They huddled together as they watched the One they had followed, the One they had loved, ascend to Heaven and leave their presence. He had been there in so many ways, at so many times, since they first met Him. He had been there when Mary and Martha were heartbroken after their brother Lazarus had died. In the midst of their anguish Jesus said, “Lazarus, come forth!” and he did. He had been there when the woman had been caught in the act of adultery and was preparing to face execution at the hands of her accusers. Jesus silenced the crowd by reminding them of their own sin. After the crowd had dispersed, Jesus knelt down to the woman clothed in shame and humiliation and said, “Where are your accusers?” She shook her head and said, “There are none.” Jesus said, “Neither do I accuse you. Go and sin no more.” He had been there when the crowd was hungry…so He fed them with five loaves of bread and two fish. He was there when the little kids had rushed Him with smiles and hugs only to be reprimanded by the disciples. Jesus said, “Leave them alone for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” He had been there for the broken. He had been a friend to the lonely. He had been the Great Physician to the sick. Jesus had always been there to bring in the outcast and to lift up those who were bowed down with their sin and shame.
He had been there, and they had watched Him. Time and time again they had watched Him and marveled at His strength, His compassion, His fearlessness towards those they feared, and His love towards those everyone else had loathed. They had watched Him in all kinds of situations, but they had never watched with such hope and excitement as the day He rode into town on Palm Sunday. They just knew Jesus was finally going to establish the Kingdom and overthrow the oppressive government officials.
Before the week was over their hopes had faded into disappointment as they heard the lashes being delivered to His back. Their hearts were shattered and their dreams were dashed on a cross, a wooden cross that held their Hope – bloodied, beaten, and nailed like a common criminal. How would they face another day? How could they ever go back to life as it was before they met Jesus? When Jesus drew in His last breath it was as if the life drained out of those who loved Him so…how could He go?
After His body was taken down and laid in the tomb, they were huddled together once again wondering, questioning, mourning, heartbroken, feeling all alone, with the weight of their loss bearing down upon their souls. Then it happened. Some of the women said they had visited His tomb, but He wasn’t there…He was alive. Nobody believed them until He walked through the door. Their hearts danced, their eyes glowed with joy, and they knew that He would never leave them.
The day came when Jesus was to depart and ascend to Heaven, but as He prepared His followers for His departure He left them a promise…I’ll be back. In Acts 1 we read,
6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:6-11 NIV)
Why are you looking at the sky? He’s coming back! That one solitary promise has been held onto by so many for so long throughout the ages. I hope, that by the time we finish our study this morning, Jesus’ promise will be a rope of hope that you can cling to as well.
Today we are going to take a break from our study of the wonderful book of Hebrews so that we might fix our gaze upon the promise of Jesus’ return. In the past few years our society has been swept up in the Tim LaHaye “Left Behind” phenomenon. The topic of Jesus’ return, or “the Rapture,” as some call it, has been discussed in offices, Bible studies, bookstores, and some of the most unlikely places. I have not read any of Tim LaHaye’s books, but I have read THE Book and I can tell you that God has not only promised that His Son will return for His own, but He has reiterated that promise time and time again. In Today in the Word, we can read some interesting facts about the prevalence the Second Coming of our Savior in God’s Word.
Biblical prophecy provides some of the greatest encouragement and hope available to us today. Just as the Old Testament is saturated with prophecies concerning Christ’s first advent, so both testaments are filled with references to the second coming of Christ. One scholar has estimated that there are 1,845 references to Christ’s second coming in the Old Testament, where 17 books give it prominence. In the 260 chapters of the New Testament, there are 318 references to the second advent of Christ-an amazing 1 out of every 30 verses. Twenty-three of the 27 New Testament books refer to this great event. For every prophecy in the Bible concerning Christ’s first advent, there are 8 which look forward to His second! (Today in the Word, April, 1989, p. 27)
The great preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon believed that the proclamation of the promise of Christ’s second coming is essential for us to fully experience the whole Gospel message. Pastor Spurgeon wrote in his sermon, “He Cometh With Clouds,”
Brethren, no truth ought to be more frequently proclaimed, next to the first coming of the Lord, than his second coming; and you cannot thoroughly set forth all the ends and bearings of the first advent if you forget the second. At the Lord’s Supper, there is no discerning the Lord’s body unless you discern his first coming; but there is no drinking into his cup to its fullness, unless you hear him say, “Until I come.” You must look forward, as well as backward. So must it be with all our ministries; they must look to him on the cross and on the throne. We must vividly realize that he, who has once come, is coming yet again, or else our testimony will be marred, and one- sided. We shall make lame work of preaching and teaching if we leave out either advent. (Spurgeon, “He Cometh With Clouds,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 33:592-93.)
We have a wonderful opportunity this morning to drink deeply of the pure, refreshing waters of God’s Word and to take heart that what the Lord has promised He is faithful to fulfill. Let me show you just a couple of Jesus’ references to His return that took place during this week between His triumphal entry into Jerusalem and His death upon Calvary’s cross.
When Jesus shared the Passover meal with His disciples in Matthew 26, He told them that it would be the last time they would lift the cup together until they were together in His Father’s Kingdom. Let me read to you from Matthew 26:26-29.
26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:26-29 NIV)
Jesus had much on His mind when He sat down to share the Passover meal with His disciples. He was remembering the first Passover that occurred in the land of Egypt, during the day of Moses, when the lamb was slain and the blood smeared over the doorframes of the Hebrew’s homes so that the Death Angel would pass over and spare the lives of the firstborn of Israel. Jesus knew that He was the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sins of the world by His own death. Even as Jesus broke the bread and lifted the cup, He was looking forward to the day when He would share in the Passover meal, in Heaven, with all of those who had received Him as Lord, Messiah, and Savior.
In another instance, Jesus was preparing to go to the cross and die for the sins of humanity when He told His disciples that He was leaving to prepare a place for them in Heaven. Jesus said that He would come back for them — The promise of His return has been a source of great comfort, great hope, and great confidence for Christians throughout the ages. Jesus said to His disciples in John 14:1-4,
1 Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-4 NIV)
There have been many people throughout history who have scoffed at the idea that Jesus will return for those who know Him as Lord and Savior. With each passing day there are those who grow more skeptical and cynical that such an event could ever occur, but Paul says that Jesus’ promised return is our “blessed hope.” Jesus’ promised return is both a “blessed hope” for those who take Jesus at His word and a source of mockery and scoffing for those who do not.
Since the time of Jesus’ departure there have been scoffers and folks who have rolled their eyes whenever they hear others talk about Jesus’ return. You need to know that this is not an exclusive club for unbelievers, there are many in the church who say, “I believe in God and I’ve accepted Jesus, but you can’t really believe that Jesus is literally coming back. That’s just a story given to us so that we can know that we are not alone. After all, look how long it has been since Jesus died. They were looking for His return back then.” You are so right! As soon as Jesus ascended to Heaven those who loved Him with all of their heart began to look for His return…and we are still looking today.
The fact that He has not returned yet is interpreted by some to mean that He is not returning, but God says that the reason He has not yet returned is because He is patient with you. He does not desire that you spend eternity apart from Him. If you are a scoffer today, you need to know that you come from a long line of scoffers. Listen to this Scripture from 2 Peter 3,
3 First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 8 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. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:3-9 NIV)
Those who say, “Where is His coming?” with mockery and cynicism in their voices misread the hand of God. They think that He is unable to do what He has promised to do, but in reality it is the grace of God that has held back the coming of His Son until now because He desires that no one should perish. My friend, you who have refused to bow your knee before the throne of grace, might it be that the grace of our God has been waiting on this very morning for you to come to know Jesus as Lord of your life? What a gracious, patient, and loving God we serve.
I want to return to the statement of Paul as we conclude our time of study today. How is it that the promise of Jesus’ return is our “blessed hope?” Paul wrote to Titus and said,
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope-the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 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 2:11-14 NIV)
How is the promise of Jesus’ return our “blessed hope?” I want us to take a look at two ways that Jesus’ promise gives us hope and alters the way we live this life as we await His return.
First of all, Jesus’ return gives us a living hope. Throughout history God’s people have suffered, faced persecution of every kind, and have been ridiculed and scorned by popular society. You can trace a chord of suffering rising up from a chorus of joy and hope throughout the annals of time. Even today, all throughout the world, God’s people are facing horrible persecution because they refuse to bow their knee to any other name than the name of Jesus. Where do these men and women of faith find the strength to bear up under such great pressure? How do you reconcile the joy you read about in Paul’s letter to the Philippians with the reality that he was writing from a lonely prison cell? How do you explain the hope and expectation of John in the book of Revelation when you consider that he was writing while exiled on the island of Patmos? How do you explain Bishop Polycarp’s relentless faith, as the flames were ready to be ignited to end his life? There is no way to explain it from the perspective of human wisdom, but you can easily understand when you come to realize that they were looking for a better home, they possessed a living hope. Peter wrote,
3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9 NIV)
Job spoke from the depths of his suffering and said,
25 I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; 27 I myself will see him with my own eyes-I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25 NIV)
The promise of Jesus’ return gives us a living hope that no matter how much we may suffer in this life, our suffering is not in vain. We serve the God of purpose and His purposes are being worked out in our lives as we await Jesus’ return.
There is a second aspect I want to share with you this morning. The promise of Jesus’ return is our purifying hope. The fact that Jesus will return one day means that I am accountable for this life that I have been given by Almighty God. God has showered my life with His grace, He has given me everything I possess, and He calls me to be a man after His own heart. John wrote,
1How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3 NIV)
God has called us to be holy people, for our lives to be used for His purposes. At the end of our life we will be accountable for the life we lived. So many of those who are scoffers do not want to recognize that they are accountable, they merely want to live life as they desire to live it. Our knowing that Jesus is coming back keeps us mindful that life is not a game, that we can’t simply do what comes natural, but we must seek to live every moment of every day as God desires for us to live.
There are some who are keenly aware that Jesus’ will come back one day and they fix their thoughts on this fact and lose sight that we must live life to the glory of God. They set dates, climb mountains to await His return, and forget about their neighbors who need to know Jesus. Jesus said He did not know the time, only the Father knows the moment that He will send His Son for His own. Until that day arrives we must work on, serve on, and seek to be a blessing to others as we live with the expectation that God is true to His promise. Our approach to Jesus’ return should be that of the great theologian who lived in Hitler’s Germany.
At the height of WWII, Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for taking a stand against Hitler. Yet he continued to urge fellow believers to resist Nazi tyranny. A group of Christians, believing that Hitler was the Antichrist, asked Bonhoeffer, “Why do you expose yourself to all this danger? Jesus will return any day, and all your work and suffering will be for nothing.” Bonhoeffer replied, “If Jesus returns tomorrow, then tomorrow I’ll rest from my labor. But today I have work to do. I must continue the struggle until it’s finished.” (Daily Bread, November 10, 1991.)
Jesus’ return is closer now than when we began this hour of worship, but let Him find us serving Him with conviction, passion, and a humble heart when He splits the sky and welcomes us home. We are to love those around us with the kind of love the Father has demonstrated for us. Paul wrote to the Romans and said,
10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. 11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:10-12 NIV)
My friend, God is patient, but He will not remain patient forever. Won’t you accept Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life this morning and join those who eagerly await the coming of our Savior to take us home?