We have come to the end of our journey. In this sermon we deal with the 8th and final Essential, “The Second Advent of the Lord in Glory.”
No aspect of Christian theology has become as controversial and as layered with competing opinions and arguments as the doctrine of the 2nd Advent of Jesus Christ. I am going to cut right to the chase, and give you what I believe to be the simplicity on the far side of complexity:
Early Christians believed that God had done something so unique in the 1st Advent of Jesus the Messiah, in which the glory of their Crucified and Risen Savior was revealed to a select few witnesses, that the only thing that God could do to top it was to reveal Jesus the Messiah a 2nd time, in power and in glory, that the whole creation might know him as the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.
The 2nd Advent of Jesus Christ was to be “the definitive revelation of God” because it was to remove all possibility of doubt. According to Philippians 2:10 it would be the time when:
At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, in heaven (the powers & heavenly beings) and on the earth (all who now live), and under the earth (the nations underground, the dead of all ages), and every tongue confess, that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord!’ to the glory of God the Father. Phil. 2:10
This seems a good time to mention that the 2nd Advent of Jesus Christ is not just about him, it is also about us, and about those whom we love who have preceded us in death. The Jews of Jesus’ day never expected the resurrection of a single individual. Most Jews of Jesus’ day looked for a General Resurrection of the Dead at the end of history, in which all people would be raised to life or to judgment. (This was not true of the Sadducees [Matthew 22:23-32], but it was especially true of Pharisees, like Saul of Tarsus, whom we now call Paul the Apostle. [Acts 23:6-8]) Therefore, when Jesus was raised from the dead, the Apostles, who were all good Jews, just assumed that the General Resurrection of the Dead had already begun. Jesus was the first to be raised from death, and they assumed that many, many more would quickly follow at his return, and that those who were still alive at his coming would be transformed with them and join them and their lord.
Let’s make a quick analogy. Suppose you are on your way to a party. Before you go, you must drive to a port city and meet several friends who are returning from an ocean voyage on a large ocean liner. When you reach the dock, from where you are standing, you can see only one passenger, but the minute his feet touch the pier, you know that your friends cannot be far behind, and when you and they are finally together, the party will begin.
1st Thessalonians chapter 4 describes just that kind of situation regarding the death and resurrection, and appearance of Jesus in glory, as it relates to us. Paul writes:
13 But we would not have you ignorant, brothers (and sisters), concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep,17 then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
The 2nd Advent of Jesus Christ is to be “the definitive revelation of God” because it will remove all possibility of doubt, because we all participate in it.
Of course, the 2nd Advent of Jesus is not just for human beings. It affects everything. It affects the whole cosmos, the universe, the multi-verse, whatever. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. Romans 8:19-21
The 2nd Advent of Jesus is the definitive revelation of God because it is the time when all God’s promises will we kept! For some this means that there will be no more weeds in their garden. For others it means that entropy will be reversed. For all it means that death will be no more!
People ask me if I believe in the literal 2nd Advent of Jesus Christ. I do, because I believe that the Christ who appeared for the first time on the plane of human history in humility and in hiddenness, his true identity revealed only to a select few, must of necessity appear a second time on the plane of human history in power and glory, his true identity revealed to believer and unbeliever alike.
In a nutshell, if Jesus Christ truly is Lord, the day is coming when he must make it known to all.
Now, having confessed my faith in the 2nd Advent of Jesus the Messiah let me confess that I do reject some ideas and attitudes that are sometimes associated with that doctrine.
First, I do not believe it is possible to pick the day or hour of Christ’s return. Jesus himself said, “Of that day and hour, no man knows, not the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:36) If God did not reveal these things to Jesus, I seriously doubt God is concerned with revealing them to us. I do not believe that any student of Biblical prophecy will be able to decipher this date from the scriptures, and then write best selling books. The Bible does teach that it is possible to detect certain signs that point to the 2nd Advent of Christ and the consummation of all things. I regard one as particularly definitive. According to Jesus “the gospel must first be preached to all nations.” (Mark 13:10) This morning we prayed that God might hasten the day of Christ’s revelation in Glory. If we want to hasten the coming of the Lord, we will work to accomplish to share the gospel among the nations.
Second, I do not regard the 2nd Advent as an excuse for wasteful living. Back in the 1980’s we had a Secretary of the Interior named James Watt. Watt believed that Christ’s return was eminent. Therefore, he did not feel that we needed to steward our natural resources. Such thinking is totally out of harmony with scripture. According to Scripture, God charged humankind with “tending” the earth. To tend the earth means to steward it, and care for it, and pass it on to the next generation in good condition, perhaps better than we found it. It does not give any generation license to devour the earth’s resources so as to leave nothing behind for our children.
Let me mention a good book. The World is Flat, version 2.0, by Thomas Friedman. In the closing chapters of the book, Friedman points out that many scientists believe that the world could support twice its present population. He says that is true, with this caveat. Individuals who live in North America and some Western Europeans consume 32 times the resources of people living in the developing nations. If everyone lived like us, the impact of human beings upon the planet would not merely double, it would be multiplied by a factor of thirty-two! Indeed, if everyone consumed like us, the world could not sustain its present population. Friedman points out that in places like China and India, record growth in percapita consumption is already underway. He gives the example of Beijing. When Friedman visited Beijing in the year 2000, the city had bike lanes through out the city, and the streets were filled with bicycles. When he returned to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics, those bike lanes and bikes had disappeared. Why? Because in recent years more than 1700 cars per month have been added to the streets of Beijing. Some people think that the recent hike in the price of gasoline was the result of an OPEC conspiracy. That is not so. The summer gas crunch was the result of increased demand, not just in America, but around the world. Gas is cheap again now, because the demand is less. It will not always be so. We must learn to conserve the earth’s resources, and make better use of them.
Third, even though I believe we Christians live from the future that is coming to us in Jesus Christ, I do not believe that we should fix all our attention on the future. It is possible to be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. Jesus taught that there two days in every week about which we should not worry, yesterday, and tomorrow. We do not worry about yesterday because it is past. We can’t change it, and, in Christ, our sins are forgiven and forgotten. Paul shows us the right attitude toward the past when he says, “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14) The other day in every week about which we should not worry is tomorrow. Jesus said, “Let the evil of today be sufficient for today.” Jesus also said, “Work while it is day, for the night comes when no one can work.” Does that mean we should not plan for the future? Robert Schuller said, “When we fail to plan, we plan to fail.” Jesus is not against planning. Jesus said that a wise man sits down to count the cost before starting a new project. (Luke 14:28-32) In emphasizing today, Jesus is not speaking against planning for the future, he is accenting the fact that the one divine moment is the present moment. After I preached this sermon the 1st time, one young man told me I left out the wisdom of the Kung Fu Panda. I said, “What is that?” He responded, “The past is history, the future is a mystery, the only thing we have is the gift of today, that is why it is called ‘the present.'” That’s it. Today is all we can have, we must not wast it. I think that too many Christians are like people working in an office on a Friday afternoon. Our thoughts have already turned to the weekend, and we are wasting company time until 5:00 o’clock. I think Christians should plan as if the welfare of our grandchildren 75 years down the road depended completely on decisions we make today, for it does. Then we should then live each day as if the present day is the last and only day we will ever have.
How would you spend this day if you thought it was your last? Let me suggest what I would do, and perhaps you can piggy-back on my thoughts.
First, I would want to read my Bible and pray. As I did, I would certainly want to deal with any sin that lingers in my life. Even people who do not believe in God believe in sin. Sin is anything we do, or fail to do, by which we hurt another, or ourselves. Forgiveness is the most therapeutic idea in the world, but people find it almost impossible to forgive ourselves, and many of those whom we have wronged are no longer available to us. Sometimes, they cry out to us from the grave, but we can’t answer them. Christians have an advantage in the matter of forgiveness. The scripture says:
8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9
There is an Advent hymn that goes:
Still He comes within us,
Still His voice would win us
From the sins that hurt us;
Would to truth convert us
From our foolish errors,
Ere He comes in terrors.
I suppose it is natural that people should quit their sins when they are afraid. It is a shame that we cling to “the sins that hurt us,” until the last possible moment. Sorren Kierkegaard said that real repentance is like all radical cures, “we put it off as long as possible.”
Second, I would settle my accounts with people. I would make myself financially ready. I would also pay my bills, especially any personal debts I might owe. I don’t want anyone calling me a deadbeat after I am gone, or before. Then, if I owed anything on my pledge at church, or elsewhere, I would settle that, too. Indeed, I would probably put in a little extra. I know that it is impossible to buy one’s way into heaven. I also know that we can’t take it with us. But Jesus did say that we could send it ahead. He said that we could lay up treasure for ourselves in heaven. (Matthew 19:21) Finally, I would provide for my wife, and for my children. I want to leave them something. I had a friend who was an avid hunter and fisherman. When he was told he had just a few months to live, he sold his shotguns and fishing reels and bought his wife a diamond ring. After his funeral, she told me that ring represented everything that was good in her relationship with her husband. He left a memory with her. I would want to leave a memory.
Third, I would want to make contact with the people I care about. I would want to spend time with my family. I would tell my wife I loved her, and linger over a meal with her. Then I would kick myself for all the meals I ate so quickly. I eat too many meals Passover style, with “my shoes on my feet and my staff in my hand.” I would want to call my children, and tell them I love them. I suppose I would also take the opportunity of sowing seeds that might bear fruit in them in the future. When Albert Crater was diagnosed with cancer, he called his friends, and told them he loved them. After the first time I preached this sermon, a hearer told me of a friend of her daughter’s who died with ALS. She said that she spent the last months of her life writing her young daughter birthday cards from her, that she could open each and every year of a life that she prayed would be long. Wow! What courage and foresight that mother showed. I would also call a few non-Christian friends and share with them the hope and confidence that I have. For their sake, I would want to be brave, so that faith might be easier for them, not harder. Paul showed great courage as he faced his own death. In Philippians 1:20-21 we read:
20 It is my eager expectation and hope that I shall not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Fourth, I would go into the office and do the work that I am supposed to be doing. Thomas Carlyle said, “Blessed is the man who has found his work; let him ask no other blessing.” I count myself blessed. In this regard several people have inspired me. I remember how Bonnie Ebert’s step-father, Jake Archer, spent the final days of his life preparing taxes for his clients. His dedication to his work gave the April 15 deadline for filing taxes a whole new meaning for me. I also remember how Vernon Thrift, owner of Chapel Organ Company, was working feverishly on notes for an organ he was building for his own church when I visited him in the hospital, on the very last day of his life. He never heard that organ play—or did he? So, too, I once knew a Presbyterian pastor in Kentucky by the name of Dr. Mount. One Sunday Dr. Mount was preaching for a friend of mine. In the middle of his sermon, he excused himself and told the congregation he had to sit down for a moment. He sat down in the chair behind the pulpit and never got up again. Of course, not every preacher can die on a Sunday. Contrary to popular opinion, we do work more than one day a week. If God called on an ordinary day, I suppose I would want to spend my last hours writing something. I always work better when I work to a deadline.
Finally, if possible, I would want to play a little, too. I think I would take the time to listen to a little music. I would listen to “Fanfare for the Common Man” by Aaron Copeland. I am a common man, and even a common man deserves a fanfare. Then I would listen to the Adagio from Mozart’s “Clarinet Concerto, k. 622. If you have ever seen the movie, “Out of Africa,” it is the music that they play when the lions sleep on Finchhatten’s grave. I think it is the most beautiful and bittersweet music that has ever been written, and I would be feeling the bitter sweetness of life as never before. Finally, I would finish up with “The Hallelujah’s Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah,” and “Sing Hallelujah, Praise the Lord!”, complete with a Moravian Choir and Band. I am not sure I could focus on a book; but it would please me a great deal if I could go out for a long run, even if I did not come back. I do not envy Skip Prosser, the Wake Forrest Basketball Coach, his early death. I do envy him the circumstances of his death. I am terribly afraid of dying in a bed surrounded by well meaning people in white. I am much less afraid of dying underneath a summer sun, caught in full stride by the Last Enemy, still confident that One has defeated him. I once had a friend who was dying of cancer. During the final week of his life, he got out of bed, cranked up his motorcycle and rode it out along a country road. Some how he managed to get back home and back into bed. His wife told me that story. I have often though of him on that last ride. Was he lonely, melancholy, or sad? Perhaps, but I do believe that his Lord was riding with him.
You know, it occurs to me that the only decent way to die is to die as we live. And the only decent way to live is to give each day the respect and attention we would give it if we thought it were the final day of our lives. Perhaps that is why Jesus urged his disciples to be ever watchful. (Mark 13:35-37)
Some of you will have a hard time with this particular doctrine. If you do have difficult believing in the 2nd Advent of Jesus Christ, you need know only this: As far as the individual is concerned “Christ coming back for his church on Earth, in glory, and our being called home to him, in death, are but two sides of the same coin.” [The late Emil Brunner was famous for this summation, but our Moravian Liturgy witnesses to the same truth]. They amount to the same thing. Of course, almost 20 centuries have elapsed since the first Christians, the generation of the apostles, started their long wait for the 2nd Advent of Jesus Christ. Not long after the first generation died out, some started to ask, “Where is the promise of his coming?” The author of 2nd Peter reminds us that:
9 The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 2 Peter 3:9
I would add only that no single Christian has ever had to wait more than a lifetime before entering into the Joy of his or her Lord. The 8th Essential is the 2nd Advent of the Lord in Glory, which is surely the definitive revelation of God.