Summary: The Advent season is all about Jesus coming to earth. And he's coming again! Jesus reminds us to watch for the signs of his return, to live with purpose, and to pray.
I’ll Be Back!
Every year children from around the world eagerly anticipate the arrival of Christmas morning. Retailers push their sales upon us. Consumers invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring happiness in others. And the countdown begins: 23 days of shopping ‘til Christmas!
Behind it all is the celebration of the coming of the Christ child. No matter how frenzied our shopping, the “holiday” is actually a “holy day.” We celebrate Immanuel, God with us, a child born in a manger, the Son of God stepping down from the glories of heaven to become one of us. A little over two thousand years ago, Jesus arrived on planet earth.
“Advent” means “coming.” And on this first Sunday of Advent, the Christian church pauses to consider the second advent. The gospel reading features Jesus’ teaching on the Second Coming of Christ. He came once, and he’s coming again. The theme rings true in General MacArthur’s famous words to the Philippines: “I shall return!” And it rings true in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s immortal line from “The Terminator”: “I’ll be back!” [in my best Arnold voice]. Jesus is coming again!
Here’s the question: Do you long for Christ’s return as much as you long for Christmas? Do you long for Jesus coming again as much as you long for better health, or a special meal, or a good friend’s company? And think about this: how shall we live in the certainty that Jesus is coming again?
A veteran this week told me the story of a pastor speaking to his men’s group. He asked them, “If you knew this was the last day of your life, because Jesus was returning tomorrow, what would you do differently?” One man said, “I would spend all of my money as fast as I could, because I knew I couldn’t take it with me.” Another man said, “I would tell everyone I knew that Jesus was coming, so that some might believe in him.” A third guy said, “I would go move in with my mother-in-law.” The rest of the group looked at him strangely, until he explained, “Living with her would make it the longest day of my life!” [Now I have a wonderful mother-in-law. It is purely coincidence that she is not here today! ]
Seriously, though, when it comes to the end times, Jesus gave three directions to his original disciples. And they still ring true for us today. First, he said,
1. Watch for signs
Jesus taught his disciples to be on the watch for signs that his return is drawing ever nearer. Earlier in the chapter, he’s mentioned wars, earthquakes, famines, persecution, and the destruction of Jerusalem. My wife’s sister’s family in Anchorage faced a 7.0 earthquake this week, which shook them up literally and figuratively! In today’s passage, Jesus shifts to signs at the very end of the age: sun, moon, and stars doing weird things. Since the moon affects our tides, these changes could well bring terrible hurricanes and tsunamis. Jesus speaks of the “roaring and tossing of the sea,” and of nations in “anguish and perplexity.” iel 7:
The final sign is the coming of the “Son of Man,” a character first described in the Old Testament book of Daniel. Listen to these words of the ancient prophet, recorded in Daniel 7:13-14:
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
Does that not sound just a little like Jesus? In verse 27 of today’s passage, Jesus states he will return in a cloud with great power and glory. All will know judgement time has come. But he says in verse 28, for the believer, it’s not judgment time; it’s redemption time! We can lift our heads high as he comes for us.
Jesus gives a little object lesson with an olive branch: he said these signs will usher in the second coming just as certainly as spring ushers in new blooms and new growth. Each sign points to Jesus’ certain return.
Now what does it mean to watch for these signs? What it does NOT mean is to come up with a time for Jesus’ return. Even though Jesus said no one knows the time, not the angels, not even him, only the Father (Matthew 24:36), people from his time to ours have guessed and been wrong time and time again. Be suspicious of anyone who tells you they know when Jesus is returning. Do not trust them!