Come Lord Jesus
Readings: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Hundreds of thousands of years ago, human beings were just like lots of other animals – prey! Over time, mankind learned to defend himself and those around him. He eventually rid himself of the dangerous predators that stalked him and in turn hunted the hunters.
Much later, a new danger presented itself in the form of footpads; robbers. Eventually the development of effective policing greatly diminished the frequency of such attacks. But what do we have now? The footpads have become muggers who have become more prolific and increasingly callous about the injuries they cause. The predators are now other human beings who don’t think the way we do. In Europe, we had different animals to hunt us, bears and wolves, we now have those who hate us because of our religious beliefs and others who despise how we live our lives. With devastating wars in so many places feeding this hatred, it might indeed seem that “Great is the darkness that covers the earth”. Every time I sing that worship song, it seems to get more and more relevant, as I read and hear about what’s happening around us here on the earth.
Almost 2000 years ago, Saint Paul wrote to Timothy, from a Roman jail, how the last days would be. He wrote, “1 Remember that there will be difficult times in the last days. 2 People will be selfish, greedy, boastful, and conceited; they will be insulting, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, and irreligious; 3 they will be unkind, merciless, slanderers, violent, and fierce; they will hate the good; 4 they will be treacherous, reckless, and swollen with pride; they will love pleasure rather than God; 5 they will hold to the outward form of our religion, but reject its real power. Keep away from such people.” (2Timothy3:1-5) His prophesy is coming true in our time. No wonder believers cry out “Come, Lord Jesus.” Of course, when He does come, it won’t be great for everyone.
Matthew Henry, whose famous commentaries were lauded by such great preachers as George Whitfield and Charles Spurgeon, wrote, ‘To watch for Christ's coming, is to maintain that temper of mind which we would be willing that our Lord should find us in. In simpler language I quote my old Pastor who used to say, “When Jesus returns, don’t let Him find you doing anything you shouldn’t be doing.” Is that too simple? Absolutely not! It’s the bottom line of what should never be absent from our minds and how we should be living our Christian lives. Matthew Henry continued on that theme by saying, ‘We know we have but a little time to live, we cannot know that we have a long time to live; much less do we know the time fixed for the judgment. Our Lord's coming will be happy to those that shall be found ready, but very dreadful to those that are not. If a man, professing to be the servant of Christ, be an unbeliever, covetous, ambitious, or a lover of pleasure, he will be cut off. Those who choose the world for their portion in this life, will have hell for their portion in the other life. May our Lord, when he cometh, pronounce us blessed, and present us to the Father, washed in his blood, purified by his Spirit, and fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.’ Bearing all that in mind, those of us who stray from the straight and narrow from time to time, even in the little things, the scariest statement in the Bible was made in verse 40 of our Gospel Reading. When Jesus was describing a man who let his house be robbed, because he didn’t keep a vigilant watch. He said, “And you, too, must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him.” There is a similar story about the ten virgins, five of whom were ready for the return of the Bridegroom and five who were not. Message – be ready! Are we?
Of course, what we’re talking about here is what everyone refers to as “The Second Coming of Jesus”. But will it really be only His second coming? Haven’t there been other times? He came to Paul as he was on his way to Damascus. Paul later said, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord?” (1 Corinthians 9:1)
Jesus told him what He wanted him to do and Paul obeyed Him. Has our Lord appeared at other times?
In the same chapter of Matthew that speaks of the Ten Virgins, there is the description Jesus gives of the Day of Judgement. He tells of the sheep and the goats and says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” (Matthew 25:31 ? 33 NIV)
Most people don’t really like to hear about the Day of Judgement, let alone talk about it. After all we read about it in our Bibles, can we really bury our heads in the sand and pretend it isn’t going to happen? I think people tend to do that about a lot of things these days. Being in a life-threatening condition or situation; being mugged; knifed or even shot in the street are surely things that happen to other people aren’t they? Head in the sand again! Such things are happening all around us every day these days. We have to start facing up to things and seeing the world as it is today. One of those things is that one day each one of us will stand in front of Jesus to be judged. Jesus continues about what will happen on that day.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’(Matthew 25:34-36 NIV)
Jesus is telling us to look out for Him in unexpected ways and through unexpected people. He even mentions some of the ways in which He might appear. This could be as someone who is starving for lack of food, or dying of thirst for a lack of clean, safe water. There are so many charities that help people in these circumstances. Helping them could surely be part of our own giving.
Inviting in a stranger can have so many implications. The Letter to the Hebrews says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2NIV). Yes, some might be angels but there are dangers in this. Welcoming a total stranger into our homes, someone we know nothing about, has sometimes had tragic outcomes, as we can read about in our newspapers. Something we can do is to welcome newcomers into our community. Jean and I have been in Stannington for 40 years but, having not been born here, we’re still “Comers”. Of course, we should also welcome them into our church and help them to integrate in any way we can.
I can’t possibly leave this part of welcoming without mentioning the plight of refugees. I particularly use the word “Refugee” to separate them from migrants. No one can blame migrants for wanting a better life for themselves and their families. Our son and his family now have great lives out in New Zealand. But not just anyone can go there. He had to prove that he was a better candidate for the job than any New Zealander, or Kiwi as we’ve now learned to call them. Migrants coming here would be strangers and, according to what we’ve just heard, we should welcome them in. However, we are talking of possibly many millions of people who will be drawn to a better life in Europe and, in particular, in the United Kingdom. It seems sensible, as many realise, that such an influx would overwhelm our infrastructure making us unable to provide their hoped-for standard of living for them or for our own indigenous people. So there have to be limits made for this.
For genuine refugees, fleeing the terror in their own countries, we should have a different approach. I think David Cameron’s idea of helping them as much as we can in the places they are now was a good one. Many refugees just want the wars to end so they can go back and rebuild their country. But, when all is said and done we, as a still mainly Christian country, should take our share in this but not to the extent of the collapse of our infrastructure. I think our efforts in this would please Jesus and fulfil our part in the words we’ve heard that He said about welcoming strangers into our homes.
So who else was on the list of people Jesus said we should help? He said those on His right clothed Him when He needed clothes. Again there are lots of charity shops wanting our clothes. I have to admit that I should probably give up on thinking I can ever be called Slim Jim again and get a load of perfectly good clothes down to them.
Who’s next? Jesus said when He was sick, we looked after Him. Many people are in the position of having to look after someone who is sick. If it’s long term, it can become a chore but, if we take on board that Jesus said we’re really doing it for Him, it can have a whole new meaning.
Finally, He said that we visited Him when He was in prison. Of course, not everyone can do that. But there are other ways in which we can help those in prison. I found a charity that helps prisoners’ wives and families. In fact, among my giving, I’ve deliberately included a way of helping each one of the people Jesus mentions in that passage. It needn’t cost a lot but, as they say, every little helps. Jesus was talking about all the times that, as we help others, we help Him. How does that feel? It makes us feel good. I believe the feel-good factor was put into us by God to encourage us to do good to others. But it should be always a feel-good factor. It should never be feel-smug factor, because all we have belongs to God
Are there other kinds of people that we should see through the love of Jesus? Many! Is it hard to find out where they are? All we have to do is to open our eyes. They’re all around us. I’ve noticed that most people in the UK will avert their eyes as they approach someone in a wheelchair. When we’ve been to the United States, they’re more likely to stop and say, “Hi, how are you?” These dissimilar attitudes have very different effects on the person in the chair. One will make the person feel like an outsider who doesn’t belong, the other will make them feel included.
Every day we see, hear and read about things that are happening we feel aren’t right. Good people with loved ones to care for, or who care for them, are being deported because their circumstances don’t tick the boxes of some faceless bureaucrat who, with a stroke of the same pen, will allow someone, known to be a danger to the people of our country, to remain here. All it might take is for us to write a letter. If enough people take that action, something might be done.
So, what do we want? Justice? The song we sang mentions injustice as part of the “Darkness that covers the earth”. We perhaps feel that justice shouldn’t be subjective but we know that it often is. That’s how we arrive at what, in our eyes, is the feeling of injustice we see in the situation I’ve just described. But we have to think very carefully about what we want justice to be. A saying I once heard always makes me think before I demand justice for anything. It says that, “Justice is getting what we deserve. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. And Grace is getting what we don’t deserve.” We all remember what Paul wrote to the Romans, “ … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Calling to mind what we heard earlier, where would we be as Jesus was separating the sheep from the goats. As sinners, we’d all be with the goats. That would be justice, paying for our sins. But Jesus doesn’t give us justice, He gives us mercy and doesn’t send us off with the goats. More than that, He gives us grace and sends us, the unworthy sinners, with the blameless sheep. As our song said, “In every nation, salvation will come to those who believe in your name”. Aren’t we glad that our belief in and service to Jesus saves us? Yes we are! And so happy that little has joined us.
Are there other ways in which we can treat people as if we were treating Jesus? Help someone old or infirm across a road or up a stair. If deserved, leave a tip for very poorly paid restaurant staff. Compliment someone on how they look or what a great job they’ve done. Without encouragement, we all, at some time, feel we’re fighting a losing battle. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11 NIV).
Remember Rob Young’s sermon last week? In it he was speaking of Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians to move their minds away from “the earthly desires of sexual immorality, indecency, lust, evil passions and greed” Our Bible tells us that, because of these feelings, “God’s anger would come upon [us]” (Colossians 3:5,6 GNB) Who wants that?
Rob said that it’s very difficult to move our minds away from earthly things and put our thoughts instead to heavenly things. He believed one way this could be done is to change the things we do and give up more of our time, efforts, money etc. to doing good things. This fits in nicely with what I’ve suggested we could do within our means both financially and with our day to day timetables. Another way to help others is to go on one of the much-publicised fun runs, like the Race for Life helping to raise funds for Cancer research. Our own Michelle did that and raised £235. Brilliant! Some people make a life around it.
I heard of a lady who was well-known for her fundraising activities. One day a sad-looking chap turned up on her door step. He told her about a woman a couple of streets away. Her husband had died six months ago and she’d fallen behind with the rent. She’d been told that if she didn’t pay up by the end of the month, she and her three children would be evicted. Sensing a possible recruit she said, “That’s very public spirited of you. Are you a close friend?” “Not really” he said, “I’m her landlord.”
Seriously though after what Rob said last week about doing good things in our lives being able to drive out the bad things we do and think about. And after we’ve heard this morning that we don’t want Jesus to return and find us doing something or reflecting on things He wouldn’t like. When should we start thinking about and acting upon these things? Now! Jesus said, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come”. (Matthew 24:42 NIV)
What are we never ready for? We’re never ready for the unexpected. The result of that can range between a wonderful surprise and a shattering blow. That’s why it’s called unexpected. But we know about the End of Days. Only its timing is unexpected so we should get ready for it. In that way, when it comes it will be a wonderful surprise, not a shattering blow. Amen.