Well, it’s happening again–some people have supposedly figured out that the Lord will come again this Saturday, September 23, 2017. I’m not sure of their exact calculations, but I’ve been told it’s based on some counting of Jubilee years. Now for all I know these folks could be right–but I’m still going to have a sermon ready for Sunday, just in case.
Repeatedly the Lord’s disciples asked Him when the Day of the Lord would occur, and repeatedly, Jesus told them to mind their own business. Now it seems to me that, if being faithful involves listening to God’s commands and obeying them, then the folks who keep trying to pick the date when the heavens will roll back and every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father, then, the folks who find messages hidden in the Bible text are straight up sinning.
I’m never quite sure why eschatological speculations are so pervasive in American Christianity. Why can we not be content with the work God has given us to do and allow the hidden things of God’s plan to remain hidden? Isn’t there something almost demonic about trying to discern those things known only to God? Doesn’t attempting to know the things God has told us we are not to know seem very much like Satan’s temptation in the Garden of Eden? “Go ahead,” the serpent told Eve, “eat it and you will be like God.” Now the enemy says go ahead, don’t spend your time on teaching and baptizing and things like that, spend it trying to figure out when the Day of the Lord will be.
Now I know there are many good and faithful Christians who have been taught to spend their time thinking about this stuff. But friends, it’s just plain wrong. It’s bad Biblical study and it’s a waste of the precious time God has given us to do the work He prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
So my advice to anyone who reads this is to stop worrying about the end of time and focus instead on who you’re going to tell about Jesus today. Because today is the only day we can know for sure.
I am working now to refocus my ministry. I’m doing a number of things to help me in that–rereading my ordination vows, reading books on pastoral theology, focusing my prayer life on this effort and reading what Scripture has to say about the work of those called to pastoral ministry. Paul’s second letter to Timothy is of particular importance in understanding what a pastor’s role is to be. It was most likely Paul’s last writing and in it he encourages his protege Timothy and all the others who have followed him in ministry.
There’s a lot in the short letter but I want to write today about an encouragement that isn’t meant just for pastors, but for everyone who serves in ministry in the Church–in other words to every Christian. It’s the 15th verse of the second chapter. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the Word of truth.”
Paul wrote elsewhere that he was not ashamed of the Gospel (Romans 1:16). And his encouragement to Timothy and to us also carries this message. Don’t be ashamed of being a Christian in a pagan world. The Gospel is the only true good news in this present darkness and we are called to witness to it everywhere we go. Sometimes this will be uncomfortable, for us and could lead to difficult situations in our lives. Indeed Paul writes a bit later in 2nd Timothy that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” But that doesn’t change the charge Christ has given to all His elect people.
Another aspect of this charge not to be ashamed relates to what we will experience on the Day of Judgment. On the day of the Lord’s return everyone will be judged–even those who are destined for salvation. We will see and know all that we have thought, said or done that is contrary to God’s will. We will know in a extraordinarily powerful way just how great our Lord’s atoning sacrifice was for us, how much we deserved eternal separation from the Holy God. I am sure that shame will fill our consciousness as we look back on our sins. But Paul tells us that one thing that should not cause us shame is the work we do in handling the Word of Truth.
I read recently that only 17% of self identified Christians in this country actually live out a Biblical worldview. The influence of our secular culture seeps into our lives and teaches us to deny the plain teachings of Scripture about so many things. Everything from divorce–a violation of the 6th Commandment–to the common desire of Americans for more and more material things–violating the 9th and 10th Commandments–to even qualified approval of abortion–violating the 5th Commandment–to whatever else you want to list–all such opinions represent a failure to rightly handle the Word of Truth and will cause us shame on the last day.
If the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God it is our responsibility as His witnesses in the world to proclaim what it teaches, even though it’s teaching is an offense to the world. Just because the world around us doesn’t live a Christian life–that is no reason why Christians ought not live as true followers of the eternal Word–Jesus Christ our Lord.
I’m sitting here in my office right now waiting–waiting for a concert we’re going to have at church tonight. I’ve been looking forward to it for a couple of months. It’s by a group called the Haining Family out of Branson, MO. We first heard them at our AFLC national conference this year. At the moment I’m praying for good attendance and spiritual benefits for the people who come tonight.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not real good with waiting. Once I’ve decided on something or once I’ve been told that something will happen, well, I want to get on with it. Patience is a virtue, but it is occasionally illusive for me. From a lifetime of watching people, I know that I’m not the only impatient person in the world–it’s a widely shared trait.
Lots of people are that way about waiting for the Jesus’ return too. If you’re one of those folks who would be really happy if He came tomorrow morning–well I’m with you. In the first years after the Lord’s Ascension there were evidently many people who believed His coming would happen any day. They looked for it every morning when they woke up. Some were so eager that they actually stopped working and just, as we say today, hung around, causing the Apostle Paul to say that if they didn’t want to work–well, they didn’t get to eat.
I can’t say I’ve seen that today, but we do get a lot of folks who seemed entranced with “signs” that portend the Lord’s immanent return. The latest one seems to be something about a “black moon” coming in about 20 years. (I had never heard of it either). But Jesus told us that it was not ours to know when the day of the time would be. We just have to live our lives as His faithful people and trust that when it is just the right time God will act. Lots of people awaited a Messiah for generations, looking here and there. But Jesus didn’t come until just the right time.
So the question becomes–do we trust God enough to just wait? Or will we waste our time with schedules and signs and calculations that confuse the faithful and embarrass the Church before the world?
I’m not real good with waiting–but I’m going to trust that God will do what He wants when the time is complete. In the meantime, we all have lives to live and work to do–after all the Gospel is always going to be Good News.
I apologize for not posting the last several weeks, my wife and I were on vacation. As I’ve gotten older I’ve found that I need more time just being quiet than I once did. Our vacations used to be hectic. Now they’re calmer. I like calmer.
After returning I began preparations for a celebration at church next Sunday. We are celebrating the founding of our congregation 190 years ago. The President of the AFLC will be preaching, there’ll be a meal, and visitors from all over the place are coming to share this time with us. 190 years is a long time and the people who founded this congregation way back in 1826 have long since joined the Church Triumphant in glory. We’re still here, carrying on the work of proclaiming the life giving Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for us.
It’s been a long time since our congregation was founded. And it’s been even a longer time since Jesus ascended back into heaven. Sometimes we get a little concerned about that. After all, we remember and give thanks for something that happened 2000 years ago–2000 years! Now that’s a long time isn’t it? And there are people who will say that if nothing has happened in 2000 years, nothing is going to happen. Jesus isn’t coming again and we should just get along with our lives in this world.
There have always been doubters of God in this world. David writes “the fool says in his heart there is no god”. So doubters there were even then. And others have pointed out that nothing seems to really change, so everything must just be as it is and will be in the future. There are no end of people who try to measure God by their own standards and deny Him when He doesn’t fit. To them the Lord replies, “my ways are not your ways and your ways are not my ways”.
One of the big differences between God and mankind is that we live within something we call time. Things have beginnings and endings, they come to pass and they are over. God, on the other hand, is not bound by time. He stands outside it and relates to it in a way which the human mind cannot even begin to comprehend. If we could understand God, even for a microsecond, I’m sure we would go insane. The complexity of the human brain is no more comparable to God than a one celled organism is comparable to a human being.
So how do we know that Jesus will return? It’s been a long time coming, right? And yet Peter writes that to the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day. So, in God’s eyes, even if we are to take Peter’s words literally, it’s only been 2 days since ascension. So time is not the answer to the question of how we can know that Christ will return. The answer is God’s sovereign will recorded in the Scriptures and testified to by number of kept promises we find there. In just the right time, Christ came amongst us. In just the right time, He is coming again.