Scripture: Isaiah 2:1-5; Matthew 24:36-44 and Psalms 122
Theme: Clocks, Glocks and the Christian Cross Walk
Grace and peace from God our Father and from Jesus Christ who came to take away the sin of the world!
Welcome to the first Sunday of the Advent Season. Advent proclaims the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the time of the year we put center stage both the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and His Second Coming. This is the time of year that we focus intently on how much our LORD loves to interact intimately with His world and its inhabitants. This is Advent Season, Praise His Holy Name!
This morning, we serve a God who enjoys getting messy. Who willingly left the splendor of Heaven to come to earth to be carried in the womb of a teenage virgin, to be born among livestock and to be raised in the home of a common laborer. We serve a God who wants to be involved in every aspect of our lives and who seeks to save us and infill us with His Holy Spirit.
This morning, all of us live in between the two Advents. The first Advent, the Incarnation of Christ is in the rear view mirror of history. The Second Advent or the Second Coming of Christ is waiting for us up ahead in the future. We are presently somewhere in between. Some believe that we are actually close to the end while others are not so sure.
Bible Scholars tell us that we are living in the now but not yet fulfilled time of history. So, how are we to live during this period of time? What are we to focus on? How does Jesus want us to live as the Body of Christ?
Our passages share with us three different ways that people have chosen to live during this in-between time. Two of those ways the LORD warns us against accepting as our lifestyle. The 3rd one has the Lord's fullest approval. Let's look at them very quickly this morning:
I. We are not to live as calendar and clock watchers.
Our Gospel writer, St. Matthew loved to gather together large blocks of Jesus' teaching and present them in one general setting. We see that in the way he shares the Sermon on the Mount and the way he presents the parables of Jesus. We also see it here in chapter 24, as Matthew has gathered together almost all the things that Jesus has to say about the different aspects of the future. Matthew presents all this material together and if we are not careful it is easy to read this chapter and be confused about what Jesus is truly saying. We have to untangle all the various strands that Matthew gives us.
One thing that that we can be clear about is what Jesus tells us concerning being a spiritual calendar and clock watcher. Jesus was clear in his message that he did not want his disciples to overly spend their time being concerned about watching the calendar and the clock concerning the time of the Lord's coming and the end of the age.
Jesus had a definitive mission for his disciples to accomplish and that could not be done if they were over busy spending their time looking at the spiritual calendar and clock. Jesus didn't want his disciples getting all tied up in spiritual knots trying to figure out something that he knew couldn't be figured out.
To punctuate His warning, Jesus reminded his disciples that no one except the Father knows when He is coming back. The angels in heaven don't have that information. The people of the earth do not have that information. Even the Son of God doesn't know that information. The only one who knows the exact time that the Lord is coming back is God the Father Himself.
Over the years many have read this passage and pushed to the side. It's like they read the words, dismiss them and then began doing all they can to find the eschatological clock and end time calendar. They spend hundreds of hours meditating and examining the scriptures doing their best to find some new way to uncover the mystery of the Lord's coming. They focus on all the Old Testament passages that they believe can help them discern the times. They then compile all the New Testament passages that they believe will reveal to them the signs and wonders that must happen before the advent of the LORD. They are determined and passionate about finding something that Jesus tells us we can't find.
You have to respect their determination and commitment. But in reality, it is misuse of time. It's like a farmer spending all his time trying to figure out when harvest time is going to happen while at the same time he is not preparing the soil or putting any seed in the ground. We would call that farmer a foolish man. We would say that he is misusing his time. So too, are we when we spend more time trying to figure out when the LORD is coming back again than we do in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. Too many people study end time things while at the same time they are not doing enough to help people be ready for end time things.
Who doesn't want to know when the Second Coming is going to happen? Who wouldn't like to know the day and the hour? But the truth is according to Jesus (and He should know) only God the Father has that information and He is not sharing it. What He is sharing is that we are to be preaching the Good News. We are to be busy fulfilling the Great Commission. We are to be busy making disciples and taking the message of Jesus Christ to our world. We are to be busy sharing Jesus with individuals and meeting their spiritual, mental and physical needs.
The key to living in the here and now and the not yet is not to focus on calendars and clocks. The key to right living is not to focus on trying to figure out when God is coming back. He is coming back. That's a fact. When He's coming back only He knows. Our job is to be ready and waiting. Our job is to live our lives as the Body of Christ. Our job is to be busy fulfilling the Great Commission. And this leads us to our second point:
II. Jesus doesn't want us to focus on glocks and locks to provide our safety.
That is to say Jesus does not want us to live as the world lives in order to feel safe or even to promote peace in our world.
We Americans love slogans. We love to put them on billboards and we love to put them on T-Shirts. People have made millions out of creating the right slogan - "Just Do It" (Nike) "You're in good hands with Allstate" (Allstate) "It's the Real Thing" (Coke) "Finger lickin' good" (KFC)
One of those that we routinely hear around election time is "Peace through Strength". The idea is that if we have enough Strength we can therefore make sure that we will have peace. "Peace through strength" has been a popular political slogan since Ronald Regan used it in during his campaign for President in 1980. It has also been a major part of the platform of the Republican party since 1980.
What most people don't know is that Ronald Regan borrowed that slogan. "Peace through Strength" was the title of a book (published in 1952) written by Bernard Baruch. Baruch had been a WW II military adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But even Baruch borrowed the slogan. Historians tell us that it was first used by the Roman Emperor Hadrian ( 76 - 138 AD) in the first century AD who believed that one could accomplish peace through strength even if that meant one had to go to war to make peace.
For some this morning our passage in Isaiah chapter two is comforting. For others it might sound like pie in the sky and mere foolishness.
The Prophet looks forward to a time of the LORD's coming when people will be free of conflict and live in peace. He looks forward to a time when all the glocks and guns of this world will be turned into plowshares and pruning forks. He looks forward to a time when people will take all the weapons of the world and use the metal to feed the hungry and the poor. He looks forward to a time when people will be running towards the LORD to be taught the right way to live.
For many the Prophet's words speak foolishness. They cannot conceive of such a world. A world in which people focus more on revelation than revolution. A world in which people focus more on how to get rid of weapons of war than how to make more weapons of war. A world in which everyone trusts in the power and might of the LORD than they do in Smith and Wesson, Remington or Glock.
I live in the South and in the land of the 2nd Amendment and very proud of it. I live in the land where people are in love with their guns and the more guns they own the happier they seem to be. I live around people who are proud of the fact that in their house they have both a Bible and a gun or two. Owning a gun is like a part of their birthright.
In spite of that one of the major questions of Advent is in what or who do we put our trust. Do we trust more in the providence of God or in the barrel of a Glock? The real question of Advent is what kind of world are we trying to build - A world dedicated to building a community or one full of locks keeping people at bay?
If we are not careful we will see Isaiah 2:1-5 as some fairy tale story told by the Prophet. We will never see it as a world in which the LORD wanted the Prophet to share and to challenge his people to build. We will never see it as God's Kingdom coming down to earth.
Go back over that passage and you will discover something amazing. It is not God who destroys the weapons of war. It is not God who by some supernatural means takes all the swords and spears and miraculously turns them into plow shears and pruning forks. It is not God who creates a world more interested in harvesting wheat and corn than it is in plugging holes in people or putting one more lock on the door. It is the people of God themselves. That's right - it is the people. They are the ones who takes up God's challenge to bring about His Kingdom here on earth.
The Prophet is challenging us to surrender completely to the LORD and put our faith and trust in the LORD. We must remember, he is speaking in a time when Israel was at war. Swords, spears and shields were everywhere. It was during a time when Israel was fighting with its neighbors and the Prophet was warning them against believing more in the power of its spears and swords than in the might of the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY.
This passage is difficult for us, especially as Americans. It is difficult because currently in our country there is more of an emphasis put on "might makes right" and "strength brings peace" than on Christ, the Cross of Christ and our Cross walk. It is difficult because all around us there are people who believe more in peace coming from having the ability to shot a gnat at 40 paces than they can have believing in the LORD JESUS CHRIST. It is difficult because we are living in a world in which people reach quicker for their Smith and Wesson than they do for their Bible or their spiritual journals. It is difficult because people are spending more time on the shooting range than they are spending time with the LORD in prayer, meditation and Bible study.
Is the answer to get rid of all the guns? Is the answer to take away the 2nd Amendment?
No, you can have a gun and believe in the 2nd amendment and live a productive and fruitful Christian life. The question is who do you put your faith in?
Today, our safety does not come from Glocks or locks. Our safety comes by putting our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The answer to our world's needs is not more Glocks or locks it is the message of the Cross of Jesus Christ. It is living out a life in which this morning I would like to call the Cross Walk.
III. Jesus does want us to focus on the Cross and Cross Walking
+ This morning, we are not to get hung up by overspending our time looking at all the end time spiritual calendars and clocks.
+We are not to misuse our time missing out on fulfilling the Lord's Great Commission.
+ In like manner we are not to get caught up depending on glocks and locks.
Instead, as we see in all of our passages we are to get caught up in focusing on the Cross and Cross Walking.
Isaiah 2:1-5 challenges us to focus on bringing people to learn about the ways of the LORD. Matthew 24:36-44 challenges us to focus on living out a life of faith in the here and now. Romans 13:11-14 reminds us that we are to cast away any sinful filthy clothes and instead be clothed in the Lord's armor of righteousness. We are to live holy lives so that all may see what a life of righteousness looks like close up.
The Apostle Paul experienced constant trials and persecution. He was constantly being physically threaten. Threats that the New Testament tells us that turned into reality. We read where Paul was beaten, whipped with rods, stoned and imprisoned. Historians tell us that the bones in his hands, his ribs and the bones in his feet had been broken multiple times. He must have walked humped over with a noticeable limp. Paul knew what it meant to live the life of a hunted man. He knew what it meant to be labeled a criminal both by the state and by the Sanhedrin Council.
In spite of all of that Paul doesn't try to hide away behind locked doors. Neither does he use the majority of his time wondering about end time things. Instead, he challenges all of us to cast off the darkness in our lives and to put on the armor of light. He challenges us to focus on the Cross of Christ and the Cross walk that Jesus wanted us to live.
Paul's world was not only dangerous it was decadent and depraved. It was a world given over to sensuality, immorality and drunkenness. In every Gentile city that the Apostle traveled to share the Good News of Jesus people were living lives best described in Galatians 5:19 - 21:
19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.(ESV)
Everywhere he went the Apostle had to face people more concerned about getting drunk and having a one night stand than they did wanting to learn or hear about living a life of morality. Monogamous relationships were seen as passé and getting high and staying drunk was one of the ways people coped with living under the fist of the Roman Empire.
Today, most of us if would have been horrified to have walked around the streets of the cities of Asia Minor. Under the influence of the Hellenistic culture the streets were lined with nude sculptures like that of Venus do Milo and the Barberine Faun (Sleeping Satyr). Hundreds of others sculptures and art work were on display depicting one of the gods or goddesses in some erotic fashion. Much of the Gentile culture was dedicated to promoting hedonism, genderless relationships and even pederasty.
The world in which Paul was led to preach the Good News therefore was a world overripe with sensuality, debauchery and immorality. It was a world that one could be tempted to hide away behind locked doors spending all their time trying to decipher the signs of the times. But that is not the way the Apostle Paul lived or challenges us to live. Instead, Paul is in the midst of the battle. He is on the front lines preaching the message of Jesus, the message of the Cross and the Life of the Cross Walk.
Many years ago, John Wesley made this assertion : “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.”
John's words are as true today as they were back in the 18th century. Today, we are to be challenged to be more than calendar and clock watchers. We are challenged to be more than people who believe in Glocks and locks. I believe Jesus is challenging us in these last days to focus on His Cross and to focus on living a Crosswalk life. To live a life that gives itself completely over to the LORD and is dedicated to shaking the gates of Hell and bringing the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.
A cross walk is a well marked path where people can safely walk across a street or road. So too is a Cross walk Life. It is a life lived so that people can safely find their way across this life into a life of everlasting peace, joy and happiness. A Cross Walk Life is one in which we take the time, we exert the energy and we use the resources God has given us to win souls to the LORD and lead people into a life of spiritual maturity.
A Cross Walk Life is one in which we have to stop and make sure we are actually living the life of Jesus instead of simply thinking we are living out the life of Jesus. For example:
+We have to make sure that what we do, what we preach and teach on Sundays doesn't disappear by Monday. We have to make sure that we are still making a difference on Tuesday afternoon or Thursday evening when people are battling with painful and messy things like having enough money to pay the bills or keeping their families together.
+We have to make sure that we are putting people and their needs ahead of our own buildings and our little kingdoms. Our vision has to be way beyond that of our campus. We must do more than just trying to get them "here". Like Paul we must go out "there". For it is out there that we find people who need the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
+We must fight the Devil and not one another. And we must fight against the things of sin and not silly things. We have spent too much time on denominational battles while we have allowed the fight against poverty, racism, violence, hated and addictions to go unabated. One day we will know who won - Arminius or Calvin. Until then should we not be more about fighting against the true evils of our day?
+Finally, we must be more than "nice enough". "Nice enough" is what you find so many times as you enter the doors of the modern church. You are welcomed by people who smile, shake your hand and are "nice enough" but fail each week to take the time to get to know you and your situation. Weeks go by without anyone knowing the pain and hurt in your life. Weeks go by without you knowing the pain or hurt in anyone's life. Everyone is just playing the game "nice enough".
Cross Walking is going from philo love to agape love. Agape love is messy and nosy at times. It's getting close to someone enough that they feel comfortable to share their life. For it is in the sharing of life that we find ways to help others find Jesus. Jesus listened to the Woman at the Well. Jesus listened to Nicodemus. Jesus listened to the Apostle Peter.
Today, Jesus is calling us to be His Disciples. Disciples that are not overly tied up with trying to figure out end time clocks and calendars. Disciples who know that true safety is in Jesus and not in Glocks and locks. Disciples who have chosen to live a Cross Walk Life in the here and now. Jesus calls us to live a life that makes a difference on Sunday thru Saturday. To live a life in which we get involved in other people's live being their intercessors, encourages and life supporters.
Today, on this first Sunday of Advent as we approach the Table of the LORD let us do so with the challenge to be Cross Walk Disciples - Disciples who are wearing the garments of Righteousness. Disciples who will go from this place and be Cross Walkers for Jesus.
This is the message of God for the People of God.