What phrases come to mind when we think of Christmas? Peace on earth? Good will toward men? Salvation at last? We could think of negative phrases, but all of those phrases are the side of Christmas that Christians intend it to be.
Let us look at the hope the Advent season.
We will look at Mark 13:24-37 which on the surface seems to contain some bad news and examine why it is really good news.
World Peace is Coming
Advent is a time of hope for the world. It is not the next election, the next great political movement, the next great religious movement or even our favorite sports team winning the season. Passages such as Mark 13:24-37 reveal that the outcome of all human systems, even our own, is failure. It also reveals that ultimate justice for the downtrodden is not a political revolution. It also reveals that ultimate form of government is not found in any form of human government. It is not the political left or right. It is not in any of the leaders of this world. The great achievements of our time, whether in science, technology, space, medicine, engineering, transportation, communications or the Internet have not solved our most urgent human problems. In Christ’s advent there is the solution to all humanity’s problems.
Peace on Earth
What is Christmas? It is a great variety of things. It is about stress, gift-giving, sentimental moments, family time, a holiday with pagan origins, materialism, Santa Claus and retail sales. Early in Christian history, the Church saw in this time an opportunity for spreading the good news of the coming of Christ. Ever since then in the noise surrounding this time of year, that message still manages to get through. Even in Shinto Japan, department stores play music containing words of the gospel. In the midst of our Christmas frivolity is a serious message. Mark 13:24-37 points out how serious that message is. We need world peace. One of the main messages of Christmas is that he who came once will also come again in great power and glory to gather his chosen ones. He alone can bring peace.
If Today was your Last Day
Every generation of the church has predicted the second coming in their lifetimes. Even though they got the dates wrong, they were right in a way because Jesus will return someday. The problem with predictions is that we are clearly told in the Bible that nobody knows the day or hour (Mark 13:24-37). But, what if Jesus returned tonight, how different would our day be? That is the essence of the passage, to treat each day as if it were our last, because one day we will be right. Who would we speak to? Who would we give one last hug to? Who would we apologize to? What would we set right? What have we left undone? What kinds of prayers would we say? What would no longer have any importance and what would suddenly take on great importance?
The Man Who Outgrew God
An acquaintance once told me that since childhood he “outgrew God.” Do we no longer need God to sustain our lives? He is not absent. Perhaps at Advent we remember Christ’s first and second comings, but forget his presence, thinking that he is absent and that we no longer need his daily providence. Places like Mark 13:24-37 speak of his second coming in clouds with great power and glory. But, Jesus came, comes and is coming. How? Advent celebrates Jesus first coming, his birth as God with us. But it also celebrates his present coming, his mysterious presence with us in communion and his gracious daily saving of our lives. And it also celebrates his final coming as judge, at death and at the end of the age. Is Christ absent? He is as close as our every heartbeat.
Failed Human Government
According to some experts, the Gospel of Mark was compiled immediately after the Jewish War of 66-70 AD. The temple was destroyed and Jewish patriots were crushed. Though the prophecy in Mark 13:24-37 was made prior to the Jewish War, Mark was possibly influenced in his emphasis by the recent abuses of a human government. After such a national tragedy hope was needed. Jesus is in charge of the cosmos, not the brutal Roman rulers. This prophecy is not about any hopes for a kinder human government. There is no such hope in any human government. The prophecy is about the only real hope for all our problems, God establishing his government through Christ in a new age. Jesus gave a foretaste of it by healing, teaching and caring for the poor. That’s why we pray thy kingdom come.
Where is Salvation?
Where is salvation? If we listen to the deception of television advertising too long we may be inclined to believe that salvation is in the latest fashion fad, pharmaceutical drug, diet or other product that is over-hyped and under-delivers. If we listen to certain televangelists, we may believe that salvation is available in false promises of health and wealth for sending “seed money” to them. If we listen to the entertainment industry too long, we may believe that salvation is to be found in easy sex, big cars and aberrant lifestyles. If we listen to the deception of politics we may believe that salvation is either on the left or the right. In the end, it all leads to great calamities like those mentioned in Mark 13:24-37, but the next chapter of human history reveals true salvation in Jesus.
There is a lot of talk today about failed states, usually meaning either the historic failure of Communism or in more recent times, countries which have failed economically. But, if the truth be known all countries are failed states. That’s why in the democratic world we regularly fire failed leaders and elect new ones. If previous leaders had not failed we would have passed laws to keep them in office. But, all human states have failed. We have failed to curb greed, stop crime, solve poverty, steady inflation, cure diseases, prevent child abuse and reverse climate change. According to Mark 13:24-37, before the second coming, states will fail to prevent worldwide catastrophe. At the same time, it is good news, because at the Second Coming, Jesus will bring an end to all failed states and introduce peace at last.
After Democracy, Jesus
Politics has changed over the millennia. We have tried autocracy, dictatorship, fascism, monarchy, aristocracy, patriarchalism, theocracy, plutocracy and various forms of democracy. Some may conclude that we are still under an idiocracy, government by fools, or a kratocracy, government by the strongest. Philosophers are already formulating the next great forms of human government, meritocracy (where the more intelligent lead), technocracy (where the more technically savvy lead), bankocracy (led by banks), corporatocracy (where corporations lead), uniocracy (where every bill is electronically submitted to public vote). There is one common thread to all forms of human government, human weakness. As long as we believe that we can solve our own problems we will continue to leave the true solution out, Jesus. Jesus’ coming will save the world when the culmination of all human efforts would lead to total destruction (Mark 13:24-37).
When Bad News is Good News
We fear terrorism, economic collapse, political change, crime, government interference in our freedoms, the weather, climate change, and a host of other things. Yet, is all this bad news good news? Mark 13:28-31 is very clear that the good news of coming world peace is preceded by bad news. The fig tree is one of the last trees to bud around the end of spring indicating that summer is near. Today’s bad news actually indicates coming good news. Christ’s return is near. Bad news quickly gives way to great joy. The bad times just prior to Christ’s return immediately give way to the best news of human history. How do we prepare for that? Like firefighters prepare ahead of time, we must be ready. World events will require faith. Let’s draw near to God now while we have time.
In Mark 13:33, 37 we are told to keep awake, to stay alert. As we think of Advent, the coming of Christ in the flesh, it is also good to remember that he will come again. Every generation of Christians has generated its false prophets who claim to know the day or hour of Christ’s return, but they have all proven wrong. Few of them have admitted it. Our duty to God is not in prediction, but in being ready, because we don’t know when Jesus will return. Rather than getting caught up in prophetic speculation our job it to stay awake. What must we do to be ready for his return? What would we change if we knew he would come tomorrow? Ought not our readiness be the same as if he were coming tomorrow, because someday he will?
Be on Guard
In Mark 13:5, 9, 23, 33-36 a warning is repeated over and over. Take heed! Be on guard! Watch out! Be alert! Each time it is a warning against deception, persecution and the neglect of prayer. In our comfortable western churches we sleep and slumber. We are a complacent community, doing our small bit for God on Sunday and little more. We get distracted by petty church politics and arguments over trivia, yet we must awake! There’s work to be done, our Father’s work! Spiritual warfare is all around us. The world is about to explode and we must get busy with the Lord’s work. Our job is not to worry about such world woes, which God in his wisdom will allow. Our job is to watch, pray, to be about our Father’s work and endure to the end.
No one knows the day or the hour, but we can be ready for the greatest news the world has ever seen, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Select Scriptures on the Second Coming
Matthew 16:27 ...the Son of Man is going to come… and ...reward each person according to what he has done.
Matthew 24:27 ...as lightning ...is visible ...so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
Matthew 24:42 "...keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come."
Mark 8:36-38 ...If anyone is ashamed of me... the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes...
Mark 13:26-27 ...men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds… he will send his angels and gather his elect...
Luke 18:8 ...when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?
Luke 21:25-28 "… they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory… your redemption is drawing near."
John 14:1-4 "Do not let your hearts be troubled… I will come back..."
Acts 1:11 ...Jesus ...will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.
Acts 3:19-21 ...Jesus… must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything...
1 Corinthians 4:5 ...judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes...
1 Corinthians 11:26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
Philippians 3:20 ...our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ...
Colossians 3:4 When Christ… appears, then you also will appear with him...
1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 ...we … will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
1 Thessalonians 5:23 ...May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Thessalonians 2:8 Jesus will overthrow [...the lawless one…] with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.
2 Timothy 4:8 the Lord... will award [...the crown of righteousness…] to… all who have longed for his appearing.
Titus 2:12-13 ...say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions... while we wait for… the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ...
Hebrews 9:28 ...Christ... will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
Hebrews 10:25 Let us not give up meeting together... let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the day approaching.
James 5:7-9 Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming…
1 Peter 4:13 ...rejoice that you participate in the suffering of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
1 John 2:28 ...continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.
1 John 3:2 ...when he appears, We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.
Jude 1:14 ...the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge...
Revelation 1:7 ...he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him...
Revelation 22:12 Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done...
Revelation 22:20-21 He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon." Amen, Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.
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