Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Comings of Jesus

We’ve been looking at Noah and his situation for the last couple of weeks. Today, we’re going to look at something that Jesus said where He uses Noah and his flood to drive home a warning to the people of His day. We’re going to look at this because there are aspects of that warning that also apply to us.

Listen to what Jesus said.

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. ​For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. ​For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. ​Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. ​But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? ​Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 24.36-51

I think that Jesus’ basic point is clear enough. His is coming and that coming will occur just like Noah’s flood. In Noah’s day things were going on as they always had. Ordinary life was happening meal by meal. Then, there were also those special times, like weddings. Life, back then, was filled with lots of normal stuff. But then, quite suddenly, the flood came. And it ‘swept them all away’. Jesus was warning those folk that His coming will be like that, unpredictable. He told them that they needed to be ready.

This is a fairly familiar bit of Scripture, but I think that a look at some of the details may help us to know how we are to embrace this warning.

First, let’s consider what Jesus is referring to when He talks about His coming. I think that it’s fair to say that there are plenty of Christians who understand this as Jesus talking about His return at the end of this age, His promised physical return. That certainly will happen, but that’s not the point of this chapter in Matthew. Jesus isn’t talking about the destruction of the world at the end of history. Rather, He’s talking about the destruction of Jerusalem that was to happen about forty years after His ascension. He is using the language of ‘coming’ to describe what He will do when the Roman armies arrive on the scene to bring about God’s justice. He will come to destroy the city and to kill most of the people. He is telling the people to be ready.

It may sound odd to think of any ‘coming’ of Jesus in this way. But it is something that Jesus does elsewhere also. Listen to what Jesus says to a couple of churches at the beginning of the book of Revelation.

This is what He said to the church in Ephesus.

Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Rev 2.5

Then, there’s this to the church at Pergamum.

Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. Rev 2.16

Let’s be clear. Jesus will visibly and physically return to bring this age to a close. Scripture teaches that. But Scripture also teaches that Jesus comes at other times, invisibly and by His Spirit. He comes to examine His people and to respond to them appropriately. That’s what He was telling the churches in Ephesus and Pergamum. And that’s what He was telling the people in Jerusalem. Jesus used what happened during Noah’s days to make clear that the times of His coming are unpredictable. Life will be going along quite normally when suddenly He’ll show up. Jesus repeatedly comes to His people throughout history.

This is just one way of Jesus reminding His original hearers - and us - that we are all accountable to Him. To use something from last week, Jesus is saying that He has holy expectations of us and that He will hold us to those expectations. This is true not just when He comes at the end of it all. It’s also true in the midst of life. Jesus watches what is going on and will respond appropriately.

In my experience, when there is talk about how Jesus will evaluate us - whether at the end or during the midst of life - there is an interesting split. There are those who are pretty blasé about it. After all, they believe in Jesus and so everything is fine, right? Then, there are those believers who are all too aware of their sins. These tend to panic. They think, ‘Oh no! Jesus is coming to examine me. I’m in serious trouble. I don’t love God and neighbor like I’m supposed to. Jesus will be mad at me for what I’ve been doing and what I’ve been failing to do.’

Those in the first group need to reconsider. There is more to be done than just profess that they believe in Jesus. He has holy expectations. And there just might be serious consequences for those who fail to meet them. These need to remember what happened to Noah’s neighbors. They were cursed with an awful death.

But the other group, the panicked group, also has something to bear in mind. Jesus doesn’t come just to curse. He also comes to bless. Listen again to what Jesus said to those folk in Jerusalem.

Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? ​Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. Matthew 24.45-47

Jesus is far more optimistic than so many of us. He actually expects that there will be those who will be living faithfully when He comes. They will be meeting His holy expectations. And, as a result, Jesus says that He will reward them. Isn’t that what happened with Noah? After all, he didn’t die with all the rest of the people. Jesus came and he was blessed.

But still there are some of those panicky believers who are going to say, ‘But that can’t be me! Surely not. I still sin - a lot.’

Let’s go back to Jesus and the churches of Revelation. Jesus spoke to another church there. Listen to what He said to them.

And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. ​For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.’” Revelation 3.14-17

Jesus sounds angry, doesn’t He? It seems that the Christians in this church weren’t doing at all well. Because of that, when Jesus comes to them, they should expect problems. Jesus is warning them.

And yet, Jesus also says this to the very same church.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. ​Revelation 3.20

This sounds so very different. He’s promising the blessing of His presence. Is Jesus talking to the same church? Yes, He is. But there’s this between those dire words I first read and these words of blessing.

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

Do you see what Jesus is saying to this church? ‘It’s not looking good right now. You guys have some serious problems. I’m not pleased with you. As it stands now, you are facing some dire consequences. However, it will all change - dramatically - if you repent.’

If any saint in this church takes this warning to heart and repents, Jesus will come to him or her and leave a blessing. 

‘But wait a minute! Look at how badly these Christians were living: the pride and the complacency and all the rest. Shouldn’t they bear the consequences of those sins? Shouldn’t Jesus punish them?’ I suppose you could say that He should. He has good reason to. But He won’t - not if they repent.

And that explains Jesus’ holy expectations of His people when He comes to evaluate them. He doesn’t expect us to be sinless. And that’s good because we won’t be. Neither were those saints in Laodicea. But we - like they - are spared if there is sincere repentance. When Jesus sees that, it’s all good. When that happens His coming will be a time of happiness and reward. It will be a time of blessing.

Noah didn’t die in that flood. But don’t think that he was spared because he got everything right. He didn’t. He sinned just like we do. But he could be called righteous because he repented of his sin.

Jesus continues to come to examine His people. He comes to examine you. He will do that on the last day. But He’ll also do that at other times. He just might do that this afternoon. And maybe again next month. Who knows? His comings are unpredictable.

So, what will Jesus be looking for when He comes to evaluate your life? Is He going to want to see if you’ve been perfect? He won’t have to examine us to know the answer to that. None of us will be anywhere close to that. But He won’t be looking for that. Instead - and here I repeat what I said last week - what He will be looking for is a hard-working faith. He wants to see us working at trusting Him in the different situations of life. I call it a ‘hard-working’ faith because trusting Jesus in the different situations of life isn’t easy. But, let’s face it; there will be those times when we fail in this. We will sin. But there is no reason for us to despair. Jesus knows that we will fail. What He wants to see in those situations is that we sincerely repent when the Spirit points out our sin.

Jesus isn’t expecting perfection. When He comes, He will look to see if we are working at faith and repentance - working at it, not being perfect at it. And I think that I can say that this is something that you are, in fact, working at. Faith and repentance. And when He sees that, He will bless. And that is something you can rejoice in. When Jesus comes He will bless.

So, we can look forward to those times when Jesus comes to evaluate our lives. When He does He will find that we have been working at meeting His holy expectations by faith and repentance. He will find that we have been working at believing the Gospel.

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