So, I figured that if I wanted to meet this fellow, I needed to stay by the window and watch. So, all through that Christmas Eve, I would keep going to the front windows, straining to see Rudolph's red nose. I was eager and full of anticipation because I knew that when Santa stopped at the house, there were always marvelous things to play with the next day!
B. Since becoming a Christian, I have learned the true meaning of Christmas, the great Gift from God sent to His sinful Creation to redeem it and save it. And I have come to realize that that same sense of eager expectation with which I waited for Rudolph ought to mark our lives as we wait and look for the Return of our Lord.
C. As we enter the Advent season, we in the Church are doing two things;
1. We are both looking back at that incredible moment in history when Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem and,
2. we are looking forward to Christ's second Coming in power to manifest the triumph of His Kingdom in the world.
D. Our gospel lesson this evening emphasizes this second point, that Christ will come again to claim His own. Tonight I would like to share with you some thoughts concerning this great shining truth, that Christ will come again.
II. To examine this, we will look at three aspects of Christ's return:
A. First, we will examine THE FACT OF CHRIST'S RETURN.;
B. Second, we will see WHAT LIFE WILL BE LIKE BEFORE CHRIST RETURNS;
C. Third, we will look at WHAT WILL HAPPEN AT THE TIME OF CHRIST'S RETURN ;
D. And then we will finish by examining HOW WE OUGHT TO WATCH AND BE READY FOR CHRIST'S RETURN.
III. First, the Fact of Christ's return:
A. Let me set the context for this passage from Matthew,
1.Jesus and His disciples are sitting on the Mount of Olives. This is a mountain that lies directly across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem. From that location, it is possible to look out over a large part of Jerusalem. It is directly across from the Temple mount in Jerusalem. This means that while Jesus is speaking with them, they can see in the background the Temple of God, which was the greatest piece of architecture in Israel at the time.
2. In Matthew 24:1, Jesus and the disciples are leaving the Temple. The disciples try to get Jesus to look at this magnificent building. It was the symbol of God's blessing and presence with Israel and as such stood at the heart of every pious Jews devotion. The sense of reverence they felt for that building may in some small measure be compared with the awe one feels standing in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. There, emblazoned all around are great moments in American History and enshrined for all to see are the principles that have made this country great. There's a feel to that place unlike any other place- you realize that you are standing in the middle of something greater and more glorious than yourself. It was the same way for the first century Jews- the Temple evoked in them a sense of awe and wonder, for here was the very heart of their religion.
3. But Jesus tells them flat out, "Do you see this building? I tell you the truth, it will be destroyed completely." Imagine their surprise! Here was the very heart and symbol of God's abiding presence and Jesus said it would be destroyed! Naturally, they ask Him when will these things be?
4. Jesus in chapters 24 and 25 then goes through to explain to them three things: When the Temple will be destroyed, what signs will accompany His return and when the end of the ages will occur. Our passage from Matthew is set in the middle of this, His last extended time of teaching.
B. The passage deals with Christ's return. The disciples already had an inkling of an idea that Jesus was going away from them, because they had asked what the sign of His coming back would be. And now Jesus is instructing them as to when He will come back. And this brings us to the first point:
C. The Fact that Jesus Christ will come again.
1.There has been much confusion over this for a long time. I would like to simply point out a few facts surrounding this notion.
a. The first is that it was the common teaching of Jesus that He would return. In each of the four gospels, we have recorded that Jesus taught He would return to earth one day. Matt. 24:37; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:25-28; John 14:1-4.
b. Second, in Acts 1, at His ascension, The disciples were staring into the sky where Jesus had just gone, when two angels suddenly appear to them and tell them that Jesus will come back in the same way they saw Him leave.
c. Third it is the uniform testimony of all the writers of Scripture that Jesus will come again. Nearly every book in the New Testament touches in some way on the fact that He will come back and most speak about the nature of our lives as a result of that fact.
D. So, Christ will come again. We have the testimony of the Scriptures that settles the issue for us as Christ's followers.
IV. Because He is coming back, we need to look at WHAT LIFE WILL BE LIKE BEFORE CHRIST RETURNS
A. In v. 37-39, Jesus draws a parallel between the days of Noah and the Flood in Genesis and His own return. Jesus says:
"But, as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the Flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the Ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the Flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man."
1. Jesus says that when He returns, the general preparedness of the earth for His return will resemble that in the days of Noah. So what happened in the days of Noah and the flood?
a. God told Noah to build an ark. In Genesis 6, God attests that Noah was a righteous man. It also says that he was the ONLY righteous man on the face of the whole earth at that time. God told him to build an ark in which to save himself, his wife, his three sons and their wives. Also, God told him to take on board two of every living creature that lived on the earth. So he began to build it when he was 500 years old. He finished the ark when he was 600. It took him 100 years, according to Scripture, to build that boat. And according, to Scripture, the earth at that time did not have rain. It had never rained on earth. The climate was much different from what we are used to today.
b. The people of his day scoffed at him, called him foolish, and wondered why he was wasting so much time and good wood in the building of that thing. Noah tried to warn them, I'm sure, as it would have been only natural for them to ask what he was doing. The awful judgment of God was hanging over their heads and they had before them a visible warning as the ark took shape. But they went on about their ordinary daily living without a care or a thought to the warning before them.
c. Note how ordinary their lives were- how similar to our own! They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, living life as if there was no need to change any of their ways. They kept right on with no thought of their eternal destiny right up to the moment that Noah went into the finished ark. And then it started to rain.
d. Imagine, if you will, the sheer panic of that time- Oh my gosh!!! Noah was right! As the waters began to rise, they sensed they were in big trouble. It had never flooded before. It had never rained before. All of a sudden, it dawned on them that they were all doomed. Can you imagine the helpless panic,the sheer terror as those waters rose? I've often wondered how many of them went and banged on the door of the ark, pleading and begging for mercy. But it was too late! The day and time for repentance had passed and they had refused to understand and heed the warning. God Himself had shut the door to the ark for Noah, thus demonstrating that His eternal purpose was established and firm. It was too late to change anything. Those on the outside of God's plan were doomed by their own sin. Those on the inside were saved because they had believed God and taken heed to His warnings by obeying His commands.
B. And so it will be when Christ returns. Look again at the passage: v. 37- As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. And then Jesus gives us two snapshots of what life will be like at His return.
1. V. 40- two men will be in the field- Men will be going about their daily, normal lives, doing the things that they always do. Here, the picture is of two men out farming, working in the fields.
2. V. 41- Two women will be grinding at the mill- women in the days of Christ typically did a lot of the grain grinding using a "handmill." It generally took two of them to make it run. But, they too, were involved in the normal events of life, preparing grain to be eaten, hard at work in the daily concerns of living. People will be engaged in the everyday activities of life, just like they were in the days of Noah.
V. This brings us to what will happen at the time of Christ's return:
A. Jesus says that it will be clearly visible to all who are on the earth at the time. v. 27 says, "As the lightening flashes from the east to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be." V. 29, there will be terrible effects in the heavens as the sun stops shining, the moon stops its light, and the stars fall from the heavens. V. 30- then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven- it will be clear to everybody! and all the tribes of earth will mourn. (This I believe is referring to the same sort of response the people of Noah's day had to the Flood- they suddenly realized that the end was here and they weren't ready for it. So it will be when Jesus returns.)
B. Then He will send out His angels to gather together His elect- the one's He has chosen from before all time to be saved. And then, as they do so, one will be taken from the field and the other left, one will be taken from the mill and the other left. Some people will be taken and others will be left behind.
C. It will happen at a moment when no one is expecting it. Everyone will be surprised when it happens. Jesus says that He will come at an hour when we do not expect Him. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5 says that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. You never know when a thief is coming. It is the same with our Lord's return. Because this is so, Jesus tells His disciples to watch and be ready.
1. Who are the ones who are taken? They are the ones whom Christ has known and who have been watching for His return. They are the ones who are ready for Him to come.
2. The picture this reminds me of is that of the Minutemen. During the American Revolutionary War, the men would often carry their muskets with them wherever they were going- whether it was to work, or to the Tavern, or just around town. Why? They needed to be ready for the alarm to sound out that the British were coming. When they heard the drum roll, they would drop everything and go running to the assembly point and prepare to fight a battle. They were called Minutemen because it only took them a minute to get ready for the battle- they were already prepared for the fight and had all their equipment with them at all times. There is a famous statue in Concord Massachusetts of a minuteman. He has his musket in his hand and he is gripping his ammunition in his other hand. Behind him is a plow, that he obviously has just stepped away from because he heard the call to arms. He was prepared.
D. This is a useful picture of what it means to be ready when our Lord comes. It will be those who are ready and able to drop all and step away from this world who will be gathered to Christ by the angels.
VI. So, how should we watch and be ready for Christ's return?
A. There are several wrong notions that we need to clear up about watching for our Lord's return.
1. The first is the temptation to drop all the activities of life. From time to time in the history of the Church, there have been those who have argued that it was necessary to drop all of one's normal daily living and go, watch for the Lord's return.
a. It was reported that in the year 999, as the year wound down, there was an almost universal expectation in western Europe that the end of the world was coming and that the Lord was going to return at the New Year. People shut their shops, crops were left rotting in the fields, they broke off their usual family relationships, and they gathered in small bands all over Europe, anxiously awaiting the dread appearing. Someone said in comment on that time that, "The sensation of sheer terror probably never reached such a height in this world as when the ebbing moments of that fated year ran out to its close." They thought they knew when the Lord was going to return and so they tried to get ready for it by dropping the normal course of their everyday lives. And they were terrified! They, like the people in Noah's day realized too late, knew that once He returned, there would be no second chances and that repentance would no longer be possible.
2. Secondly, it is a wrong notion to suppose that no one need fear that day. Those who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior rightly fear His return. Those who refuse to submit to His sovereign will now will find that they are excluded from His kingdom then when He returns. They will be left out.
3. And third, the opposite extreme from the first is to not watch at all. Remember the people of Noah's day- they refused to heed the warnings and so were not ready when the floods came upon the earth. Look at Matt. 24: 48-51- The one who refuses to watch and concludes that because his master has not come, then he is not going to come, so he might as well whoop it up and cut loose- his Lord suddenly returns when he is not ready. What happens to him? He gets thrown out into the darkness and cut off. This is the lot of many in our day and age.
B. So, having looked at that, what things ought to mark our lives as people who are ready and watchful for our Lord's return?
C. Jesus tells us one set of criterion in the passage just after our reading.
"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master , when he comes, will find so doing."
1. This servant was busily engaged in the task his master had set him to do. It is the same with us. we need to be busy about the tasks that God has given us to do, seeking to faithfully fulfill them. It will be while we are in the midst of them that God will come to us.
D. I believe our reading from Romans 13 gives us some additional answers.
1. Owe no one anything- the idea here is to not be tied into the things of this world, whether wealth or power or things. Be ready at a moment's notice to leave this world, free from the encumbrances of its things. But, this also implies having right relationships. As Paul goes on, except the continuing debt to love one another. Our relationships need to be right and up to date.
2. VV. 9-10 emphasize the need to choose to love. The Greek word used here is agape, which reflects the notion that love is something we choose to do to bring blessing to another. It is not a feeling. You can choose to love someone even though you do not feel like it.
3. Understand that this great event is closer now than when we first believed. Paul urges us to WAKE UP, keep our sense about us and keep watch because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
4. Are there things in your life you would be embarrassed to have come out into the open? Renounce them, give them up, let them go. Have done with the deeds of darkness. We all know what areas we still need to grow in and where we have not surrendered to Christ. Let Him come in and clean those things out of you tonight. As you partake of the eucharist, ask Him to come in afresh and remake you anew. And He will. Live as a child of God, out in the open, in the daytime, having renounced the evil deeds of darkness.
E. As we order our lives after this pattern, we will find that we are slowly but surely becoming ready for that great day when Christ will return.
A. If we knew exactly when Christ was going to return, it would be very easy for us to get ready for it. remember taking a test at school? You generally knew well in advance when it was going to be and were able to prepare for it. But, we do not know the time or hour of Christ's return. Remember pop quizzes? You never knew when they might occur, but when they did, you had no chance to prepare for them. If you didn't know the material, you were stuck. In a very real sense, Christ's return will be like that- those who are ready will find nothing to fear, but those who aren't will find terror and shame.
B. Because He is coming back and because we do not know the time or day of His appearing, we need to be faithful to the task He has called us to. We need to be ready to go at a moment's notice, awake and aware to the signs of the times, and living our lives expectantly that He will come again. So this Christmas time, as we celebrate Christ's first Advent, remember that He came to save us from the terror of His second advent and take us home to be with Him forever. And be ready for Him. AMEN.` `