The countdown to Christmas is well underway. The shop tills are merrily ringing up the sales, the internet is buzzing with online shopping, post men are delivering mail by the ton and delivery drivers are frazzled by the volume of what they have to deliver, and I wonder if you are ready?
I don’t just mean the physical preparations for our celebration of Christmas but what about your soul, your spirit? The person that is you?
What do you think about on the run up to Christmas? Do you wonder at the Christmas story, Jesus the Son of God born as a helpless baby in Israel some 2000 years ago? Does it make you think about how much God loves you? John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
But this pre Christmas season, Advent, is also to remind us and prepare us for the fact that Jesus will return to this earth. This time he will come in great glory to judge each and every man, woman and child who is alive or has been alive. No exemptions, no exceptions.
This is what I preached about on Sunday 2nd December 2007 at Wood Lane Baptist Church in Dagenham.
Matthew 24: 36 – 44
36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 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; 39 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. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. 42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 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. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
This time of year, the church has traditionally looked forward. Firstly to Christmas when we celebrate Jesus’ first coming to the earth – born as a helpless baby in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire. Hardly anyone noticed his arrival, just it would appear a few shepherds and some Persian astrologers.
But we also look forward to the time Jesus returns. When he comes again he will return in great splendour and majesty. No one alive will miss it or be able to avoid it.
Matthew 24: 30 30“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”
To quote the hymn writer Charles Wesley
“Every eye shall now behold Him Robed in glorious majesty; Those who set at naught and sold Him, Pierced and nailed Him to the tree, Deeply wailing, Shall their true Messiah see.”
Not everyone will be glad when Jesus returns but everyone will know he has returned and one way or another everyone will recognise his authority and majesty: Philippians 2: 10 & 11: “ at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
So I thing we have three questions we need to consider this morning:
- When is Jesus returning?
- What is he going to do?
- How does that affect us?
When is Jesus returning?
Many years ago when I was at grammar school there was a completion run by the school to raise money in conjunction with the summer fair. A stopwatch was wound up with a random number of winds and looked away in the school safe. The competition was to guess when the watch would stop. Even if you had an idea of how much it was wound up it was very difficult to know when the watch would stop.
Our Bible passage makes it clear that no one on earth or in heaven knows when Jesus will return. Not even the angels or Jesus himself know, only God knows. Hence Jesus tells us “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Throughout the bible there are various prophecies as to what will be going on at the time that Jesus comes back. Particularly in Isaiah, Daniel and Revelation. Earlier in Matthew 24 we have a few hints:
4Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5For many will come in my name, claiming, `I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. 6You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8All these are the beginning of birth pains.”
Also Jesus warns us of false messiahs – people who claim to be Jesus and may do all sorts of “miracles” even healings yet if you examine them in the light of scripture they clearly are not Jesus.
23At that time if anyone says to you, `Look, here is the Christ!’ or, `There he is!’ do not believe it. 24For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect‑‑if that were possible. 25See, I have told you ahead of time. 26“So if anyone tells you, `There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, `Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.
We have seen in our own times many people claiming to be the Messiah. Many cults such as the Jehovah Witnesses have tried to predict the exact date when Jesus will return. This has been stated to be 1873, 1878, 1914 and 1975. Later they modified their prediction to the thought that the generation alive in 1914 would not pass away before the Second coming!
Back in history people believed that Jesus would return in 1000 AD as Europe was suffering persecution from the Vikings and it really seemed like the end of the world.
Yes we can look at all the wars going on and the catalogue of natural disasters that seem to be occurring with increasing regularity but all we can say with any certainty is that Jesus is a day nearer returning than he was yesterday!
What is Jesus going to do when he returns?
We are told that Jesus is coming to judge the world, as the creed says, the living and the dead. Judgement is one of those difficult subjects that many preachers try to avoid and many people sitting in church squirm about.
However throughout the gospels, Jesus warns people that judgement is coming. He talks more about judgement and hell than he does about heaven. Judgement is going to be black and white with no shades of grey. You are either saved or not. There is no Tony Blair style “third way”.
In our passage Jesus puts it like this: A39 That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.”
In Matthew 25 there is a simple but striking illustration about how judgement is going to be.
31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34“Then the King will say to those on his right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 41“Then he will say to those on his left, `Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 46“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
So you are either a sheep or a goat. No camels or llamas or even hybrids. Either you are saved or you are judged, it is as stark as that.
We are judged on our relationship with Jesus. Have we turned our backs on our old life and accepted forgiveness for our sins, our wrong actions and lifestyles? Its not good enough just to come to church, even every Sunday. Being a Christian is not a philosophy or a way of life or a set or rules and regulations. You cannot claim to live as a Christian without a personal relationship with Jesus. That’s like sugar free candyfloss.
Just as there is a world of difference between recognising the queen=s picture on a bank note and actually knowing her as a friend there is a difference between hearing about Jesus and having a living relationship with him.
If you haven’t come to that place where you can say that you have accepted Jesus as your Saviour and know he has forgiven you for your bad actions, your sins, then you have to answer for yourself on the day Jesus returns. All the good deeds in the world won’t save you.
No other faith system will save you, despite what people may tell you. Jesus is the only way, and no one comes to heaven any other way. You either love God exclusively or you don’t. Just as you can’t be legally married to two or more people, or be married to one and carry on an affair with someone else, so you cannot carry on with false gods, other religions, the occult, black magic etc and claim to be a Christian. God simply won’t put up with spiritual adultery! As Hebrews 4 v13 states: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” You maybe able to fool yourself or me or the pastor but you cannot pull the wool over God’s eyes.
So if you want to be follower of Jesus you have to give up every other religious activity and belong exclusively to Jesus.
And so to our third question: How does this affect us?
We have to be ready. We know he is coming, but we are not sure of the time. So whilst we carry on with our lives we should be looking forward to when Jesus comes. We have to ensure that we are not so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.
How would we live today if this was our last day on earth? What is there we need to put right?
Bearing in mind that Jesus likened his return to the flood that suddenly overwhelmed the world in Noah’s day, should we be warning people about what is going to happen? Yes I believe that it is imperative to do so. After all Jesus gave the great commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel that we are to go and make disciples of all the world. And if you or I don’t tell people who will? You know people I don’t know and maybe you are the only Christian who can reach certain folk.
In the ministry I undertake I find that I am in 99% of the time too late – the person has died and I am talking with the mourners who cling on to the fact that granny always watched Songs of Praise or was kind to animals.
It is not your fault if you try to tell people about Jesus and they don’t listen. They are answerable for their choices. You have done your job. Just as in Noah’s time people will have had the opportunity to talk to him and find out what was going to happen, they chose not to, so now many folk just don’t want to know about what will happen if they don’t do something now about their lives.
Often I challenge telesales staff when they badger me about why I don’t want what they are trying to flog me. I say I will answer their questions if they answer me one question. My question is normally “Do you know what is going to happen to you when you die?” Only one person so far has every expressed curiosity over their eternal future. I invited him to phone back so we could have a chat about his destiny but sadly he hasn’t as yet!
Many people take no care about their lives either now or in eternity. And yet for many people alive today they may not have a tomorrow on this earth. Their next Tomorrow may find them facing judgement, and so may we.
So not only do we have to be right with God but we also have to be busy spreading the good news of Jesus however we can. In Philippians 2:14 we are instructed: “Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe 16as you hold out the word of life–“
I would urge you today just to remember this: “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”