Come Again Isa 64.1-9; Ps 80:1-7, 17-19; 1 Cor 1:1-9; Mark 13:24-37
I cannot recall a sermon topic which has been more of a challenge to my own spirituality than this one. With teaching on the Second Coming of Jesus occupying about 10% of the New Testament this subject is obviously very important to God. Unfortunately the Church tends to swing between immature extremes as far as the Return of Christ is concerned.
As an impressionistic new believer attending a Pentecostal Church in the 70’s we were taught that the Cold War would lead to Armageddon and the End of the world. Reading The Late Great Planet Earth, a book that sold 28 million copies, I heard that Jesus would come back before 1988 and I felt very scared. What about this recent picture of a happy looking African riding a bike with a huge poster “Jesus Is Coming Back” on its handle bars. He is much closer to the spirit of the New Testament than most of us sophisticated Westerners. Jesus repeatedly says in the book of Revelation, “I am coming soon”” (3:11; 22:7, 12, 20). Hebrews takes it as a matter of fact that believers are “eagerly” awaiting the coming of Christ (Heb 9:28; cf. Tit 2:13).
The gap between these biblical affirmations and our contemporary experience is huge, Australian Christians regularly recite the Creed “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead”, but what practical difference does this testimony make to our lives. When was the last time someone asked you why your life is “different” from the average and you gave an answer in terms of your hope in the Second Coming (1 Pet 3:15)? John’s pastoral exhortation should hold our attention; “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.” (1 John 2:28). Ambitions to see the kids/grandkids grow up are real, plans to enjoy retirement and travel are real, study and work goals are real etc. but the Return of Jesus to End the world just doesn’t seem real. The Lord warned us that coldness towards his Return would happen.
Let me start with a very perplexing scripture; “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32). Jesus normally talks confidently of his knowledge of the Father (John 5:20 cf. 15:1; Matt 11:27), but here he explains the Father has intentionally not revealed to him the time of his Return. Jesus is deeply longing to come back cleanse to end all suffering and sin and to perfect his Bride the Church (Eph 5:25-27; 2 Pet 3:11-13; Rev 19:6-10; 21:1-4); yet he remains in submission to his Father about the secret timing of his Return. Whilst it is foolish to attempt to calculate the time of the Second Coming, to get on with life as though it can never happen in our lifetime is just as unwise; and this is the problem of our Church today
Christ warns us of the urgent need for watchfulness; ““33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come…36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”” (Mark 13:33-37). The sort of alertness Jesus has in mind is clarified by the story of the disciples in Gethsemane.
“34 And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” 35…he threw himself on the ground and prayed…36…“Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” 37 He came and found them sleeping; and he said…“…Could you not keep awake one hour? 38 Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial…”” (Mark 14:34-38).
Every Sunday we pray “Save us from the time of trial” but like the disciples asleep in Gethsemane if we are not on alert for the return of our Master we have already submitted to temptation. Spiritual slumber is a surprisingly everyday affair. Jesus said, ““in Noah’s day. 38 …before the flood, the people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage… 39 People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man returns.”” (Matthew 24:37-39). The sudden judgement of God will come on people, not because they are murderers, robbers or rapists, but simply because they are too preoccupied with the cares of this life to care about Christ’s Return as Judge (Mark 4:19). Let me put the importance of anticipating Jesus’ Return in another way.
Knowing he faces martyrdom Paul writes; “there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on the day he returns, and not only to me but also to all who have loved and longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Paul loves and longs for the Return of Jesus because it will mean the marvellous completion of the purpose for which God created the world. As a young man the search for the meaning of life nearly drove me crazy, especially when I had been drinking. But then I met Jesus, and the reason why I was born, studied, then later married, worked, had children, ministered and so on was revealed. Jesus came, suffered, died, rose from the dead and is coming back so that we might share in the eternal love that he has enjoyed with the Father from eternity (John 17:23-26). If most of the Australian church functions as if there was no Second Coming it is because we do not know the deep heart of God. To go deeper with God we must understand God the Father as the ultimate answer to everything.
The speaker in Isaiah who so boldly cries out to God; “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,” does so at a time when it seems like the anger of the Lord has settled on stricken Israel. Instead of throwing his hands up in despair this man of faith appeals to the most fundamental relationship we can ever have with God; “But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isa 64:1, 5, 8). As in Isaiah’s day, the deepest revelations of God as Father come to us when our circumstances suggest he has abandoned us.
Whilst the disciples fell asleep in Gethsemane Jesus prayerfully remained on guard and met the Father in a marvellous way. Though his grief was so great that he felt he was dying then and there he addressed God in an exceptional way, “Abba! Father!” “Dear, dear, Father!” (Mark 14:34, 36). Jesus knew that the Father had sovereignly set the painful circumstances and time of his death just as he has marked the exact time of his Return (Mark 13:32; John 3:16; Gal 4:4; Acts 2:23). The sovereign Father, who alone knows why we have been waiting 2000 years for Jesus to come back, is known in the intimacy of “Abba” in the midst of terrible (apocalyptic) trials when the whole world seems to be in convulsion and all outward evidence, the evidence of terror, violence, disease and neglect, suggest that God is full of anger (Isa 64:5, 9; Ps 80:4). The deep human conviction that God is an angry Father explains Jesus’ prediction “will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on earth?’ (Luke 18:7-8)!
Peter long ago prophesied of the times in which we live; “scoffers will come in the last days…saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.” (2 Peter 3:3-4). People just get on with life as though this world will go on and on and on because there is no one coming who will bring justice to the earth (Acts 17:31).
Praying last Wednesday here in church I came across this scripture which speaks directly to our struggles to sense the importance of the Second Coming. “29 Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up …so that what you say will do good to those who hear you. 30 And do not make God’s Holy Spirit sad; for the Spirit is God’s …guarantee that the Day will come when God will set you free.” (Eph 4:29-30). Negative thinking and speaking grieves the Holy Spirit so we cannot sense his joy and anticipation in revealing to us the reality of the Return of Christ. The Bible story culminates in these words addressed to Jesus; ““The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.”””(Rev 22:17). No one who has negativity, resentment, bitterness or anger in their heart can ever hear the Spirit’s happy voice calling out to Jesus to come back. Our Church is full of people whose traumatic life experiences are blocking a spontaneous spiritual longing for Jesus to Return. Let me list some traumas.
Unless you have already received a miracle of inner healing: if you have suffered domestic abuse your heart will not thrill at the prospect of being eternally married to Jesus; if you have endured verbal abuse the thought of having Christ’s thoughts filling your mind will not be inspirational; if you have had the trauma of sexual abuse the notion of unlimited intimacy with Jesus cannot excite you; for those who have suffered physical abuse the thought of losing all control over your own when the Lord returns life is not a happy one. A few of us are openly aggressive people, others are simply passively aggressive, some of us are angry at God for not rescuing us from a terrible situation, a few are enraged about what is happening to others and there is no one to defend them. Many regular churchgoers deep down fell that the Father of Jesus is disappointed with them and have no desire to meet him at the judgement. All these natural human responses to pain cut off the inspiring revelation of the soon Return of Christ.
Since I believe that God is always speaking to us through current events I need to say something about the Phillip Hughes tragedy. The mass national outpouring of grief is a sign that our deep national ethic of a “Fair Go!” has been radically challenged. Aussies believe if it’s not fair it’s not right and therefore it should never happen. It’s just not fair that talented young people die. Christians must with boldness proclaim that much of life isn’t fair, on the surface it does not look like God is fair, and the only guarantee that fairness will prevail is that Jesus is coming back to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end. That Jesus will Return full of the righteous anger of his Father to cleanse the world of all that is abusive, destructive and unfair is a core part of the gospel (2 Thess 1:5-10; James 1:19-20). A gospel which encourages the followers of Jesus by these words to live with supreme confidence; “ you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 1:7-8).
That Jesus is coming back soon is measureless good news and the only real hope for a world smitten by suffering, terror and death. When Paul wants to explain to the Church how it is “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” he expounds the Second Coming (1 Thess 4:13). Our ability to impart hope in the midst of suffering has fallen a long way since Paul’s day. After the 9/11 disaster there was a spike in church attendance in America, but within six months there were less church-goers than before. Why? Because the Western Church has lost the power of the hope of the Return of Christ (1 John 3:2-3). We are like a Bride who does not expect her Groom to turn up at the altar, like an abused person not expecting justice from a Judge or like an innocence person anticipating they will be declared guilty by a tribunal. God’s entire reputation as holy and just rides on the Return of Christ. At the end of Revelation, a book which with unique power tells the story of the vile abuses of human history and the trail of bloodied injustice flowing from persecution, there arises a great and unified reply from the saints of God to the words of Jesus. Our Lord says, ““Surely I am coming soon.” The Church replies; “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20).
If you know you love the Lord and also know that your desire to see him come back is weak, we need to ask him to send his Spirit so that we really and truly want him to come back soon. And for those who amongst us who have no interest at all in the proclamation that Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, we will pray for you, for you are in imminent danger of a lost eternity.