HE IS COMING SOON
Here we are at the second week in Advent. Last week, the Sunday School did an amazing job of sharing the Christmas story with us. Well done. This morning, we are going to get back into the traditional theme of Advent which is a time to prepare for the coming of Jesus. We, of course, associate that coming with Christmas when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, God incarnate, come to be with us. That’s what we generally associate with Advent. That’s why we decorate our homes and do Christmas baking. That’s why our choir prepares Christmas music and why the Sunday School did their Christmas programme and why we light the Advent candles.
But I also take time every Advent to remind you that this is not just about the coming of Jesus at Bethlehem. It is also about his second coming at the end of time, when God will create a new heaven and a new earth and finally defeat the forces of evil that have prevented us from being all that God created us to be. When that will be we don’t really know. From the very beginning of the Church, we have been told that it will come soon. We aren’t sure what soon means but we still need to be ready for when it happens. That’s the theme for today.
It begins with 2 Peter 3:8-9 (NIV) which says, “But do not forget this one things, dear friends; with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promises, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentence.”
These verses address the issue that I pointed to just a minute ago when I said that the Church has always taught that Jesus will return soon but that almost 2,000 years later, he still hasn’t come. What gives with that? What gives is that Peter tells us that God’s sense of timing is not the same as ours. The imagery that he uses is that a day to God is like a thousand years to us and a thousand years like a day. Note that this is not to be taken literally. We cannot take a thousand years of history and say that it is a day for God. That’s not the point. Rather this is an illustration that tells us just how different our sense of time is from God sense of time. The reason why God sees things so differently is because God is immortal which means that God lives outside of linear time. In fact, God God sees everything from every time all at the same time. We, on the other hand, are mortal and so time has a greater meaning for us. We only get to live a finite number of years on this earth and so time for us becomes much more important. Mind you, that will all change when through faith in Jesus Christ we live with him forever in God’s eternal kingdom. But we’re not there yet. We are mortal beings who live a finite span of time.
Because time means something different to God, therefore the term “soon” also means something different to God. What is soon for us is not soon for God. What we think of as a very long time – say a thousand years – God sees as a very short time – like a day. Most of you were here a few years ago when we did The Story and took an entire year to walk through the Bible chronologically. Do you remember the lower story and the upper story narrative that wound through The Story? This is another example of that. The Church has been waiting for Jesus to return for almost 2,000 years. From our narrow lower story perspective that seems like a long time. But from God’s upper story perspective where he sees all things at all times as if they are all happening at once, 2,000 is a very short time indeed.
That means that God is not slow to keep his promise. It only seems that way from our lower story perspective. What God is really doing – and this is pointed out in verse 9 – is being patient and the reason for that patience is very clear. God does not anyone to perish. He wants everyone to repent and be saved and so he is taking as much time as possible in the hope that as many people as possible will come to Christ and put their faith in him.
HE WILL COME LIKE A THIEF
But then Peter goes on to tell us not to be complacent because the day of the Lord will come. In 2 Peter 3:10 (NIV) we read, “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 in it will be laid bare.” This echoes familiar pictures of the day of the Lord that are found in other New Testament writings. The thief in the night motif is also found in Matthew 24:43 (NIV) which says, “But understand this: If the owner of the house had known what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.” Luke 12:39 says almost the exact same thing. 1 Thessalonians 5:2 (NIV) says, “… for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” The thief also appears in Revelation 3:3 (NIV): “… I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you,” and in Revelation 16:15 (NIV) where the angel of the Lord says, “Behold, I come like a thief!” The thief shows up often it often in the New Testament. But this is not to say that Jesus is a criminal. This is an image not to be taken literally but rather to make a point. The point is that Jesus is coming and that none of us has any idea when that will be or where to expect him. All we know for certain is that he will certainly come and that that it will be on the day when we least expect it.
But then Peter gives us a great description of the heavens disappearing and the elements being destroyed and the earth and everything in it being laid bare. God is preparing the earth for a radical remake. But God isn’t just in the remodeling business. God is going to rip everything up and start afresh.
All of this once reminds us again, as I have said many times before, that there will be no rapture to save the Christians from the tribulation. The rapture is a 19th century theological invention based on a misinterpretation of a passage in 1 Thessalonians 4. There is no secret second coming when the faithful will be whisked away to a temporary bliss while the unrighteous are given one last chance to repent. It makes great fiction and those who wrote the Left Behind books made millions from it but it’s just bad theology.
The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. It is certain and it will happen at a time when you least expect it.
WHY LIVE GODLY LIVES?
But then Peter turns a corner in 2 Peter 3:11-12 (NIV) when he writes: “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’s a great question. Since the day of the Lord is coming and everything as it stands right now will be destroyed, what kind of people should you be? What kind of people should you be when? Then? At the end of time? No, he’s talking about right now. Peter is asking what kind of people we should be right now, in our lives as we live them today. And he even gives an answer. He says that we should live holy and godly lives.
What that means is that the way that live our lives makes a difference. What we do matters. And I want to give you two reasons why that’s true. The first reason is this, that our rewards in the kingdom of God will be based on the way that we have lived our lives. “But,” someone will say and rightly so, “does that not begin to sound a lot like salvation by works?” For those who may be newer to this congregation let me explain.
There is a common misconception in our world that says that when we die and stand before the judgment seat of God, that God will open up the books of heaven and find our names and see how we have lived our lives. If we have lived fairly good lives – which often means that the good things that we have done outweigh the bad things, then God opens the pearly gate and we get to go in.
That is salvation by works but that is not what the Bible teaches. What it teaches is that we are made right with God through one thing and one thing only – our willingness to put your faith in Jesus Christ. That is the only requirement for salvation. We have to give our lives to Christ and put your faith in him. Once you have done that you are saved. It’s not based on works. It’s not based on what you have done. It’s not based on the good things outweighing the bad things. You cannot earn your way to heaven and nothing you can do will ever mean that you’re good enough. The plain simple truth is that none of us is good enough because God’s standard is perfection and none of us is perfect.
That’s why Jesus willingly went to the cross to die for us. He was the only perfect person who ever lived and, because of that, his death was enough to pay the price of all of the sins of all humanity for all time. We don’t get to the kingdom of God because of what we have done. We can get there because of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. And if you were the only person to ever walk the earth Jesus would have done it just for you. So we are saved by faith, not by works. That’s basic Christianity.
So where does how we live our lives fit in? This is also something that people don’t understand so listen up while I explain it. While our salvation is based on faith alone and not works, our rewards in the kingdom of God are very based on how we live our lives. Notice that salvation and rewards are two different things. They are not synonymous. As far as salvation goes, it is by faith alone and it’s like being pregnant; you either are or you’re not. You have either given your life to Christ and put your faith in him or you haven’t. There is no in between.
Rewards, however, are different. Our rewards are our positions in the kingdom of God. In the kingdom, we won’t be getting sets of wings and harps to play all day. In the kingdom there will be things to do just like there are things to do here on earth. And not everyone will have the same position. Those who have lived more godly and holy lives will receive the greater rewards.
Let me give you an illustration of what I mean. Let’s take Adolph Hitler and Mother Teresa. We all know that Adolph Hitler was a cruel and murderous tyrant and the Mother Teresa was a godly woman who lived her live helping the destitute in the poorest parts of Calcutta. They have both died. Now let’s assume that Mother Teresa gave her life to Christ at a very young age and lived a pretty godly and holy life from them on. Would she be in the kingdom of heaven? Yes, she would be. But now look at Adolph Hitler. Let’s assume that the hour before his death, the Holy Spirit touched his heart and he realized that all of the tragedies he had perpetrated on this earth, how many people he had murdered and how much suffering he had caused. If in that last hour, he earnestly and honestly repented of his sins and gave his life to Christ, would he be in the kingdom of heaven after he died? Yes he would be because faith in Jesus is the only criteria for entrance into the kingdom.
But people will instantly say that that’s not fair. Mother Teresa lived all of her life in obedience to God and Hitler only gave his life to Christ in the last hour. It’s not fair that they could both be in the kingdom after they die.
But it is fair and here’s why. They are both saved through faith – that is exactly the same. What is different is their rewards. Mother Theresa’s rewards in the kingdom of God would be far greater than Hitler’s. She may be given the place as one of the greatest people in the kingdom whereas Hitler would be given one of the lowest. That’s why the way we live our lives matters. It affects not our salvation but our rewards in the kingdom of God.
That’s the first reason why we need to live holy and godly lives. The second reason is even more important because it doesn’t only affect us. It affects others as well. Here’s how it does that. Remember that back in verse 9 we learned that the reason why God is delaying Jesus second coming is so that as many people as possible can come to faith in Jesus Christ. How do you think they are going to come to faith? The truth is that there are many ways for people to come to Christ. But the most common means is by other Christians telling them about Jesus. Most people come to Christ because someone has told them what a difference Jesus has made. They share their faith and share their experience of Christ and in doing so plant seeds of faith in someone else.
Here’s the challenge for us. In order for others to take our testimonies seriously, we have to live godly and holy lives. If we don’t then others will recognize us for what we are – hypocrites. And why would they want to follow anything that smacks of hypocrisy? They wouldn’t and who would blame them. If we want to be taken seriously, our words and our actions have to line up. If they don’t, we will be seen for the frauds that we are. I’m not saying that you have to perfect. No one can expect that but when you do blow it as all of us do from time to time we need to try to make it right. So, holy and godly living is essential if we are ever going to hope to lead others to Christ. And that’s the second reason why it is so important to live the way that God wants you to live as you walk this earth. You may be the only person who a non-believer will ever listen to so make sure that your words and your actions match up. Be a good example of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Peter ends this passage by summing up his point with these words from 2 Peter 2:13-15a (NIV): “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation.”
God has a promise and his promise is that Jesus will come again in his second coming at the end of time to finally complete the kingdom of God that he allowed us to glimpse when he walked this earth. And so despite the destruction and devastation that is promised on the day of the Lord, as faithful followers of Jesus we have something greater to which we can look forward. We know that the only reason God will destroy the earth at the end of time is so that he can create a new one where there is no hunger, thirst, suffering, sickness or death. This is the new heaven and the new earth with will be ruled by peace and justice, where everyone will have enough of all that they need and where sin will be no more.
Will it take some pain? Yes it will. But like most really good things, there is often a little suffering before the reward comes. For example, you cannot experience the joy of a new born baby without going through the pain of childbirth. Or to put it in Christian terms, you cannot experience the hope of the resurrection without first going through the heartache of the crucifiction. Sometimes, it is because we experience suffering that we can truly appreciate the joys when they come our way.
And as we wait, we will make every
effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with others. And when we do
that, we can look forward to what God has in store for us in his eternal
kingdom because we have lived holy and godly lives.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come to you on this second Sunday of Advent, ready to prepare our lives for your return. You came to us once in the Child of Bethlehem. We look forward to the day when you will fulfill the Kingdom that you began on earth during your walk with us. When we look around at the beauty of Creation, we cannot doubt your presence. As your glory fills the skies, may your love fill our hearts.
We are thankful for your amazing compassion. You came to rescue us from our need and to set our feet upon the path of peace. We ask that you enable us to share that same compassion with those in this world who are in need. Prepare and equip us to work for your harvest for this generation. Help us to freely give as we have freely received from you.
We remember in this Advent season those for whom Christmas will be a difficult time. There are those who have lost loved ones this past year. Relationships have been broken. Health issues have arisen. Enable us to support those who feel these loses in their times of need. If the joy of the Christmas season cannot be shared by everyone, then at least let us rejoice that God has come among us in a tiny child laid in a manger. Through faith in him, we can overcome our grief and find the healing that we desire.
We lift in prayer those who mourn this day, especially the family and friends of Roy Harrison and Tom Robson. Bless them, O God, with your healing hand and a sense of the peace that only you can give.
We remember the sick of our congregation and community and pray, especially, for Sharon, Don, Helen, Lyle and Jim. Grant healing and peace, O God of the Living.
Help us, O God, to recognize and seize every opportunity to share the
message of Jesus Christ in every possible way. May we never forget that sharing
this message of hope and forgiveness is not only a privilege, but also a
command. As the Good News is shared, may your love abound, in Jesus’ name.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
December 10, 2017 / Advent 2
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-8; 2 Peter 3:8-15
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: There’s a voice in the wilderness crying;
ALL: “Prepare the way for the Lord.”
ONE: Let us ready our hearts for God’s Anointed One.
ALL: Let us prepare our minds for the Holy One of Israel.
ONE: Let us proclaim the One who comes to us in humility;
ALL: Praise be to God, who lives within in Christ Jesus.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
God of Advent, we come before you in this season to prepare for the coming of the Christ Child of Bethlehem. Reveal to us the things that matter the most. Make us wise in the things of the Spirit. Your love is strong and your hand is gentle. Straighten the road that runs before us. Guide us into your way and set our feet upon the rock solid ground of faith. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Our Advent preparation is rooted in our repentance. How often we have turned from your path. We have acted with power against our sisters and brothers. Like lions, we have pounced upon the lamb. Like bears, we have hunted the calves. But you call us with a different vision. Encourage us, God of Compassion, to see a world where lions and sheep rest together, where cattle and sheep feed in the same field. We confess our short_sightedness and seek your forgiveness. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
God’s promises are dependable. God’s mercy is sure. When we confess our sins and lay them at the feet of the Holy Child of Bethlehem we are cleansed by the Spirit of new life and healing. Be assured that our sins are forgiven.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
You came to us, Almighty God, in the form of a Child. You gave all that you had for us and for our salvation. These gifts are symbols of our thanksgiving. More than that, they are signs of the hope that you have placed within us. Bless these gifts as you have bless us. Amen.
The Good News cannot be kept to ourselves. It calls us to share the Gospel of Christ with all Creation. As we leave, may the blessings of Christ surround us and give us peace.