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Together With Jesus

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Dearly loved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

The days are getting shorter and darker, at this time of the year.  We lose 2 minutes of sunlight/day: the sun rises a minute later each morning and the sun sets a minute earlier each evening. 

I’ve noticed the change this year, especially in the morning.  Before last week’s time change, my kids got on the bus in the dark each morning.  Now, that the time has changed, they don’t have as much time to play outside after school before dark. 

Working and playing are more challenging in the dark: doing outside chores, standing by the road waiting for the bus.  Yet there are some jobs that require you to work in the dark. 

I’ve been reading a book about Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.  Even with night-vision equipment, it’s a challenge to stand on guard in the dark.  The darkness hides so much.  It leaves you guessing and speculating about what’s out there, hidden by the lack of sunshine.  Darkness makes it hard to stay on guard.  It’s hard to stay alert and vigilant at night. 

God’s Word says, “The day of the Lord’s coming will come like a thief in the night.”  There is an element of surprise.  As he writes about Jesus’ return, Paul makes people’s preparedness a dividing line between believers and unbelievers.

Unbelievers won’t be prepared.  They will be lulling each other to sleep saying, “Peace and safety.”  Everything is alright. 

But the destruction and judgement of Jesus’ return will come on them suddenly.  They will be unprepared and foolish like drunks on an all-night bender.  The judgement and wrath of God will come with all the sound and fury described by Jesus & Revelation & the OT prophets.   Those without faith in Jesus will not escape God’s wrath.  His return will catch them unprepared.

In contrast, believers are called to be prepared for the coming of the Lord.  We are called to be watchful: alert and self-controlled.  There’s no room for drunkenness.  Too much alcohol dulls the senses and leaves us without self-control.  That’s not the state believers want to be in when our Master and King returns.

But when will he return?

Sometimes we read books or hear speculation on Christian talk-shows from people who claim to have Jesus’ return all figured out.  Often they are evangelical Christians who talk confidently about the events and dates of the end times in ways that Reformed Christians aren’t accustomed to hearing in church.  From time-to-time I’ll get an email asking questions, clarifying the Bible’s teaching on death and end-times – “eschatology.”

The first thing to say, regarding those who claim to have timelines and charts to determine when Jesus will return, is that we don’t know the day or the hour.[1]  We read in I Thess. 5: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” 

There will be an element of surprise in Jesus’ return.  Jesus’ return is not like planning a C-section, when your surgery could be scheduled several weeks in advance. 

No, waiting for Jesus’ return is like waiting for labour to begin.  You know there’s a window of about a month or so.  But you don’t know if the baby will come 2 weeks before her due date or if he’ll be two weeks late or some-when in between.

Believers know that Jesus will return.  He said he’ll return.  Twice in the last chapter of the Bible, Jesus is even quoted saying, “Behold, I am coming soon!”[2] 

We just don’t know when “soon” is.  Obviously “soon” for God isn’t what we consider soon.  There’s something unknown here. 

That’s always been the challenge for watchmen, soldiers, and guards.  You never know when a thief is going to come. Yet guards are expected to be ready when it happens.  So also, God’s Word instructs Christians to be prepared, for the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 

We could continue the analogy to expectant parents.  It’s obvious to a pregnant mom that the baby is going to arrive sometime.  Only the most foolish ignore the need to get ready.

God’s Word calls believers to the same kind of readiness.  We’re not in the dark any longer so that we should be surprised by Jesus’ arrival.  We belong to the light and to the day:

Since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.

The day of Jesus’ return is not a fearsome event for believers.  We won’t face judgement when Jesus returns.  We aren’t afraid of the wrath of God, because Jesus endured the punishment for sin in our place on the cross.  The day of Jesus’ coming is the day when we will experience the fullness of our salvation.

Are you ready?

Are you ready for Christ to return?

I ask because we don’t always live as if we expect Jesus to come back this afternoon or tomorrow.  

When we think about it, most of us consider our own death will happen before Jesus returns.  But that doesn’t change the question.  Are you ready to meet the Lord?

Our form of preparation for the Lord’s Supper helps us ask some of these questions.  It makes sense if we are preparing ourselves to sit down at the Lord’s Table and eat and drink with Jesus this afternoon.  There’s a reminder to confess our sins against God and against our neighbour and seek forgiveness. 

Yet the Lord’s Supper is also a time for our faith to be strengthened.  To eat and drink, taste and feel the symbols of Jesus’ death and resurrection.   To be sealed again as citizens of God’s Kingdom. To be quiet, remember, and believe – strengthening our faith for the battle.

We have scheduled time this week to pause and think about people who have died in battle:  Remembrance Day.  Soldiers on a battlefield are very aware that they may die.  It makes them alert, watchful.

Christians are also engaged in a battle – and called to be watchful.  It is the epic battle between light and dark, good and evil, the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. 

But we know that we have gained the victory through Jesus.

What is our comfort and assurance?  Paul mentions it twice in the passage we read.  First in I Thessalonians 4:14

We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

and again in I Thessalonians 5:10

He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes all the difference in the world for us.  Jesus’ death and resurrection is our only comfort in life and in death.

The rising of the Son of God pierces the darkness and sadness of our fallen world. We’re bathed in the light of God’s Son!  Jesus’ resurrection allows us to live in the light – to stand guard and be alert.

With the discipline of soldiers, we arm ourselves with faith and love and salvation – the kind of body-armour that doesn’t change much over the centuries.  Just as Kevlar vests and helmets are standard issue in the military, so faith, love, and the hope of salvation protect the lives of God’s saints. 

That love and faith and “hope of salvation” will be strengthened this evening as we gather at the Lord’s Table to remember Jesus’ death and resurrection.  I invite all of you to come to the celebration this afternoon. 

Through the Word and Sacraments, the Lord has armed his people so we can be alert and self-controlled; so we can be prepared for our Master and King to return.  We stand on guard and alert, because we know that Jesus is coming back suddenly . . . and soon.


[1] Matt. 25:13

[2] Rev. 22:7, 12.

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