There are some dates that are forever etched in our memories because of the significance of what happened on that day. For those of you who have been around a few years, December 7, 1941 was one of those days, when Pearl Harbor was attacked. For nearly all of us, September 11, 2001 was one of those days, when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked. And, of course, the day that changed life so much that things would never be the same again was January 1, 2000.
Of course, I’m being a bit facetious. For those of you who may have forgotten, January 1, 2000 was supposed to be the day that all the computers around the world went haywire and we experienced all sorts of chaos. We were supposed to lose our electricity and our running water, banks were supposed to be shut down, planes were supposed to crash.
Not only that, but as the ominous year 2000 approached, we heard a lot of doomsday warnings. We were told that the 2000th year since the birth of Jesus would be the year that Christ would return. It was to be “the end of the world as we know it.”
There are a couple reasons, though, why I never got all that excited. First of all, because of a mistake in creating our calendar, Jesus wasn’t born in the year 0. And so, the 2000th year after the birth of Jesus actually came and went around 1994.
But the main reason why I never got excited was that Jesus said there would be no special sign of his coming. Jesus was very clear when he said, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.
“It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning — lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” (Mark 13:32-37).
And yet, despite what Jesus said, we had prediction after prediction telling us that the year 2000 was the year that Jesus was coming back. I was surprised by a poll taken by the Los Angeles Times in May of 1999, which said that 3% of the people in this country believed that Christ would return on January 1, 2000. That may not sound like much, but that was more than 15 million people in this country who were convinced that Jesus would return on that day.
The entertainment industry jumped in and got involved. CBS ran a special program entitled Mysteries of the Millennium in 1996 that opened with these words: “Are you going to witness the end of the world? The Bible, Nostradamus, the Mayan Calendar, and ancient Hopi Indians all predicted that doomsday will be sometime in the next few years. . . . [N]ow modern science seems to support them.”
But the people who most exploited the turn of the century were the religious teachers. Hal Lindsey — author of The Late Great Planet Earth who has failed numerous times in his predictions — said: “All of this [i.e., earthquakes, famines, wars, AIDS, etc.] leads up to one thing. . . We’re rapidly moving toward the coming of Christ.”
We’ve heard it a lot in our lifetime. But what many people don’t realize is that this sort of millennial hysteria is really nothing new; it’s been fairly constant across the centuries. In connection with special dates or world-shattering events, doomsday prophets have claimed over and over that Jesus is about to return.
Wikipedia lists 55 failed predictions regarding the Second Coming of Christ beginning with Hippolytus who said that Christ would come in the year 500, and Beatus, a Spanish monk, who predicted he would before the year 800. In the 900’s, it was a widespread belief that the end of the world would occur in the year 1000.
Year after year, there were more and more predictions and, as the years passed, each and every one of them failed. There was William Miller and his followers who were looking for Jesus’ return in 1844, the Jehovah’s Witnesses who expected it in 1914. Herbert W. Armstrong predicted the second coming would be in 1935. When he got that wrong, he changed his guess to 1943, then to 1972 and once again to 1975.
My favorite, though, was this — in 1988, I received a book in the mail along with millions of other preachers. Edgar Whisenant wrote a book entitled “88 Reasons Why the Rapture will be in 1988”. In that book, he gave 88 reasons why he was certain that Jesus Christ would return in September of that year.
Of course, the Lord did not come in 1988, so Whisenant presented his new theory: 89 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Take Place in 1989. Someone humorously said that the added reason given in the new book might be this: “Reason #89 — Because he didn’t come in 1988.”
The list of false prophets goes on and on. But, in the end, all of those speculations throughout history have only served to prove that none of those preachers were teaching the truth.
Quite frankly, it’s hard for me to explain the motives of people who try to predict the date of the second coming of Christ. And it’s even more difficult to explain the gullibility of those who continue to believe them in the face of Jesus’ own words. In Mark 13, Jesus said, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32).
Do I believe Jesus is going to return personally, visibly, and bodily? Absolutely yes. Do I believe that his return will bring time as we know it to an end? Yes. Do I believe his return will result in a separation of the saved and the lost for all eternity? Yes. I am confident that Jesus Christ will return, but I am just as confident that no one knows when that return will be.
I think God knew that if he gave us the precise time of Christ’s return that the natural tendency of folks would be to put off following Christ until the last minute. I mean, that’s only natural, isn’t it? And you parents have experienced this first hand. If parents leave the house in the morning and say to their kids, “We’ll be back at 5:00 this afternoon. We expect for the house to be clean when we get back – or else there will be serious consequences”, what happens? You know exactly what happens. Those kids will watch TV, play on the computer, read their books until about 4:30. And then it’s a mad rush to get everything cleaned up before Mom and Dad walk through the door!
But suppose the parents leave in the morning and they say to their kids, “We’ll be back after a while. We expect for the house to be clean when we return – or else there will be serious consequences.” Now what happens? A precise time hasn’t been given. So, the kids may go through a thought process something like this — “We can probably get away with waiting until noon until we get started – but there’s always a chance they could come home earlier than that — the only safe thing to do is clean it now and keep it clean till they get back”
You see, when you don’t know the exact time that someone is coming, it changes your whole outlook on getting ready. I think that’s why Jesus said, “It could be in a few years, it could be in a few decades, it could be in a few centuries, it could be in a few millennia. It doesn’t matter that you know when it is, it only matters that you know that it’s going to happen, that you get yourself ready now, and that you stay ready.”
Jesus said, “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:33).
And in view of the fact that Christ could return at any moment, how should that affect how we live? Peter put it this way: “You should live holy lives and serve God, as you wait for and look forward to the coming of the day of God.” (2 Peter 3:12a, NCV).
As Christians, we are to “wait for” and to “look forward to” the second coming of Christ. So, what does it mean for us to wait for the second coming? Let me suggest four things to you this morning.
I. We Need to Wait Patiently
“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient.” (James 5:7-8a).
The hardest part about waiting is the waiting. Waiting takes time, and a lot of times we don’t know how long we’re going to have to wait for something, and that can be frustrating. If we knew that we were only going to have to wait a few minutes or maybe even an hour for something, that wouldn’t be too bad, but waiting often involves a long unknown period of time.
Those of us who live in this culture of convenience and instant gratification have lost the ability to wait patiently. People in places like Ukraine may wait in line for hours for a loaf of bread. In Afghanistan, people may wait for weeks. But we get irritated if it takes more than two minutes to get our food at the drive-through lane of our favorite fast-food restaurant.
And so, when we are forced to wait, we are not very patient at all. We don’t like the long lines at the bank. We don’t like the long check-out lines at the grocery store. We don’t like dealing with traffic on Skibo. And we especially don’t like having to wait a long time at the doctor’s office or the emergency room. We are a society that hates to wait.
Let’s not wait for the bank to open tomorrow morning, let’s go to the ATM right now and withdraw our cash from the bank today. Let’s not wait an hour for our dinner to cook in the oven – let’s put it in the microwave and have it ready in a few minutes.
And because we don’t like to wait, we can sometimes get anxious about the return of Christ. Especially if things are difficult in our lives, we wish that Christ would just come and let’s move on to something better.
But we need to learn to wait patiently. Paul said in Romans 8, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
“For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:22-25).
As challenging as it may be at times, we need to wait for the second coming of Christ “with patience.” But there’s another phrase that Paul uses in this passage. Two words that we don’t normally think of as going together. Paul says we “wait eagerly.”
II. We Need to Wait Eagerly
Have you ever seen a child who is so excited that he can’t go to sleep on Christmas Eve because he can’t wait to see what’s going to be under the Christmas tree the next morning? That’s what it’s like for those of us who are Christians, as we wait eagerly for the return of our Savior. We can’t wait to see what life is going to be like in the new heaven and the new earth.
But there’s only one way you can eagerly wait for something, and that lies ahead is better than what you have right now. And unfortunately, there are some Christians aren’t all that eager for Christ to come because they’re so happy with what they’ve got right now. “I’ve got a good job, a nice house, all the food that I need, good family, good friends, life is good. And I’m not in a hurry to leave all this behind.”
Paul said in Colossians 3, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4)
If we truly set our minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are here on this earth, we will be eager to see what God has in store for us. We need to wait eagerly.
III. We Need to Wait Expectantly
I heard about a second grade Sunday School class. Every week they had a scripture in the lesson that they memorized and one week, their verse was this: “So watch, for you don’t know when the Son of Man will come.”
One of the children memorized that verse and repeated it perfectly – well, almost perfectly. What he actually did was to miss one word – instead of the word “WATCH”, he replaced it with the word “WHAT.”
So, when he quoted the verse, instead of saying, “So watch, for you don’t know when the Son of Man will come”, it came out like this, “So what, for you don’t know when the Son of Man will come.”
That’s not what the verse says, but I like the idea. We don’t know when Christ will come. So what? We don’t need to know the date. All we need to know is that it is definitely going to happen. And because we know that, we wait expectantly.
Listen to these words of Peter: “This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all,
“that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:1-4).
Peter said there are going to be some folks who will come along and say, “I thought you said Jesus was coming back again. It’s been 2,000 years since he made that promise. Looks like it’s not going to happen.” But it is going to happen!
Peter goes on to say in verse 8, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:5-9)
Peter lets us know that Christ’s delay is not to be viewed as a sign that he lied about coming back, but rather should be viewed as a sign that God loves us and wants to give us every opportunity to get ourselves ready. If you are not prepared for Jesus Christ to come back, when you woke up this morning and discovered that Christ didn’t return last night, you got another chance. You have one more opportunity to obey the gospel. It may be your last chance, but, by the grace of God, you’ve got one more chance to get yourself ready.
And so, as we wait for Christ to return, we wait expectantly. We know he’s coming back. I’m sure there are times that every expectant mother wonders, “Is this baby ever going to get here?”, especially if she is past her due date. But all you have to do is look at her and you know that that baby will eventually come!
And the wonderful thing is that waiting in expectation tends to energize us. In other words, an eagerly anticipated future event can make us excited about what we’re doing right now.
Let me give you an example. Take a married couple who are expecting their first child. They have to wait nine months for that baby. But, during those nine months, they are eagerly anticipating the arrival of that child, and so they’re excited and they spend their time doing things that might otherwise be considered a chore – assembling the crib, painting the nursery, decorating the walls.
Or take the residents of a town who eagerly anticipate the visit of a famous celebrity or dignitary – the lawns are mowed, the sidewalks swept, the cracked windows are repaired at City Hall, the colorful banners are stretched between telephone poles on Main Street as they prepare to welcome someone important to their town. Every action has meaning, because people are waiting, expectantly.
Waiting is more than just sitting around with your hands folded. It’s an active sort of waiting, as we continually look forward to what is going to happen and so we make the necessary preparations. And so, we need to wait patiently. We need to wait eagerly. We need to wait expectantly. And…
IV. We Need to Wait Faithfully
To be faithful means to be full of faith — faith that completely trusts and depends on God. It’s an active faith, not a passive faith. It’s a faith that takes delight in doing what God wants us to do. It’s an expression of our love It’s a faith that keeps doing the right thing even when the waiting takes a long time.
Again, Peter says, “You should live holy lives and serve God, as you wait for and look forward to the coming of the day of God.” (2 Peter 3:12a, NCV).
We wait for Jesus. And while we wait, we live holy lives. While we wait, we serve God. During the time that we have to wait, life is full of opportunities. So, as we wait for the return of our Lord, there are some things that we need to do.
As we wait for the return of Christ, let us continue to share the gospel – to tell the story of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection through which we find forgiveness, hope and strength.
As we wait for the return of Christ, let us continue to lift up our Lord as we worship in spirit and in truth. Using old hymns and new hymns, a study of God’s Word, weekly communion and hearts filled with gratitude and praise — we continue to move the focus away from us and to put it Jesus Christ where it belongs. As a priesthood of believers, we bring our sacrifice of praise to him and exalt his name. May our worship let every visitor who comes into our midst know that we find such great joy in Christ that he or she will want to know more about him as well.
As we wait for our Lord’s return, let us allow God to shape us into the church he wants us to be — a church where we help one another to grow in both the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, a church that looks to the Word of God as our final authority, and a church that shows the kind of grace to one another that the Lord has shown to all of us.
As we wait for our Lord’s return, we strive to be a “hospital for sinners” — a church that truly demonstrates God’s power to transform sinners and offers them something better than they currently have in their lives.
As we wait for our Lord’s return, let us demonstrate the compassion of Jesus to the community around us. Because God didn’t set us on an island to isolate us from the world he loves. The purpose of the church is to continue the personal life and ministry of Jesus. He wasn’t an isolated hermit. He didn’t separate himself from lepers, prostitutes, poor people, or criminals. If we are his body in the world today, we need to have a burden for the same kind of people he loved.
As we wait for our Lord’s return, let us see the face of Jesus in the people we serve, to affirm their dignity as men and women in God’s own image, and give them the opportunity to know him.
And as we wait for our Lord’s return, let us continue to pursue the unity of the body of Christ, to strengthen our bond of fellowship with one another.
Let us wait patiently. Let us wait eagerly. Let us wait expectantly. But let us wait faithfully.
There’s an old saying that assures us “While the cat’s away, the mice will play.” I suppose that’s often true. But it also stands to reason that having a certain knowledge that the cat is coming back at any moment will tend to keep the mice from becoming too frisky.
Maybe the reason that so many of us have trouble living holy and blameless lives is because we tend to forget that he is coming back. “You should live holy lives and serve God, as you wait for and look forward to the coming of the day of God.” (2 Peter 3:12a, NCV).
There’s a story told about the gardener of a large Italian estate, who was giving a visitor a tour of the extensive and well-groomed property. The visitor complimented the gardener on how beautiful and perfectly maintained the gardens and grounds appeared.
“By the way,” the visitor asked, “when was the last time the owner was here?”
The gardener said, “About ten years ago.”
“Then why do you still keep the gardens in such an immaculate and lovely state?”
The gardener said, “Because I am expecting him to return.”
“Is he coming this week?”
The gardener said, “Well, I do not know when he is coming, but I am EXPECTING him today.”
Martin Luther once said, “I preach as though Christ died yesterday, rose from the dead today, and is coming back tomorrow.” And that’s how we should live. Let us wait patiently. Let us wait eagerly. Let us wait expectantly. But let us wait faithfully.