Ready or Not, Here I Come: Watch and Pray

Luke 21:25-36

This is a time of year when people say to one another,
“Are you ready? It’s coming.”
“Ready or not, here it comes.”
“Christmas is just around the corner.”

We talk about Christmas countdowns. We go to the stores, and we listen to Christmas carols. The Christian Church, however, traditionally calls this time of year the season of Advent, which means so much more than simply a warmup for Christmas Day. It is a time to remember that Christ has come, He is coming again, and we must be prepared for Him. The One who came quietly and humbly in the little backward town of Bethlehem will arrive again in glory and power and majesty one day. The One who humbly rode a donkey into Jerusalem and was hailed as a King on Palm Sunday will appear to us on a cloud.

The first advent was the birth of Christ. It will be followed by another advent – the reappearing of Christ. Where do we get this notion? Jesus told us so. As you examine the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you find Jesus freely spoke in the parables about His second coming. In the Apostles’ Creed, we say we believe He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Some people feel a little uneasy when it comes to the subject of the second coming of Jesus. I am here to assure you, this need not be the case. For the Christian, it is very good news and should not frighten us. Instead, it is our confidence as followers of Christ. We have the big picture before us. History is not a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Followers of Jesus Christ know better than that. We know history is, in a very real sense, HIS STORY. All of history is headed toward a grand finale. Christ says, The world is mine. I have final word over it all.
• I am the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 22:13).
• All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (Matt. 28:18).
• Heaven and earth may pass away but my word endures forever (Matt. 24:35).

This is really good news!

The world, oftentimes, appears to be hopeless, dark, scary, and totally out-of-control. However, the second coming of Jesus reminds us, He has got this. We don’t need to worry. In fact, Jesus is reassuring His disciples of this when He describes the second coming.

While some are uneasy about the second coming, others go completely in another direction and obsess on trying to figure out when it will happen. They spend a lifetime conjecturing and speculating on it, to end up disappointed and looking rather foolish, as we’ve seen in past history. I am acquainted with people who are great end-times enthusiasts. A friend of mine said recently, “I am fascinated by the end times. I love to try to figure out when it’s going to happen.” It is a hobby in his Christian faith. We must remember, though, that Jesus said it will happen unexpectedly, suddenly like a thief in the night. He seems to be telling us that we are not to be simply sitting around, speculating about His return while we wait.

In our passage for today from Luke, Jesus is teaching His disciples about His second advent. He doesn’t tell us when He’s coming, He just assures us that it will happen and what it will be like. The stars will fall from the sky, the sun will refuse to shine, and the moon will turn to blood. He uses Old Testament prophetic language like in the book of Joel. There will be havoc, chaos on the earth, distress among nations, a roaring of the sea and the waves. There will be great fear and trembling – people fainting with fear and foreboding. Then the powers of the heavens will be shaken. The sky will be in havoc.

“Then they will see ‘the Son of Man’ coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” The Son of Man is used in the book of Daniel to describe a messianic figure from God who will come in power someday for His people. It was one of Jesus’ favorite titles to describe Himself. Jesus is a power figure, a deliverer. “Then they will see ‘the deliverer coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.

“When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads.” This is a posture of hope and confidence.

“For your redemption is drawing near.” Redemption! It will be a great day! Christ’s return appearance is the Christian follower’s hope and confidence. Help has arrived! Redemption of the body will take place. Paul describes it:
Our spirits groan for the completion of His saving work: perfect, resurrected bodies (Rom. 8:23).

Jesus also talked about the redemption of the body,
“. . . I will come again and take you to myself that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3b).

Christ’s return will bring about a final deliverance, a final redemption. The book of Revelation says there’ll be a new heaven and a new earth. It will be perfect in every way, just as God intended in the beginning, in the garden of Eden – people loving God and loving one another. “The second coming of Christ will be so revolutionary that it will change every aspect of life on this planet. Christ will reign in righteousness. Disease will be arrested. Death will be modified. War will be abolished. Nature will be changed. Man will live as it was originally intended he should live.” – Billy Graham.

This is our grand vision as we live each day as followers of Jesus, serving Him and telling others about Him. When it appears the world is falling apart and out-of-control, we have this good news that Christ will make a second appearance, and all will be well. As Billy Graham once remarked, “I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right.”

It’s like a story about a man who saw some young boys playing baseball out on the field. He yelled over to the right fielder, “What’s the score?” The young boy said, “Seventeen to nothing!” The man replied, “It doesn’t look very good for you, does it?” The boy just smiled and said, “We ain’t been up to bat yet.”

My friends, joy awaits us. Unimaginable joy. Heavenly joy like we have never experienced on this planet! We will be with Him, and every knee will bow and every tongue confess in heaven and on earth and under the earth that Jesus Christ is Lord. Jesus tells us in his teaching today, Now in the meantime, be ready. Always be ready for that great day. He offers directions for His disciples to follow while we wait for the day of His reappearing. They don’t involve just sitting around and waiting. We are to be engaged in active, positive, healthy kingdom activity. Obedience, holiness, witness, and service in His name.

As Jesus sits down with His disciples and tells them all these things, I can’t help but be reminded of a parent giving a bit of caution and warning to his young teens for their first night alone at home. Knowing how much trouble they can get themselves into, they need some instruction. I remember my parents giving me those kinds of instructions when they would go away. He is basically telling them, This is what you are to do with yourselves.

It is important to note that Jesus is speaking to the disciple of Jesus Christ who has placed their trust in Him. I would be remiss to not ask you at this time, Have you done that? Have you come to a place in your spiritual life where you know for certain if Jesus came tonight, or you died tonight, you would be with Him forever?

Earlier I stated that the second coming of Christ is good news for the follower of Christ. It is our hope and confidence. However, this is not the case for those who stand outside of a relationship with Christ. It will not be good news for them, for Jesus is coming to judge the living and the dead. In the Christian faith, we do not believe in universalism (everyone is saved, no matter what).

Today is a day to ask Jesus Christ into your life, if you haven’t already done it. Surrender yourself to His care. Place your trust in Him and what He has done for you. He loves you! He died for you on the cross to pay for your sins. He rose from the dead, the first fruits of the resurrection so you can have a resurrected, eternal life with Him, and a restored relationship with your heavenly Father. Ask Him into your heart today. Now is the time!

For those of you listening today who already follow Jesus, you have placed your trust in Him, and receive forgiveness and grace in His promises, Jesus instructs you to watch yourselves. It is important to remain faithful, run a good race of faith, so you will be able to say, like Paul at the end of his life, “I fought the good fight. I have run the good race.” Do not be distracted, off on rabbit trails gradually getting yourself further and further away from Him. Jesus tells us to, “Watch yourselves.”

“Be on guard so your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation . . .” Dissipation is a word for wasted living or drunkenness, carousing, totally taken up with the cares of this world, of this life, as if this is the only life there is. It so easy, isn’t it, to make idols out of good things like family or finances or prestige, to lose sight of the big picture and walk away from Christ, to be unfaithful to Christ and His kingdom. Jesus says, “Watch yourselves!” Keep your eye on the ball. Focus on me. I am coming again!

Gordon MacDonald shares the following old story: “In ancient days when the King of Siam had an enemy he wanted to torment and destroy, he would send the enemy a unique gift – a white elephant, a live, albino elephant. These animals were considered to be sacred in the culture of the day. So the recipient of the elephant had no choice but to intentionally care for the gift. This elephant would take an inordinate amount of the enemy’s time, resources, energy, emotions, and finances. Over time the enemy would destroy himself because of the extremely burdensome process of caring for the gift.”

Our spiritual enemy uses the same strategy on us.
• Let’s say you buy season tickets to watch your favorite sports team. Because you still have a lot of games to go to, you no longer have time to serve in some area of ministry or to worship.
• Or perhaps you buy a summer cottage. Now you miss weekend worship services between the beginning of May and the end of September.
• Let’s say you buy a health club membership to get in shape. You used to get up early in the morning to read your Bible and pray, but now you don’t have time because you’re working out before work.
• Perhaps you buy a spot for one of your kids in a traveling sports team. Now you are too busy to join the community impact ministry of serving the poor.

What are the white elephants in your life? Do you spend money on things, which take your time away from God? Money isn’t the problem. The activities aren’t necessarily the problem. The problem is a white elephant gift has pulled you away from Christ-honoring pursuits. Watch yourselves!

Jesus then gives further instructions: Stay awake at all times! Be spiritually alert so you might overcome these temptations that destroy one’s faith.

By the way, remember this: Satan is prowling around seeking to destroy our faith and our lives. He is seeking to devour us, and he loves to use temptations like this. We need to keep our eyes wide open. Jesus tells us the best way to stay awake is by praying.

He once told a parable to encourage His disciples to keep praying. It was a story about a widow who kept after an unfeeling, unjust judge for justice until he gave in to her nagging. Jesus pointed out that when you approach God in prayer, He’s just the opposite of the judge who had to be nagged. He wants you to talk to him.

Then Jesus remarks, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” It was His way of saying, Keep praying. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, beginning with me.

Jesus counted on prayer for vigilance, strength, and focus. He wants His disciples to do the same and lean heavily on daily prayer.

This is our good news of Advent. Christ has come. He is coming again. He is coming to take over once and for all. He loves you. He who died and rose for you has the final word over you, and nothing can snatch you from His hand or separate you from His love. Trusting in Christ, you belong to Him forever and ever. This is your hope, your confidence. Your future is bright.

Today, though, I appeal to you to recommit yourself this Advent season to trusting Jesus in all this. Use your days to further His kingdom’s cause by witnessing and serving in His name. Pray constantly for His kingdom to come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Live out the rest of your days to hear Him say to you when you see Him face-to-face at the end, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

All the Places to Go: Living With Closed Doors

Luke 22:39-44

Have you ever had a door slammed in your face or stood at a closed door that no one would answer? I imagine most of us have literally experienced something like this.

We can also, however, experience closed doors in a figurative sense. Perhaps an opportunity presented itself that looked so right and promising, but didn’t work out. We say the door closed. Or a relationship with a special person, who you thought God had chosen for you, breaks up. The door slammed in your face.

Perhaps you found a job you felt would be a perfect fit, or you felt especially qualified for a spot on an athletic team, but you don’t get the position. They wouldn’t even let me in the door! Those closed-door experiences can be quite painful, even depressing and maddening.

Sometimes heaven’s door seems to stay closed on us or we feel like it’s been slammed in our face. You are praying for something to happen but it doesn’t happen. You are doing the right thing – perhaps it is even for the kingdom of God – but it just peters out and dies. It can be painful and frustrating, especially when we’re so sure we were right. People can become very disappointed, depressed, even angry with God and cry out with the psalmist,
“How long, O Lord, will you forget me?”
Or, Why, Lord? 
Or even, Why not, Lord?

The truth is, sometimes God allows us to go through His open doors, His divine opportunities, as we’ve discussed the first few weeks of this series. But sometimes God says no, which is a difficult word for us to swallow. It can cause us to throw a good, old tantrum before God, like a child in the store being denied a bag of candy at the checkout line or a certain toy dad or mom is denying them.

If you are encountering one of those closed-door experiences in your life, I’m really sorry. I know they’re not fun. I know from personal experience and from walking alongside a lot of people as their pastor. But, when we run into these and attempt to regroup from the experience, some things need to be considered from God’s Word.

First, God sometimes closes the door because something better is ahead that we don’t know about. I think of examples in Scripture: Paul and Silas in the book of Acts. They wanted to go to Asian and Bithnia, but the door to go was shut. Instead, a door opened for them to Macedonia where they established some of their best churches, the Philippian and the Thessalonica churches.

I am reminded of our first attempt at relocation as a congregation. We had run out of space in our old building and were growing big. We had no more space on which to build. I was so certain we were to move to a certain acreage I had found. I had it all picked out, and I was sure God was with me on this one. I even convinced my board this was the way to go. What I discovered painfully was I was wearing blinders. We were not ready as a congregation. God closed the door. It was painful, and I was angry. But two years later, in God’s good time, we were a united church again and were ready when a beautiful piece of land came up for sale at a bargain-basement price right off of the freeway. We relocated there, and God blessed us with growth beyond what we had ever imagined for ourselves. Looking back on that experience, I learned God knew something better lay ahead for us.

A humorous story: Pastor Tim Keller shares with us from his early 20s. He said, “I prayed for an entire year about a girl I was dating and wanted to marry, but she wanted out of the relationship. All year I prayed, ‘Lord, don’t let her breakup with me.’ (Of course, in hindsight it was the wrong girl.) I actually did what I could to help God with the prayer. One summer near the end of the relationship, I got in a location that made it easier to see her. I was saying, Lord I’m making this as easy as possible for you. I’ve asked you for this and I’ve even taken the geographical distance away.

But as I look back now, God was saying, Son, when a child of mine makes a request, I always give them what they would have asked if they knew everything I know.

Sometimes God closes the door because you’re knocking on the wrong one. We want the wrong thing. It’s not a wise choice. Or maybe we’re selfishly or sinfully motivated, and God is protecting us from ourselves. Remember when the disciples James and John came to Jesus asking for top positions when He came into power? He said, no. He knew they were selfishly motivated.

I think of Elijah, Moses, and Jeremiah crying out to God, “Take my life. I want to die!” I’m sure that, looking back, they thanked God He didn’t answer their prayer, because it was the wrong thing to ask for.

Have you ever stopped to think what would happen if God answered every prayer with a yes? What a mess our world would be in! Humorously, ball games would always end in ties, and how frustrating would that be! O, thank God for closed doors.

Sometimes God closes the door because I need to grow in my relationship with Him, or in my character, or in my skills. The apostle Paul talked of having a thorn in the flesh given to him, He said, to keep him from being too elated, too full of himself. Three times he asked God to take it away, but God simply replied, “No, my grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness” (II Cor. 12:8-9).

Paul said learned humility and contentment as he faced hard times when he was weak. But he was strong because God was working through him.

When I was graduating from the seminary back in 1980, I was convinced I should be a solo pastor and running my own congregation. When I graduated, I waited six months for my first call, but it never came. The door was closed. I was frustrated. It was a long wait.

Finally a call came from a congregation – a big congregation – in Winona, Minnesota that wanted me to be their youth pastor – part of their staff. I said yes, and God used those six years at Central Lutheran to prep me for Shepherd of the Valley.

Sometimes things in life need some tweaking. Maybe I needed to grow in my dependence on God instead of my own devices so financial doors get cut on me, and I really have to count on God to provide. Or I need to grow in humility so my wishes for grandiosity are lovingly ignored by my heavenly Father.

Sometimes God closes doors because He has plans I don’t know about. Looking at Scripture, I think of Israel. He called them to be a blessing, a light to the nations of the world. They didn’t quite understand that. They wanted to be the boss of the nations of the world. So they were allowed again and again to be put into exile, etc. However, God had His way. He had plans they didn’t understand or know about. Along came a Savior in Jesus Christ.

Solomon says, “The heart of man plans his ways, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Prov. 16:9). We may make plans, but God’s will is definitive. It might be that the loss of a job is an open door to a ministry God has in mind for us in His redemptive plan, one that serves people and brings others to Christ. Maybe God has a part for you to play in this whole redemptive drama that you haven’t become aware of yet. Sometimes God closes the door simply because He is God and I am not.

The mystery of closed doors can be so frustrating. When I start something but it doesn’t work out and there doesn’t seem to be a good answer why. I’m left mystified, puzzled by that closed door.

I think of Job and all the terrible things that happened to him. In the end Job is crying out for a hearing before God; He wants an explanation. God basically lectures Job and asks, Why do you ask? How dare you? Did you put this whole creation together? Remember your place. Sometimes closed doors don’t make any sense to us at all, and we live with a mystery.

The question is however, when you face a closed door, what do you do? How do you persist in seasons like this? Some people throw a tantrum and turn away from God. They close the door on God! You hear them say things: I used to believe in God, but I know better now. Others pray for wisdom, insight, and faith to keep trusting. They pray to be okay without knowing what the next week or month or year holds. They decide to trust Him step by step. Still others simply respond in trust, perhaps from maturity, and say, No matter what happens, Christ is for me. He is with me. He will see me through it, and that’s good enough for me! Which one of these responses best describes you?

I would encourage you, if you are going through a closed-door experience, to rest in this thought: God understands your frustrations. He knows about closed doors from personal experience. Remember God’s Word in the book of Revelation, “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” He is outside waiting to be let in. Oftentimes the holy Scripture reminds us of people who, in their stubbornness, won’t let Him in. How we, as simple humans, can leave Him standing outside – our closed door. The whole story of the Bible is basically about that, isn’t it?

Surely Jesus knows how you feel. Hebrews 4:15, says we have a great high priest who understands our weaknesses and sympathies. He has gone through them. He faced many closed doors in His ministry as well as God’s closed door. Let me explain.

Today’s passage is a closed-door story from Jesus’ life. The cross loomed ahead. It was Thursday night. Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to spend time in prayer with His heavenly Father. He asks His Father, “Father, take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet not my will, but yours be done.” But God didn’t say yes to that prayer, and we thank God for it! That closed door is our Gospel, our Good News of rescue. Jesus took on that closed door so we could have an open door to a relationship with our Father. The One who died and rose again is resurrected. He is with you and tells you, I am with you always as you face all kinds of doors.

One last thing to consider – the big picture. In the end, the door opens to all who trust Jesus. He said, “I am the door.” And heaven awaits. The apostle John said that he caught a glimpse through an open door of heaven in Revelation 4. Paul describes his sufferings to early Christians in this way: “This slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure because we look not at what can be
seen, but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary but what cannot be seen is eternal” (II Cor. 4:17-18).

What about our questions? Scripture says, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (I Cor. 13:12).

I believe that, on the other side of that door, we will be grateful for God’s closed doors, just as we are grateful for His open doors in the here and now. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer