If I Had Known - 07/01/14

During the late summer and early fall months of 2005, we were bombarded with news reports about the hurricanes that brought massive destruction, and considerable human suffering to several states along the Gulf of Mexico. Katrina caused the most damage and the greatest loss of life, and therefore commanded considerable media attention. Then there was Rita, and then Wilma. Each was unique and significant on its own but I was struck with the similarity of responses made by those who chose not to evacuate. In spite of numerous warnings by federal, state and local officials many chose to stay and ride out the storm. Storm weary residents, tired of evacuating, were relying on the hope that the storm would not be as bad as forecasters predicted or that that it would miss them altogether. In the case of these 3 storms, it was a decision that many later regretted. For many who stayed their post hurricane response was, “I probably would have left if I had known it would be this bad.”

On the last Sunday of this month we will celebrate the first Sunday in Advent. It is a time in the church year when we remember that Jesus, the Son of God, broke into our world by taking on flesh and living among us. In fulfillment of prophecy, the long awaited Messiah came and established His kingdom among us. It is a majestic truth, worthy of our grandest celebrations.

Yet, there is another dimension to the season of Advent that receives less attention but carries even greater significance for us, and the history of the world. I am thinking of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, that day in the history of the world when Jesus returns in glory with His angels to judge the nations of the earth. It is a day fixed in the future, known only to the Father, when Jesus will return visibly to earth. He will raise the dead, judge the nations according to His word, create a new heaven and a new earth, take His children to be with Him and establish His reign as King, forever. For the righteous it will be a glorious time. However, for those outside a covenant relationship that comes by faith, there will be wailing, weeping and the gnashing of teeth as truth descends upon them and God proclaims His judgments. It will be Judgment Day.

This truth has largely escaped the world in which we live, and many times even within our churches it remains one of those obscure, seemingly irrelevant, teachings that is covered in confirmation class and promptly forgotten. Yet, Jesus warns us in Scripture to be alert and to prepare ourselves for His coming, for there will be many who are caught off guard and unprepared. In Matthew 7:21-29 Jesus refers to “that day” when many will call out to Him, “Lord, Lord” but they will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus describes 2 groups of people who will be surprised and rejected and he also details the way to prepare to enter the kingdom of heaven.

In verse 21, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.” For these words to have their true impact, we have to remember that Jesus is not addressing an irreligious group of people but the covenant people of God who had been entrusted with the law of God. Jesus is talking about people who know what to say, and say it piously, but they do not live in obedience to the Lord’s commands.

The second group of people is addressed in verse 22 when Jesus says, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord’, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” But Jesus rejects their empty expressions of faith and their religious works with the response, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” This group of people appeals to the good works they have done in Jesus’ name but are rejected because they continually practice a life apart from (or in contradiction to) the law of God.

Finally, in the parable of the 2 builders Jesus declares we prove ourselves to be members of the kingdom of God, and prepare ourselves for the coming Judgment, by hearing, receiving and obeying God’s Word. Specifically Jesus has in mind here that we would obey all that He taught the multitudes beginning in chapter 5:3 and concluding with chapter 7, verse 23. Our love for God is expressed in a life of obedience to His revealed will and in practical expressions of kindness to our neighbor. It is the cycle of our receiving God’s love and responding in obedience that enables us to live life in the kingdom of God.

It is my conviction that the 2nd Coming of Christ is the oft forgotten message of Advent. Some have never heard the message that Jesus is coming again in judgment and they are unprepared for “that day.” While others who have heard, are hoping their empty professions of faith and religious acts will get them into the kingdom of heaven. They too are unprepared for “that day.” Finally, there are those that think somehow they will be able to avoid the coming judgment or that it somehow won’t be that bad. They too are unprepared for “that day.” However, each is similar in that they will be brought to the place where they will say, “If I had known…”

As we celebrate Advent, let us commit ourselves to sharing the whole message of Advent with someone who is unprepared to meet the King. Our celebrations will be more festive and all heaven will rejoice with us.