Monday, October 14, 2013

I Believe in Christ's Return

There are many weird things you can hear about the return of Christ and the end of time. 
This morning I would like to share my beliefs up front, and then cut right to the chase of exposition of what Jesus said about His second coming, the "Parousia".  Your pastor is a "pre-millennial-tribulationist".  I believe that Christ will return to earth to rule for a thousand years when He comes; this will happen after a period of 7 years of Satanically-inspired world domination by the Antichrist and the Beast. 
But that will all be AFTER the church has been "caught away" in the rapture (a term used to describe the lifting of the church out of the world so we can be with Jesus during those events described in the middle chapters of Revelation.) 
Now, having unloaded all the complicated terminology I learned in seminary, let's talk English about the event every Christian should be waiting for and thinking about, the next great event in the history of mankind, the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There has always been a lot of speculation, including those who would set a specific date for the end of things.  Two decades ago a man was in the news constantly because he had announced the end was upon us.  I read his booklet, listened to the hype, and took it in stride when the date came...and went! 
Having heard the man interviewed I truly believe that he was sincere.  But that doesn't mean he was right....He was simply sincerely wrong.  He had gotten carried away with Bible dates, prophecies and predictions.  He attributed significance to certain Biblical and non-biblical events that were not bedrock when applied to accepted practice of interpreting scripture. 

Example....If you take the world leaders of the World War II era, Churchill, Hitler, Roosevelt, Il Duce (Mussolini), Stalin and Tojo; you see that the first letters of their names spell Christ.  Next, look at the chart...
You notice that each column totals the same...3,888.  You could make quite a compelling case for something based upon the numerical possibilities of all those numbers adding up to something.  However, what spiritual meaning can you draw from that?  Is it the year 3,888 that Christ is to come back?  And by which calendar?  If it is our calendar, the Lord won’t come back for almost another two thousand years; if by the Chinese calendar, we’ve already missed it! 
That kind of speculative hypothesizing might be intensely interesting, but you can't draw conclusions about God's plan for mankind that way. 
In fact you can only get in trouble, because the Word of God strictly forbids such practices of numerology, astrology and the like for making decisions about your life.  When the Bible is silent on an issue, it is safe to draw prudent, intelligent conclusions, not wild speculation. 
But the Bible is not quiet about the day of the return of the Lord, Jesus Christ.  It speaks loudly and clearly (Note verse 36), it says YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO KNOW THE DAY!  Beloved, there are some things God, for His own reasons, does not want you to know.  Deuteronomy 29:29 calls them the secret things
Now, I have spent much space to bring us to the point of saying this one thing..... Satan has always tried to muddy the water when it comes to the doctrine of Christ's return.  He wants to keep us dangling like puppets on a spiritual string.  He can't do much about the documented fact of an empty tomb, and the day of Pentecost, and the witness of the church these past 2000 years.  But if he can, he will mislead you, deceive you and keep you bogged-down in questions and wondering that will water down your effectiveness as a servant of the Lord.
So, what do we do?  Do we forget about the Lord's return, and just not worry about it?  No, we should be studying, praying for, and proclaiming it.  But let's stay with what we KNOW, and leave the speculation and date-setting to the star-gazers. 
Here are two TRUTHS you can count on about the second coming....
He IS coming!
The return of Jesus Christ is a reality.  Notice the CERTAINTY OF THE EVENT! 
Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory.    Matthew 24:30 (NRSVA)
Jesus said He would come in the clouds, and in glory.  This is a bodily return.  It is not mystical, or just spiritual; Jesus, the man, is coming back. 
ð In John (14:3) Jesus said "...and if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself..." 
ð In Acts (1:11) the angels said it would be that very same Jesus who would return to the earth. 
We could cite Biblical references that number in the hundreds about the return of the Lord.  If you have settled in your own heart that the Word of God is true you should have no trouble believing that Jesus is coming back.  Yes, He is coming, that much is certain.
But WHY IS HE COMING??  We understand the certainty of the event.  But what is the purpose?  Verse 31 tells us that it is the gathering together of the "elect", the people of God, His church.
ð 1 Thessalonians (4:16, 17) tells us that Jesus is coming for His bride. 
In "The Chronicles of Narnia", C.S. Lewis' weaves an intricate allegory of the battle between heaven and hell.  Jesus is represented by the Lion "Aslan".  The children who exist in an Alice-in-Wonderland-like place called Narnia represent the church.
Things go badly for the children as Aslan is killed, and it looks like the children will have to serve darkness forever.  But just when it is the darkest hour, just when reason and right seem to have lost, Aslan returns and brings in the kingdom. 
That's what meaning the word "redeem" holds for me.  Jesus is coming to claim what is rightfully His...a church, the children who are walking in a land of darkness.  The return of Christ is real.  He is coming.  But a second truth is that
We must be ready!
Note these verses:
Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.    Matthew 24:42 (NRSVA)
Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.  Matthew 24:44 (NRSVA)
As we've said, the return of Jesus cannot be predicted.  That is something God has reserved for Himself.  But the second half of that message is we must rightly understand the fact that Jesus desires that His people live and look in light of the imminence of His coming.  We are not to point to a time and day to say THIS is the day, but we are to conduct ourselves as IF this was the day. 
How do we "watch" for His coming?  How shall we "get ready"?  Primarily by understanding the "signs" Jesus said would accompany His return, and responding accordingly.
Note the signs Jesus told us to watch for:
For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray. Matthew 24:5 (NRSVA)
We live in an age of deception.  Sum Yung Moon was supposed to be the Christ returned to unify all believers (Unification Church), but he only turned out to be a tax evader.
For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: Matthew 24:7 (NRSVA)
ð Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Korea….take your choice.  Is there ever a time without war somewhere on this planet? 
ð The recent famines in the third world have been the worst in centuries. 
ð The AIDS epidemic could be the worst plague to hit this earth, EVER!  It could conceivably wipe out whole civilizations. 
ð In the 1900 years leading up to the present, there have never been more than 5 major earthquakes recorded in any century.  Yet, in the last century there have been more than 40 killer quakes….and they are (at least anecdotally) getting stronger.
“Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name.     Matthew 24:9 (NRSVA)
Even the most naïve among us would not hold that we are a Christian nation any longer; however, the rest of the world still perceives that.  Accordingly, it should not surprise us when attacks like 9-11, and subsequent terrorist plots are from extremists warring against Christian principles.  We are hated because our Master was hated, and the world will despise those who follow Jesus.[1]
And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold.     Matthew 24:12 (NRSVA)

From just one page of a newspaper in August, 16 years ago (but it reads like it could be this week):         
ð A convicted murderer is released from prison after only 5  years.
ð A man is indicted for murdering a 13-year old.
ð A mother is indicted for drowning her two toddlers. 
ð A 17-year old is indicted for executing a classmate he didn't like.
ð A mother is indicted for abusing her 2-month old baby girl...for the second time.  She bent the baby's arms back until they broke, then dashed her head-first on the floor, fracturing her skull.
Iniquity, gross disregard for human life, cold-hearted distain for the Creator of life, has taken its foothold in American everyday life.
And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.  Matthew 24:14 (NRSVA)
The one bright spot for believers is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is truly being preached in every corner of the world today.  The signs of the times are clear.  I set no dates; but in my soul I feel the closeness of the coming of Jesus.  And that brings us to the question of the hour:
What will happen when King Jesus arrives?
     When the King arrives in His glory He is going to find two kinds of people --
“Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives.                              Matthew 24:45-46 (NRSVA)
This describes the members of Jesus’ family.  Note the word "slave" denotes someone who is serving faithfully.  In the next verse it indicates that those who have prepared for the coming of the Lord will be rewarded.  He will also find…
But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards,      Matthew 24:48-49 (NRSVA)
These are those folks who have decided that worshipping God in this life is secondary, if necessary at all!  It is the order of the day.  We call it hedonism, making my own choices, doing my own thing.  In a word, it is called apathy....
caring not my Lord was crucified,  caring not it was for me He died, on Calvary. 
There is a judgment for that! 
In the following verses Jesus warned that it would come like an unexpected foreman finding you asleep on the job. 
the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know.  He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
                Matthew 24:50-51 (NRSVA)
What will happen to those who aren't ready?
The results listed in Revelation 20:11-15 are clear.
Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them.  And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.  Also another book was opened, the book of life.  And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books.  And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done.  Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.  (NRSVA)
Hell is a real place, a place of torment, a forever place. 
Just like the children's game of hide and seek there are only two conditions...
Ready or Not
But friends, beloved, this is no game! 
Are you ready?  King Jesus is coming. 
On the night of March 29, 1848 mighty Niagara Falls stopped flowing.  It was sudden; it had never happened before.  There was silence that was deafening.  It was so strange it brought people to their front doors, frightened and bewildered.  People hurried to the place where millions of tons of water per second rush over the precipice.  Flares and torches were brought.  There, in the illumined darkness were only long stretches of mud and boulders in the empty river bed. 
Panic struck many, fearing the end of the world.  The next night found many of the area's churches flooded with people praying, frantic to find peace with the God they knew they'd see shortly. 
But then, just about 30 hours after it stopped, the Niagara began to flow once again.  It seems that the river's entrance near Lake Erie, a heavy wind had jammed tons of ice, damming the river for nearly two days.  In a few days the praying and church-going, and being kind, loving one another all went back to pre-emergency status.  People went back to living as usual.
It was the same after September 11, 2001; after the 9-11 attack on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington there was a brief flurry of fearful running to the churches.  Did it change worship habits substantially?  Not really; and even in a world that is fraught with terrorists and uncertainty, people still imagine nothing will really happen to affect their lives.
How would you react to such an event?  Are you ready?  The next to last verse in the Bible quotes Jesus as saying:  "I come quickly". 
ð The first time He came, he went to a cross to extend to all who will respond an invitation to join His family, and be ready. 
ð His second coming is also an invitation.  But it will only be to those whom He calls by name. 
Beloved, has God written YOUR name in His Book of Life?  If you wrestle with that question for awhile, your heart will hear an answer from heaven.  It will either be, your faith has set you free, or, depart from me, I never knew you.  It is not too late to change the wrong answer to the right answer!  It is your decision.

[1] John 15:18

No comments:

Post a Comment