Learn the Lesson of Christ’s Coming (Matthew 24:23-35)

“He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.” Apostles’ Creed

Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘There he is!’—do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Take note, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look! He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the eagles will gather.

“Immediately after the suffering of those days

the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from heaven,
    and the powers of heaven will be shaken.

“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. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (New Revised Standard Version)

I live in the upper Midwest of the United States. The summers can be brutally hot and humid. The winters can be incredibly frigid and full of snow. Having worked with college students for many years, every Fall there’s always at least one international student, or a student from the South, that has never experienced a Midwest winter and snow. 

I can tell them over and over again that they need a sturdy winter coat before the snow flies. But, having never known sub-zero and sub-freezing temperatures, it’s difficult to imagine such cold when the weather is currently warm. I, or someone else, usually have to help them get a suitable coat. And even then, they shake all winter and never take their scarves off.

It might be difficult to imagine that someday Jesus is coming back to judge the living and the dead. Having never been through an apocalypse, it’s hard to imagine that everything will change.

That’s why Jesus told his disciples to learn a lesson from the fig tree (fig trees were abundant in ancient Palestine). When you see the tree beginning to change, know that something is about to happen. The tree will become altogether different than how you see it now. 

Sometimes, even for myself who has lived through so many hard winters, it is incredible to know that the weather and landscape as it is right now will be completely different in January and February.

The trees, the grass, the mountains, the valleys, the waterways, the oceans, the sky, and the earth won’t last forever – as it now exists. Yet, the words of Jesus Christ will endure for all time. 

Whenever circumstances are a particular way for so long, of course it’s hard to believe that seeing everything as it is right now is not how it is going to be forever. However, know that a time is coming when it will all cataclysmically change. If we are attentive and alert, we will be ready. And we won’t be left out in the cold with no warm winter coat. 

We are to be ready for Christ’s return. That means taking off the old clothes of fear, insecurity, hopelessness, and hate, and putting on the new clothes of righteousness, peace, and love in the Holy Spirit. 

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. (Ephesians 4:22-25, NIV)

Concerning the great change that is about to occur with the entire earth changing…

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:11-13, NIV)

Learn the lesson of Christ’s coming. Winter is nearly here. Are you ready?

O God our King, by the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ, you conquered sin, put death to flight, and gave us the hope of everlasting life. Redeem all our days by this victory; forgive our sins, banish our fears, make us bold to praise you and to do your will; and steel us to wait for the consummation of your kingdom on the last great Judgment Day, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Are You Ready for Advent? (Matthew 24:36-44)

Advent Starry Night #5 by Virginia Wieringa

Jesus said, “But about that [judgment] day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 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 giving 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. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

“Therefore keep watch because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (New International Version)

The best way of observing the first advent of Christ, his incarnation, is by preparing ourselves for his second advent, his return to the earth.

Just because there is sun today doesn’t mean everyday will be that way. The storm clouds are gathering; the Day of the Lord is at hand. Will you be ready?

Satan once called to him some demons of hell and said he wanted to send one of them to earth to aid women and men in the ruination of their souls. He asked which one would want to go.

One creature came forward and said, “I will go.” Satan said, “If I send you, what will you tell the children of men?” He said, “I will tell the children of men that there is no heaven.” Satan said, “They will not believe you, for there is a bit of heaven in every human heart. In the end everyone knows that right and good must have the victory. You may not go.” 

Then another came forward, darker and fouler than the first. Satan said, “If I send you, what will you tell the children of men?” He said, “I will tell them there is no hell.” Satan looked at him and said, “Oh, no; they will not believe you, for in every human heart there’s a thing called conscience, an inner voice which testifies to the truth that not only will good be triumphant, but that evil will be defeated. You may not go.” 

Then one last creature came forward, this one from the darkest place of all. Satan said to him, “And if I send you, what will you say to women and men to aid them in the destruction of their souls?” He said, “I will tell them there is no hurry.” Satan said, “Go!” (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters)

Most people’s crime in not some gross sin, but indifference, without much thought to a coming judgment. It seems we are all spiritual procrastinators. Why do today what we can put off till tomorrow? 

But the spiritually indifferent won’t know what hit them. 

So we need to be deeply concerned for the coming Day of the Lord, which may be very soon. 

The question for us is not, “When will Christ return?” Rather, the question is, “Are you ready for Christ’s return?” We must:

  • Keep watch, stay alert, and be ready, like a watchman on an ancient city wall scanning the horizon for an advancing army.
  • Remain vigilant and not forget that Jesus is coming again. 
  • Live every moment of our lives in light of the promise of Christ’s return. 
  • Be busy (not busybodies) because we don’t know the day of Christ’s second advent.

What does it mean to keep watch, be ready, and stay alert? 

In between these two advents of Christ, believers are to bear witness to a world going about their merry way unaware of the judgment that is about to overtake them. Like Noah, we actively build the ark of the church instead of living as if Jesus weren’t coming.

Noah was a preacher of righteousness in both word and deed, building an ark in a place and around a people who had never seen rain. What’s more, constructing the massive ark took a solid one-hundred years. This was no easy feat.

Like Noah, we must plug away and be faithful stewards, doing the tedious and patient work given to us. We aren’t supposed to be like the irresponsible teenager who, when given the responsibility of watching over the house while the parents are gone for the weekend, throws a big party and trashes the place. The parents will come home at a time that the teenager does not expect, and then there will certainly be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

When the Lord returns, we don’t know who will be taken and who will be left. Two different people might look the same on the outside, doing the same work, but each of those persons working side by side can really be very different on the inside. So, let us be patient as we await the coming of Christ and avoid losing sight of what is truly important.

One day a man named Denis Waitley was trying to catch a flight but running late. So he literally ran through the airport terminal and got to the gate the split second the flight attendant closed the door. Denis explained his situation, that he had a speaking engagement and needed to be on that flight, but the attendant didn’t budge. 

Denis stormed out of the boarding area and back to the ticket counter to register a complaint and reschedule his flight. His anger intensified as he waited for more than twenty minutes in a line that barely moved. Just before he got to the counter an announcement over the intercom changed his life. 

The plane he missed getting on, Flight 191 from Chicago to Los Angeles, crashed on takeoff and killed every person on board the plane. Denis Waitley never registered his complaint. In fact, he never returned his invalidated ticket.

He took the ticket home and pinned it on a bulletin board in his office to remind him whenever he got frustrated or upset that life is more than day to day impatience and worry and complaints. It’s about serving a lost world destined to slide away from God apart from the grace that can turn judgment into blessing.

It could be today. Every day we must live with the reality that Christ’s return is imminent. Until that happens, we are to be faithful servants of God by serving a world that is tremendous need of getting on the ark and being saved from the judgment that will come. 

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

The Time Is Near (Revelation 22:8-21)

“The Time Is Near, Revelation 22:10-12” by Anthony Falbo, 2019

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!”

Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near. Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.”

“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes, take the free gift of the water of life.

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen. (New International Version)

“St. John the Divine” by David Raber, 2013. The top corners are the Greek letters Alpha and Omega, representing the Beginning and the End; the corresponding letters in Hebrew are at the bottom corners. The Apostle John holds a scroll, a symbol of Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

The very last chapter of the big thick Bible let’s us know that the time is near for the end of the world as we know it. Jesus himself tells us that he is coming soon. That might sound weird, considering we are reading Christ’s words two millennia later. There’s nothing soon about 2,000 years in the past. So, how can the time of Christ’s return be “soon?”

Time is viewed differently by God than by us, especially in this modern and/or postmodern era. Whereas we orient ourselves around chronological time by measuring minutes and hours, the Lord is much more event oriented.

Throughout Holy Scripture we have major events of creation, fall, and redemption. Now, there is only one event left on God’s celestial timetable: Christ coming to judge the living and the dead, and the full establishment of a world without any sin or Satan. In that sense, the time is near and very soon.

“Time” itself is really a human yardstick. It’s merely the relationship between events – and we humans like our measurements and metrics. Yet, the Lord is above time. God simultaneously sees the past, present, and future. And when all things are eventually made right, there will be no need for time anymore because all events have run their course.

But how does any of that stuff about time help me in the here-and-now?

We still have time. As long as it is still Today, everyone has the opportunity to change, to do better, to “come” to the eternal wellspring of living water.

None of our lives can ever be reduced to a single event or action. The screw-up or outright sin that we did back there in our lives doesn’t define us. If it did, all of us would be soundly condemned. Instead, it is the habitual offenders, the ones who repeatedly and intentionally do wrong and/or chronically ignore their fellow humanity (and God); it is they who shall be on the outside of a restored Paradise.

So, it’s not too late. The call is out. Jesus himself invites everyone who hears to come.

And since the call is out there, ringing in history for the past two-thousand years, a warning is there for those who either subtract or add to the simple invitation.

Yet no matter the past guilt nor the present moment, grace is the final word. It is, quite literally, the final verse of the Bible.

In a book filled with a vision of end time judgment, it is divine graciousness which has the ultimate and final say. Even with a world under a curse, and with the earth facing judgment, divine blessings abound. The word “blessing” in Scripture simply means to have God’s stamp of approval. Within John’s Apocalypse, we have several instances of blessing:

God blesses (approves) the one who reads the words of this prophecy to the church, and he blesses all who listen to its message and obey what it says, for the time is near. (Revelation 1:3, NLT)

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Put this in writing. From now on, the Lord will bless everyone who has faith in him when they die.” The Spirit answered, “Yes, they will rest from their hard work, and they will be rewarded for what they have done.” (Revelation 14:13, CEV)

“Keep watch! I come unannounced, like a thief. You’re blessed if, awake and dressed, you’re ready for me. Too bad if you’re found running through the streets, naked and ashamed.” (Revelation 16:15, MSG)

Then the angel said to me, “Write the following: Blessed are those who are invited to the banquet at the wedding celebration of the Lamb!” He also said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:9, NET)

Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6, NRSV)

“Listen, I am coming soon! Great blessings belong to the one who obeys the words of prophecy in this book.”

Jesus (Revelation 22:7, ERV)

God’s grace allows us to have solidarity with one another as believers throughout the world, no matter the culture, no matter the church or particular Christian tradition.

Grace strengthens us to persevere and labor in hope, no matter the naysayers around us.

Grace gives us courage to face both our present troubles and future uncertainties, no matter the anxiety which fills the earth.

The presence of God is grace. Christ is alive and will come very soon. Be ready, my friends. The time is near.

May you walk in a manner worthy of our spiritual calling and draw near to Christ so you can triumph over the sufferings of this present time.

May you taste and see the goodness of the Lord and be assured of God’s great love for you.

And may the blessing of almighty God – Father, Son, and Spirit – abide with you always. Amen.

A Divine Perspective of Time (2 Peter 3:8-13)

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise, we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (New International Version)

We are invited, through today’s New Testament lesson, to see the moving of history as God sees it.

The Apostle Peter addressed two questions and concerns the people had about the Lord’s coming:

  1. Will this coming be worth the wait?
  2. What should I be doing in the meantime, now, while I wait?

The Christians, for whom Peter wrote his letter, were impatient. They saw time from a mere human perspective. The believers needed a bigger and fuller understanding of God’s purposes. We must come to grips with the reality that God’s timing is different than ours.

There are two words for “time” in the New Testament: chronos and kairos

Chronos is where we get our English word “chronological.” This is time measured by the clock. It’s the way much of our lives are governed.

Kairos is seasonal time. It’s not determined by the clock but is event oriented. 

God is not time-oriented in the same sense that we are. The Lord is not ruled and controlled by the clock but is above all time. God is event-oriented, which is why the Lord’s understanding of time is that a thousand years are like a day, and a day like a thousand years.

In other words, God measures time differently than most Westerners do. When the Bible says Christ is coming soon, it means there are no events left in the course of history except the Day of the Lord, the return of Jesus, to judge the living and the dead.

I admit to being a clock-oriented guy. I also confess that my wife and girls are not. They are much more event oriented than me. So, I suppose when it comes to time, they are the godly ones. After all, the seasons will continue to come and go but a clock will eventually die when its “time is up.”

I cannot begin to count how many hours of my life have been spent waiting on my wife and girls. I used to get frustrated and impatient because I thought they should be clock-oriented, like me.

Yet, over the years, I have learned to accept this reality. Now I take the time of waiting and read. I have read a lot of books over the years through my waiting. I used to want to time travel because of wasted time, but that is all in the past now.

A clock-oriented guy like me needs to grasp that God has all the time in the world. God serves no clock. Clocks are merely playthings for the Lord.

When God wants a hot time, he just puts a clock in the oven. I, however, tend to get antsy, impatient, and frustrated, believing that God must operate on my time schedule. Yet, what seems to me is divine tardiness, is really something else.

God seems slow in keeping divine promises. But the truth is, the Lord takes all the time in the world because of divine mercy. While I am beating my chest trying to get everyone on my time deadlines, God beats up the clock, just to kill time.

In the face of so much that is not right with the world, we might wonder why God is not just stepping in and taking care of all the evil and unjust situations on this earth.

But what we view as a lack of mercy is, in fact, sheer grace on God’s part – patiently waiting for all kinds of people to confess their guilt and shame and come to Jesus. God is waiting for that lost soul to make their way to forgiveness. You cannot bear your secrets with a clock around because time will tell.

Whereas I tend to think I am waiting on God, God is waiting for me, too.

What should I be doing in the meantime while I wait? We ought to be living holy and godly lives as we look forward to Christ’s coming and speed its coming. Yes, God is the One who is waiting on us. Do you know the time of the Second Coming? No, me neither; we have not met yet.

The holiness and peace of God’s people will influence the timing of the Christ’s return. When God upends our current situations, it’s time to get a new set of circumstances. Since God is an event-oriented God, the Lord has all the time in the world to wait on us to be the kind of people we need to be.

The fact that we are two-thousand years removed from the first Advent of Christ probably does not speak very well to the church in general. It will do no good to sit on our watches so that we can be on time. God is still waiting for a lot of folks to come to repentance, as well as the church to take up her mandate of making disciples.

God is gracious and does not bully us or strike us with lightning when we disobey. Rather, God is patient, wanting us to approach and receive mercy. The Lord is waiting for us to avail ourselves of divine help to live holy and godly lives.

Holiness simply means to be separated from evil and connected to God. Godliness means to live a worshipful and spiritually disciplined life.  Our Lord’s patience means deliverance from all that detaches us from Jesus so that we might rightly attach ourselves to him.

Robby Robins was an Air Force pilot during the first Iraq war. After his 300th mission, he was given permission to immediately pull his crew together and fly his plane home. They flew across the ocean to Massachusetts and then had a long drive to western Pennsylvania. They drove all night, and when his buddies dropped him off at his driveway just after sun-up, there was a big banner across the garage—”Welcome Home!”  How did his wife know? No one had called her, and the crew themselves had not expected to leave so quickly.

Robins relates, “When I walked into the house, my wife came running down the hall—she looked terrific—hair fixed, make-up on, and a crisp yellow dress. ‘How did you know?’ I asked.  ‘I didn’t,’ she answered through tears of joy. ‘Once I knew the war was over, I knew you’d be home one of these days. I knew you would try to surprise me, so I was ready every day.'”

In the history of redemption, the war has been won. There is only one event left on God’s calendar: The return of Jesus.

When a clock stops ticking, it just hangs around. That’s not what the Lord wants.

Throwing the watch across the room will not make time fly; Jesus will come when he comes. Meanwhile, our focus is on living holy and godly lives as we wait….

Even so, come Lord Jesus.