“I love it when a plan comes together.” Those of you who are older than dirt probably remember this phrase being used by Hannibal Smith in the A-Team. It was first used in the pilot of the show on January 23, 1983. That will be forty years ago in two months. Forty years before that Canada was in the middle of the second world war and it would be ten more years before the general public would even know what television was.
But that was just an aside.
Paul said something very similar when he wrote Galatians 4:4 But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.
Not just anytime, but when the right time came.
This is the first Sunday of Advent and the beginning of our “This Changes Everything” series, which will take us through to Christmas Day.
For more than four hundred years the people of Israel had been waiting in expectation for their coming Messiah. They looked at the prophecies of Isaiah, Micah and David with anticipation of their coming king and deliverer. And then it seemed as if everything had come together.
The advent candle that was lit this morning was the prophet’s Candle and it directs us to Old Testament Prophecies that point to the coming Messiah.
And throughout the Gospels we see those Prophecies being fulfilled. Not just in the birth of Jesus, but in his ministry and ultimately in his death and resurrection.
And that brings us to the scripture that was read this morning, not your usual Advent scripture.
I’m sure that as the Apostles stood on that hilltop listening to Jesus as he told them about the power that they would receive, and how they would become witnesses to the power of Christ across the known world, they must have been thinking, “I love it when a plan comes together.”
And then, everything changed when Christ ascended. There he was, and there he was gone. Just like that he disappeared. That wasn’t part of the plan. The plan was for Jesus to establish his Kingdom and to send the Romans packing.
For Israel to become great again, and for the apostles to be appointed leaders in the new Kingdom.
But the prophecies of the Old Testament and even the advent announcements of the New Testament point beyond the Christmas Story.
We often see the Christmas story as all of the story, or at least the beginning of a story that lasted until the death and resurrection of Jesus. But it was the beginning of a much larger story.
It was during what we refer to as the Last Supper that Jesus said this to his apostles, John 14:1–3 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.
This of course is Jesus’ promise of his return.
Now at this point, you are probably expecting me to break out the charts and the timetables that will pinpoint all of the appropriate events and happenings with appropriate guesses as to when it may happen.
Now there was a time that I would have done that. Oh, did I have charts and timetables.
But the older I get; I don’t know if I become smarter or simply more aware of my ignorance. Or maybe it’s just that I don’t want to be identified with the chart and timetable people. This popped up on my Facebook feed the other day.
(Church curmudgeon quote)
So, we aren’t going there.
Through the years I’ve come to understand the truth of the statement that William Barclay made about the study of the end times when he said “The result is that it . . . has sometimes become the playground of religious eccentrics, who use it to map out celestial time-tables of what is to come or find in it evidence for their own eccentricities.”
So, let’s start this morning with what we Don’t Know
Matthew 24:36 Jesus said “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.”
We Don’t know The When
There is a natural curiosity as to when Jesus is coming back. For the past two thousand years Christians have been wondering, and the apostles themselves wondered that same thing.
In the book of Mark Jesus had been talking about the end times and the apostles demanded an answer to the question in Mark 13:4 “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to be fulfilled?”
And in verse 32 of the same chapter Jesus answers them by saying, “It’s none of your business” well actually that isn’t exactly what he said, but it’s close because he says Mark 13:32 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.
But that reply hasn’t kept men and women from playing neat little mathematical games with Biblical prophecies over the past two thousand years in an effort to figure out some kind of time frame for the last days. Through the years many sincere men have sought by various formulas and mathematical techniques, primarily using the prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation to arrive at; if not the day and hour of Christ’s arrival then at least the month and year.
500, April 6 – 793, January 1 – 1000, January 1 – 2000, February 20 – 1524, October 22 – 1844, August 7 – 1847, and September 28 – 2015 are just some of the various dates that have been suggested for the return of Christ.
Scientist Isaac Newton predicted it would happen in 2000, as did Timothy Dwight a one-time president of Yale University.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses predicted that Christ would return in 1914, Hebert W Armstrong of The World Wide Church of God predicated 1935, 1943, 1972 & 1975.
Even John Wesley took a crack at it, predicting that Jesus would return on or around 1836. Wesley based his prediction on the account of Revelation 12. Here’s what he wrote in his commentary on Revelation 12:, “. . . And comparing the prophecy and history together, they seem to begin and end nearly thus:
1. The non chronos extends from about 800 to 1836
2. The 1260 days of the woman from 847-1524
3. The little time 947-1836
4. The time, time and half 1058-1836 “
I guess they would all agree with Maxwell Smart when he said, “Missed it by that much.”
But the truth of the matter is that neither Isaac Newton nor John Wesley knew when Christ would return and neither does anyone else.
Seven different times in the New Testament it says that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. And how does a thief come? Well, if he is a good thief then he comes very, very quietly. Now realize that the return of Christ is not what is referred to as the rapture which is when Christ calls the church to be with him. And we aren’t going down that rabbit trail today.
Eschatology or the study of the end times is like golf, it’s fun it gives you something to do but in the long run you end up arriving at the same place you left from. And just like anything else it can become an obsession and prevent us from doing what we were put here to do and that is to win people to Jesus Christ.
But one thing is certain and that is that Christ will return. It may not have been in 70 or 1836 or 1941 or 2000 but Christ will return. And when He does, He will be more pleased with the Christian who led one person into a relationship with God than with the person who spent all his time debating and writing books about the end times.
I am a countdown person, probably a character flaw. When I was a kid, I counted down to my birthdays and to Christmas. I counted down to our wedding date, I counted down to my various graduations, and each year I count down to our vacation. I just do, and I would suspect that I’m not alone.
And that was why Jesus didn’t want the apostle or us to have a date.
This is why he is very clear when he told the apostles in Mark 13:32-33 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert!
What part of “No one” don’t some people understand?
Jesus knew if we had a date we would do the countdown thing, and people would be saying “I have lots of time”.
Jesus made it very plain that the timing of His return is neither our responsibility nor our business, and personally, I think that we border on blasphemy when we try to wrestle that information from God.
We look very much like Adam and Eve who ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil so that they could know everything God knew.
So, while we don’t know when the return of Christ will happen there are some things we do know.
Let’s start with Jesus’ statement in Mark 8:38 Jesus said, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
We Know that Jesus Promised That He Would Return
Biblical scholars tell us that the book of Mark was the first Gospel account put into writing. And according to Papias, who was one of the early Christian writers and a man who had known some of the apostles personally, Mark had acted as a scribe for Peter.
Now taking that into account if we look into the book of Mark, we see Christ making three direct statements referring to the end times.
The first reference was the one I read from Mark 8:38, the second was two days later, after Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem Mark 13:1 As Jesus was leaving the Temple that day, one of his disciples said, “Teacher, look at these magnificent buildings! Look at the impressive stones in the walls.”
Boy, it wasn’t hard to tell these guys were CFA’s, that’s Come From Away if you didn’t know. Talk about a bunch of hicks, gawking around and staring. You can almost hear them, “Golly look at them buildings, we ain’t got nothing like that in Galilee.”
Can’t say that I blame them I have done a lot of travelling but remember that I grew up in New Brunswick and to me, a big city was Saint John, cause golly it had a hotel with 8 stories and two elevators.
So, for a few minutes, the apostles stood in awe as they looked at the massive temple building in front of them, and then Jesus told them in the next verse Mark 13:2 Jesus replied, “Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!”
Now the disciples didn’t say anything right off but when Peter, Andrew, James and John were on the Mount of Olives they asked Jesus when this would take place.
And in reply, Jesus gave them a three-part answer. The first part is given in Mark 13:5-13 when Jesus spoke of the tribulation that the Apostles would personally go through.
The second part is found in verses 14-23 and Jesus told them about the tribulation that Jerusalem would go through. And in 70 AD Jerusalem was totally destroyed by the Romans. One contemporary source claimed that a man could plow from one corner of Jerusalem to the other without hitting a rock.
And then In Mark 13:26-27 Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory. And he will send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.
There can be no mistaking what Jesus was talking about. He was saying that there would come a time that he would return, and all of mankind would see him coming. Which 2000 years ago sounded miraculous that they entire world would see him, but now it’s just everyday technology.
Now then the third instance that Mark records Christ speaking about his return was in Mark 14:61-62 When Jesus was on trial before the high priest, let’s listen in
Mark 14:61-62 But Jesus was silent and made no reply. Then the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
Listen to the response of Christ Jesus said, “I AM. And you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Jesus couldn’t have made his message any plainer.
And John records in His gospel the conversation where Jesus is telling the apostles that the time had come for him to leave, and we pick up the story in John 13:36 Simon Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?” And Jesus replied, “You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.”
But then in the next chapter, only five verses later we read John 14:3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.
And following the resurrection when Jesus meets the apostles on the beach at the sea of Tiberius. And it’s here that Jesus ask Peter if he loved him, gave him instructions for leading his church and then gave Peter a little peek at how his life would end. In response in John 21:21 Peter asks Christ “Hey what about my old buddy John?” and in John 21:22 Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.”
Jesus said, “when I return” not “If I return”.
But Jesus saying that he was coming again isn’t the end of the story, if we continue to read in the New Testament, we discover passages like Hebrews 9:27-28 And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him.
And not only did Jesus promise that he would return, We Know that The Early Church Believed That Jesus Would Return
Through the writing of the New Testament the church is instructed on the second coming of Christ and corrected some errors on how they viewed the second coming.
John wrote in 1 John 3:2 Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. Not if he appears, but when he appears. John was there on multiple instances when Jesus promised to return and time hadn’t dimmed that hope, John was evidently pretty certain that Jesus was coming again.
And it was the same with Peter.
In his second letter, he is dealing with those who claimed that Jesus’ promise of coming again wasn’t a reality. We pick it up in 2 Peter 3:3-4 Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.” That sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it? “Sure, Jesus is coming again, the church has been saying that for 2000 years.”
And Peter describes the power of God in the next three verses and then writes, 2 Peter 3:8-9 But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.
I often hear believers say they can’t wait until Jesus returns, and while that may be valid, understand he may be waiting until your spouse, child or parent makes a decision to follow Him.
There are people who just this past week accepted Christ’s offer of grace and forgiveness. What if Jesus had returned eight days ago?
And yet Peter goes on to warn the church that eventually Christ will return 2 Peter 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.
And as C.S Lewis wrote in relation to the return of Christ “When the Author walks on the stage the play is over!”
When Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica, he said that people all over the world talked about the faith of the believers there, part of that is recorded in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 And they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. He is the one who has rescued us from the terrors of the coming judgment.
And then later in the letter he writes, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. Again, not if Jesus returns, but when Jesus returns. There was a certainty about the belief that Jesus was coming again.
I don’t know where everybody in this room is spiritually. I hope that everybody here Is ready for the promise of Jesus’ return to be fulfilled. But I would suspect that not everybody is. But you can be.
2 Corinthians 6:2 For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.
And it’s as easy as asking him.
A little over 300 years ago Isaac Watts wrote a hymn based on the 98th Psalm. The subject of the hymn was the second coming of Christ, and he entitled his song, “The Messiah’s Coming and His Kingdom.”
It was included in a hymnal called, The Psalms of David: Imitated in the language of the New Testament and applied to the Christian state and worship. This copy is worth close to $5000.00
Now while you probably aren’t familiar with the hymn book you are familiar with the hymn. Here are the first few lyrics:
Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let Earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And Heaven and nature sing
It is the most published Christmas Carol in North America, now it’s called Joy to the World, and it has nothing to do with a Bullfrog or wine.
As the worship team comes to lead us in Joy to the World, as you sing, think of the words, not just as a promise of Christmas, the first Advent, but also how they apply to the second advent.