“Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” — Matthew 24:44
For the next few weeks at our church I’ll be preaching about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ in a new series entitled, “The Return of the King: The PREPARED Life.” I’m the farthest thing from an expert when it comes to eschatology (the study of last things). So I’ve signed up for the stretching as I prayerfully consider how not only to introduce our people to what Scripture has to say about the 2nd Advent, but ultimately why and how that should shape our lives in the here and now. It is a dark world out there that got darker last year. And when people can’t see hope in the midst of the darkness they look to a promised hope that is yet to come. In some ways I am thankful for these dark days—for they make us look to those hills from whence has always come our one and true help.
This weekend I’ll preach on “The Certainty of His Coming” from Matthew ch. 24. It is quite the chapter. And it’d be a fool’s errand to exhaust it all in the 30 minutes I have (I’ll take 40 easy). But the last time I preached God had to do it if it would be worth anything. And so I’ll take the same perspective heading into this weekend as well. His word shall not return to Him void. He has promised me don’t you see? Hallelujah to His Great & Marvelous Name.
The coming of Jesus has me thinking about my own testimony and how the Lord found me and made me His own. You see I was shaped by this news that some day, Jesus is coming again. Let me take the long way to tell you how the Lord saved me through this good news that He is coming agin.
My dear Aunt Roberta has a voice that, even at a tender young age, truly pierced my soul. My father was the minister of music at our little church in Pearl, MS. This meant that there is hardly a choir rehearsal on Thursday nights I can remember missing. While my Dad (the pianist), my Uncle Gene (the drummer), and a host of tenors, altos, and sopranos rehearsed songs for the coming Sunday, my brother and I along with the other children would run around the church as much as our parents’ graces would allow. I can faintly remember how, even in rehearsal, there’d be a song that would strike not just the chords of their voices but the strings of their heart. Hands would be lifted up, tears would roll down some faces, and those folks would sing praises to their King.
One such song, led by my Aunt Roberta, was entitled, “Will You Be Ready When Jesus Comes?” And sure enough, on that following Sunday, the choir would “march in” with those fantastic, early 80s Sharp Green and Sharp Yellow robes (these were popular kitchen colors too). Then Auntie’s soprano’d tones washed the hearts of our congregation as the choir sang, and that repeatedly, “I want to be ready when Jesus comes!”
I knew little of the gospel as I know it today. But even the Lost know hope when they see it. And I can still see the old Saints rejoicing in a hope and a deliverance that was not yet theirs, but was most certainly coming. It was as if this promise of a future hope was what they needed to transcend their right-now pain. That’s it I think. The coming of our Lord is a future hope that helps us navigate the current storms of life.
The first day of the year makes me all sentimental. I took an extra long walk on the morning of New Year’s Day. And I listened to negro spirituals performed at Carnegie Hall (yeah, that’s on my bucket list). One such song they performed was, “Great Day!” This song was the heart’s cry of generations of slaves toiling beneath the sweltering heat of sun and oppression picking the master’s cotton. They would not know deliverance. They would not know freedom. They would not know an end to their pain. How did they survive? By looking forward to a future hope where there would be, for all God’s children, deliverance, and liberty, and freedom for all eternity. So they’d sing, “Great day! Great day, the righteous marching; Great day! God’s going to build up Zion’s walls!” The walls of their lives would be broken for their lifetimes. So they anticipated a day when everything would be made right and all would be at peace. And it’d be that day that the King of Kings would crack the sky, bring upon the world the end of days, press play on eternity, and rule forevermore. Hallelujah!
I think my whole point is this—the 2nd coming of Jesus that is yet future should shape how we live our lives today.
I remember being a 7yr old, sitting at HYPU (Holiness Young People’s Union—it’s like Sunday school at night because two morning services and one night service on a Sunday is not nearly enough for Holiness Children—you betta ask somebody!). My Dad was teaching. Of course I KNEW Jesus had come and that I ought to do something about that reality. But I can remember hearing my Daddy say, “And then one day Jesus is coming again.” That fascinated me in ways I shall never forget. You see that changed me. That marked me. That stopped me in my tracks. My 7 yr old brain who knew Jesus to be this great person who’d come many years ago realized, for the first time, that He’s coming again…which means I’ll meet Him! I’ll see Him! And for whatever reason I understood that day that when He comes again nothing shall ever be the same. And yet and still I realized, as my Daddy taught us kids, that my responsibility to this truth was to be ready.
Over the next 10 years the Holy Spirit would keep this coming event on my heart and mind. The return of Jesus—and will I be ready? This increased in God’s pursuit of me until December 14, 1992. The long and short of it is that I experienced the most realistic dream ever. I envisaged the 2nd Return of Jesus and…tragically…I was not ready. I had not trusted in Him. And I was not welcomed into the hope of eternity. I woke up distraught, afraid, and sad. And around 2:13am (I’m one of those who can remember the whole moment) I got out of bed, bent the knee, and asked the Lord Christ to come into my heart and save me. As the old folks say, “I’ve been running ever since.”
Mine was a household where the gospel was brought to me countless times. It was as if Mama and Dad would say, “Jesus has come and done something for you. You ought to do something about it!” But when I learned about the Second Coming, it was as if the Holy Spirit began to say to me, “Jesus has come and done something for you. But he’s coming again to do something for you. And you ought to do something about it!” I think this is the Bible’s hope for its revelation concerning this great and blessed soon-to-come event.
I should hope this weekend goes well. But for you here and now, troubled by the plight of this world, know this, one day it shall be made right. For those stricken with sickness and pain, one day you shall be healed. For those disheartened by the injustices and wickedness of these days, one day there shall be no more injustice. For those dismayed by the madness of this past year — God sees it…and the only reason He would delay His coming is so that even the more might come to know Him.
Not too long ago we had a prayer service here at our church. It was a very simple and sweet event. Not too many lights and bells and whistles. Not too much noise. Just saints. Praying. And trusting. And believing. Just a few dozen of us on our faces calling on our Lord. The Holy Ghost met us that night. There was a sweet sweet spirit in the place — and I know that it was the presence of the Lord. We prayed together. We worshiped together. We wept tears of joy together. O what a joy! We didn’t have a sitter that night so my poor PK children were there with a few other members’ kids. Playing with one another and sharing their iPads like good church kids should. Glancing over at them, huddled together like a certain batch of kids in the early 80s, it then hit me. They’re growing up like I did. And I couldn’t help but smile. The only thing that was missing…were those green and yellow robes.