The Lord's Return
How do you approach the start of a new year? Do you still make New Year’s resolutions or have you become more cynical over time? Perhaps you have come to imagine that no resolution made in January is likely to still be in place come February?
As we look into the future I wonder what your basic outlook is. Some standing on the threshold of a new year will perhaps see the future as being full of wonderful opportunities – a new job, a new home, a new set of relationships, more money, more fun, more holidays? Others will view things rather differently. More aches and pains and hospital appointments; more worries as to how the finances will work out, fewer and fewer friends and an increasing sense of loneliness responsibilities; more concerns about global warming and extreme weather conditions.
Some of these attitudes may reflect what kind of person we are – optimistic or pessimistic; some may simply be determined by our age – are we on the way up or on the way down as it were?
And of course it matters hugely what it is that we fix our sights on. If we focus our attention on the wrong things then we very likely to get ourselves into trouble.
Jesus’ disciples looked at the magnificent Temple complex in Jerusalem and were impressed by its solidity, its permanence – and it is possible for us drift along in life imagining that our lives too are settled on a firm foundation.
When Jesus responded to his disciples about the Temple his words disturbed them – instead of agreeing with them Jesus spoke about the collapse of those very things that so impressed them. If our hope is only based upon the security that this world has to offer then we could be in for some rude awakenings ourselves in this New Year. Plenty of folk have found their world turned upside down in the last few weeks as the safety and comfort of their own homes have been so painfully assaulted by the severe floods in the north of England. Terrorist attacks in Paris not so very long ago have highlighted how easily our lives can be affected by the violence of others. And if we’re tempted to imagine that Paris is a long way away what about that Costa Café in Westerham just before Christmas when a driver lost control of his car and crashed straight through the plate glass window?
By now you might be beginning to think that you didn’t come to church this morning in order to be depressed with thoughts about all that might go wrong in 2016. After all there are enough doom and gloom-
As Jesus talked with his disciples he warned them not to allow anyone to lead them astray with their false or unfounded notions.
With regard to material and physical concerns I can’t promise you either a good year or a bad year. In a congregation like ours this morning our experience of life in 2016 is likely to cover a wide range. For some of us 2016 may well be the best year of our lives to date, for others it may prove to be the worst, for some of us it may be the last year we ever live on earth.
For the Christian believer however – whatever awaits us in 2016 in terms of our everyday lives – we have great cause for rejoicing and for being confident as we face the future. But we must be sure that we are looking in the right direction.
Whatever else happens to us in 2016 we can:
Grow in grace and become more like the Lord Jesus
Enjoy increasing fellowship with God as his peace is worked out in our lives
Know increasing fruitfulness in our Christian lives
Lay up more treasure in heaven
Persevere in our faith as he preserves us and keeps us in the faith
Rejoice in the growth of Christ’s church throughout the world
Look forward to our own resurrection and transfer to heaven
Look forward and prepare for the return in glory of Jesus our Lord
On this first Sunday of 2016 let us think together about this last item: the return of our Lord or the Second Coming.
Sometimes Christians fall out over the details of just how Jesus will return and that is disappointing because the fact of our Lord’s return is a wonderful fact described as the Christian’s glorious hope – the return of our Lord. With the Lord's help that is what we will do this morning.
Words to Describe Jesus’ Return
According to one of my books there are in the region of 250 references in the NT to our Lord's return. And three different Greek words are used again and again to describe Jesus’ return:
It is a coming: that is, as a result of a definite decisive action, Jesus’ real physical presence will once again be known on the earth
It is a revelation: not only will Jesus come but who he is will be made abundantly clear when he comes. His coming brings to light what had previously been unseen. When he comes again he will be recognised as being full of glory, might and power. He will be seen so clearly then that he will be honoured and praised
It is an appearing: this time as Jesus comes we are told that his coming is like the drawing back of a veil and we are allowed to see what has been there all along as we see him truly for what and who he is.
Now let us look at bit closer at the nature of our LORD's return.
Everything about His return points to a climactic event. In our text the angels are sent out to gather the elect from everywhere in the whole world! This gathering is a wonderful homecoming for all of God’s children. But this positive in-
Are you ready for such a separation of the sheep from the goats? In the Middle East the two animals look similar – do you have more than just the outward appearance of a believer? Do you have the new life that only the people of God enjoy?
Mysterious. While His return is clearly proclaimed in the NT the details of just how and when He will return are not so clear. With regard to the time of His return the Christian is not to speculate but simply to make sure that he is ready when the day does come. This is how Matthew described this coming:
Mt.24:27 "For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man."
For folk in NT times lightening was totally inexplicable (and even today remains unpredictable!) So shall our LORD's coming be – it is sure and certain but let's be careful when interest in this coming leads to the elaboration of complicated schemes which pretend to be able to predict just when and how He will appear.
It will be a glorious coming! Mark says that our LORD's coming would be with "with great power and glory". It is interesting to compare with Matthew's account where we read it will be with "power and great glory" (Mt.24:30). Let's put the two together and we get a coming that will be with both great power and great glory!!
What a contrast this is with His first humble coming into the world. Then He came in obscurity and weakness. Then His coming was largely incognito – yes there was a certain amount of angelic activity drawing the attention of a handful of folk to the birth of the Messiah but how different the return will be. The angels once again will be active but with a wider remit this time. A trumpet will sound out – an archangel's voice will cry out – there will be more signs in the skies -
If you're alive when He returns in glory you'll witness this. I hope it will be with joy and gladness as you see the LORD you love take His rightful place and receive the honours that all rightly belong to Him. I hope you will not witness his return with fear and trepidation as you realise that it was all true after all, all those things that you have held at arm’s length for so long, for too long, because when He comes it will be too late to change!
It will be a
Do you belong to Christ now? If you do then when He returns He will raise you along with the rest of his people – then you will be forever with the LORD. Don't put things off any longer – He is returning and his return will involve judgment. Sin is real and has caused real offence – not just sin in vague general terms but my sin and your sin. To be safe and secure on the Day of Judgment when Christ appears we must greet that day as repentant sinners. Have you turned from your sin and turned to God through faith in Christ? May God grant us all that new birth without which we will not even see the kingdom of God let alone enter it!
It will be a sudden coming. The LORD has told us of various different signs concerning His return but none of these are of such a nature that will prove conclusively beforehand that the LORD is about to appear. The day when it comes will come unexpectedly! Jesus spoke of this to His own disciples urging readiness upon them:
Mt.24:44 "Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect."
Because various people have made exaggerated claims concerning the return of Christ is no reason for us not to prepare for such a return.
Because some people have predicted the return of Christ and got it wrong is no reason for you to think He'll never come!
Because we can't know precisely the moment doesn't mean we can't prepare beforehand.
Because His return will be sudden we put off at our peril thinking seriously about such things.
Our Lord’s return is the Christian's hope. It is an event which will take place at some time in the future and upon which we can totally depend. Our Lord himself has spoken of returning to take His people to be with Himself and our Lord does not lie.
At the same time Jesus’ return will involve judgment and this tells us that wrongs will be righted and evil punished. If we suffer now we know that such suffering is not forgotten by our Lord but will be dealt with appropriately.
Knowing that He is coming should encourage us to keep "short accounts" with God. That is, we ought to go quickly to God to confess our sin and receive pardon from Him. Do we want to be embarrassed to have Him come and find us unprepared and wallowing afresh in the mire of our sins?
Our world is not in the grip either of hostile forces or of random chance happenings. History on earth is moving towards a goal – the return of our LORD. We thus can face the future with joy and confidence – each passing moment is bringing the hour of our Lord's return ever closer.
Knowing that He is coming let us pray for one another that the LORD keep us and make us worthy of our high calling.
Our calling is upwards! Yes, we may enjoy poor health; we may suffer and experience death. But our Lord's return guarantees the opening of the graves and new resurrection bodies in which His people will live to enjoy Him forever and forever. This will be not be a boring or a dull life but one of progression age after age as we'll be transformed from one degree of glory into another as we contemplate and serve Him.
Our Lord whom we love will be openly and publicly vindicated and what a joy that will be for His people to see Him who has done so much for them receive the honour and glory due His name!
May God be praised and may we all be ready for Jesus’ return in glory!