Monday, October 21, 2013

Parousia Parables

In Washington's Capitol Dome there is an inscription:
One far-off divine event toward which the whole creation moves.
We are moving into the Advent season where we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  In Christ’s first advent (appearing) we made him a bloodied corpse, hanging from crossbeams on the town garbage dump. 
According to Scripture, the next coming, the Second Advent, will be very different.  Jesus is coming as King of Kings the next time, and He's going to sit in judgment of everything wrong that's ever been done.
God has set the time, and Jesus will be back when He is back!  You will know about it.  As a believer, He has promised to come back for you.  The event will be very open, with Jesus "coming in clouds and glory." 
What will that be like?  It will be a little like the elephants at the circus; you never have to ask, "Have the elephants come in?"  You KNOW when they've arrived! 


These parables, or stories, are told by Jesus to teach one central truth.  They are like signposts, pointing to something much greater than their own reality.  When I want to go somewhere I read the road signs.  The sign that says "Jacksonville, 19 miles" out on Interstate 10 is just a bit of metal.  The reality comes later. 
A tourist was driving through West Texas and stopped at a gas station.  He saw a piece of rope dangling from a sign labeled, "Weather Forecaster."  He asked the attendant, "How can you possibly tell the weather with a piece of rope?"  "Simple, sonny," came the reply.  "When the rope swings back and forth, it's windy....when it gets wet, it's raining; when it's frozen stiff, it's snowing...and when it's gone....tornado!"
Read the SIGNS of Jesus’ return with me:

The fig tree

“Now learn a lesson from the fig tree.  When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near.  In the same way, when you see all these things, you can know his return is very near, right at the door.  
I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things take place.  Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.  “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself.  Only the Father knows.  
“When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day.  In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat.  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 comes.  “Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left.  Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.                             Matthew 24:32 - 41 (NLT)
Jesus could foresee the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.  When he referred to the generation that would still be alive when that happened, it was consistent with the way people of Jesus' day measured segments of time; a generation consisting of 40 years.  But the later, unspecified event, the Second Advent, would be sudden and unexpected by many. 
Jesus illustrates with the example of Noah.  Noah took the abuse of his neighbors as he built an ark in the sunshine for 120 years.  But one day, when God was ready, the ark door closed and the laughing subsided. 
Don't misunderstand the parable that tells you God will someday take care of business.

The Unfaithful Servant (24:42-51) 

“So you, too, must keep watch!  For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming.  Understand this:  If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into.  You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.  
“A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them.  If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward.  I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns.  But what if the servant is evil and thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk?  The master will return unannounced and unexpected, and he will cut the servant to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 24:42 - 51 (NLT)
The servant picture has a specific application to those of us who claim to be the saved.  If we misuse our position in Christ, supposing that the silence of God (for now) indicates He won't ever come back to judge, we will face a big surprise someday.  When Jesus said the returning master would "cut" the servant in pieces, the word-picture is "cut-down-to-size" – literally – the one who is unfaithful in his service. 
Make no mistake – judgment is severe for unfaithfulness.

The Ten Virgins (25:1-13) 

“The Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.  The five who were foolish didn’t take enough olive oil for their lamps, but the other five were wise enough to take along extra oil.  When the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.  
“At midnight they were roused by the shout, ‘Look, the bridegroom is coming! Come out and meet him!’  “All the bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps.  Then the five foolish ones asked the others, ‘Please give us some of your oil because our lamps are going out.’  “But the others replied, ‘We don’t have enough for all of us.  Go to a shop and buy some for yourselves.’  “But while they were gone to buy oil, the bridegroom came.
Then those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was locked.  Later, when the other five bridesmaids returned, they stood outside, calling, ‘Lord! Lord!  Open the door for us!’  “But he called back, ‘Believe me, I don’t know you!’  
“So you, too, must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of my return.       Matthew 25:1 - 13 (NLT)
There are some pretty wild theories about the identities of these ten virgins.  I suggest that what we have is simply a good story that is practical.  It tells us to "stay alert!" 
Sir Ernest Shackelton, on one of his expeditions to the Antarctic, had to leave a team of men on an ice-flow to go get supplies.  He told them he'd return within a week.  They were to wait for him.  When he attempted to return to the men, the winter freeze had closed off the waterway, and his ship could not get through the passage to the rendezvous point. 
Shackelton frantically searched for an alternate waterway, and finally, after three days, found a new route.  When he arrived, the men were dressed, equipment packed, and ready to go.  "How did you know I'd be back today," asked the surprised Shackelton?  "We didn't," answered the men, "we simply remembered you told us to be ready."   

The Talents (25:14-30) 

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip.  He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone.  He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities.  He then left on his trip.  “The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more.  The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more.  But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.  
“After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money.  The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’  “The master was full of praise.  ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities.  Let’s celebrate together!’  “The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’  “The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities.  Let’s celebrate together!’  “Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate.  I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’  “But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant!  If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank?  At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’  “Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver.  To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance.  But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.  Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’                        Matthew 25:14 - 30 (NLT)
It is hard to miss the practical advice of obeying the command of God to "occupy," or serve as He has gifted us to serve.  We are given abilities, material things, and the promise of God's Spirit.  When we reject His plan, and do as we please, it leads to being rejected by God

The Sheep and Goats (25:31-46) 

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.  “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.  For I was hungry, and you fed me.  I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink.  I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.  I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me.  I was in prison, and you visited me.’
“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you?  Or thirsty and give you something to drink?  Or a stranger and show you hospitality?  Or naked and give you clothing?  When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.  For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me.  I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink.  I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home.  I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing.  I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’  
“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’  “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’  “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”    Matthew 25:31 - 46 (NLT)
Reward is both negative (punishment), and positive (crowns). 
Note how practical and simple the advice is...Whatever good you do in His name, to whomever, is counted as ministry to Him.   
All five parables carry one unmistakable theme - BE READY. 
Beloved, when the God of all nature and creation says something five times, in five different ways, I would listen!


We are called to two things in this life - faith and faithfulness.  Have faith in Jesus, because He was/is the Messiah.  Your act of faith is to believe in Him, and trust Him (and Him alone) for your salvation.  That is the only act within your power today to make you ready to meet Jesus, if you should die and stand before Him in judgment, or if He should come before you die. 
By a simple act of repentance for your own sins, and calling on the Lord Jesus to save you, you can be made ready for His coming, or your going – right this very moment.
Martha Snell Nicholson, an invalid and radiant Christian, wrote some of our most beautiful 19th Century poetry of faith.  Some years before death finally took her out of this world of pain, and into the arms of Jesus, she wrote about her walk with the Lord,
The best part is the blessed hope of his soon coming.  How I ever lived before I grasped that wonderful truth, I do not know.  How anyone lives without it these trying days I cannot imagine.  Each morning I think, with a leap of the heart, 'He may come today.'  And each evening, 'When I awake I may be in glory.'  Each day must be lived as though it were to be my last, and there is so much to be done to purify myself and to set my house in order.  I am on tiptoe with expectancy.  There are no more grey days -- for they're all touched with color; no more dark days -- for the radiance of His coming is on the horizon; no more dull days, with glory just around the corner; and no more lonely days, with His footsteps coming ever nearer, and the thought that soon, soon, I shall see His blessed face and be forever through with pain and tears.

Want to live like that?  Don't bog-down with the predictions; understand the parables that tell us to prepare.

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