Waiting for Jesus
December 7th, 2008
Last week I talked about longing for Jesus and I asked, if you had the decision making power, when would you have Jesus return, right now or at some point in the future?
And then I said that if your answer was not right now, either you were too much in love with the world or your faith needed to grow.
I received a number of reactions after church as well as from people who read the sermon when it is sent out by email. In the sermon today and next week, I hope to address some of these responses.
Last week the emphasis was on longing for Jesus to return. Today we will talk about how to wait until Jesus returns and then next week we will talk about working with Jesus while we wait for him to return.
I seem to spend a lot of my time waiting here in Morocco for my turn to pay a bill or to get something notarized or make a deposit in the bank. I don’t like to wait.
There have been almost two thousand years of waiting for Jesus to come. Now that’s a lot of waiting!
At the end of his life when Peter wrote the letter we call II Peter, he talked about scoffers who did not believe Jesus would return.
(II Peter 3)
First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”
The last days began with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, so Peter was talking about those in his time who mocked the Christians who believed Jesus would return. Thirty some years had passed since Jesus had ascended and promised to return and in those years, many who had been with Jesus had died. Most of these had believed Jesus would return before they died, but that did not happen. Scoffers mocked the church that continued to believe Jesus would return.
If the scoffers in the time of Peter had reason to doubt that Jesus would not return, the reasonability of their doubt has only increased over the years.
It started with Jesus. Jesus himself expected his return would be within a generation. Paul expected Jesus to return within a generation. Peter expected Jesus to return within a generation.
The generation of the disciples of Jesus fully expected his return within their generation and when this did not happen, the early church had to address this failed expectation. The passage today from II Peter deals with this as does Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians.
Generation after generation, about 67 generations in all, have expected that Jesus would come and then been disappointed.
Saint Clement I in 90 AD predicted the world would end at any moment. The Montanist movement in the second century predicted that Jesus would return sometime during their lifetime and establish the New Jerusalem in the city of Pepuza in Asia Minor. In 365 AD a man by the name of Hilary of Poitiers announced that the end would happen that year. And so it went on.
Because we have a fascination with round numbers, the years, 500, 1000, 1500 and 2000 all have received special attention with a surge of predictions focusing on these dates. Some leaders who were disappointed that Jesus did not come back in 1000 AD added the 33 years of Jesus’ life to make the prediction that Jesus would return in 1033. But 1034 came and life went on.
I looked on the internet and discovered not much has changed in one thousand years. There are a number of predictions now focusing on 2033 because we are nine years past 2000 and still waiting for Jesus.
So the scoffers have lots to scoff about.
What will happen if Jesus does not return for another thousand years? What will people be saying then?
It is inconceivable to me that the world could go on another one thousand years, but then it must have been inconceivable to the early church that there would be two thousand years of church history and still Jesus had not returned.
What does the Bible teach about how to wait for Jesus to return?
Jesus taught his disciples: (Luke 12)
You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
And Peter wrote: (II Peter 3)
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.
It is clear that if Jesus will come when we do not expect him, anyone who tries to pick a date for his coming will be wrong. His coming will be a surprise.
But, you may ask, what about all the signs Jesus said would warn us his coming was approaching?
“Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.
9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Wars, famines and earthquakes. There has not been a year in world history since the time of Christ when there has not been at least one war going on. There have been repeated famines in history. In 1005-1006 there was a terrible famine in Europe that made people believe this was going to be the time when Jesus would return. As the tectonic plates shift around under our feet, earthquakes have been a constant companion to civilizations.
Some people work hard to show that there is a recent increase in wars, famines and earthquakes to indicate that we are at the very end of our waiting, but this is not conclusive. The occurrence of wars, famines and earthquakes have been a constant in history and they serve not as markers to say that this is now the time but as reminders that we are steadily moving toward the end.
Jesus went on in his teaching to talk about persecution and the preaching of the gospel to all nations as preludes to his return.
The church has been persecuted from the beginning. Sometimes it has been the institutional church that has persecuted the church and others but up to today, the church is being persecuted. There have been spurts of missionary activity in the history of the church, but certainly in the last hundred years the gospel has moved out into most of the world. The Bible is steadily being translated into more and more of the languages of the world and the gospel is been taken out to new language groups at a rapidly increasing rate.
Then, Jesus said, the end will come. I hope it will be soon.
So when will Jesus return?
The answer is that we don’t know when Jesus will return. It is not that we are particularly dense, although that is often the case. No matter how smart we are, no matter how spiritually perceptive we are, no matter how well we know the Scriptures, we will not be able to discover when Jesus will come back.
Do we think that we are so clever that we can get God to tell us something he did not even tell Jesus when he was on earth?
Jesus said: Matthew 24:36
No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Throughout history people have spent an enormous amount of time trying to figure out what Jesus clearly said they could not figure out. We are not supposed to set dates. Only the Father knows. Those who waste their time trying to figure out when Jesus will return need to read their Bible and begin to be obedient to the teaching of Jesus. We do not know and we will never know. His coming will be a surprise.
All we do know is that we are a lot closer to the end of earth history than were Peter or Paul or William Miller or any of the others who predicted when Jesus would return.
As I mentioned last week, Jesus could come back before I finish this sermon and that would be delightful.
We don’t know when but we do need to live in such a way that we are ready for Jesus whenever he returns.
The signs that make us think this might be the time are a great motivation for us to work hard at our Christian life so we are ready when he returns.
In addressing the scoffers who mocked the early church for believing Jesus would return, Peter reminded his readers why Jesus had not yet returned.
II Peter 3
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. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
Last week a couple people came up to me after the sermon and said they wanted to wait until their family came to faith before Jesus returned. They said they had difficulty wanting Jesus to come right now because that would mean their family was not saved.
We need to realize three things. First of all, because life keeps on being created, there will never be a time when there are not people who need to be saved. At any point that Jesus returns, there will be people longing for their family members to come to Christ. This is not an insolvable problem for God.
Secondly, God is the one who saves, not us. It is not our responsibility to save anyone and even if we wanted to take on that responsibility it would fail because we are incapable of saving anyone. Only God saves people.
We love our family and others and want them to experience the love, peace and salvation of Jesus but it is God who works in their hearts.
Thirdly, God loves your family members more purely and deeply than you are capable of loving them. And because God loves the people you love more purely and deeply than you can, you can trust his love for your family and friends. As much as you are concerned for the salvation of your family and friends, God is more concerned.
He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
So, do what you are supposed to do: long for the soon return of Jesus and pray for your family. Because you are human you will inevitably make mistakes, lose your temper, fight for your rights and privileges. But when you do, forgive and ask for forgiveness. Let your heart for Jesus be open to your family. When you are mocked, forgive and go on loving. Find strength from God to be salt and light to your family. Do your job and then let God do his.
Trust in God who Peter said is patient for our salvation. As God was patient and persistent with us, so will he be patient and persistent with those we love. Neither of my parents died with any hope or assurance of salvation but I have not resigned myself to their eternal existence in hell. They are in the hands of God who loves them deeply and purely and I put my trust in God.
We are to expect the return of Jesus at any moment and allow that to motivate us to be ready for him. The signs around us encourage us to focus on our Christian faith and be ready.
Is it ok to enjoy the world while we are waiting?
In particular, with all the suffering in the world, is it ok to enjoy life in the world while others are suffering?
I received this email response to last week’s sermon
What does it say about my love that I can so easily enjoy my life and its goodies, instead of doing my part in making good news happen today for those who need it the most? Are we not constantly voting for Jesus to return later? Isn’t that the real problem?
With some strange feeling I will now go to the Chinese restaurant and have a meal for around one seventh of the monthly salary of the lady that will start working for me as a house cleaner and cook tomorrow.
This is the heart of the problem. Are we supposed to enjoy the delights of this world and if we are, how can we do that in the midst of all the suffering and injustice that surrounds us? How can we go out to eat a meal that costs the equivalent of a week’s wages for people walking outside the restaurant.
If we enjoy a good meal or buy a painting to hang on our walls instead of giving that money to someone who needs a meal, are we disappointing Jesus? Will he be upset with us when he returns because we had a nice home and car while others were starving?
Let’s look to Jesus. When he was on earth, how did he live? Did he deny himself earthly pleasures? Did he give away all he had and live like the poor?
The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”
Jesus was not a glutton and a drunkard, but he ate at banquets with tax collectors and other “sinners” and opened himself to the criticism of the Jewish religious leaders.
When Jesus called Matthew to leave his tax collecting business and follow him, he did not object when his newest follower threw a big party for him.
When a woman came to where Jesus was eating in Bethany and poured a jar of alabaster perfume over his head, a gift that cost the equivalent of a year’s wages, Jesus did not condemn her for her waste. There were others who were critical of this waste of money but Jesus said to them: (Mark 14:7)
The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.
Like wars, famines and earthquakes, poverty is another of the world’s constants, but this does not mean we are to ignore it.
There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.
Jesus had a heart that leaned toward the poor. As his followers we are to take on his heart and care for the poor. So what are we to do? How do we enjoy the good things in life and care for the poor at the same time?
In the year 1000 AD when there was a lot of excitement about the return of Jesus, some Christians gave their possessions to the church in anticipation of the return of Jesus in that year. When 1001 rolled around and this did not happen and the church refused to return their possessions, they were upset.
I thought about this. Why did these Christians give their possessions to the church? Because they wanted to earn favor with God? Because they thought this would give them special rights and privileges in heaven? And why, after Jesus did not return, did the church not return these possessions?
This all seems to me to be a very worldly affair with people trying to use their money to buy spiritual influence. I have a difficult time seeing in this account anywhere that people were following the heart of Jesus. What I see is a very worldly transaction taking place. People gave their possessions to earn spiritual favor and afterwards, the church took advantage of these gifts to increase its wealth. It seems to me that Jesus had very little to do with any of this.
The reason I mention this is because in the balancing act between enjoying life and caring for the poor, we need to be careful our actions are not determined by worldly, materialistic motives. We need to be sure we are not either compromising our faith or giving in to our fleshly desires.
It is not a question of dividing up what I have and giving so much to entertainment and so much to the poor. It is a matter of living with Jesus and responding to the call of his heart in each moment. We care for the poor and we celebrate the pleasures of the earth and it all flows because it is all part of the heart of God.
Our human nature demands that there be rules to follow about how much to spend and how much to give but life lived in its fullness does not conform to rules.
We are not supposed to be ascetics or gluttons. There are times when it is appropriate to fast and times when it is appropriate to feast.
God designed us to be sensual beings and he created a sensual world into which are to live. To not be appreciative of the taste of a crisp apple or ripe pear with a soft French cheese is to be ungrateful to God for his gifts.
We are meant to enjoy the good things of this world and to give God thanks for them.
We are also to take on the heart of Jesus for people and this means we cannot be indifferent to the needs of people in the world.
We live in a balancing act. We are supposed to enjoy the pleasures of this world without desiring them. We are supposed to care for the poor among us without cutting ourselves off from celebrations and feasts.
But all of this is done by living with Jesus and living in hope of his return.
In fact it is only by living in hope of the return of Jesus that this world makes any sense. I will talk more about this next week. If Jesus is not going to come back to redeem and transform the suffering of this world, then nothing in this world makes any sense.
My oldest sister is a physical therapist who works with handicapped people, many of them who are severely handicapped. I asked her what it was like for someone with a functioning mind to be imprisoned in a broken body. She sent me this story.
One child I think about I had many years ago. He was a 3rd grader and had “brittle bone” disease where his bones were extremely fragile and weak (due to low levels of collegen). I always saw him on a Tuesday when he was wearing his Cub Scout uniform. One day he came in with his arm in a sling. I said, “Oh Stevie, what happened?” He said, “I broke my clavicle.” I said, “How did that happen?” He said, “I sneezed.” On another day he was rather depressed. We talked awhile and because I knew his family went to church, I said, “You know, someday you will be able to run & jump and not have to worry about ever breaking another bone because you will be with Jesus.” He smiled and said, “I know.”
Jesus is coming back. In the mysteries of salvation God is being patient
not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
As we wait we are to live in the moment with Jesus, enjoying this world and caring for the poor in the name of Jesus. And so we wait. We wait with hope and expectation. We wait with longing for the suffering of this world to be redeemed. We wait with a longing that the return of Jesus will come soon.
Come Lord Jesus!-->
II Peter 3:3-15 Last week I talked about longing for Jesus and I asked, if you had the decision making power, when would you have Jesus return, right now or at some point in the future? And then I said that if your answer was not right now, either you were too much in love [...]