The following conversation was heard between an old farmer in the country and the new parson.
“Do you belong to the Christian family?” asked the minister.
“No, they live two farms down,” replied the farmer.
“No, no, I mean are you lost?”
“Lost? Why, I’ve lived here thirty years.”
“I mean are you ready for the Judgment Day?”
“When is it?” asked the farmer.
“Well, it could be today or tomorrow.”
“Well,” said the farmer, “when you find out for sure when it is, you let me know. My wife will probably want to go both days.”
(p. 508, Robert J. Morgan: Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations, 2007)
It is easy to be misleading when sharing the Gospel with others and asking leading questions, but the truths of the Christian faith nonetheless speak powerfully to those who will hear them.
On the wall of the sanctuary in the Cathedral of Christ the King, Queenstown, South Africa, where Bridgitte and I were married almost twenty-seven years ago, there is a sculpture of the Lord Jesus Christ seated on his throne and underneath the words, “Et iterum venturus est cum gloria iudicare vivos et mortuos.” These are the Latin words of the portion of the Nicene Creed that reads, “And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead.” This is a sobering sentence for any couple to read written large above their heads when they are getting married. It is both a sobering and a joyful part of the confession of our Christian faith, and an aspect of our faith which the Church brings to our attention in the season of Advent. For the Second Coming of Christ and the Day of Judgment put into perspective the whole of our life on earth. After all, how often do Christians, particularly Anglicans, reflect much on the second coming of Christ, and what it implies for the way in which they conduct their lives?
A STUDY OF CONTRASTS: HEBREWS 9:24-28
The themes of our New Testament Lesson are the Ascension of Christ, his offering of himself once for the sins of the world, his eternal priesthood and his second coming. The contrast is drawn between the earthly holy places (for example, the tabernacle of the wilderness and the temple of Jerusalem) and heaven itself which is the true Holy Place (v. 24). By his ascension into heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ the great High Priest has entered into the presence of God on behalf of the whole Church, so that he may forever intercede for it (Hebrews 7:25; 9:24). Instead of offering himself continually for the sins of the world, as Jewish high priests used to offer sacrifices every year to cleanse themselves and the people, he has offered his life once for all on the cross (vv. 25-26). Just as human beings die once, and afterwards face the judgment of God, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of the world, and afterwards comes again to receive those who look for him, that is, the Church, to bring them complete salvation. In contrast to when he bore the sin of the world on the cross, Christ comes again “without sin” to receive a purified Church as His Bride.
THE JUDGMENT AND THE SECOND COMING UNTO SALVATION
There are some Christians who may say, “The Second Coming and the Judgment are depressing thoughts. Why do we need to think about them, since these things are so long in coming?” One can answer this argument in a number of ways, but if one turns first to the passage at hand, one must take note of the very purpose for which Christ came to earth for the first time. The Lord Jesus Christ came “to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (v. 26). Instead of lambs, and heifers, bulls and goats, which had to be sacrificed year after year to make atonement for every new sin, Christ’s blood shed once and for all is effective for the whole course of time on earth. His sacrifice puts away sin forever. What does this mean? It means that all our sins, once we have repented of them, stand forgiven, washed away by Christ in the waters of baptism and by the words of our confession of sin and profession of faith. By that same profession of faith, we resolve no longer to live in sin, but always to live in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. In putting away sin, Christ has also given every believer the grace to overcome sin in his life and to grow in righteousness and in all the grace of the Holy Spirit day by day.
The consequence of all this ought to be that the prospect of Christ’s Second Coming and the Judgment ought not to so overwhelm us by fear that we fail to live in obedience, or that we lose hope. Rather, the prospect of Christ’s Second Coming should fill all Christians with joy and hope. Therefore Christians are described as “them that look for him” (v. 28). The verb “look for” does not mean that we have lost the Lord Jesus Christ and are turning over every stone to find him, but that we are eagerly awaiting His Coming, as St. Paul testifies in Titus 2:13, “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” This hope, the writer to the Hebrews also refers to as “an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast” (Hebrews 6:19). On the other hand, Christ’s Second Coming must not be thought insignificant or meaningless to us in our time, since the very purpose of his first coming was to destroy sin, and enable people to live lives which please God through faith in Christ leading to forgiveness of sins and through living a righteous life. To those disciples who might become careless about His Second Coming, the Lord issued a number of warnings, among them this one:
And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.
For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.
Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
(Luke 21:34-36, KJV)
Overeating, getting drunk, being too concerned with the affairs of this life can all block our awareness of the need to repent and to be prayerful and spiritually vigilant. Then so easily, the Day of the Lord can come upon us suddenly like a trap, when we least think it will come.
Instead of this, all of us must live for the Lord Jesus Christ, working together with His Holy Spirit at work in us to lead us to the fullness of God’s kingdom and to conform us to the good character of the Lord Jesus Christ.
What thoughts does the Second Coming of Christ evoke in you? Are you at peace with God and living the way the Lord calls you to live, and being the kind of person He wants you to be?