March 1, 2009

The Essentials

What all Christians believe and why it matters

Part 7: I believe in Jesus’ second coming

 

Opening:

          We live in a world filled with injustice, and something inside us wishes it were different.  We long for justice, for wrongs to be put right, for fairness and equity.  Where does this longing come from?  C.S. Lewis said that we hunger, and there is food to satisfy our hunger; we thirst and there is drink to satisfy our thirst; and we long for a better world, which suggests that one exists to satisfy that longing.  The Bible says that Jesus is coming again to judge the living the dead.  When He comes, He will bring justice and will make all things right.  That’s when our longing will be fully satisfied; meanwhile, there’s work to do.  That’s what we’re talking about today.

 

Offering and announcements:

#1 Women’s Retreat – April 24-26 at Clearwater, info and registration details at Info Center.

#6 Crown Financial Seminar – register this week to get the Early Bird Discount (great financial move!)

On the tab: Revolutionary Parenting Conference – March 14, register at the Info Center.

          Later, I’m going to introduce you to my friend, David Opap, from Kenya.  We’re going to let you know what’s going on with the well we’re digging in his village, and give you a chance to give towards this project.  More about that later.  Right now is our regular offering. Thanks for giving to Jesus.

 

Introduce and interview David and Lisa Opap.  Receive well offering.

  • You grew up in Adiedo, Kenya. How did you end up in the US?
  • How did you (David and Lisa) meet?
  • Tell us about your family in Kenya.
  • Tell about Adiedo: what are the needs? Why are we drilling a well?
  • You created Spring of Hope; what do you hope to accomplish?

Tell where we are in the well-drilling process; pray for water. 

 

Introduction:

          Today we’re going to talk about Jesus’ second coming and the final judgment.  How many of you have read one or more of the “Left Behind” series? 

ILL: In the 1970’s there was a lot of discussion and anticipation of Jesus’ return.  Hal Lindsay wrote a huge best-seller called The Late Great Planet Earth, and suggested that we were in the last days, the final generation before Jesus’ return. 

          Another author wrote a book predicting that Jesus would return on September 6, 1975.  He had analyzed Scripture and current events and was convinced this was the day.  I didn’t believe him-and I’ll explain why in a minute-but some of my friends were pretty convinced by his arguments and stayed up all night…just in case Jesus came.  I was just happy that I’d gotten married a week before so that I could have sex before I went to heaven!  I’m serious-I was praying, “Come Lord Jesus…in a few weeks.  Let me get married first.”  Am I the only guy that’s ever prayed that?

This is part seven of our series, “The Essentials: what all Christians believe and why it matters.”  We’re working our way through the Apostles Creed, the oldest and most widely accepted of the ancient Christian creeds.  A creed is summary of beliefs.  It doesn’t contain everything we believe, but it contains the essentials, the core beliefs of the Christian faith.  Let’s read it together.

 

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth,

and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

    Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
    suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

    He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead.

    He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
    whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

 

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

    the holy catholic church, the communion of saints,
    the forgiveness of sins,
    the resurrection of the body,
    and life everlasting.  Amen.

 

Today, we’re looking at the seventh article in the creed: “whence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.”  Here we go.

 

1. I believe Jesus will come again.

          Did you know that there are over 300 references to Jesus’ second coming in the New Testament?  That’s one in every 13 verses!  In other words, the New Testament has a lot to say about this subject.  The technical theological term for this is “eschatology”, the study of the end times.  Thousands of books have been written, charts and graphs have been drawn, and predictions have been made.  The creed’s focus is simpler; it says, “He shall come”.  It doesn’t say when or how.  Unfortunately, most of the books and charts and graphs and predictions are about the when and the how, and the one thing they’ve all had in common is that they’ve all been wrong. 

ILL: I mentioned two books already.  Another example: in 1988 a book was published called 88 reasons why Jesus will come in 1988.  By the way, 1988 was a favorite year for many eschatology buffs because it was 40 years, or one generation, after Israel had become a nation again, something that many considered a key fulfillment of biblical prophecy.  Well, 1988 came and went and the guy was wrong.  But he was undeterred, because the next year he published 89 reasons why Jesus will come in 1989!  He was wrong again…and happily he didn’t come out with “90 reasons why Jesus will come in 1990.”

          This is not a new phenomenon.  For 20 centuries, Christians have been fascinated by the second coming of Christ (as we should be), and have wondered when it will happen (which is ok), and have tried to figure it out by interpreting Scripture in light of current events (which hasn’t worked out well for anyone).  As I said, they’ve all been wrong-no one has gotten it right yet! 

The creed focuses on the single big idea: Jesus is coming again.  It doesn’t even mention some of the other ideas that figure so prominently in many end times schemes.

  • The rapture, a term not found in the Bible, is used to describe the evacuation of the church from earth, before God’s wrath falls. This idea of Christians being caught up to meet the Lord is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
  • The tribulation, or the Great Tribulation, is a period of tremendous persecution for the church, mentioned in Revelation 7:14. Some people believe the tribulation is a 7 year period yet in the future, others believe we are in it now. Some people believe that the church will be raptured (removed) before the tribulation; they are called pretribulationists (pretrib). Others believe that the church will go through the tribulation and then Christ will come; they are posttribulationist (posttrib). Others believe that Christ will come in the middle of the tribulation; they are called midtribulationists (midtrib).
  • The millennium is the 1000 year reign of Christ on earth, mentioned in Revelation 20. Some people believe that Christ will return to start this period; they are called premillennialists. Others believe that God’s kingdom will be established through us and Christ will return at the end of this period; they are called postmillennialists. Others believe the thousand years is symbolic; they are called amillennialists. And some, like me, are panmillennialists-we believe it will all pan out in the end.

Here’s the deal.  These things-the rapture, the tribulation, the millennium-are not the essentials.  Christians are all over the map on these subjects-good Christians have very different opinions on when and how the second coming will happen.  So you might be wondering what I think about these.  I don’t know.  I don’t know how it’s going to happen, and I don’t think anyone else really does either.  All lot of people are giving you their best guess; it’s a lot of speculation.  Here’s the other thing.  I don’t know how it’s going to happen, and I don’t think it really matters that you know.  That’s why I don’t talk about this.  If you want to spend a lot of time trying to figure out the highly symbolic and apocalyptic prophecies in Daniel and Revelation, be my guest.  But the chances are, you’ll be wrong, and there are plenty of very clear things we ought to be focusing on. 

          So when it comes to Jesus’ second coming, what can we know and be sure of?  What really matters?  Here are three things you need to know (give all three). 

 

          A. Jesus is coming again.

Mark 13:26-27 “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

Jesus is coming again.  Christians believe in a literal, physical coming of Christ.  The first time He came humbly; the second time, He will come in “great power and glory”.  The first time He came quietly, almost unnoticed; the second time, every eye will see him.  Jesus is coming again.  This is the essential that every Christian believes.

 

          B. No one knows when.

Mark 13:32 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

No one knows when.  No one.  This is why I think all speculation about when Jesus is coming is a waste of time.  No one knows when Jesus is coming.  There is something else we ought to be spending our time on: being ready.

 

          C. Be ready!

Mark 13:33-34 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

Jesus is coming back, we don’t know when, so we ought to be ready.  Think back to our January series on one month to live.  If you knew you had a month to live, you’d get ready to meet God.  None of us knows the day of our death, and none of us knows the day Jesus will return.  We’re going to meet God one way or the other, and either way, none of us knows when.  So we’d better be ready.

          How do you stay ready to meet God?  I’ll refer you to the Scriptures here.  For example, in Matthew 25, Jesus tells three stories about the second coming and the judgment, and the lessons are:

  • Always be ready. (The parable of the ten virgins)
  • Make the most of whatever God has given you. (The parable of the talents)
  • Do whatever you can for the poor and needy. (The parable of the sheep and goats)

1 Thessalonians 5 says we should be alert and self-controlled, and 2 Peter 3 says that we ought to live holy and godly lives, “making every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him.”  Be ready!

          Jesus is coming again; no one knows when; you better be ready.  And when He comes again, it’s to judge the living and the dead.

 

2. I believe Jesus will judge the living and the dead.

          I began today by saying that the world is filled with injustice and we all long for a better world where justice is done.  This is also true personally.  I am sinful; I think, say and do things that I regret, and I long to be different, to be better.  The Bible presents the final judgment as a time when justice finally comes, when all wrongs are put right, both personally and globally. 

          There are lots of verses in the Bible about the final judgment.  In fact 14 of Jesus’ 26 parables were about the final judgment-He had a lot to say about it.  However, like the second coming, there is lots of speculation about the final judgment and how it works.  I’m going to give you five things that I think are very clear-and lots of verses for you to study on your own.  Here they come.

 

A.   There is a day of judgment.

There is a day of judgment coming, a time when each of us will stand before God and be judged.  Jesus spoke of it in Matthew.  The apostles wrote about it. 

1 Corinthians 4:5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

Revelation 20:13 and each person was judged according to what he had done.

There is an appointed time for judgment, a day of judgment when Christ comes, when the motives of our hearts and what we’ve done will be judged.  Who is going to face this judgment?  All of us.  Each one of us. 

          Today it’s very popular to imagine God as a kind old grandfather who would never judge or offend anyone.  Everyone is going to heaven, no questions asked-that’s the popular view.  The idea of a final judgment is not popular-but it is what Christians believe.  And without judgment, injustice prevails.  Sin wins. 

ILL: You’ve all heard it said that “everyone wants his day in court.”  If you’ve been wronged, you want judgment.  You want your day in court, your opportunity to face the judge who will make sure justice is done. 

          Fifteen years ago, a drunk driver ran into Jerry Sittser’s car, killing his mother, his wife and his daughter, and putting Jerry and his other three children in the hospital.  Should that driver be punished?  Yes.  But the investigation was botched and the case never went to court.  There was no day of judgment.  No one was punished.  Injustice prevailed.

Does that upset you?  You’re for the day of judgment!  Without it, injustice prevails.  Without it, that better world and better you that you hope for won’t ever be. There is a day of judgment coming. 

 

B.   We will give an account for what we’ve done.

At the judgment, we will give an account for what we’ve done, how we’ve lived our lives, what we’ve said and thought. 

Matthew 12:36 But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.

Romans 14:12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

1 Peter 4:5 But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

We will answer for what we’ve done, good or bad.  Once again, the Bible doesn’t say how this will happen.  Will God play a video of our lives, start to finish, exposing every thought, word and deed?  Will it take a lifetime, or a moment?  We don’t know; we just know that we will give an account.  We will answer to God.

ILL: Last week, Matt pointed out that when you were a kid and your dad was gone, you either looked forward to his getting home, or you dreaded it, depending on how you had behaved.  How many of you, when you were kids, heard your mom say, “Just wait till your father gets home”?  That meant that you were going to give an account for your behavior…and it wasn’t good.  But if you had been good, you looked forward to dad coming home.

There is a day of judgment and we will give an account for what we’ve done.  You might be thinking, “Wait a minute.  I thought that Christ suffered the punishment for my sins and now I’m forgiven.”

 

C.   Christians are saved from God’s wrath.

The big idea here is that everyone will be judged for what they have done, and those who have trusted Jesus are saved from God’s wrath.  I still face God and give an account for what I’ve done; and even though I deserve God’s wrath, I am saved from it-forgiven and accepted.

John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.

John 5:24 I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.

If you believe in Jesus, you will not be condemned.  You have crossed over from death to life.

Romans 5:9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!

1 Thessalonians 1:10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead-Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

1 Thessalonians 5:9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

We deserve wrath and punishment, but someone else stood in our place.  Jesus took my sin upon himself and absorbed my punishment and God’s wrath so I wouldn’t have to.

ILL: Steve Winger from Lubbock, Texas, writes about his last college test–a final in a logic class known for its difficult exams:   

To help us on our test, the professor told us we could bring as much information into the exam as we could fit on a piece of notebook paper. Most students crammed as many facts as possible on their 8-1/2 x 11 inch sheet of paper. 

But one student walked into class, put a piece of notebook paper on the floor, and had an advanced logic student stand on the paper. The advanced logic student told him everything he needed to know. He was the only student to receive an “A.” 

The ultimate final exam will come when we stand before God.  On our own we cannot pass that exam; in fact, on our own, we’re sure to fail. But we have Someone who will stand in for us.  And with Him beside us, we cannot fail.

Jesus stood in for you at the Cross.  And He’ll stand beside you at the final judgment.  If you trust Him, you have already crossed from death to life.

          Two more things.  Has anyone ever asked you, “But what about the people who haven’t heard?  Will God condemn them even though it wasn’t their fault that they didn’t know about Jesus?”  Here’s the answer to that and other questions of unfairness.

 

D.   God’s judgment is just.

          God’s judgment is just-always.  No one will be able to say, “That’s not fair.”  God is never unjust, always just.  We can’t say the same for human judges or even ourselves.  All of us make judgments that are unjust.  They are clouded by our selfish emotions.  We make errors in judgment because we lack information; we don’t know the whole story. 

ILL: In 1993, Laina and I were down visiting my dad, who was dying.  We stayed with my sister, Lyn.  Her landlord had a body shop next door to her house.  The air conditioner in our car had quit working on the way down, and the weather was hot, so we were talking about getting it fixed, and Lyn mentioned that Don, her landlord, could do it.  Providential!  Right next door!  So I took it over, and ended up visiting with Don.  He told me about his upcoming vacation in Alaska, and mentioned that he was taking his two boys, 5 and 7.  Don is 53 and looks it.  I immediately assumed that Don must have married a younger woman, probably after divorcing his first wife, and my opinion of him went down.  I judged him in my heart.

Later that night, my sister told me the story.  The two little boys were Don’s grandchildren, whom he had adopted.  Their parents were killed in a plane crash when the boys were babies.  The other grandmother wanted the older boy but not the younger, and Don wanted to keep them together, so he went to court for custody, and spent $37,000 of his own money to adopt those boys.  All this after raising his own six kids! 

After I heard the story, I was ashamed of myself.  My judgment wasn’t just-it was ignorant and stupid. 

We’ve all done that, haven’t we-made unjust judgments.  We’ve all heard stories of the guilty going free and the innocent being punished.  Injustice. 

          But never with God.  His judgment is always just.  Rather than read all the verses on your outline, let me just tell you what they say about God’s judgment.  These phrases come directly out of these verses.  I quote:

  • God’s judgment is based on truth. (Unlike mine.)
  • God’s judgment is righteous.
  • God is just.
  • God is the righteous judge.
  • God judges impartially and justly.
  • God’s judgments are true and just.
  • God judges with justice.

Here’s the deal.  God will never short anyone.  He will never treat anyone unfairly.  He will never be unjust.  You can count on that.  I don’t know exactly how the final judgment will work; I just know that it will be perfectly just.  When it’s over, no one will say, “I was treated unfairly or unjustly.”  I take comfort in that.

 

E.   Justice will be done.

          Jesus is coming back to judge the living and the dead, and to establish justice in the earth.  Finally, all wrongs will be made right, all injustice will be banished, and justice will rule. 

2 Peter 3:13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

The words “righteousness” and “justice” are both the same in Greek.  When Jesus comes, He makes all things new; He will bring a new heaven and a new earth, where justice (or righteousness) will be at home.  Justice will be done.

          This is what our hearts long for.  We all long for a world where justice rules, a new heaven and earth where justice will be at home, where all the wrongs will be made right.

ILL: I thought about this often when my son Jeff was alive.  Jeff had Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism.  Life was a struggle for Jeff; social interaction was like a foreign language to him.  It was hard.  And I often thought it was unfair.  He didn’t do anything to deserve this; he had it through no fault of his own.  I often thought that one day, God will make it right.  And I smile when I think of Jeff-made-right-free as God intended. 

          Have you ever had those thoughts?  Have you ever looked and someone and thought, “He/she got dealt a bad hand.  It’s not fair.”  It’s not.  But a day is coming when justice will be done, when every wrong will be made right.

What are we to do in the meantime?  We say it every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.  “May your kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Right now, let’s roll up our sleeves and do God’s will on earth-let’s do what God wants, and God wants justice and righteousness. 

This is why we’re going to Kenya to dig a well.  It’s not right that people die for lack of clean drinking water.  We’re going to do justice.

We won’t right every wrong.  We won’t make heaven on earth.  That’s God’s job, and won’t happen until Jesus comes again.  But in the meantime, we’re the vanguard of His coming.  We’re the firstfruits of His reign.  We’re the harbingers of a new heaven and earth where righteousness and justice are at home.