TRA 27th July, 2003
The Promise of Christ's Return
Last week, while speaking of the ministry of faithful Chinese pastors who spent years in prison for their faith, whom I have met, I spoke of Pastor Samuel Lamb. He has been extraordinarily courageous, and his faithful members, numbering many thousand, gather together every week. Under constant persecution, Pastor Samuel Lamb told me that every month he preaches on the Second Coming of Christ. He told me it is the second coming hope that gives them strength and courage.
In a world where so many are pessimistic and needing strength and courage, we need to consider the promise Christ made of His return to earth as Universal King.
1. MANKIND'S HOPES HAVE TURNED TO DESPAIR.
Today, there is not much optimism about the future. The wave of euphoria of the 1960s began to ebb in the 1980s, and turned to pessimism at the beginning of the 1990s. The War on Terrorism sees the greatest power in world being bogged down in a battle with an ill-define enemy led by an invisible leader who is gathering support from other Middle Eastern allies. Fundamentalist Islam is causing extreme problems in a dozen countries and Christians from Morocco to Indonesia are being killed in fundamentalist Islamic jihads. In the Middle East the Palestinian-Israeli problem is far from being settled and some commentators predict a decades long military-terrorist campaign. Meanwhile, in Africa, another severe drought and consequent famine is placing millions of starving people at risk of death in countries already debilitated by the scourge of HIV-Aids.
Scientific technology is not providing answers only problems. International communications only make us more aware of international problems. Where is there hope? From a hundred thousand throats comes the cry, "Is there any word from the Lord?" People of faith lift their heads. They know hope.
2. THE CHRISTIAN LIVES IN HOPE
Why should Christians hope, when others are so pessimistic? There are several reasons.
The Bible proclaims hope. The Bible consistently gives the message of hope. There is a pattern to creation and a purpose behind all things. The Bible tells us that God created the world and why He made it. The Old Testament develops God's plan for His people and for the world through a covenant based upon obedience to Him. When God's people failed to fulfil their part of the covenant agreement, He gave a new covenant through Jesus Christ, based upon faith. To the faithful was given the task of proclaiming to the world our hope in God. The last book in the Bible, The Revelation to John, describes how the purposes of God, announced in the beginning, made known through the covenant, expressed to the whole world through Jesus Christ, and proclaimed by the church, will be consummated.
Biblical prophecy provides some of the greatest encouragement and hope available. The Old Testament is saturated with prophecies concerning Christ's first advent, and both testaments are filled with references to the second coming of Christ. Some scholars find 1,845 references to Christ's second coming in the Old Testament, where 17 books allude to it.
In the 260 chapters of the New Testament, there are 318 references to the second advent of Christ, one in every thirty verses. Twenty-three of the 27 New Testament books refer to this great event. Your Bible has God's plan for the redemption of mankind and for the renewal of this Earth. Because the Bible teaches hope, Christians are the most hopeful of all.
Jesus proclaims hope. Paul wrote, "Jesus is God's 'yes,' for it is He who is the 'Yes' of all God's promises." 2 Corinthians 1:19-20 The promises of God were central to the teaching of Jesus. He declared the conditions of entry, the quality of life within the Kingdom of God, the assurance of salvation for individuals, judgment for nations and renewal for the entire earth. The poor, who are shut out from much of this world's benefits, can rejoice because they can be part of God's Kingdom. The Kingdom is the realm of Good News. There is forgiveness for sin. There is a new relationship with God and the opportunity for a brand new life. "That Kingdom of God," said Jesus, "is already among you." Luke 17:20 It is here. It is at hand. You can enter into it, yet it is not recognized by every one. It is not yet fully come. It is not observed over all the world. But for those who accept the kingly authority of Jesus the Kingdom is already here and believers are a part of it. That Kingdom will continue to grow until the Kingdom will be seen among all the nations. At the moment when God's Kingdom comes on earth, His will, will be done here as it is in heaven. That is the climax of history.
Christians proclaim hope. They recognise that they are part of a grand plan - initiated from creation, developed through the covenants, brought to us in Jesus Christ.
We now await the fulfilment of His Kingdom. We live in hope, in confidence. God is in command and all that happens is part of His plan. "I am always in your care," said the Psalmist. 31:15 All that happens is part of His plan. Therefore we rest in confidence. On January 16, 1977, Janani Luwum, Archbishop of Uganda, a man of integrity and great personal courage, stood before President Idi Amin. He told that murderous madman that what Amin was doing was wrong in the sight of God. Amin decided to get rid of him. Just before his assassination Luwum spoke to his Bishops: "I do not know how long I will be occupying this Bishop's Chair, but I live as if there will be no tomorrow. Every day I face being picked up by the soldiers. While the opportunity is there I must preach the gospel with all my might. My conscience is clear. I have been threatened many times. I have told the President the things of which the church disapproves. God is my witness." As he said those words, the doors were smashed open, soldiers entered and he was taken away on that last drive. As he left, he called back to the Christians: "I see the hand of the Lord in this." The Bible proclaims hope. The church preaches hope. Jesus enables hope. Christians live with hope. We focus on the future.
3. OUR HOPE IS CENTRED ON OUR LORD'S RETURN.
When General Douglas Macarthur was leaving the Philippines to go to Brisbane, Australia, to establish new headquarters in the war against Japan, he promised, "I shall return." the promise of Jesus. Jesus said, "I shall return." It was a promise that He will keep. When astronauts who have been on the space shuttle return into the earth's atmosphere, a cry goes up from Houston, Texas, "Re-entry has been achieved."
That exultant call is nothing to the mighty shout that will be heard when our Lord Jesus, who came in poverty, in silence, submission and subjection, achieves re-entry and returns - this time to the world in glory, power and acknowledgement! At a gathering of editors of major newspapers in the United States, a competition was held to write the greatest possible headline. The winning headline, chosen by the editors, was simply, "Jesus Has Returned!" That is the biggest news this world could ever receive! Once, at a printer's premises, I asked: "What is the largest type a printer has for a banner head-line on a page?" The printer told me, "Throughout the trade, the largest type is called 'Second Coming Type.' You reserve it for the Second Coming!"
The Signs of His Return. Jesus refers to some signs that would be seen before His coming. There would be wide-spread immorality, fighting among the nations, wars and rumours of wars, false prophets, scoffing against those who believe in Christ, persecution against the true faith, world dictators, famine in many parts of the earth, recurring earthquakes, and, from other scripture, the Jews, back within their own land of Israel. For the first time in world history, all of these signs are present today.
The Purpose of His Return. Jesus Christ is coming to vindicate God's people who have been proclaiming truth throughout their lives; to raise to life again those believers who have died in faith in Christ; to judge the nations of the earth; to destroy Satan and the forces of evil; to renew the world and the environment, and to gather the faithful in heaven. 1 Corinthians 15:24; Revelation 20:7; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1
This world will pass away and there will be a new creation. Peter wrote: "Your lives should be holy and dedicated to God, as you wait for the Day of God and do your best to make it come soon - the Day when the heavens will burn up and be destroyed and the heavenly bodies will be melted by the heat. But we wait for what God has promised: new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will be at home." 2 Peter 3:11-13
4. THEREFORE, WATCH IN HOPE!
As Jesus Christ is coming and as the Bible is full of hope, we are expected to live in hope ourselves. Faithful living, ever expecting, honest serving, always watchful - that is how we are to live. James Galway, the magnificent Irish flautist, was in an accident and was nearly killed. Speaking afterwards, he said, "My life went before my eyes. That accident brought a lot of things into focus. I decided that henceforth every concert that I give, every record I cut, and every TV programme will be as if it were going to be my last. I have come to understand that it is never possible to guess what is going to happen to any one of us. The important thing is to make sure that every time I play my flute, my performance will be as near perfect and as true music as God can help me do."
Every one of us should live as if the end time is just about to come. The Bible calls us to be watchful and gives us warning about false messiahs and false prophets. Matthew 24:23-24 Jesus says, "If anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Messiah!' do not believe him. For false Messiahs and false prophets will appear; they will perform great miracles and wonders in order to deceive even God's chosen people, if possible."
Jesus warns us against those who make up timetables and say, "Now is the time. This will be the day." There are great dangers in taking such verses and creating a timetable, but many Christians are attracted to such. Jesus said, "If people should tell you, 'look, he is out in the desert!' - don't go there; or if they say, 'look, he is hiding here!' - don't believe it. For the Son of Man will come like the lightning which flashes across the whole sky from the east to the west." Matthew 24:26,27
We do not know when our Lord will come. None know the time of His coming. We should always be ready, "The Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting Him." Matthew 24:44 Christians live with faith and hope. We are not pessimistic as are the futurologists; not despairing as those who are outside of Christ and have only scientific technology to rely upon; not sinking with the empty Marxist or failed capitalistic theories - Christians have hope that Jesus is coming again! "Do not be worried or upset. Believe in God and believe also in Me… I am going to prepare a place for you…after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back." John 14:1-3
When Christ returns He will gather to Himself all who believe in Him to fulfil their destiny, to complete God's new creation. The Bible uses every word the writers could conceive to describe our joy, our happiness, our fullness of being. How important for us to plan now to be there!
"When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation,
And take me home; what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim, my God, how great Thou art!"
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