Living in the Present with an Eye on the Future
Last week Rusty shared that humility is a characteristic of a disciple of Jesus. Today we will look at how eternity affects His disciples.
Over the next three weeks we will be looking at some very challenging chapters that will force us to examine how we are living our lives in view of God’s eventual return or, as some refer to it, “the second coming”. “Second coming” is never found in the new testament but His return is mentioned many times. In this passage the Greek word for “return” is “parousia”, which has the connotation of a ruler coming for His subjects. It refers to an authority or King that comes back for His people.
Christians are to be disciples that live their lives in view of His return. If you told your non-believing friend that you intentionally do things because Jesus is coming back, what would he or she think?
In chapter 24 we read, “As Jesus was leaving the Temple grounds, his disciples pointed out to him the various Temple buildings. But he responded, ‘Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!'”
These words come just after Jesus has pronounced his judgment on the Pharisees and the religious leaders who live their lives in complete trust of the temple. What was Jesus saying to the disciples? The temple was central to Jewish life. This religious icon which should have been bringing freedom to the captives and comfort to the oppressed was instead loading burdens on the people. Jesus says it will be destroyed because what He wants is not external signs of security or righteousness but He wants to help people understand that His presence does not live within the four walls of a structure, or in the 600 rules that had been used to control people, but His presence now will live in the hearts of men and it will be offered to everyone freely.
If you remember, a few days later the temple veil was torn in two at the moment that Jesus died. Now everyone could enter into the Holy presence of God via the perfect lamb sacrificed on their account, not for the selected high priest but for anyone. Jesus throws the doors wide open of the temple religious system. Most of the sacrifices would be obsolete with the death and resurrection of Christ.
I think of CoVID-19 and wonder what Jesus is trying to say to His church about our confidence in our religious systems. One clear message I hear from different parts of the world is that God wants to be praised and wants His presence felt more than on one day a week. Much of Christendom has become only Sunday observers. Now that we cannot meet on Sunday how do I measure my spirituality? Our hearts are His temple where His Spirit resides 24/7, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We’ve almost been in isolation for 365 days. Thank goodness He has been present with us every day.
Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives. His disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?”
What comes next must have been a shock!
Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.
“Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.
Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.
“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.
“When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.
“So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming.
Be Honest how does this grab you? Oh Joy!
Does your computer sometimes decide to freeze? Does not compute, it doesn’t fit in my world view, you must be kidding. Thanks Jesus, I thought we were on another track for success. No wonder Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:19 “If there is no resurrection of the dead, and our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are the people to be most pitied in the world.” As some would say about us.
This passage shows the uncompromising honesty of Jesus. He never promised his disciples an easy way; he promised them death and suffering and persecution. Did you sign up for this? Jesus is laying it out honestly so that false expectations will not destroy them or us in the process. What false expectations might you have about following Jesus?
Let me mention a few things that Jesus reveals about a world in chaos.
- Wars and rumours of wars; there are plenty of them.
- Impoverished people and famines; the UN says that there is almost a billion people undernourished.
- Moral chaos, lawlessness.
- False prophets and false Christ’s; false messages promising all kinds of results.
- Christian persecution; open doors say that there are 50 countries presently where Christians are hated publicly.
As a result of these things many will renounce their faith in Christ, many will grow cold towards Christ, many will turn on those they once were united with.
But I want to tell you that a church under suffering is one that is so rich to be a part of. People used to pray for peace in Colombia and sometimes I did not know if that was the smartest thing to do because it was in those times of greatest insecurity that the church was the strongest.
Jesus Warns us of three possibilities for those who are in the church.
- False Security
Covid 19 revealed how false our security was. Religion had replaced relationship with God, rituals instead of the presence of God; trusting false peace that politicians try to accomplish.
In Reappearing Church Mark Sayers talks about what progressive thinkers say. “That we are progressing toward a human-powered social utopia, and there is the potential of human perfectibility.” (pg. 27, read bottom of the page)
- Deceived minds
Due to our false expectations we feel deceived by what is going on in our lives. False messages of hope and progress instead of letting Scripture define our reality. We need to be careful that we do not allow culture—and I would include church culture—to define how we should live our lives. We cannot compare our lives with others, rather we need to ask Jesus how He wants us to live.
When you see so much despair, do not think God has lost control! We live in a time where people believe that body and soul are divided, thinking that what they do with their bodies does not affect their souls.
It is time to take captive our thoughts of despair. God the sovereign Lord has not gone to sleep on this. Is God’s truth what determines our thinking? His word is eternal, constant, and trustworthy to define life.
But we have an adversary, the devil who loves to deceive us all the time by helping us to doubt that it’s worth it to follow Christ and to doubt the goodness of God. This adversary does not want us to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. He wants us to seek our own will, deceiving us to think that freedom comes from doing our own thing. It is actually the opposite.
- Divided hearts, spiritual treason, divided loyalty
Christ asks for a new loyalty; again and again He declared that this new loyalty must surpass all earthly ties. The Christian is one who is pledged to give Jesus Christ the first place in his life. Faith in ourselves cannot replace faith in God. There is a real danger of discouragement and my love growing cold, especially if my expectations are for prosperity and false peace.
Am I still a consumer of religious goods rather than seeking God Himself? Do I love Him above all else, or have I made my “home” here to such an extent that I have no expectancy of the home God has prepared for me?
I wish I could always say with Paul, “ for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” I think I often get so caught up with trying to make this home the most comfortable and secure place possible that I forget that that it is not God’s priority for my life and isn’t the joy that His presence offers me. I’m so worried about my pad rather than with the Kingdom of Heaven.
“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.” John 14:1-3
A remnant will not grow cold and will endure to the end with Gods help. This same Jesus who calls you to this lifestyle also offers His help. We have not received a Spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind.
Fearless, persevering, expectant of His presence. Busy with Gospel proclamation in the whole world. In 2018 100 million Chinese celebrated Easter in small groups. Proof of God’s great help for those who are under this type of persecution. Ready, watchful, faithful.
When I struggle with the cost of being a disciple I remember the words of Paul to Timothy: “I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.” 2 Timothy 1:12
In Economics we call this deferred gains, not present pleasures, but trusting my investment in His hands. Will I sacrifice now knowing that I will cash in big time when He returns. God is and will be the greatest payback we will ever meet.
Some think we sacrificed to go to Colombia for 30 years. I remember coming back to Canada 8 years ago and I literally thought, “I’ve lived enough excitement, you can take me home now God.” This will demand a posture of humility and dependence on the power of God working in our lives.
I love an old song called “The King is Coming” By Ray Boltz:
The marketplace is empty,
No more traffic in the streets,
All the builders’ tools are silent,
No more time to harvest wheat;
Busy housewives cease their labors,
In the courtroom no debate,
Work on earth is all suspended
As the King comes thro’ the gate.
O the King is coming,
The King is coming!
I just heard the trumpets sounding,
And now His face I see;
O the King is coming,
The King is coming!
Praise God, He’s coming for me!
Happy faces line the hallways,
Those whose lives have been redeemed,
Broken homes that He has mended,
Those from prison He has freed;
Little children and the aged
Hand in hand stand all aglow,
Who were crippled, broken, ruined,
Clad in garments white as snow.
I can hear the chariots rumble,
I can see the marching throng,
The flurry of God’s trumpets
Spells the end of sin and wrong:
Regal robes are now unfolding,
Heaven’s grandstand’s all in place,
Heaven’s choir now assembled,
Start to sing “Amazing Grace!”
We have been talking about the Kingdom of God all along in Matthew.
We pray “Our Father who art in Heaven hallowed be your name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We are asking God to be our King every day, that means I humble myself to His rule.
While I was reading a book on the presence of God by Dallas Willard this last week I had to chuckle with the implications of what he was saying, “Why would you want to go to heaven whe re the kingdom of God actually is lived out and the King actually has His rightful rule if you don’t want it here on earth. Why would you want to go to heaven where His presence is face to face, if while here on earth you do not seek His presence?”
This whole time in Matthew Jesus is trying to get us to enter into His Kingdom while we are here on earth. The joyful, liberating rule of Christ can begin now. So when we are told that the eternal joy of His presence is available now why would we be afraid of His return? What a joyous thought!
Christians are those who want the Kingdom of Heaven now, they are the ones who are not afraid of God’s Kingdom rule now. They have tasted the goodness of this King and actually look forward to His return.
Humbly and without fear we can say to our Father in Heaven, “Thy Kingdom come, thy Will be done in my life as you see fit.”
As Mary said to God when she knew she was going to be the mother of Jesus, “Here is your servant, what a privilege and do as you wish with me.”
Questions for reflection
- What aspects of the Kingdom of heaven am I enjoying presently?
- In what ways is Jesus calling me to make my life expendable for His Kingdom?
- What changes might it mean for my church and me if we lived with Christ’s return in mind?
“When the final curtain falls, Jesus will upstage all the famous, beautiful, and powerful people who have ever lived in the course of human history. Every person will be seen as responding to Jesus. As T.S. Eliot put it, ‘O my soul, be prepared to meet Him who knows how to ask questions.’” (pg. 6 Reflections for Ragamuffins, Brennan Manning)
[He] humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Everyone will have to recognize Parousia; the return of the King. The question is when will I bow the knee? Not if I will or not, but when I will.