Sunday, December 28, 2014

Behold He Comes! (Revelation 22:12-21)

Throughout our Advent season, we have been focused on the first chapter of the New Testament, Matthew Chapter 1, and looking at how Christ came into the world. Today is the Sunday between the end of Advent and the beginning of a brand new year which is filled with many great unknowns for us. Over these final weeks of 2014, we’ve seen television programs and articles in print and online that have attempted to summarize the year just past and to prognosticate about what the year ahead will hold. Of course, we have no way of knowing what will happen in the year ahead. The future to us is entirely unknowable, with one notable exception. We know that one day in the future, Jesus will come again. In a way, this Sunday is a microcosm our entire lives. We live between the first coming of Christ at the first Christmas and the unknown day of His return. Therefore on this significant day it seems fitting to look at the last chapter of the New Testament, Revelation Chapter 22, and consider afresh the return of our Lord Jesus.

We are first presented in these verses with …

I. The promise of Christ’s coming (vv12a, 18-19)

Most us learned at a very young age that promises are often broken. It is a consequence of life in a world broken by sin. Because our word is often not taken at face value, we make promises. Because our hearts are able to deceive even our own selves, we break promises. There isn’t a one of us who has not broken a promise made to others, or been broken by the broken promises of others. But there is One who has kept every promise He ever made. The Bible tells us that God is not a man that He should lie (Num 23:19). We are told that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2), and that it is impossible for Him to lie (Heb 6:18). When God makes a promise, we have every reason to trust that promise completely. Jesus Christ is God incarnate – fully God and fully man – and His promises are completely true and trustworthy.

Notice in verse 12 that His promise is stated: “Behold, I am coming.” Of course, this is not the only place He promises this. Throughout the Gospels, there are literally dozens of promises in which Jesus says that He is going to return. Besides these statements, there are numerous other passages in the New Testament in which Christians are directed to set their hopes upon His return. This is a promise that we can count on!

Notice that Jesus also speaks of the timing of His coming in this promise. “Behold,” He says, “I am coming quickly.” There are two ways to understand this word quickly. One is to understand it to mean that His coming will be swift. That is, once the events surrounding His return begin to occur, they will transpire rapidly. The Bible promises that His return will occur in a moment, “in the twinkling of an eye” as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15. But quickly can also mean that His coming will be soon. We know that His coming will be swift, but will He come soon?

There are several considerations that we must reckon with as we answer that question. First of all, it must be noted that every generation of Christians since the first century has understood Jesus’ promise to mean that He could come within their lifetimes. But, since some 2,000 years have elapsed since He made this promise, there are many who have concluded that we’ve exceeded all human understanding of the word “soon.” Well, perhaps we have exceeded the human understanding of “soon,” but not the divine understanding of it. You see, God exists beyond the realm of space and time, where past, present, and future meld together in one eternal “now.” From the persepective of an eternity with no beginning or end, 2,000 years or more could still be understood as “soon.”

Remember that Peter points out this very thing in 2 Peter 3. There, he says, “In the last days, mockers will come with their mocking … saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?’” But Peter says, “Do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” It is good news for the world that 2,000 years still counts as “soon” on God’s timetable, for in His patience, God is granting all mankind the window of opportunity to turn from their sins and trust in the Jesus Christ to save them. And that brings us to another of these considerations about the timing of this promise.

The Bible makes several specific predictions about things that must occur before the Lord Jesus returns. Now, all of these things are the subject of a wide array of interpretations and we will not dwell on them or on this variety of interpretations today. We will simply say that there are legitimate views on these things which would see all of them as having come to pass already. In other words, there are no events left to be fulfilled which would prevent the coming of the Lord, with one possible exception. In Matthew 24:14, Jesus says that the Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come. The word translated as “nations” there is the word “ethne,” which refers not to geo-political entities (lines on a map), but to ethnic entities. We call them “people groups,” people who are bound together by language and customs. According to the latest research of the International Mission Board (as of December 1, 2014), there are 11,168 people groups in the world, and 2,982 of them have no known access to the Gospel. So, there are some who would say that Christ cannot return until those peoples have access to the Gospel. Now, I affirm the sense of urgency that this perspective intends to press upon us, and this is one of the reasons that I passionately promote engaging unreached people groups in the task of world missions. We simply must get the gospel to these unreached peoples! Give that Lottie Moon offering, and give it generously and sacrificially. If you are able to, go with us on a mission trip where we seek to get the gospel into the ears of these people groups!

However, there are other perspectives that we need to consider. For example, some of these people groups who presently have no access to the Gospel are located in places where Christianity thrived in centuries past, such as North Africa and the Middle East. But in these places, the violent sweep of Islam has all but eradicated the church. So, while some of these peoples do not have the gospel today, it is quite possible that their ancestors had a vibrant Christian witness in their midst.

We also must consider that Jesus did not promise that every individual person in those people groups had to hear the Gospel, only that some from that people must hear the Gospel. There are representatives of these unreached groups coming to America as refugees, as students, and to work. Here, and in other places, some from these unreached peoples are encountering the Gospel, and we must be diligent to share Christ with them while they are here. Also, there are places where no missionary has been granted access in the modern era, but where the internet is readily available! There’s a lot of garbage on YouTube, but there is a lot of Gospel on there too. We have ways to track traffic to our website and our sermons online, and we get hits from places where missionaries cannot go! We never know when someone from an unreached people in an impenetrable country might click a link and be presented with this Gospel witness. So, for all the statistics we can calculate, there are even more that we cannot calculate about the global spread of the Gospel. We may not know when the last of the world’s peoples have heard the Gospel as a witness. 

So, could Jesus return in 2015? He certainly could. In fact, there are three days left in 2014, so we may not even see 2015! But I am not making any predictions, nor should you. We could be decades, centuries, or millennia away from His return for all we know. Jesus was very clear when He said, “Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” Get that – no one knows except God the Father. Jesus said that even He, the Son, does not know. Well, if He is God, how can He not know? It is not that He lacks the capacity to know. Being fully divine, He is omniscient. Rather, it is something of a self-limitation. In His role as the Son, Jesus has chosen to yield some things to His Father. And one of those things is the timing of His return. Because He is also omnipotent (meaning that He has all power), He has the ability to limit the exercise of His omniscience so that this matter remains solely in the prerogative of God the Father. So, if someone claims to know when Jesus is going to return, you can just write them off.

We need to be mindful of the warning in verses 18 and 19. Just as John is about to close the book of Revelation, he says, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” If I can attempt to paraphrase that warning, it seems to me that John is acknowledging that there are some things in end time prophecies that are certain and specific, and some that are difficult to understand and interpret. But if we call into question what is certain, or make something that is not a certainty to appear as though it were, then our salvation is called into question. Stick to the book! What does the book say? It says He is coming again! Believe that! What does it not say? It does not say when. It does not answer all of our curiosities or satisfy all of our fancies. So don’t attempt to say that it does or to twist it to fit your system or opinion. Don’t add to what is there, and don’t take away from what is there. He is coming. Be ready. But don’t try to set a date or listen to anyone else who does. Stick to the book and don’t tinker with it. He has promised that He is coming, and He is coming soon. That’s simple enough to understand. So believe it, and live as though you believe it.

Now, moving on from the promise of His coming, we see …

II. The purpose of Christ’s coming (vv12b-15)

Do you remember what it was like when you were in school and you got called to the principal’s office? When I was in school, they had an intercom in the classroom, and every now and then I would hear this announcement: “Could you please send Russ Reaves to the office.” Terror would come over me. “Oh man, what did I do this time?” Well, in reality, I could make a long list of offenses, so I guess I was thinking, “Oh man, what did I get caught doing this time?” But there were a few occasions when I was called in for a good reason. But, on the long walk down the hall, all I could think of was how bad I was going to get it. I wasn’t worried too much about what the principal could do to me; I was worried about what would happen when news reached home! I always kind of wished they would say in the announcement why I was being summoned – is this a good thing or a bad thing? What is the purpose of this trip to the office?

When we hear that Jesus is coming again, we may have a recurrence of that sense of uneasiness. He’s coming again? Hmmm. I wonder what that will mean for me? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? But unlike the long walk to the principal’s office, we can know for sure the purpose of Jesus’ return because He has told us. And He has even told us whether it will be good news or bad news for us. He says, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.” Everyone is going to get what is coming to them when Jesus returns. In school, I got away with a lot of bad stuff because I was smart. I could pull it off without getting caught. But Jesus says that He is the Alpha and the Omega – that’s the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet – the first and the last, the beginning and the end. This means, at least in part, that no one pulls the wool over His eyes. We don’t have any secrets hidden from Him. He was before all things and will be after all things, and everything that takes place between the beginning and the end is well within His scope of knowledge and insight. Is that good news or bad news? Well, it is both.

Deep within each and every one of us, there is a yearning for justice. We might rejoice when we get away with a wrongdoing, but we don’t rejoice when someone gets away with doing us wrong! We don’t rejoice when a guilty person walks free. We don’t rejoice when a crime goes unsolved, when a fugitive remains on the loose, or when no one is penalized for an atrocity. We want to see wrongs made right. We want to see justice, and not seeing us feels like a kick in the gut. We have to admit, even when our justice system works well, it can only render a proximate justice, never a perfect justice. But Jesus is coming to exercise perfect judgment and render perfect justice. Everyone will get what he or she deserves, a justice meted out by the just judge who knows every aspect of the ordeal inside and out. When we think of the wrongs committed against us, against our loved ones, against innocent people, and generally in the world at large, this gives us reason to rejoice. All wrongs will be made right when Christ the King returns.

But, if we are honest, there is an uneasy reality in this as well. If perfect justice will be meted to all people, then surely we are not exempt ourselves. In our heart of hearts, each one of us knows the depths of our own sin. We may not admit it, and we may not talk about it, but in the dark of night when our head is on the pillow and it is just us alone with our thoughts and with a God in whom we may or may not even believe, we know that we are a guilty people. Millions of dollars are spent every year by people trying to remedy an insatiable sense of guilt. You know why so many people feel guilty? Because we are guilty! The Bible says that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23). There are none righteous, not even one (Rom 3:10). And that includes you and me. We are sinners. That is bad news. But the Gospel is good news, because sinners are who Jesus came to save when He came into the world the first time.

Notice the word of blessing in verse 14: “Blessed are those who wash their robes.” The image is of a people who, en masse, are covered with filthy garments. The garments are stained by the vileness of our sins. But there has been a remedy provided. These robes, and the sinners wearing them, can be washed and made clean! Earlier in Revelation, John saw a vision of a great multitude in heaven who were described as those who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14). The Lamb is none other than Jesus. So, here is the image: the entire human race is covered in the filth of sin. Jesus comes in, perfectly holy and righteous. His garments are bright and white. But He has come to enact a great transaction of grace. Not because we have earned it or deserved it, but because He is good and He loves us, He has taken our filthy garments and put them on Himself, and He has gone to the cross to bear the penalty of our sins. In His death, He shed His blood to wash away our sins. Having done that, He gives back to us, not the old sin-stained garments, but the garments of His own righteousness. He has washed our robes clean in His blood and taken away every stain. Those who trust in Him as Lord and Savior do not get the judgment they deserve, but instead, they are welcomed into the eternally glorious city of heaven, and given access to the tree of life of which they might eat and live forever with Him. “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins; and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.” He took the wrath we deserve, and gives us the blessing of life everlasting with Him in return. Perfect justice was given for our sins, but it fell on Christ, our substitute, as He died on the cross.

For those who have not washed their robes in His cleansing blood, there is no such blessing. The promise for them is that they will be “outside.” They are barred from entrance into heaven. Eternity for them will mean an endless outpouring of justice for their immoralities, their murder, their idolatry, and their lies. Apart from the grace of God in Jesus Christ, every single one of us could fall into one of those categories in verse 15. But because of that saving grace, those who have trusted in Him find themselves under the blessings in verse 14.

He is coming to exact a perfect judgment with perfect justice. That is the purpose of His return. No one will be able to say on that day of judgment that they did not get what they deserved; no one, that is, except those who have been saved. Jesus took what we deserved, so we could enjoy what He deserves: a blessed eternal union with God in Heaven.

We come now to …

III. The invitation of His coming (vv17)

There’s a popular song that asks, “What are you doing New Years Eve?” Let’s suppose there was a big party that everyone you knew was going to attend, but you haven’t been invited. Your friends say, “Oh, come on, you can tag along with me. I’m sure they won’t mind.” Most of us would feel uneasy about that. But it would be different if the host of the party were to call you and say, “Listen, it would really mean a lot to me if you would come. I would love for you to come.” Then, as your friends prod you to go, you would know that they are just echoing the wishes of the host of the party.

As we think of Jesus’ second coming, and the offer of salvation and eternal life through Jesus Christ, a great invitation has gone out to all the world. It comes from the host Himself. Verse 17 says that the Spirit says “Come!” The Spirit is God the Holy Spirit. He is calling you and inviting you to come to Jesus. But the call echoes forth through others who have already come. The Spirit and the Bride say “Come!” The bride is defined for us elsewhere in Revelation as the Church of Jesus Christ. We who have already come to find salvation in Jesus Christ have become His messengers, taking His gloriously gracious invitation into all the world. And all who hear this invitation, and understand the wonder of it, add their voice: “Let the one who hears say, “Come!” This call is going out into all the world. Every time anyone hears the good news of Jesus Christ, the Spirit and the Bride, and all who have heard this news, are beckoning “Come!” Maybe you are hearing that call today. You say, “That is just the preacher talking!” Well, the preacher is one who has heard that call for himself, and he is part of the Bride, the Church, all of whom are echoing the voice of the Spirit of God inviting you to come to Jesus and be saved.

Who should come? The Bible says, “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.” Are you thirsty? You say, “Thirsty for what? I have a sink at home, so I have plenty of water.” But the call is not to physical water. It is to living water. When Jesus was speaking to a woman by a well in John 4, He told her that everyone who drinks that water would thirst again. We know that to be true from experience. If you are thirsty you drink, but in time you are thirsty again. And the same is true for every desire and longing in our lives. Our lives tell the tale of one dissatisfaction after another. We found something that we thought could satisfy us, and maybe it did for a while, but soon we were empty again. Again, we thirsted. But Jesus told that woman that if anyone would drink the living water that He alone is able to supply, they would never thirst again, but that water would spring up within them into a well of eternal life! He is offering you an endless of supply of that which will satisfy your deepest longings forever – in a word, He is offering you Himself! It is a gift you cannot buy. It doesn’t matter if you have great riches or are completely destitute. It is not for sale. It is only available for free. That is why it is called “grace.” You don’t deserve it, you can’t earn it, and it is not for sale. But for no cost whatsoever, other than the cost of turning from sin and trusting in Him come what may, you may have this living water and be eternally satisfied in Jesus Christ. He is the provision for thirsty souls, and all thirsty souls are beckoned to come and drink freely from this water of life!

If you have never come to Him to partake of this living water – living water that satisfies, and living water that saves by washing us clean from our sins – I can think of no better way to ring out the old year and ring in the new than by turning to Him today. This is Jesus, who says, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:5). If anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation, the old has past away and all things are made new in Him. You can leave 2014 and enter 2015 a new creature, having been born again by faith in Christ. Do not delay that decision, because He has promised, He is coming quickly.

And when we hear that promise, those of us who have turned to Him by faith and been saved respond as John did. In verse 20, Jesus says once more, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” John says, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” This is the prayer of the Church of Jesus Christ. The Lord says He is coming, and we say, “Amen! We believe that! And we ask you Lord to come quickly!” This world is broken! We ourselves are broken! But we have this great hope: that Jesus Christ is coming, and how we long for that day when all wrongs will be made right, and all faith become at last sight! When this broken world presses in on you, when your broken down body reminds you of your frailty, and when your own heart betrays you and you find yourself being lured back into the snares of the sin from which you have been delivered, Christian, incline your ear to heaven and hear the promise: “Behold, I am coming quickly!” And raise your voice in the cry of anticipation, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”

“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”

1 comment:

Pastor Sandy said...

Great read my friend!