************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 37 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 17, 2021
Belgic Confession Article 37 (#6)
"Expecting His Return"
Waiting and watching. That's what we all should be doing as Christians. We should all be waiting and watching for the return of Jesus Christ. Wait and watch. They are almost the same, but not quite.
Let me illustrate the difference between these two terms.
A number of years ago some of our students went on an overseas mission trip sponsored by CVC. When they came home most of them had family and friends watching for them at the airport.
One of the students had no one watching for him. When he got home he was told, "We were waiting for you." He replied, "Yes, but the other students had people watching for them!"
Christ is going to come again. We don't know when this will happen. But when He comes He wants to find us both waiting and watching.
I Expecting His Return
A In our Scripture reading Paul speaks to us about the final consummation, the coming Day of the Lord. He says,
Romans 13:11–12 (NIV84) — 11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.
"Our salvation is near," says Paul. Paul talks here of our future salvation. He thinks of the benefits and blessings which Christians, redeemed from all earthly ills, will enjoy after the visible return of Christ. He thinks of the joys we will experience in the new heaven and earth.
"The night is nearly over; the day is almost here." The night is the time of darkness. The day is the time of light. Sin's darkness is almost over and soon the time will arrive when all who believe will live in the light of the Son's presence.
Paul says we must understand the present time. What is there to understand? We must understand, as I said this morning, that things will not go on as they have since the beginning of creation (2 Pet 3). There will come a time, an hour, when the present age of darkness will end and the light of the age to come will take its place. There will come a time when the Lord will return. We must understand this and therefore we must wait and watch for the Lord's return.
B As we spend time looking through Scripture we see that this expectation of Christ's return dominated the faith of the New Testament church. Did you know that every book of the New Testament points us to the return of Christ and urges us to watch and wait, to live in such a way as to be always be ready for that return.
We hear this note of Christ's return repeatedly in the Gospels. We are taught the Son of Man will come with His angels in the glory of His Father (Mt 16:27). Jesus told the high priest that he would see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven (Mk 14:62). Frequently, Jesus told His hearers to watch for His return since He would be coming at an unexpected hour (Mt 24:42,44; Lk 12:40). Jesus spoke of the blessedness of those servants whom He would find watching for His coming and faithfully doing their work (Lk 12:37,43). After describing some of the signs which precede His coming, the Lord said,
Luke 21:28 (NIV84) — 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.Jesus says, "Your redemption is drawing near." That means the same thing as Paul's words that "our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed." In His farewell speech, Jesus told His disciples that after He left the earth He would come again and take them to Himself (Jn 14:3).
In Acts the disciples watched Jesus ascend into heaven. Remember what the angels said to them?
Acts 1:11 (NIV84) — 11 "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."
Paul's epistles also reveal a sharp awareness of the Lord's return:
1Th 5:2 (NIV84) — 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
Phil 4:5 (NIV84) — 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
1Cor 4:5 (NIV84) — 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes.
Hebrews talks of those who are "eagerly waiting for him" (Heb 9:28). James tells us "the coming of the Lord is at hand" (James 5:8). Peter reminds us "the day of the Lord will come like a thief" (2 Pet 3:10). John tells us when Christ appears again we shall be like Him (1 Jn 3:2).
A similar sense of expectation is to be found in the Bible's last book:
Rev 1:7 (NIV84) — 7 Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him ...To the church at Philadelphia Jesus says,
Rev 3:11 (NIV84) — 11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. And in the second last verse of the New Testament we read,
Rev 22:20 (NIV84) — 20 He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
It is clear, isn't it? The early church was waiting and watching for the return of Christ. They lived in the hope and expectation of the Lord's return.
C "Understand the present time," says Paul. "The hour has come for you to wake up ... The night is nearly over; the day is almost here." Do you realize what this means? Paul is telling us that the lively expectation of the Lord's return that marked the early church should mark the church of Jesus Christ today. Which leads me to ask, how often do we find ourselves thinking of the Lord's return? Do you find yourself waiting and watching? Do you find yourself praying, "Come Lord Jesus. Come quickly."
If we don't live in the expectation of the Lord's return something is radically wrong. I say something is radically wrong because those who don't live in the expectation of Christ's return don't "understand the present time" and have not "woken up from their slumber." I say something is radically wrong because it is the unfaithful servant in Jesus' parable who says in his heart, "My lord delays his coming" (Lk 12:45).
D Why is it, do you think, that many Christians today don't understand the present time and therefore don't live in the expectation of the Lord's return? Let me mention at least three reasons.
One, it may be that Christians today are so busy that there is no time or energy left for the Second Coming. It is true that people allow themselves to be too busy with work, recreation, children, school, sports, church, family.
Two, it may be that the church today is too prosperous; life is too good, so good that visions of the future glory fade away. I know that those who are poor or desperate or hurting generally yearn far more for Christ's return than those who are rich, comfortable, and satisfied with life.
Three, it may be that many believe Christ's return is future, way off in the future, and is nothing to expect or anticipate today. Consider this:
I told you before of the time I asked everyone in one of my catechism classes to draw a time line of their own life. The beginning of the line marked their date of birth. I told them to mark down significant occasions in their life: like graduation from grade school, profession of faith, a surgery, moving to Visalia from wherever. I then told them to look forward into the future and to mark down what the future holds in store for them: things like graduation from highschool, meeting that special guy or girl, graduation from college, graduation from graduate school, marriage, first child, first job, Noble peace prize or Noble prize in Physics or whatever.I suspect that most of us are like my Catechism students.
When I looked over all the time lines I was not surprised that every student expected to live for 80 or 90 years, none of them expected to die young. And, what is important to us this evening, none of them expected Christ to return in their lifetime.
Whatever the reasons may be, the loss of a lively, vital anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ is a sign of a most serious spiritual illness in the church. The fact is, all Christians should eagerly look forward to Christ's return, and should live in the light of that expectation each and every single day. All of us, in other words, should be waiting and watching.
It is acknowledged that D. L. Moody was one of the greatest evangelists in America. When he evangelized, he spoke with great fervor and zeal. Why? He tells us why: "For many years I have never given an address without the consciousness that the Lord may come before I have finished." He was waiting and watching.
II Incentive for Holy Living
A As lively an expectation of the Second Coming should be found in the church today as was present in the early church. What is the significance of this expectation? Critics of Christianity often like to say that this expectation leads to an unproductive kind of other-worldliness. Perhaps you have heard the saying: "So heavenly minded that they are no earthly good."
Is this what the expectation of Christ's return leads to? Does it mean nothing but a passive waiting for the life to come, a waiting that neglects our responsibilities in the present world?
Every year we see an example of this in the college basketball playoffs. For instance, in the NCAA Regional Basketball Finals a number of years ago, a team was leading Indiana by eight points with only a few minutes left in the game. The other team had played an aggressive game up to this point. The television announcer pointed out that they were beginning to watch the clock rather than play the game. As a result of this change in focus, Indiana closed the gap, won the game by one point, and eventually went on to become NCAA champions.As we wait for Jesus' promised return, we are mistaken if we watch the clock instead of being diligent servants during the time we have available.
Jesus makes the exact same point in His Parables of the Talents and the Pounds. There He lets us know that waiting and watching for His return means working diligently for Him with the gifts and abilities He has given us instead of burying them (Mt 25:14-30; Lk 19:11-27).
B In our Scripture reading from Romans, Paul makes the point that a lively expectation of Christ's return should serve as an incentive to holy living. He says,
Romans 13:12–13 (NIV84) — 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.
Those who wait and watch for Christ's return are to live as daytime people. Daytime, of course, is a time for work and school and play. Daytime activities generally are good and wholesome activities. The opposite, as you know, is nighttime. For ordinary people, nighttime is a time for sleep. But for others, it is a time for drinking, drugs, gambling, prostitution, gang warfare, drive-by shootings, and the like; for them, nighttime is the time to do those activities that cannot stand the bright light of day.
People who wait and watch for Christ's return "behave decently, as in the daytime" (vs 13). They live as daytime people. They strive to be obedient to God's law and live a righteous and holy life.
Daytime people live by the Spirit. Their lives are filled with love -- especially with love (cf Rom 13:8-10) -- but they also display joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (cf Gal 5:22f).
Daytime people, says Paul, put aside the deeds of darkness: orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality, debauchery, dissension, jealousy. These six deeds of darkness are normal features of the Roman night life most citizens participated in. But the Christian who waits and watches for the return of Christ strives for a lifestyle that is clearly different from what is going on in the world. As daytime people, we must have nothing to do with the deeds of darkness.
C Those who wait and watch for Christ's return are also to clothe themselves with the Lord. Paul says,
Rom 13:14 (NIV84) — 14 ... clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature. To put on Christ is to be identified with Him not only in His death but also in His resurrection. To put on Christ is to put to death that old man of sin and to bring to life that new man of righteousness. To put on Christ is to live out the new life and to put away the old life. To put on Christ is to be like Christ: holy, pure, loving, harmless, undefiled.
D Why does the expectation of Christ's return serve as an incentive to holy living? Because when Christ returns He will judge the living and dead. When Christ returns the books will be opened and we will be judged for the bad we have done and the good we have failed to do; and, we will be rewarded for the good we do.
Christ is coming again. So let me ask you two questions. Are you waiting and watching for His return? And, as you wait and watch, do you live holy lives?
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