Are You Ready?
Our focus this morning, as it is every Sunday morning, is on the table of the Lord.
And we know why it’s our focus…Jesus instructed us to share this bread and wine in remembrance of his life, death and resurrection…how he willingly offered up his life so that we might have the opportunity for eternal life. In Isaiah 57 we’re told that “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” As Paul says (Eph 1:7) “In him (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins…”
But that’s not where it ends is it? The ultimate goal of our Heavenly Father is not human salvation. It’s not just rescuing us from the death that we have earned as a result of our sin. No, we are being fashioned into sons and daughters who manifest His glory, His will, His ways, His character. He is preparing us for work in the kingdom of his son. And it’s this kingdom work that will culminate in the earth being “filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea”, when Jesus “hands over the kingdom to God the Father”.
And this restored Jewish kingdom was the primary focus of the prophets, apostles and Jesus.
In 2 Samuel 7, David was promised that one of his descendants would sit on his restored throne, 2 Sam 7:12-13, When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”
Dan 2:44 – about 400 years later, in the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Daniel prophecies that in the last days God will remove the kingdoms of this earth and set up a kingdom that will stand for ever. And these events are also revealed in a vision to John in Revelation 11 “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever”
We read in Micah 4 “In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains ……..Many nations shall come and say, Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord….for the law shall go forth of Zion and the word of the Lord from JERUSALEM”. (Mic. 4:1-2).
And we know that Jesus taught his disciples to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
We read in Acts 1:3 where, for the 40 days that Jesus was on this earth after his resurrection, his preaching was focused on the restored kingdom of Israel coming to this earth.
A few verses later, the apostles question reveals their top priority and expectation…”Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
In Paul’s 1st letter to the ecclesia at Thessalonica (ch 4) he instructed the believers that “the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them…”
And in another vision in Rev 5, we hear the song of the saints (Lord willing, each of us) singing “with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.
As disciples of Christ, we are awaiting his return to this earth, to restore the kingdom, and to bring righteousness and peace to a world that is greatly lacking in both.
But, the question is…are we ready for the return of Christ and the judgement to follow? This is the most important question that we can ask ourselves. And we need to be honest with our answer.
Ask yourself…am I living a day-to-day, or week-to-week existence like most of the world? Or are you living your life with an intentional direction…are you living your life with a purpose? If so, is that purpose to develop and manifest the character of God and of his son? Does it elevate the importance of your obedience to God’s commands? Is your goal to be as prepared as possible for the work that you will be called to do in the kingdom?
It’s a conscious decision that we need to make at the start of every day…sometimes every hour. And that’s because as soon as we wake up in the morning we can get bombarded with “stuff” that can overwhelm us, cloud our focus, and shift our course away from where we want to be heading.
I’ve seen wonderful brothers and sisters that I love get so distracted by the temporal things of this world that, for a time, they become real spiritual distractions. And we’re all prone to this. Whether it’s career or hobbies or politics…you name it. If it doesn’t help prepare us for the kingdom of God…it’s not where our focus should be. Remember the words of Paul to the Colossians, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:1-2)”. And as Peter instructed, we are “living stones…being built into a spiritual house.”
We need to focus on that which is eternal.
It’s said that the first casualty in any battle is always the battle plan. That’s why it’s so important to focus on the things of God and stay locked in on your destination so you can weather any circumstances that seek to blur your vision.
Back in 1952, a young woman named Florence Chadwick stepped into the waters of the Pacific Ocean just off Catalina Island. She was determined to swim to the shore of mainland California. She’d already been the first woman to swim the English Channel from both directions. The weather that day was foggy and chilly; she could barely see the boats accompanying her. Still, she swam for fifteen hours. But she got discouraged because she was tired and couldn’t see the shoreline. When she began to beg to be taken out of the water, her mother, who was in a trailing boat, told her she was so close and that she could make it. Finally, physically and emotionally exhausted, she stopped swimming and was pulled out. It wasn’t until she was on the boat that she discovered the shore was less than half a mile away.
At a news conference the next day she said, “All I could see was the fog.…I think if I could have seen the shore, I would have made it.” It’s so important that we dedicate each day to our preparation for Christ’s return…and then trust him to direct our course.
I love the example of the eagle. When a storm hits, eagles fly directly into it and use the pressure of the storm to lift them above it in a matter of seconds. Perhaps we can draw a lesson from that.
But you know, whether its work or something on our social calendar, when we are preparing for some important event, there’s a lot of preparation…there are a lot of things that we need to pay attention to. And when the time for the event comes, invariably we find that there are things we have ignored altogether, there are things we have forgotten to do, and then there are things that haven’t really received the attention we would have liked to have given them, and then there are things about which we feel we have done the best we could, given the limits of our ability and resources.
Do we find this to be true of our preparation for the return of Jesus? Remember…be honest with your answer. Oddly enough, it could be that the moment where we feel most prepared is at our baptism, with all our sins washed away, we’ve openly professed our faith in God’s promises and we’ve given our promise to dedicate our lives to him.
Every moment after that carries with it the possibility of a wasted opportunity, or a less than one hundred percent commitment, or forgetfulness…and with these…consequently, we find a lack of preparation.
But you know, every moment is also an opportunity for stronger faith, deeper love, greater hope and a fuller preparation. Our goal is to be fully prepared for service to God in the restored kingdom. This is what Jesus achieved in his short life; it is also what we should seek to achieve.
So how do we prepare ourselves for Christ’s return? What needs our attention? What should our minds be dwelling on? Well, these things are listed and relisted, described and redescribed, stated and restated, all throughout the Scriptures with varying degrees of detail.
One of the most succinct descriptions of these requirements was given by Jesus, when he said to the lawyer who came to tempt him: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind . . . Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Mt. 22:37,39). This is the love that God requires. And what’s awesome is that when we achieve this level of love for God, it heightens our appreciation of his love and faithfulness toward us. And it’s this love that should be the basis of all our interactions with our neighbor…with each other. In this we are reflecting our Father’s love.
We are also given specific commandments concerning different aspects of discipleship. Peter, for example, wrote concerning our general behavior: “be ye holy in all manner of conversation [or conduct]” (1 Pet. 1:15). Concerning our interests and goals, Paul exhorted: “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2). Elsewhere Jesus tells us to “lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, not on earth.” In the matter of reliance, trust and assurance, guidance, help and support, Jesus said: “Have faith in God” (Mk. 11:22).
Even more detail is provided when particular aspects of behavior are considered. Paul wrote: “Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good”. Concerning our work ethic he added: be “not slothful”; and when dealing with others he said: “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:9,11,18).
Some passages, of course, go further, providing even more detail. We are provided with lists of practices that the Lord’s disciples are warned to steer clear of. For example, Jesus said here are the things that defile a man…”evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness”. All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.
Paul similarly listed for his readers and hearers “the works of the flesh” as, “Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like” (Gal. 5:19- 21). 1 Corinthians 6 and Ephesians 5 contain similar lists, and all carry the warning that those who do these things have no inheritance in the Kingdom of God.
Are you ready for the return of Christ?
As part of our preparation we obviously want to be fully aware of what’s contained in these lists, and regularly analyze our behavior and disposition to see whether we have allowed any of these defiling works to enter our lives.
Works of the flesh
On the screen now is a list of some of these defiling terms that appear in scripture that we should consider in a self-analysis. We may have a tendency to glance over these and think “these are pretty extreme…that’s not something that I would ever struggle with.” Things like adultery and murder.
But how did Jesus speak of adultery? “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Mt. 5:28);
And the same thing with murder…”whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (v. 22).
When we look at terms like these we need to recognize that we may be engaging in behaviors that can give birth to these works of the flesh.
So, part of our preparation is to be aware of the dangers we face and the unwholesome characteristics that we might be developing. We need to make sure that we don’t allow them to take hold in our lives and pull us away from God.
Fruit of the Spirit
Earlier I stated that part of our preparation for Christ’s return is to seek to reflect the character of God. And certainly that involves removing anything that can defile us. As David says in Psalm 139 “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
But you’ll notice that it’s not just about removing fleshly behaviors. It’s about replacing them with Godly characteristics.
It’s not a coincidence that in scripture we often see a list of works that are an abomination to God, followed by those that are pleasing to him.
For example, following “the works of the flesh” in Galatians 5 Paul lists “the fruit of the Spirit” as “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (vv. 22,23).
In Ephesians, Paul, as well as considering those things which must be “put off” because they result in no “inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (4:22; 5:5), he exhorts: “… that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (4:24). And then he elaborates the point: “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling aroma” (4:32- 5:2).
So just as we are to examine ourselves to remove any undesirable behavior, we also need to ensure that we are exhibiting Godly virtues and characteristics.
More questions to ask yourself…take a look at these qualities.
Are all of these reflected in my life? Are they dominant or recessive?
Are there any that are entirely neglected?
Which of these require further development?
In my interactions with brothers and sisters and friends, would these traits provide an accurate description?
Do I consistently apply the same standards in every aspect of my life, ecclesially, socially and professionally?
Perhaps a reflection on these things, individually and collectively, will help us to assess our state of readiness, to improve those that we can, and ensure that we are not found wanting.
We share such a wonderful hope of eternal life in service to our Heavenly Father and his son, our king, Jesus. As Paul said, “this is the gift of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I actually envision walking and talking with each of you in the kingdom…spending eternity together with you, and Jesus, and all those who have preceded us. When we maintain that perspective, the “stuff” of this world becomes pretty insignificant.
I encourage all of us to strengthen one another as together we strive to develop and reflect the character of our Father, so that we can confidently pray, “even so, come Lord Jesus”.