being alert for the Lord’s coming

This time of the year is called Advent on the church calendar. I miss Advent, since the church we’re part of is not much into church liturgy. I think Christmas is a most special time of the year since we’re remembering and celebrating the birth of the Savior, our Lord Jesus.

Advent is simply about the Lord’s coming. And that includes his coming in full as given to us in Scripture, which means his first coming, already accomplished, and his second coming, which we look forward to.

Scripture likens Jesus’s second coming to a “hope,” even “the blessed hope.” Hope as in something we’re anticipating and again, looking forward to, not a kind of “hope so” attitude, where we’re not sure. By faith we’re certain and assured.

Still I wonder just how much anticipation I really have. Yes, chances are I’ll die before the Lord’s return. But that won’t much matter when the return takes place. The dead will rise first, and then those who are alive will be caught up together with them in the air, and so we will all be together with the Lord forever.

The gospel accounts tell us we need to be alert. I am not much into the signs stuff and looking at events. I’ve been burned too often in my lifetime, and have long since dismissed such notions as poor Biblical understanding. But regardless of how we view things, we need to be alert with the imagination: What if Jesus actually would return today? Would we have been preparing ourselves? Or do we think and live like that could not possibly happen?

Faith, hope and love are a triad, love being called the greatest of these. They’re interwoven together, so that our “hope” in our Lord’s return comes from faith with love following and accompanying that. I think the most important thing we can do is to endeavor daily to be in an interactive relationship with our Lord through his word and Spirit, and paying attention in life. Then, through the grace he gives us, we can be ready when that moment arrives. In and through Jesus.

God’s salvation door is wide open

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 6:2b

There’s no question that it’s a difficult time to live, especially in some parts of the world.  Of course all of that is relative, depending on what you mean. But no matter which way you turn, there are tremendous difficulties and challenges. In many places it’s dangerous to be a Christian, but it’s interesting how in some of those very places the church is growing faster than in “the free world.” And there are the cultural sea changes, with the strong reactions against them. Terrorists groups in the name of religion, the steady spread and increase of Islam. Other world religions continuing their traditions.

And there’s the awful bloodletting that continues on earth. Abortion being one prime example. Nuclear weapons are still a threat, and all the more so in the hands of brutal dictatorships. And we can go on and on with the problems. God’s judgment in letting humans reap what they sow is indeed present. And yet Jesus came with a different message, a message for all. The good news in him is that all can be saved simply by believing in him and so receiving the gift of eternal life. Through his death for the forgiveness of our sins, and his resurrection for our new life in him.

Paul’s words above, of course God’s written word, is in harmony with John’s words in his gospel account:

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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17

And Jesus says the same close to the time of his crucifixion and death:

…I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.

John 12:47b

While there’s plenty else going on in the world, and God is active, this seems to be the main point of the present: God’s salvation in Jesus is now offered, free to all.

And this is said by Peter to be precisely the reason the end is not yet coming, at least in part:

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

2 Peter 3:3-13

God’s salvation door is now open wide. Hopefully through our prayers, and others seeing God’s salvation beginning in us, they too might walk through and join us. In and through Jesus.

 

 

patience in the face of suffering and oath taking

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.

James 5:7-12

In light of James’s warning to their rich oppressors, James tells these believers to be patient until the Lord’s coming. Some say James expected the Lord to come within that generation. Maybe so. I’m not sure we can insist the language found here and in other places has to be interpreted that way. I think not. I would rather see it as God’s judgment being soon given the brevity of life, and that it’s imminent in that it could happen any time. And when life is done, judgment is next (Hebrews 9:27). Of course the judgment spoken of here is at the Lord’s second coming. Bear in mind that the future brings not only the resurrection of the righteous, but of the unrighteous, as well (Daniel 12:2).

James point to the farmer as an example of the kind of patience these Christians in faith are to exercise. There is a process which seems to take time along with God’s working. So patience is a necessity in this, yes, “in the face of suffering.” And with that in mind, James now points to the prophets we read of in a good chunk of the Old/First Testament (Hebrew Bible) who spoke in the name of the Lord. Suffering was their lot, as Jesus pointed out later. Persecution and martyrdom. Not easy, when you read their story. Speaking God’s message and living as God’s people will not go unchallenged in one way or another. And lest we think it’s only about identification with God before the world, it may be about our testimony in holding to God’s goodness and faithfulness in the midst of adversities of any kind, as Job did, even as he presented his case to God. And we remember the end of that story. And I want to just soak in James’s word after these points:

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

These words those believers needed to take to heart, and we do too. We wish this for our enemies as well, but if they refuse to respond to this kindness and goodness of God (Romans 2:4), and don’t accept God’s mercy on God’s terms, their end will be according to their deeds. But yes, we need to soak into these words, and let these words soak into us. God’s mercy for us, and for others, yes even for our oppressors. And yet judgment will come, and that too is a word of encouragement, particularly to those who face evil in the form of persecution.

And then James adds a word on oaths. I think it’s in line with making much of taking an oath, as if you are bound by it in a way that you are not bound when simply speaking. God wants our word to be as good as gold so to speak, completely reliable even if not bound legally, morally, and spiritually by taking an oath. Does that mean we can never change our minds, and take back our words, or break our promise? As a rule we shouldn’t. But there may be circumstances when we need to change, or may want to. Which is why we need to choose our words carefully in the first place, if we speak at all. We need to weigh everything in light of what we previously stated and the context. We have enormous freedom, I think, but it needs to be with Spirit-led wisdom. We want to be sure our witness of Jesus is not affected. We want others to see Jesus, and receive for themselves the good news in him. God has what appears to be a change of mind in scripture at times within his unchanging character. There does seem to be some genuine give and take in God’s relationship with people. And God swears an oath as well, we read both in the Old Testament and in the book of Hebrews. So oath taking is not intrinsically evil or wrong. It is the kind of oath taking being done in Jesus’s day and afterward that is evil. As if such an oath is binding in a way that one’s word is not. For God’s people, followers of Christ, there is no place for that attitude or practice.

 

the hope for 2017 and beyond

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2

There is actually one ultimate hope for us and for the world, and that hope is in King Jesus, and God’s promises in him. We in Jesus await for his return, when at last all that is lacking and wrong now, will be made right and complete in the final judgment and salvation, in the new creation. Until then, it’s not like we don’t have hope in Jesus for good in this present existence. In another place we read:

Love…always hopes…

1 Corinthians 13

Hope in scripture is put in the context of faith and love. This is a hope distinct from the blessed hope when the final salvation is put into place. But it’s certainly related to that hope.

All Christian hope is solely in Jesus. It’s not like we can’t hope for the best in the institutions of this world, in governments which are appointed by God for the good of people. But the faith, hope and love which we have in Jesus, just as they are linked together as a triad, are also dependent on the gospel. We have prayerful, lesser hopes, which are still important in their place, as we pray for everyone, for governing authorities, that people might live in peace, and that we might be able to spread the gospel in that same peace. Though in this world we can expect pockets of persecution for such a stand. That hope is grounded in God’s sovereignty now over the nations, which is often hard if not impossible to trace or understand.

And so my hope for 2017 is not so much in earthly institutions, which I think are always certain to disappoint those who have high expectations for them. Instead we look to God’s promises in Jesus for ourselves, and ultimately meant for everyone else. Even for the wicked, who will repent of their ways, and bow the knee to the one Lord, King Jesus, and trust in God and God’s promises in him.

That is my one hope for 2017 and beyond. Even while we pray, hoping for other things along the way for the good of all. More of a just and righteous peace, being one of them. While we wait in the anticipation of the blessed hope when at last every good will be fully realized in and through King Jesus.

not losing hope: the blessed hope

the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ

Titus 2:13

Yesterday in my meditation on scripture, going slowly now through the gospel according to Mark, I ran into the relatively long, arduous, a bit contentious in how to intepret it (is it speaking only about the fall of Jerusalem- 70 AD/CE, or does it include some future event?), and in some ways a bit puzzling, certainly challenging “Olivet discourse” (Mark 13).

It is a bit dizzying, not comfortable, and again puzzling in that some of the language often interpreted quite literally is surely very symbolic of world changing events. And the charge from our Lord at the end is simply to watch. And he made it clear to his disciples, actually Peter, James, John and Andrew who had asked him about the temple and the signs of the end, that what he said to them, he was saying to everyone, that everyone should watch.

That is an attitude that we need to hold on to as we await the Lord’s Second Coming, or reappearing. The teaching that the resurrected, ascended Lord is returning as King of kings and Lord of lords, as Lord and Savior, as King, is part of the gospel, the good news of Jesus for us and for the world. We work and pray in the church against the evil of this world, and for God’s good kingdom to prevail, but we know that this world is destined for trouble all along the way, even if some headway is made in various ways. But the needed change won’t come until the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Reading through that discourse seemed to put needed iron in my soul. That is part of what we Christians are to be about, part of what shapes us yes in a creedal sense: “we believe,” and what we believe is to impact our faith in how we live. It should help us to patiently persevere with a realistic view, not losing hope, but having an assured hope, since our hope is in God’s promise in Jesus, a promise of sure judgment and salvation, and nothing less than a new creation. Its fulfillment begun even now, and to be completed at Jesus’ return.

Advent is for our salvation

 

Hear us, Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who sit enthroned between the cherubim,
shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Awaken your might;
come and save us.

Restore us, O God;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.

How long, Lord God Almighty,
will your anger smolder
against the prayers of your people?
You have fed them with the bread of tears;
you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.
You have made us an object of derision to our neighbors,
and our enemies mock us.

Restore us, God Almighty;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.

Psalm 80:1-7

Advent again refers to the coming of the Lord which from our vantage point we look back on as given to us in Matthew and Luke’s gospel, and look forward to in anticipation of God’s promises being fulfilled according to the words Jesus spoke along with the apostles afterwards, found in other writings in the New Testament. Those words echoing the promises of the prophets of old.

Yes, we’re blessed to be a blessing, as God’s covenant people in the Messiah, but we too are in need of salvation just as much as the rest of the world. This was true of Israel of old. They were unfaithful to their God, but there was always a faithful remnant. But even that faithful remnant was just as much in need of God’s salvation as in God’s deliverance inside and out. They needed deliverance from their enemies, from God’s enemies, and first and foremost from their own sins and ultimately from death itself, even if the latter is not much spoken of in the Hebrew/Old Testament writings. But that theme is present.

And salvation is not only deliverance from, but also restoration to the purposes God has for humanity so as to realize fully the meaning to our lives, including a destiny of which we can have an inkling, but is impossible for us to fully imagine.

Yes, Advent is the awaiting of the full, complete salvation to come when King Jesus returns, for us and for the entire world. And we look back on the salvation that has come and is at work in us, and in some ways even in the world through King Jesus’ first coming.

We need salvation; I need salvation, all the way around, inside and out. That is in large part why Jesus came, why God became King in Jesus: to bring the needed salvation for us and for the world. Our salvation being in and through Jesus himself. Beginning now, to be fully realized later, going on forever. Which initially came in the little baby boy, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.

 

Advent and the joy of salvation in King Jesus

In that day you will say:

“I will praise you, Lord.
Although you were angry with me,
your anger has turned away
and you have comforted me.
Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation.”
With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.
In that day you will say:

“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done,
and proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”

Isaiah 12

We look forward to the day to come when not only our salvation, but the salvation of the world will be complete. That in significant part is what Advent is all about. We celebrate the coming of “the Messiah, the Lord,” (Luke 2:11), King Jesus. The salvation that has arrived, that is present, and that is yet to come is in and through King Jesus.

This is in large part what we celebrate: Yes, God making himself/God’s Self known in and through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. And the salvation that comes from that. We are taken up into the very life and love of the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And we can say that very life and love has come down to earth at our Lord’s first coming and is destined to make everything right and all things new when heaven and earth become one when King Jesus returns.

In the meantime, we are indeed to drink from the wells of salvation from the Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit in and through Jesus (John 7:37-39). As we witness to the world through our faith, our words, and through song: the coming of King Jesus.

Advent: the promise of victory

Sing, Daughter Zion;
shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
Daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away your punishment,
he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
never again will you fear any harm.
On that day
they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”

“I will remove from you
all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals,
which is a burden and reproach for you.
At that time I will deal
with all who oppressed you.
I will rescue the lame;
I will gather the exiles.
I will give them praise and honor
in every land where they have suffered shame.
At that time I will gather you;
at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honor and praise
among all the peoples of the earth
when I restore your fortunes
before your very eyes,”
says the Lord.

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Advent is an apt reminder to us that the one who is coming is “the Mighty Warrior who saves,” or “a warrior who gives victory” (NRSV). This warrior in the passage is “the LORD, the King of Israel.” And he is said to be in the midst of his people.

There is plenty of fear in the world today, and we can be tempted, one might say tested by it on at least a couple levels. We live in a violent world, one in which hate is doing plenty of its dirty work. But hate will not have the last work, and all its dirty work will someday be undone. In fact the King who is to come is already in our midst, similar to the day of Zephaniah, when God’s people Israel were in exile.

Somehow God puts steel in our souls, and gives us a holy resolve to continue on, come what may, in his strength and power, “in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Ephesians 6:10-20). Of course that holy resolve has to be tempered with all of who God is in Jesus, and with all of the will of God made known to us in and through Jesus in scripture.

But make no mistake about it: while we indeed are in a spiritual battle, we have the Mighty One, the Lord in our midst, Emmaneul: God-with-us. And the promise of his return when at long last all evil is judged and full salvation comes.

 

Advent and John’s baptism

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with[a] water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with[b] the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

Luke 3:7-18

Jesus’ cousin John, for good reason is called John the Baptist (or Baptizer). His ministry was to prepare the way for the Lord in getting the people of Israel ready for the coming of the Messiah-King. It was certainly a message of repentance along with the warning of judgment to come. And of great promise in that while John baptized the people with water, Jesus would baptize them with the Holy Spirit. Something unprecedented was to happen to the people of Israel at large. But they’d better be ready. Baptism with fire awaited those who would not be ready.

John preached the gospel to them, which simply means good news, which is Jesus, and God’s good will in him, that good news unfolding as we read on in the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), and further explained in its outworking in the rest of the New Testament.

The people in preparation for the coming of the Messiah were not only to submit to John’s baptism of repentance by confessing their sins and being baptized by him in the Jordan River. They were also to change their ways, to do and not do certain things which John spells out clearly for them in this passage in answer to their question. Works play an important role in our preparation for the coming of King Jesus. It’s not enough to repent as in merely expressing remorse and regret over our sins. We have to change our behavior, which means we must do as well as not do certain things. Scripture is clear concerning that. We can’t just wait for some change of heart before we change our ways. Somehow both are simultaneous in God’s working. A change of heart with no corresponding change of life is no change at all.

And so John the Baptist’s ministry is an important reminder to us of the necessity of preparing ourselves for the Lord’s coming. We want to be ready when he is appears, to be in sync with God’s good will in him, something that has begun even now through his first coming, which we soon are to celebrate.

 

the anxiety/worry, which can rob Advent joy

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

Father Michael Cupp at Prince of Peace Anglican Church spoke at some length on Sunday on anxiety, or worry (see NRSV on link above) robbing us of the joy that is to be ours in King Jesus. And the context in Philippians 4 bears that out. The rejoicing we are to do is in the context of also obeying the imperative/command not to worry, but to pray (see NLT‘s helpful translation, as well).

The NLT gets it right with the translation, “the Lord is coming soon,” of the more literal rendering, “the Lord is near.” The promise of King Jesus’ coming, or return is embedded and therefore part and parcel of this passage. We need to keep it in mind. Advent is anticipation of King Jesus’ coming, as well as remembering when he came. I don’t think that has been a factor at all in my reading and understanding of this passage.

We’re to be marked with gentleness, or being considerate of others, since the Lord’s return is imminent, or soon. Depending on how one looks at it, it could seem soon, but more than likely we would ask, “Why the delay?” Or we can easily be put off by misteachings on the Second Coming, from well meaning teachers, but whose intepretations prove to be false.

The Second Coming, or King Jesus’ return is part of the gospel, no less. Thinking about that,  called “the blessed hope” (Titus 2:13), surely can help us overcome the anxiety and fear or prolonged worry, which can rob us of our joy. The Lord is going to return! We need to see all of life in that light. He returns to make all things that are now wrong, right, and to make everything new. Such a promise is not only an occasion for our joy, but also for our preparation, as we seek to live as those who are ready should Jesus return at a moment’s notice, even today. Would we be ashamed, or would we at least be anticipating with the effort to be ready?

To get caught up in anxiety over any number of things can steal this joy away from us, can rob us of this joy. Instead we need to have this word of God planted in us so as to make a difference in our lives every day. We don’t know which day our Lord may return. Perhaps not in our lifetime, but we don’t know that. Part of our calling in Jesus is to be in antipation of such. Something I want to work on, beginning today. So that other concerns with the responsibilities they bring can be seen in the light of that. Not just our concerns, but the concerns of the world. Where is our hope, and do others know what our hope actually is, as part of our witness?

Yes, the King is coming! Come, Lord Jesus.