Welcome to this Blog Post from Digby Baptist Church. Here is the text of Pastor Jeff’s sermon, along with video segments of the service, including children’s time and the sermon. This is part two of five in a series on ‘last things,’ called “August Apocalypse!” More service information can be found and used in the Sunday bulletin, here on the website.
SERMON: The Second Coming: Perusing the Parousia (Revelation 22:6-7, 12-17, 20-21; Acts 1:6-11)
Revelation 22: the last page of the Bible; Jesus speaks.
‘See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the prophecy of this book.”
“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work.”
The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
What does soon mean?
There is a new health food store promised to open up downtown. Back in the winter a sign on the building said something like ‘opening in the spring.’ In the spring it did not open. I think the sign changed to say something like ‘opening soon,’ or, ‘opening in the summer.’ Now, midsummer, the sign says, ‘open in August.’ I happened to meet the owner on the street there, on Tuesday. She said, “August 28th.” 🙂
How soon is soon?
People ask about our four-year-old granddaughter, Amelia Doucette. She still has a feeding tube. ‘How long will she have that?’ we are asked. Well, when she was two years old, we hoped she’d be rid of it by three. When she was three, we figured she’d be off it by four. Now she is almost four and a half. When? Soon, I hope. Who knows. We don’t know. But we believe it will happen, some year!
Jesus disappeared into eternity, in front of the eleven disciples, one day. Angelic figures ask them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
When? How soon? We are still waiting, aren’t we, about 1,994 years later.
Perhaps it seems a simple fact that the second advent of Christ will be in our future, be it soon or not. But, within Christianity there are more than one way to understand ‘Last Things,’ including the second advent of Jesus. I take some of this from Michael Gorman’s book, ‘Reading Revelation Responsibly.’ (2011, pp. 63-68) Citing other Biblical scholars, Gorman talks about two extremes in Bible interpretation, into which we may be on one side, the other, or somewhere in the middle.
There’s treating the Bible text as a code, to be interpreted; and then there is treating the text as a lens, like the lens of your glasses, or a magnifying glass.
So much of what we hear in the media, and in movies and such, sees Revelation and End Times stuff as coded messages. Secrets that experts can decipher. So we keep looking for clues about exactly how and when Jesus shall return.
The four lunar eclipses of 2014 and ‘15 were, as John Haggee taught, a sign of the beginning of The END – see Revelation 6. The mark that the second beast gives people in chapter 13, needed for buying and selling, is the UPC’s on every product, or maybe a computer chip that will soon be implanted in each of us! And the locusts with scorpion tails of Revelation 9 are, as Hal Lindsay suggested in 1970, helicopters.
In contrast with this sort of scripture interpretation, is treating the Text as a lens: use it to help us see, and understand our own age, among other things. It reads the apocalyptic literature in the Bible to get a sense of ‘the spirit’ of it, and put it to work in the present day. It influences us; it helps us see what is real and where things should go.
So, the return of Christ becomes, in part, a lesson in how to stop bowing to the kingdoms that run the world today, and follow Jesus instead. The governments, the corporations, our economy, the media, and so forth, do not have the final say in our lives. Christ does, and someday the other systems will fall and He alone will reign on the new heavens and the new earth.
My own approach is towards this second pole of the two. I don’t think the return of Jesus, and all the Bible words about it, are to be decoded, using events in modern Israel or the USA or China or Russia to fill in the details. I don’t look for pandemics, and wars, and people rejecting religion en masse as fulfillments of Bible prophecy. I do see Bible prophecy saying things about our world today.
I look for the Bible to influence me. To influence my imagination. To train my conscience. To inspire my apprenticeship to Master Jesus. To challenge my Western, middle-class lifestyle.
It is very important to read any verse of scripture in the light of the whole Book. So many words about Jesus returning hearken back to other scriptures, in many books. He returns with the clouds… like Moses coming down from the mountain, shrouded in cloud. His followers will get caught up to meet Jesus as He arrives… just like the day He entered Jerusalem and the people went out to parade back into the city with Him.
It is also very important to hear any apocalyptic or visionary Bible words as just that: visions, dreams. These are not prescriptions or descriptions of reality. These are dreams and visions. You know what your dreams are like!
I remember a brief dream from my childhood. At the time, I lived in Halifax. My paternal grandparents lived near Middleton. My maternal grandparents lived in Oshawa, ON. So, in my dream, my friends and I are on the front lawn of my grandparent’s home in NS. But there is a privet hedge planted along the road, like at my other grandparent’s home in ON. My friends and I are pulling these long, white snakes out of the hedge. One bites me, and it is like a flash of lightning. Instantly I am dead, or at least, suddenly lying on the ground, looking up at my friends gathered around me.
That’s the dream. That’s what dreams are like, with various parts of our lives mixed up together, and unexplainable things happening, that you may not question, while you are in the dream, dreaming it.
From that type of experience the Revelation of John comes to us, and half of the book of Daniel, and so forth. But these are deeper and broader and holy and timeless. This is scripture. When it is time for Jesus’ promises about coming back to be explained, people don’t get a lecture, people fall into a trance. What we get is not simple; it is poetic, creative, dramatic, fantastic.
Why is this teaching on the return of Jesus important? What use is this to us now? How does it influence us? It seems important at least because Jesus taught it. Several of His parables are apocalyptic, not to mention His direct teachings. For instance, see His stories in Mtt. 24 & 25:
From the fig tree learn its lesson…
The Kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten maidens took their lamps and went to meet the groom…
For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them…
When the Son of Man comes in his glory… then he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats…
Why is the return of Jesus of any importance? Well, the finale of any story is important, and when the presence of God in a person is to return fully, it’s important. Having a sense that history is moving somewhere, and there is something good on the way, is powerful.
And, knowledge of future events influences how we live now, beforehand. Not that we should be motivated by fear, and live better just because Jesus just might return at any second! Rather, to follow the ways of Jesus is to contribute to the plan for goodness and rightness. And to be, like Him, a faithful witness. This gives hope; at least, it shows that we have hope for this universe the its people.
I know, I know. Jesus is yet to arrive. We still wonder when, and how. And how to be with Him, not ‘left behind.’ Personally, I don’t think it matters when this happens, and it does not matter if we know, even in general, that the end is near. Like I say, when is soon anyway?
Me, I believe that we can be ready without becoming Bible scholars, theology nerds, or religious fanatics. You don’t have to figure it all out in order to be saved or safe.
It is about the presence of God Jesus. He will be more present in the future. There is this Greek word used in the New Testament: parousia. It gets translated: the coming of the Lord. It really means presence, especially of someone royal or special, or when a deity becomes present and visits. The presence of Jesus the Son of God is coming.
So, of course, Jesus is with us, today, but also away. He could be with us more. That’s why He returns, comes back. We could say the whole theme of our Christian religion is the presence of Jesus, or God. Getting in touch with how God is with us now. And how to be more with God in the future. And in the forever.
So how does one not miss out? How do I not get left behind? How do I get saved at the end of the age?
I say it is as simple as relying upon Jesus. Putting our confidence in Him. We call it Faith. Trust. Hope. How I do this is going to be a bit different from how you do it.
To be a Chirstian is not just a decision – it is a journey, it is an apprenticeship to Jesus.
To be born anew is not just a personal decision – it is joining a living group, it is fellowship.
To be saved is not just a precaution, to avoid doom – it is gaining a purpose, and a plan, and it is participation.
To be a believer is not just a response to Jesus – it is a relationship with the Divine.
I am trying to say that putting our faith in Jesus, to reunite us fully with all of God, is what will take us to Jesus when it all ends and begins again here. There are many little steps we can take to get us there. The greatest steps are taken by the God of the universe, in the story of Jesus.
We can clearly see that this life, this whole world, is incomplete, still is a nasty mess, beautiful as much of it is. So our Faith tells us we are headed somewhere. And that somewhere is good, far better than what we see today. So the return of Christ is a way of declaring that sure hope in a future. There is Hope for the future. More about this in the weeks to come.
Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!
Let us Pray.
Spirit of God, we rejoice in Your complete freedom to reveal things to us, and hide things from us. We can only understand so much. We have only so much emotional intelligence. Yet our longings are deep, our curiosity is strong, and our hopes are undying. We look to You, Holy One, to guide and teach us, to calm and comfort us, to strengthen and save us, before the end of our lives here.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
PRAYERS of the People: God, Intelligence at Large, Unearthly One who came to Earth, Spirit of Truth and Life: let our prayers now be more than words. Let our contact with You be closer than mere correspondence. Let our requests and our rejoicing be more than what the minister speaks.
We dream of better days ahead… even better days just around the corner! Before You we imagine and can see the healing touch in our lives and in the bodies and brains of so many people. We dream of good choices made and good guidance given to folks who must make plans and follow them. We envision family and friends at a distance being blessed in ways we cannot bless them. You, do it, fulfill the dreams and visions we have for goodness on earth.
We know, and You, Lord, know the foolish things we dream up, the selfish longings we have, and the overthinking that takes our attention away from better things we could be doing. With forgiveness and with spiritual energy, break our bad habits and turn us loose to love and be loved, in the name of Jesus.
We have a vision for this world, Creator. We catch glimpses of terrible trouble across the globe, and our prayers long for better things. Fires and floods ceasing. We can picture that. Violence and war wearing thin. We imagine it. Hunger and disease disappearing. We dream about this. Take us and our daydreams the next step, into little actions that make a difference when they are all added together.
God of vision and of truth, we pray also today for all our Atlantic Baptist Churches, as we meet this week via computers. May the examining council meet graciously with the pastors who are due to be officially ordained. May the business we do as a denomination be wise and wonderful. May the praising and learning we share online inspire our dreaming and our doing.
And, today, as another summer celebration happens here in Digby, may the people of our town, and our visitors, find in some of our rejoicing a bit of the spirit of celebration, that lifts our spirits to You, give of all good gifts. In the name of Jesus we pray and dream. AMEN.