Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost: Here Your Signs
In much of the Christian world, the season of advent is rapidly coming upon us. The word “advent” means , ironically, “coming”, and Advent is the time of year that many celebrate the coming of the Messiah.
Scripture, though, actually talks about two “comings” of Christ. The first, of course, was when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. But, as the Hebrew writer points out, “Christ…will appear a second time…to save those who are waiting for him in expectation” (Hebrews 9:28)
Waiting for the Messiah was a difficult thing for the Jews because they didn’t know when it was going to happen. Promises were made by God, but hundreds of years went by and there was nothing. And yet, they continued to wait.
Just as the Jews didn’t know the actual date of Jesus’ first coming, we as Christians don’t know the actual date of his second coming either. Promises have been made by God, but centuries have gone by, and there’s been nothing.
Men have been trying to pinpoint the date of Christ’s return for centuries.
Saint Ignasius wrote, “the last days are upon us. Weigh carefully the times. Look for Him who is about all time, eternal and invisible.” Written only a couple of decades after John wrote Revelation. About 110 AD
I read where another Christian writer in 375 AD wrote “There is no doubt that the Antichrist has already been born. Firmly established in his early years and in a few years will achieve supreme power.”
Saint and Bishop Hippolytus wrote that Christ would come back in the year 500.
I am told that the year surrounding the year 1000 were filled with predictions of the coming of Christ… It was so well received that the people didn’t even plant their crops, buildings lay decaying, and people left starving.
In the 1500’s Martin Luther wrote, “We have reached the time of the white horse of the Apocalypse. This world won’t last any longer… then another 100 years.
A little know fact was that Christopher Columbus was a student of biblical prophecy. He wrote a volume called “The Book of Prophecies,” in, which he predicted that the world would end in 1556. He even wrote, “there is no doubt that the world must end in one hundred fifty five years.
The year 1666 saw an explosion in end times speculation. One pastor wrote in his journal, “every time a storm has hit this year the church was full of people waiting for Jesus.” Does that sound familiar? That was 350 years ago! But things really haven’t changed much over the centuries, have they?
In 1800 William Miller, the founder of the religious group called the Millerites and from them the 7th say Adventist, predicted the return of Christ in 1844 he and his group waited but nothing happened, then in 1992 Harold Camping predicted the end, again nothing happened and he changed his date to 1993 and then 1994. Today you can walk into any Christian book store and there are literally dozens of books telling us that the end is near. And yet we are still waiting.
Jesus came into this world when people weren’t ready for him. And Jesus said the same thing would be true of his second coming as well.
In Matthew chapter 24, we see that the disciples had a few questions to ask Jesus. In verse 3, one of the questions they asked was this: “What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the consummation of the world?”. They were saying, “tell us what the signs are for your return and the end of that age. (Matthew 24:3). Like many of us, these disciples were curious to know exactly when that will happen.
But Jesus said, beginning in verse 36, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." (Matthew 24:36-44)
Jesus uses three brief illustrations to make his point about the second coming. The first illustration is the story of Noah and the flood. We’re all familiar with that story, how the world was evil and God decided to bring about a flood that would destroy the world. But we usually read that story from the perspective of Noah. God told Noah to build an ark, then Noah put the animals on the ark as they came to him, then God saved Noah and his family. And from that perspective, it’s a very happy story.
Jesus, however, looks at this story from the perspective of everyone who died in that flood. He reminds us that in the days of Noah, people were living life as normal. Now you might expect Jesus to describe the world in Noah’s day in terms of gross immorality and wickedness. But Jesus didn’t do that. It’s not because there wasn’t plenty of evil in the world (there was). But instead, Jesus focused on the fact that people simply weren’t ready.
They were eating and drinking and getting married and celebrating. And suddenly, the rains came. And you can imagine the panic as the waters climbed higher and higher. I’m reminded of scenes from Hurricane Katrina where people climbed onto their rooftops to escape the rising waters. But in the days of Noah, there wasn’t any ground high enough to escape. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be on those rooftops, realizing that the only safe place to be was on the boat of that man you’ve been making fun of for years? All those people had plenty of warning, but they simply weren’t prepared for what happened.
And Jesus said that when he comes again, it’s going to be like that again. Life will be going on as usual, with people doing what they normally do, buying and selling, working and playing, just doing ordinary things. And suddenly, without warning, Jesus will return. And when that happens, some will be ready, and some will not.
In the next illustration, Jesus presents two pairs of people. In both scenes, the two people depicted are working hard at their jobs. Again, we probably would have written it differently. We might have said, “One man was at worship; the other was at a bar. One was taken and the other was left. One woman was serving food to the homeless; the other was gambling away her money at a casino. One was taken and the other was left.
But no, Jesus simply says, “Two workers are in a field; two women are grinding grain.” In each case, one is received into God’s kingdom and the other is not. Because one is prepared and the other one isn’t.
In the last illustration, Jesus describes his second coming with the image of a thief breaking into a house. As he points out, a thief doesn’t call you and say, “By the way, I plan to break into your home tonight; I hope that’s convenient for you.” No, thieves come when you least expect it. And if you’ve ever been the victim of a burglary, you know that feeling that “I should have been more prepared. I never thought this would ever happen to me, so I didn’t do as much as I could have done.”
The point of all of this is that we need to be prepared, because Christ will return.
The disciples asked Jesus about the date of the Second Coming, but Jesus said that’s the wrong question. The more important question is, “What should we be doing while we’re waiting for his return?”
You see, far too many people are concentrating on when Jesus is coming back. Go channel-surfing this afternoon and you’ll find at least one televangelist who will gladly tell you, in a convincing manner, that we are now living in the times that Jesus talked about in scripture, that this world is going to end any day now, and you’d better get ready. And who knows – they might be right! But I have to wonder if these folks who claim to speak for God have read what Jesus said to his disciples here in Matthew 24 – “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:36)
Jesus is coming back again just as he promised. We just don’t know the date. And here in Matthew 24, Jesus calls us to be prepared. There are three words that I want to share with you that I think describe our responsibility in view of the second coming.
We are to wait for Christ. In todays lesson we read I Corinthians 1:7 Paul says that we are “waiting with expectation for the manifestation , that is the coming, of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Jews knew a lot about waiting for Christ. By the time Jesus was born, the Jews had been waiting for him for centuries. And sadly, Jews today are still waiting for the Messiah.
In fact, as part of their Passover celebration, the Jews drink four cups of wine, and the fourth cup is sometimes called “Elijah’s cup”. The reason it’s called that is because it has to do with the promise made by God in Malachi 4:5, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. ”
As the Jews waited for the Messiah, they believed that Elijah would actually come first to announce his coming, so they waited for Elijah, too. At Passover, the Jews will often leave an empty chair at the table along with a wine goblet. It’s prepared for Elijah just in case he shows up some Passover and needs a seat. And the Jews believe that one day he will show up, he’ll take that cup and drink it and he’ll say, “The waiting is over, the Messiah has come!”
And so, during a Passover meal, the youngest child in the family will go to the door and look out to see if Elijah is coming down the street. The family will sit at the table and wait until the child comes back and says, “I don’t see him.” But, every year, they truly expect for Elijah to come, and for the Messiah to follow.
There are times when it seems that life is about waiting. We’re all waiting for something. For some of you, you may be waiting for the return of a loved one from deployment. Others of you are waiting for a new job to start, or waiting to get into a new home, or waiting for the birth of your child. The list could go on and on. Like I said, we’re all waiting for something.
And the hard part is not waiting. The truth is, we’re often forced to wait, whether we want to or not. The hard part is waiting patiently. And the more anxious we are for something to arrive, the more difficult it is to wait for it.
That’s why James writes in James 5:7-8, “Be patient therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth: patiently bearing till he receive the early and latter rain. Be you therefore also patient, and strengthen your hearts: for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
Jesus said, “Watch ye therefore, because ye know not what hour your Lord will come. ” (Matthew 24:42)
Different versions translate this verb, “watch”, “be alert”, “keep awake.” When Jesus says to watch, he’s not talking about watching the sky, looking for the first glimpse of his return. He’s talking about being on our toes, being ready.
The unofficial creed of the American Homeland war on terror is “Be Vigilant, Be Watchful, and Be Prepared.”
And that’s what Jesus is saying our attitude toward the second coming should be – “be vigilant, be watchful, be prepared.”
Again, Jesus said his coming will be like a thief. No alarms will sound; no newspaper headlines will announce it ahead of time. There will be no signs of his coming; we’re not going to be able to wake up that morning and say, “Today is the day.” The day of the Lord will come suddenly, and time as we know it will be no more.
As we wait with patience for our Lord to come, as we watch and make preparation, we need to walk with our Lord.
Let me tell you about a couple named Jeff and Janell, and their first date.
Janell was expecting Jeff to show up, so she got dressed and she was all ready for the date. She waited patiently for an hour for him to show up, but he didn’t come. She finally gave up, figured that he stood her up… So she went to the bathroom, took off her makeup, slipped into her pajamas, grabbed a pint of ice cream and sat down in front of the TV set. After two hours had passed, guess who showed up at the front door.
It was Jeff. He took one look at her and he said, “I’m two hours late and you’re still not ready?
I think there’s a danger that we can do the same thing as Christians. We talk about the second coming of Christ, and we get all excited, and expectant, but after a while if Jesus doesn’t show up, then we figure he’s not really coming and we settle back into our easy chair.
But Jesus doesn’t call us to a passive, do-nothing kind of waiting. Jesus says that the way we live in this world as citizens of Heaven, calls for an active faith. And we need to take a good look at how we’re waiting. Are we just passively waiting, or are we “walking with the Lord” as we actively await his coming?
Listen to these words of Peter: “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, looking for and waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of the Lord …” (2 Peter 3:11-12).
Do you see what Peter is saying here? He says that if you’re convinced that Jesus Christ is going to return, then it is going to make a difference in the way you live. If we are truly looking forward to the coming of Christ, we’ll take our focus off material things and put the focus on spiritual things.
We don’t just wait for Jesus to return by sitting around and twiddling our thumbs. We walk with the Lord, living in a way that brings him glory.
A Famous preacher from years gone by was once asked the question, “What would you do if the Lord was coming tomorrow?” and I like the answer he gave. He said, “I would get a good night’s sleep and wake up in the morning and go on with my work for I would want Him to find me doing what He had appointed me to do.”
So my question for us toady is, are we walking with the Lord in such a way that if we knew Jesus was coming back tomorrow, we’d go right on doing what we’re doing right now. Let us be ready today for His coming.