Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from Him who is and who was and who is to come,
We sometimes ask if life will ever be better than it is now, not only for ourselves but for the whole world. Jesus answered that question when he said that until he returns, life on earth will always be mixed, a mingling of joys and sorrows. Peace and war will alternate. False prophets will deceive the unwary. “There will be earthquakes in various places,” he said, “and famines.” His followers will be persecuted and also strengthened by God to endure. Families will be shaken up. The situation will become especially bad just before the end when Jesus returns.
God’s people persist in faith and hope, however, trusting that he will keep on forgiving our sins, through faith in his blood, that he will provide for us, and that he will cause everything that happens in our lives to work out for his glory and our good. We trust that he’ll smooth out rough places and bring us periods of joy and fulfillment even in this life.
The circumstances of life will change completely after Jesus returns. Then, as John tells us in Revelation, the earth as we experience it day by day will pass away and a new heaven and a new earth will take its place. God will wipe away every tear. Death won’t exist anymore. There will be no mourning or crying or pain; God’s kingdom will come in full and he will make everything new. The mixed character of earthly life will be replaced for believers like you and me with everlasting rejoicing in the presence of God.
In the meantime, we live by faith and seek the will of God for us. The Lord, speaking through Moses, offered the Israelites a choice between death and life. The same choice comes to us. Since we are believers, we choose life, the lives we have now, trusting that Jesus will carry us safely through the peaks and valleys, to the life to come that he promises us. The devil tries to coax us to surrender to the standards of the mixed world that surrounds us – that life is money and stuff and ceaseless busyness or else the opposite – that whatever we do will count for nothing. Faith in Christ helps us avoid these snares. Jesus encourages us to think wisely about the life he’s given us and to live steadily.
He instructs us to stay alert and to wait for his return. St. Paul wrote: “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him. Paul called us children of the light. Even if it is dark outside or if troubles threaten to close in or if temptation seems to cloud our understanding, we keep watch by the light of faith. As Jude said in his brief letter, “Keep yourselves in God’s love while you wait.”
Waiting for Christ gives us a purpose. There may be moments, though not many among our people, when time seems to hang heavily in the air without moving or when we lose the zest for our worldly activities or when we don’t know what to do with ourselves. At such times, we remember that Jesus, who pardons our offenses and restores our vigor, has something meaningful for us to do – to live in expectation of his return. Jesus will use our talents; he won’t lose interest in us; neither will he punish us by withdrawing his love.
He promises that there will be a reward for waiting. You may remember Jesus’ parable about a great Lord who returns home after a wedding to find his servants watching for him. Jesus said: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes; he will gird himself and have them sit at table and he will come and serve them.” Jesus promises to bless everyone who watches for him.
We’ll say something in a moment about what watching means, but first we should rule certain things out.
Watching does not include trying to predict the time of Christ’s return. Some folks say that he came back in 1914 but has stayed invisible. Others say he’ll never come to earth again or that the times have become so bad that he will surely appear in a few weeks. He alone knows the date and he forbids us from trying to speculate. As in many cases, it is more enriching and spiritually stimulating to live by faith than by fact.
We should also point out that waiting for Jesus’ return doesn’t mean, as some folks say, that we should expect a thousand-year period when life on earth will be perfect, with peace and plenty abounding everywhere for everyone, just as in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. The Bible doesn’t teach that. Instead, so that we know what to expect, Jesus warns us that life on earth will be a mixed affair until he returns. And what a glorious day that will be.
So what does watching mean. First, prayer. We pray for many things – health, strength, pardon, and deliverance, both for ourselves and others. We also pray for Jesus’ return – “Thy kingdom come” – and in the last verse of the Bible God says, “Surely, I am coming soon” to which John the Evangelist replies, “Come, Lord Jesus.” We don’t know how Jesus will use our prayers for his return – to build up our own faith, to make us ready to receive him, or to help us understand more clearly what his kingdom is like. Whatever the case, watching includes prayer. As Jude said, “Build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.”
Secondly, watching means staying in tune with God’s Word, regular Bible reading and coming to worship on Sunday, as the folks at St. Peter’s this morning customarily do. As we read the Scriptures, our understanding deepens and we grow in appreciation for God’s love and his will for us. We take hold of God’s pardon and appreciate better the life he has given us and what he enables us to do with it. We lose the fear of death.
The Scriptures teach us God’s wisdom – that earthly life is fleeting. In his eyes, a span of years is nothing – only a breath. Even so, hope comes from him. He hears our prayers and our pleas for help. He isn’t blind to our troubles. He keeps us from falling. He will preserve our faith so that we may stand before him joyfully when our Lord returns, on the day when he will see us as without fault.
So we stick with God’s Word to learn the truth about him and about ourselves and the destiny of the human race. God’s Word keeps his light from growing faint with us and from losing touch with the great things God wants us to wait for. As Jude said, “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”
Watching also means thinking critically about most things that we hear, including unsubstantiated theories about the future that sometimes come our way, especially at the start of every new year. I once heard someone predict, for example, that society will fall apart completely by the year 2300. Last week, I heard a man say with complete confidence that the Christian religion would not be around in the year 3000. How would he know? Everything is under God’s control. He determines beginnings and endings and what goes on in between. We rest securely in the assurances we receive from his Word. And disregard anything that contradicts it.
Watching, moreover, includes concern for the spiritual welfare of our neighbors. “Be merciful to those who doubt,” Jude wrote, “snatch others from the fire and save them.” The kingdom grows through one-to-one contact. God’s glory shines in his people. It isn’t the glory of earthly wonders but the glory of confidence in God’s love. We look for opportunities to tell others the good news of the gospel. The Lord won’t let us grow discouraged. He puts opportunities before us and encourages us to speak his word sincerely and confidently.
To sum up, then, life for us as the present time is mixed, but by faith we take hold of the better world that is coming. We stick to what the Bible tells us about Jesus. We watch. We pray. We come to worship. We don’t surrender to false ideas. We tell our neighbors about our faith. In other words, we help to make this present life better for others in ways that please God. If we’re ever tempted to be discouraged about the way the world is going – or fearful that we’ll stumble off the path of faith, it helps to remember the plans for restoration that our Lord will carry out when he returns and the place he has prepared for us in his kingdom. If we ever feel lost or momentarily uncertain about what to do with ourselves, we remember Jesus’ command and keep on watching. In His name we stay alert. AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.