A New Year of Anticipation

Pastor Craig Carter

Today is the second Sunday of Advent. As we anticipate the celebration of Jesus’ birth on Christmas we also look forward to the day when Christ will come again.

The Apostle Paul describes Jesus’ promised return in this way…

The Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout,           with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God … Then we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 NLT)

How would you respond to this news? Your father is coming!

It all depends on the situation, doesn’t it?

If you’re a teenager who has thrown a party thinking your parents are out of town, those words cause panic and fear.

If you’re a child whose dad has been deployed and you’re now waiting his arrival at the airport, you feel great joy and excitement.

If you’re dressed up and ready to leave the house for an important engagement, you may feel inconvenienced by his ill-timed visit.

Or, if you’re like me and your dad has been dead for some time, you would suddenly get the “heebie-jeebies.”

I’m not sure our responses to the news that “Jesus is coming” are all that different.

We may be afraid of getting caught doing something we’re not supposed to be doing

We may be genuinely excited to see Him face-to-face.

We may feel like “Not now, Lord,” as we have more important business to tend to.

We may think it all sounds a little bit too far out and weird.

How we feel about Christ’s return depends on our perspective at any given time. At some point in my lifetime, I’ve felt all of the ways I just described.

During my childhood, I oftentimes feared His return, especially when I was misbehaving. This possibility had a restraining effect on my conduct, though of course I was forgetting that God is omnipresent.

As a teenager in the 70’s during “The Late, Great Planet Earth” craze, I was fascinated by the prospect of a cataclysmic event.

At different times during my adulthood, I have vacillated between hoping Jesus’ return would be delayed and wishing it would come soon.

When things are going well or we have a big trip planned, most of us don’t want Jesus to ruin our fun. But when times are tough, we’re eager for His appearance.

No matter how we may feel about it, Scripture makes it very clear Jesus is coming again. And that fact is the reason we have the season we’re now in – Advent.

Our English word comes from the Latin meaning, “coming” or “arrival.” During this time of the year, we celebrate the birth of Jesus in His First Advent and we anticipate His return in His Second Advent.

As I mentioned last week, it is Christ’s future second coming that brings meaning to His first coming. Christmas, honoring the birth of a Jewish child in ancient Palestine, would have no significance apart from Jesus’ death, resurrection and promised return.

In our Communion ritual, we declare the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again! It reminds us that Jesus came as baby in a manger in Bethlehem and died on the Cross of Calvary, He comes to us as our Risen Lord thru His Holy Spirit, and one day, Christ will come in power and glory for all to see.

We do a pretty good job of celebrating the first two realities, but by and large, we give little thought to the third that Jesus will return for His church.

That may be the case for us, but it wasn’t so for the early followers of Christ. As J.D. Walt points out in our devotional guide, Advent was about Jesus’s second coming long before it became associated with His first coming. Early Christians focused on His return rather than on His birth as Christmas was not even observed for at least three centuries.

In 216 chapters in the New Testament, there are more than 300 references to Christ’s return. About 1/20th of the New Testament’s contents is devoted to this subject. Only four of the 27 New Testament books fail to mention it.

In the preface to his teaching on the subject in his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul says he does not want believers to be “ignorant” or “uninformed” about “what is going to happen” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

When we have a proper understanding of Christ’s return, we won’t fear, dread, or ignore it. Instead, we will eagerly look forward to it and be prepared for it to happen.

Most of us are well acquainted with the details of Jesus’ arrival on Planet Earth 2000 years ago, so today I want us to explore some of what the Bible teaches us about     His future coming.

From our daily devotional guide we are learning that Advent marks the beginning of The Christian New Year. As such, it is a time to reminisce about past events as we typically do on New Year’s as we sing Auld Lang Syne.

During The Christian New Year we reflect on the Christmas story and its effect on us, but it is even more important for us to look ahead, thus making it a new year of anticipation of what God is yet to do.

Let’s explore the subject from two vantage points … The reality of Christ’s return and a proper response to it.

The REALITY of Christ’s Return

Jesus said, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back…” (John 14:3 NIV)

And in Matthew 24:30 He claimed, “The Son of Man will appear … They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.” (NLT)

Notice Christ didn’t leave any room for doubt and claimed His return was a certainty.

Knowing that Jesus always kept His promises, when confronted with this reality, the disciples asked, “Tell us, when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming?” (Matthew 24:3 NIV)

When?

Jesus said, “You do not know on what day your Lord will come.” (Matthew 24:42 NIV)

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36 NIV)

The bottom line is: only God knows when it will happen.

So beware of so-called “experts” in prophecy who try to chart Christ’s return on a timeline. As my good friend and mentor, Mark Nysewander likes to say, “If someone tells you they know for sure, watch your wallet!”

One thing is certain: Christ’s return will take us by surprise.  

“The Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him.” (Matthew 24:44 NIV)

In Jesus’ own words, that are echoed by Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:2) and Peter (2 Peter 3:10), He will arrive like a “thief” in the night (Matthew 24:43). Just when we least expect it, the Lord will appear in glory.

About the only thing we can say about the timing of Christ’s return is that we are now 2000 years closer.

What?

“They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30 NIV)

The Lord will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds the meet the Lord in the air. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 NIV)

Make no mistake about it, it will make the 6 o’clock news! (if there are any newscasters left behind … and there will probably be plenty of them ☺).

Other New Testament passages tell us it will bring about the destruction of everything as we now know it and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth (see 2 Peter 3:10ff).

Jesus and the New Testament writers make it clear that it will be a terrifying event for the unrighteous and ungodly as their lives will be judged and consumed with fire. But the righteous and holy ones of God have nothing to fear and, in fact, can look forward to the “advent” of God’s coming kingdom.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away … And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1, 3-4 NIV)

Do you see why Advent is a new year of anticipation? I can’t wait!

Given the reality of Jesus’ return, what are we to do as we anticipate His arrival?

Our RESPONSE until Jesus Comes Again

The New Testament suggests we should be engaged in several activities as we await Christ’s return.

1) Watch and Wait

So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert… (1 Thessalonians 5:6 NIV) Wake up!

“So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming.” (Matthew 24:42 NLT)

“The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded.” (Luke 12:37a NLT)

When we have a sense of anticipation, we live with a constant eye on the sky. We watch … not afraid of His appearing (like disobedient children posting a look out) but anticipating a glorious reunion.

And we wait…

But haven’t we waited long enough? After all, it’s been 2000 years! That’s 730,000 days.

We’re ready for no more sickness … COVID … war … death. Come on, Jesus!

But we need to remember that our calendar isn’t necessarily God’s calendar.

Listen to what Peter has to say on this subject:

With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9 NIV)

As J.D. Walt points out, God is not procrastinating, He is patiently waiting so people will turn to Him in faith and repentance. So we wait with Him and watch for Him … but that doesn’t mean we do nothing in the meantime.

2) Work and Witness

Almost every New Testament reference to Christ’s return is followed by an exhortation to live in a manner that pleases God.

[So] what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day… (2 Peter 3:11-12a NIV)

Jesus described it this way: “Servants are blessed if their master comes and finds them doing their job.” (Matthew 24:46 CEV)

I think this is why He doesn’t give us a time or date. We’d goof off until then!

In the Master’s absence, we are to be about the Master’s business. It means while we watch and wait, we continue Christ’s work of teaching, preaching, healing, caring for people, etc.

And all of this labor is a means by which we witness to others.

Following Jesus’ resurrection and prior to His ascension into the heaven, [the disciples] asked Him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom…?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set… But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:6-8 NIV)

Why are we to be involved in witnessing efforts while awaiting Christ’s return?

Because the results of our labors is what He is waiting for (for people to repent). In fact, the reason for any delay in His coming is not His fault, it’s ours.

Listen to what Peter says, “You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” (2 Peter 3:11b-12a NIV)

The sooner we get others saved, the sooner Christ is coming back. So while we live in anticipation of His return and want it to happen, God lives in anticipation of us doing our job so it can happen.

3) Worship

In First Corinthians 11, the Apostle Paul discusses the central act of Christian worship: Holy Communion

For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again. (1 Corinthians 11:26 NLT)

Every celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a reminder that Jesus is coming back.

We remember the past, but we also remember the future because it is just as sure to happen. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!

Through worship, we prepare ourselves for what we will be doing after Jesus returns: worshiping Him forever.

So every genuine worship experience reminds us that what we are doing in the present is a foretaste of what the future holds … and the best is yet to come!

Advent gives us a marvelous opportunity to respond in a new way when confronted with the reality of Christ’s return. We don’t need to be fearful or apathetic toward the Lord’s appearance. Instead, we should long for it and be excited about the prospect.

Friends, let’s make this a new year of anticipation and watch, wait, work, witness, and worship until Jesus comes again.