Waiting for the Right Time

Sermon for Ascension Day (observed) based on Acts 1:1-11

Dear people waiting for the Lord: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Bible is a book about God’s work in time. It starts with, “In the beginning…” and ends with Christ’s promise, “Surely I am coming soon.”

Time is not some afterthought to God but is intimately related to His work of creation and His work of salvation. Thus, Genesis records God’s work of creation in each of the six days, and it reads, “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day… And there was evening and there was morning, the second day…” and so on, for each of the six days of creation. This was no accident, but God’s carefully planned design to create the universe in time.

Regarding God’s work of salvation, we read in Galatians, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (4:4-5) When the fullness of time had come refers to the particular year, month, day, and hour set by God the Father (cf. Gal. 4:2). In Titus, this is called “the proper time” (1:3) and in Romans, “the right time.” (5:6)

We read in holy Scripture that God’s plan of salvation was from before the foundation of the world (I Pt. 1:20), promised before the ages began (Ti. 1:2), and indeed we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4).

Yet, just before Jesus ascended into heaven, when the apostles asked Jesus if He would then restore the kingdom to Israel, Jesus responded to them saying, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

In other words, don’t worry about God’s work – worry about your own work. Don’t wonder or worry about what God’s plans are for His kingdom or when He’s going to do what He’s going to do. Leave it to God.

God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth has a plan and a time for Christ’s return as He had a plan for creation and a plan for Christ’s first coming. We do not know when it will be, but neither do we have to worry about it. Christ will return in the fullness of time, at the proper time, at the right time in the same way that He ascended into heaven.

As we have recorded in Scripture, God has always been with His people through the ups and downs of this life; through the good and the bad; the easy and the hard. He has always been with His people through life and through death.

As God has always been with His people, He is with His people now. Indeed, He has promised you, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” He has also promised us that all things work together for our good (Rom. 8:28) and that He will not leave us as orphans (Jn 14:18).

Christ did not return in the apostles’ lifetime, even though they thought that He might. If it was up to them, they might have waited on the Mount of Olives for years waiting for Jesus to return. Thus, Christ sent them to work, to be His witnesses to the end of the earth, proclaiming the salvation accomplished for us by Christ offering Himself as a sacrifice for sins for all time (cf. Heb. 10:12). The angels also prompted them to move along when they continued staring up into heaven, saying, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.”

The apostles then went about their work, waiting for Christ to return.

We join them and God’s people of all time in waiting. The waiting started with Adam and Eve waiting for the promised seed to crush the serpent’s head, and it continues today with us, and will continue until Christ does return.

While we wait for Christ’s return, we are exhorted in Ephesians to look carefully how we walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of our time, because the days are evil (5:15-16).

The little bit of time we have on this earth can be spent wisely or foolishly. In foolishness we can spend all our time in the pursuit of worldly goals and objectives, or in wisdom we can spend time doing the will of the Lord, pursuing heavenly goals and objectives.

There isn’t much time, but we don’t know how much. These days are the days the prophets call “the latter days” and the apostles call “the last days.” These are days of trial and tribulation, days of war, pestilence, and natural disaster, days of false teaching and false teachers. Thus, Scripture gives us so many admonitions to stay awake and spiritually attentive, making the best use of our time.

Now is not the time to seek excuses and justification for our sins, but the time to seek forgiveness and having our sins removed from us and covered. Now is the time to recognize our selfishness, dishonesty, pride, and hypocrisy, and repent. Now is the time to confess our sin of using time poorly, of wasting it, and using it to pursue sinful desires.

Why is now the time to do these things? Because Isaiah says, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” (55:6-7) And Second Corinthians tells us, “Behold, now is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (6:2)

God is near now, in His Word. God is near now with forgiveness. Christ is not only near you, but in you in His body and blood, given and shed for you.

He comes with forgiveness and healing in His body and blood because in the fullness of time, the proper time, the right time, Christ came into history as a man and saved you from the fires of hell. He purchased and won you with His precious blood and His innocent suffering and death on the cross.

It was God’s plan from before the ages began, but He did it when the time was right.

God’s plan for you was also made before the ages began. God chose you in Christ for eternal life, and He will come to take you to eternal life in the fullness of time, at the proper time, at the right time.

It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority, but Christ will return for you at the proper time, and until then strengthens you with His Word and His body and blood, the receiving of which is the best use of your time during these evil days.

Time is intimately related to all God’s work of creation and salvation, so it is also with your creation and your salvation. Your time is in God’s hands. You are in God’s hands.

Christ’s promise, “Surely I am coming soon” is for you. In the fullness of time, at the proper time, at the right time, Christ will take you to Himself, so that where He is, there you may be also.

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Ps. 27:14)

Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

History

Sermon for the Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 21:5-28

Dear people of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

You have perhaps heard the saying, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” If you cannot learn from the mistakes of past generations, you will repeat the same mistakes they made, and end up with the same consequences.

As Jesus foretold the destruction of the Temple, the people of Jerusalem had not learned from history. In history, when man forsook God and acted wickedly, following every evil intention of his heart, God sent a flood which killed all the wicked (Gen 6-7). When the people rebelled against God and gathered in pride to build for themselves a monument to reach heaven, God confused their language and dispersed them over the face of the earth (Gen. 11:1-9). When the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah rejected God and exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; when the men gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men, they received the due penalty for the error (cf. Rom. 1:26-27), as God rained sulphur and fire from heaven and destroyed those cities (Gen. 18:16-19:29).

The Israelites also had the history of their own people from which to learn. God had delivered them from slavery in Egypt (Ex. 6-14), but they got impatient waiting for Moses on the mountain so they had Aaron build them a golden calf. God struck them with a plague (Ex. 32).

They were all under the pillar of cloud as God led them, and all passed through the Red Sea and were baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food, the manna God sent from heaven. They all drank the same spiritual drink, given by the spiritual Rock that followed them, Christ Himself. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness (I Cor. 10:1-5).

First Corinthians 10 tells us that these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. “Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” (I Cor. 10:7-11)

The people of Jerusalem did not heed Christ’s warnings. They did not listen to the warnings of the prophets God sent for centuries before Jesus either (ex. Jer. 6:8; Mi. 3:12; Zec. 14:1). They thought they could ignore God’s Law and do whatever they felt like doing. They followed their hearts instead of God’s Word. They engaged in idolatry, adultery, testing God, and grumbling.

They felt safe from God’s punishment because they had been doing it for years and lighting from heaven hadn’t struck them, no plague had decimated them, and despite being under Roman rule, they were at relative peace. Sure, God had destroyed sinners and punished sin a long time ago, but not today. They thought that in that day God just turned a blind eye to sin and forgave without people even turning away from sin. They thought that just because the Temple of God stood among them and the sacrifices were taking place there, everything was okay. However, Jesus told them the days will come when there will not be one stone left upon another that will not be thrown down.

Forty year later, the Romans destroyed the Temple and all of Jerusalem as Jesus had prophesied. Over a million Jews were killed and about 100,000 taken captive. They fell by the edge of the sword and were led captive among the nations, and Jerusalem was trampled underfoot by Gentiles as Jesus prophesied.

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Yet those who know history and fail to heed its warnings are also doomed to repeat it. Here specifically we are talking about the history of God’s relationship with man; God’s relationship with us.

We are God’s baptized people. That’s our history with Him. He has rescued us from the slavery of sin. By Jesus’ death in our place, He has rescued us from death and the devil, and from hell. We all passed through the sea of Baptism, baptized into Christ. We eat the same spiritual food and drink the same spiritual drink, the very body and blood of Jesus given and shed for us. And we have the same warning as God’s people of all time have had: do not follow your sinful flesh. “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Rom. 8:13)

As Jesus gave the warning of the destruction of Jerusalem, He gave the warning of the destruction of the world. We have the warning of the end times when nation will rise against nation, and there will be earthquakes and famines and pestilences. There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations and perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and the foreboding of what is coming into the world.

This prophecy is no more preventable than Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem. It will take place. The world will be destroyed and the Son of Man will return, coming in a cloud with power and great glory. There is nothing man can do to prevent it, but man can learn from the history of those who reject God and His Word, and the history of those who cling to God’s Word.

As with the destruction of Jerusalem, God’s children have nothing to fear about the end of the world. Even in the face of end-times persecution we have nothing to fear, even if that persecution comes from parents and brothers and relatives and friends. Even if we are hated by all the world and are put to death, Christ says, “By your endurance you will gain your lives.” That is, by enduring in the faith, you will receive eternal life.

This eternal life is a free gift to us in spite of our past sins. If we look back at our personal histories, they are filled with all kinds of vile sin. But these histories are wiped out in God’s history books. Jesus died in our place, taking all the punishment for our sins. Our histories are re-written and do not include our sins. Our histories say that we have fulfilled the Law of God perfectly because Jesus fulfilled it for us. Our histories say that we are adopted children of God because we are baptized into Christ. Our histories say that we are in Christ and Christ in us because we eat the spiritual food and drink of Jesus’ true body and blood.

So, when we see the signs of the end times approaching, we do not need to fear. Rather, Jesus says, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” We can raise our heads in confident expectation that even though Jesus returns to judge the world, our judgment has already been pronounced – we have been acquitted; we have been declared blameless by the judge of the living and the dead.

Instead, our redemption is drawing near. That moment when we will be taken from this world of sin and death is drawing near. That moment when we will no longer suffer at the hands of evildoers; that moment when we will no longer suffer illness and death; that moment when we will no longer suffer from the earthly consequences of our own sins; that moment is drawing near.

We can learn from the history of God’s people in all time and places. God’s people suffer in this world of sin as everyone suffers, but God saves His people from this world. Despite what we see going on in the world around us, we can straighten up and raise our heads because our redemption is drawing near.

God’s history is that He has never failed to keep His promises. Throughout history, He has never failed to save His people from every evil. He has never failed to warn people to turn from their sin and He has never failed to forgive repentant sinners.

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. But those who know the history of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus are destined for eternal life, with our own history of sin wiped clean by the blood of Jesus. So, straighten up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.