The First Sunday of Advent November 29, 2015
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
8, 56, 74, 68
[Jesus said], “There will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” Then He spoke to them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthyto escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Dear fellow-redeemed by the blood of God’s own Son:
Have you ever looked at a clock and said with some exasperation, “There aren’t enough hours in the day!”? I suppose that busy, productive people have always said something like that about the 24 hour day. Time does seem to “fly” as the saying goes, and we are powerless to slow it down. We can turn our clocks back each Fall and say we “gain” an hour, but we really don’t gain time.
Every Christmas we seem to get this feeling that time is passing more quickly. Is it because time in this created universe is winding down and the end of the heavens and earth as we know it is just around the corner? We do know that Christ came to earth that first Christmas so that He could come a second time and claim His people for His glorious kingdom in Heaven. In the last verses of the book of Revelation Jesus says, “Surely, I am coming quickly” (Revelation 22:20).
Jesus said that nearly 2,000 years ago! The unbelieving, scoffing world says, “Where is His coming?” But our text assures us that Christ’s Word is true and He will keep His promise to come again for His believing children. These words, properly understood, give both encouragement and warning to us as we look forward to the second Advent of our Savior. ADVENT IS ABOUT THE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN. I. The signs have begun, II. Christ’s words must be done, and III. Take care that you stand before the Son!
The signs have begun. Earlier in this same chapter Jesus foretold the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. This destruction took place about 40 years later when the Roman armies under Titus leveled the temple and Jerusalem.
Jesus’ words had no sooner left His mouth when disciples asked Jesus two related questions. First, they asked: “When will the Jerusalem temple be destroyed?” Then they asked, “What will be the sign of Your coming and the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3).
Even to this day, people are fascinated with the question: “When will the end come, and what will be the signs?” Jesus gives a partial and practical answer. But before we can properly understand what He is saying we need to understand the nature of biblical prophecy.
Imagine you are looking at a landscape painting by a well-known artist. In the background there are tree-lined hills, and behind the hills is a mountain range. You know there is some distance between the hills and the mountain range, but you don’t know whether the distance is five miles or fifty. In His prophecy of two great events in human history, Jesus has painted a prophetic picture of both the destruction of Jerusalem and the coming of the Son of Man in the final judgment because they are so closely related. But like the landscape painting, there is no way of telling how much distance, or time, will pass between these two important historical events.
Now Jesus says that the signs of the coming of the Son of Man have begun. He has already foretold the destruction of Jerusalem in the verses before our text. Jerusalem is to be destroyed as a judgment upon the Jews because of their rejection of the Messiah. Jerusalem continues to be “trampled by Gentiles” to this very day and will never again be free and secure until “the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24).
Verse 25 tells us that from the time of the fall of Jerusalem until the second coming of the Son of Man there will be “signs” in the sun, the moon, and the stars. The nations on the earth will be distressed and perplexed by the “roaring of the sea and the waves.” And men’s hearts will fail them because of fear and the expectation of the things that are coming upon the earth, “for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (v. 25-26).
Comparing these words with other very similar passages in Scripture (e.g. Isaiah 13:9-10, Haggai 2, and Hebrews 12:26-28), we may come to the conclusion that the signs mentioned here represent the many wars, diseases, natural disasters, and the political and social upheaval that began with the destruction of Jerusalem but which will continue until the coming of Christ in glory.
Remember also that the prophecy of Joel regarding the “last days” connects the pouring out of the Holy Spirit with “wonders in heaven, blood and fire and vapor of smoke, the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord” (Acts 2:20). Many understand these powerful images as figurative descriptions of a great shaking and upheaval of all created things that signal the “last days,” beginning with Pentecost. Just look at the natural disasters everywhere in the world and the geo-political turmoil that has only increased over the past 2,000 years! Listen to the folks around you. People are saying, “What next?” Hearts are failing everywhere for fear of what is yet to happen upon the earth and with our own nation. Yes, the signs have begun.
What effect shall they have on you, dear Christian? Will you also be greatly distressed and fearful because of them? Jesus encourages His believing disciples: “when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your hearts, because your redemption draws near” (v. 28). With true Christians of all ages, we should not despair when we see and experience those things that distress and perplex human hearts on this earth.
Notice that it is the “hearts” of the fearful and unbelieving who live in terror and dread of the end of all things. But Christ says to us: “Don’t let your hearts be carried away by fear! Rather use your heads to remember what I have told you, and lift them up because even as everything is being shaken and collapsing around you, I, your Redemption am coming nearer.”
As you see that the signs have begun, remember that Christ’s words must be done! What Christ foretold about the terrible suffering and destruction of Jerusalem was fulfilled just 40 years after they were spoken. It’s a matter of recorded history.
What Jesus tells us about His second coming in judgment is His Word too! Therefore, the signs that Jesus gives here are meant to be taken seriously. It would be foolish to ignore this prophecy of His second coming. We don’t want to be surprised by it and find ourselves unprepared! We ought to be looking forward to it, the way signs of summer cause us to expect and look forward to it.
Does summer ever sneak up on us? Are we surprised when it arrives? The disciples were not surprised by the coming of summer. “Look at the fig tree and all the trees,” Jesus tells them. When we see that the trees are budding we “see and know” that summer is near. “So you also,” Jesus says, “when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near” (vv. 29-31).
Jesus’ prophecy of Jerusalem’s destruction is absolutely certain. So certain that the generation of people living then would live to experience all the things that would happen to Jerusalem. The same is true of Christ’s words concerning His Second coming in the final judgement: “Heaven and earth” itself “will pass away,” But Christ’s “words will by no means pass away” (v.33).
Therefore, since the signs have already begun and His words concerning His second coming must be done, let’s look forward to this day with joy!
We look forward to Jesus’ second coming with joy, but it is not a reckless joy that takes no heed or spiritual care. Take care that you stand before the Son of Man. Jesus gives this warning to His disciples of a time: “Take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighted down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape (a better translation is: “have strength to escape out of…”) all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (vv.34-36).
Christ’s second coming, the Day of Judgment, will come unexpectedly to those who “dwell on the face of the earth.” The Greek word translated, “dwell” actually means “sitting.” The earth dwellers are those who are sitting on the earth. Those who sit, are comfortable in their setting, and are completely unaware and unconcerned about the end of it!
This means that you and I must be careful not to let our hearts become so attached to the passing pleasures of this world, that we are continually seeking them, giving ourselves to them, and sitting comfortably in them!
Whether it be playing golf, fishing, deer hunting, partying or whatever brings me pleasure—all such can become such a pleasant setting in which we “sit” that we may be surprised and unprepared for Christ’s second advent, even as an unsuspecting, comfortable, animal may be caught in a snare.
In this text our Lord warns us to “watch and pray always that we may be given strength to escape,” so that at His second coming we are not caught up with the unbelieving earthling as in a “snare” which suddenly brings eternal death in the Judgment! Jesus wants us and all His disciples to be able to “stand before the Son of Man” (v. 36) that we may be His forever when He comes in glory!
But in order stand before Jesus we must be standing each and every day, not sitting on this earth as those who are unprepared for His sudden second coming. We are not called to be squatters on the earth, but soldiers of Christ! That’s why Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having on the breastplate of righteousness, and having covered your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace, above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench the fiery darts of the wicked one” (Ephesians 6:13-16).
How shall we be found standing rather than sitting on the earth? By clinging to Him and His Word through repentance and faith in Him as our only Savior. Only in this way will we be enabled to stand unharmed in the judgment when He comes.
Jesus does not tell us when He is coming. This is for our own good so that we may be prepared! Sixteen hundred years ago, Augustine said: “This one day God has concealed from us that we might keep a better and closer watch over all the other days of our life.” Luther wrote: “Even if I knew that the world would come to an end tomorrow, I would nevertheless plant an apple tree today. Let us live as though Christ were crucified yesterday, risen today, and coming again tomorrow.”
Christmas is coming! But so is our Christ—the Son of Man—the second time! Amen.
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