Thursday, October 23, 2014

Longing for Jesus’ Return – 2 Tim 4:8

Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (NIV)
In Store
What do we have in store for the future? Many people panic about their future because they fear what the government is going to do, or not do. Others fear for their jobs as company merges with company. The executives of these companies rejoice for the abundance they will receive after the merger and employees face layoffs. For others, retirement is a dream of the past as they see their wealth consumed by medical bills or children who have moved back home. All of these are short sighted for Christians as they are temporal and not eternal (2 Cor 4:16-18).
How great is Your goodness, Which You have stored up for those who fear You, Which You have wrought for those who take refuge in You … (Ps 31:19 NASU)
God’s goodness is stored up for each of us who takes refuge in Him or trusts Him. This verse explains a lot about how good God is. Many people have a problem with the Bible and especially the Old Testament because of the many references to fearing God. So how do you explain one phrase that tells of His goodness for someone who fears Him and the next phrase that says fear results in trusting Him? Would you trust someone and take refuge in him if you were afraid of him? No, therefore this fear is not the same as a phobia that cause panic or paralysis. Rather, it is an acknowledgment that the Creator of the universe, the one with all power to do whatever He wants must be held in awe and reverence. Isaiah stated when he had a vision of God on His throne, “Woe is me! for I am undone.” (Isa 6:5 KJV) Isaiah knew that there was no way he could stand in the presences of a holy God. His sins, even if there were only one, should be punished. He was undone, found out, guilty, deserving death.
Because of our sins against God, He would be perfectly just to wipe us out of existence or punish us forever. Yet the Psalm states how great is His goodness! Instead of punishment, we have goodness stored up for us. But we can’t take it out of context. We must be people who fear Him and take refuge in Him. The only way to take refuge in God is through Jesus (John 14:6). If we don’t have Jesus, then we don’t have God’s goodness waiting for us.
For you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. (Heb 10:34 NKJV)
Just how willing are we to accept the loss of worldly things with joy because we know we have something much better waiting for us in heaven? The Hebrew Christians were facing ostracism from their kin if they didn’t give up their faith in Jesus. They were facing imprisonment and loss of all their possessions from the Romans if they didn’t give up their faith in Jesus. What on earth would make anyone willingly and joyfully endure that? That is the whole point. There is nothing on earth that is worth losing our eternal rewards in heaven.
Don't store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. (Matt 6:19-21 NLT)
What is first in our hearts determines our treasures as Jesus’ words make obvious. While we may gain heaven because of our faith in Jesus, what gets stored up for us in heaven has a lot to do with our attitude and actions. What we do during our lives on earth has eternal consequences. Paul was looking forward to a crown of righteousness. We may have a mansion or a really great room in a mansion (John 14:2). We may have dominion over many cities (Luke 19:17). Jesus put these rewards in human terms so we can understand that something great will be waiting for us, but what we will have is far beyond anything we can now imagine.
No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him. (1 Cor 2:9 RSV)
Think about that for a minute. Consider what some of the Sci-Fi writers have imagined. Consider the vastness of the universe. Consider the incomprehensible subatomic structure of matter where new particles are discovered or theorized almost every day. Consider the way a delicate flower blooms from a hard green stem. Consider the mysteries of chains that fell from Peter’s hands and the iron gate that opened by itself when an angel led him out of prison (Acts 12:6-11). Consider that our finite minds are limited and God’s is not. Our power is extremely puny but God’s has no limits. Consider what is awaiting us in heaven. Consider the shortness of our lives and the expanse of eternity. Consider what would be more important to grasp in this life than that which will last into eternity. Let’s join with Paul when he says to set our hearts and minds on things above and not on earthly things (Col 3:1-2).
Righteous Judge
Put the words righteous and judge together and what is your immediate thought? If it is hellfire and brimstone for evil people then you are probably in the majority. If it is relief for the afflicted (2 Thess 1:7) then you are in the minority. If it is reward and blessing for what you have done in this life (Ruth 2:12) then you are still in the minority, especially if you were able to see this in the Old Testament.
He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. (Deut 32:4 NIV) By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. (John 5:30 NIV)
God is the kind of judge that we want all of our judges to be. Everything God does is perfect. That means when He judges, it is a perfect judgment. He is omniscient so He knows all the facts of a case. You can call all the witnesses you want, but not one of them will know all the facts. While a human judge may have a good clue about a person’s motivation, it is only God who knows a person’s heart (1 Chron 28:9). God does no wrong, so any sentence handed down will also be correct and just. When it is passed, no one will be able to tell God that He has been too harsh or too lenient.
Jesus indentifies Himself with the Father in judgment. He hears all, as He is omniscient as well. He can’t be bribed or turned aside from a righteous judgment because the only way to please the Father is to judge exactly the way He does. That’s why the Father can give all judgment into the hands of Jesus (John 5:22). When people say they believe in God but not Jesus, they don’t understand that they will face Jesus at their final judgment.
How should knowing that God is a righteous judge affect us? We should be able to trust Him completely. Since He is absolutely fair, we can trust that any sentence or reward we receive will take into account everything. It won’t depend on what others think about us, but it will only be what God knows about us. What He knows is that at some point in our lives we have all sinned (Rom 3:23) and that it only takes one sin to be accountable, or guilty of every kind of sin (James 2:10). That should also cause us to be dreadfully fearful (Heb 10:31) because we instinctually know that the sentence is death (Rom 6:23).
That didn’t work out the way you expected did it? We went from trust to that wrong kind of fear very fast. The key to keep from falling into this dreadful fear but to have a loving trust of God is to know Jesus.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matt 11:28-30 ESV)
Why are we laboring and burdened? Isn’t it because we are sinful and we are trying to earn a right standing before God? We are working and working but have no guarantee that we have done enough to make up for our sins. Ask most people on the street why they think they will go to heaven and they’ll say that they’ve been a pretty good person. Do they know for sure they will go to heaven when they die? They usually say they hope so; they have no assurance.
Jesus gives us rest from all that kind of labor and uncertainty. He gives us soul rest. That rest requires something from us but it isn’t a burden. Notice Jesus said that we need to take His yoke on ourselves. We won’t have rest as long as we are trying to do all the work to make up for our shortcomings. Jesus’ yoke is the cross where He was crucified and died to pay the penalty for our sins. His gentleness and lowliness of heart was demonstrated on the cross because He is God but gave up all His rights and privileges to become a person who would live a sinless life and then give that life up in place of our sinful life. When we take His yoke on us it means that we trust His death on the cross to pay for our sins.
But a yoke is also a device where two pull together. Make no mistake about it; this is not a yoke for two equals. This is a yoke designed for one who is much stronger and one who has no strength in himself. When the two are pulling in the same direction, the stronger one does all the work. When the weaker one pulls in his own selfish direction, it yields frustration, stumbling, awkwardness, and embarrassment. In other words, this is a yoke of submission to Jesus’ control of our lives. Taking His yoke on us means that we submit to His loving control of our lives.
We have rest for our souls when we turn to Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We have rest because He has done all the work. Do you have a soul that is at rest? Do you have peace with God? If not, then admit to God that you are a sinner and that you believe He died for your sins. Ask for His forgiveness. Ask Jesus to take control of your life and turn from your sins.
Judgment Day
“They will be Mine," says the Lord of hosts, "on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him." So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him. (Mal 3:17-18 NASU)
Are you looking forward to Judgment Day? God is clear throughout the Bible that there will be a day of judgment. He has declared it over and over. Christians are often blasted for preaching hellfire and damnation. Who is so opposed to the doctrine of a Judgment Day? Is it those that God has spared? Is it people who have served Him as His son did? Of course not, Judgment Day will be great time for God’s possession. They have no fear of what waits for them after death. Most are looking forward to it.
No, the ones who complain about hellfire and damnation are those who reject God. It is those who have no desire to serve Him. God says that there will be a distinction between them and the ones that serve as a son. It is those who claim they want God or know God but reject the Son, Jesus Christ, who served Him perfectly. The truth is, none of us can serve God in perfect obedience the way Jesus did. If we are to be spared, then it is based not on how well we serve God but on our association with Jesus. When we arrive at the Judgment Day, the Son who served the Father will say, “It’s OK, he’s with me.” We will be spared because we are with the son. “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12-13 NKJV).
Long for His Appearing
Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, Cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation; and He will exterminate its sinners from it. (Isa 13:9 NASB)
Why are we longing for His appearing? The trailer of the latest Left Behind movie depicts the prelude to Jesus’ appearing as nothing but horror and devastation. Chloe screams that her God would never do something like that. Chloe represents the belief of most people. They can’t understand why anyone would look forward or long for something that sounds so horrible. God even announced thousands of years ago that this would be an unprecedented time of cruelty.
How do you answer someone who asks you why you would believe in a God who would do something like this? Do you answer that it is similar to a surgeon who must cause incredible pain to remove a cancer or an oncologist who prescribes a course of chemotherapy with side effects that sometimes seem worse than the disease? Their goal is a healthy body free from the consequences of the dreaded disease. Unless we have a right understanding of sin and its consequences, we will never fully look forward to Jesus’ appearing. Sin is just like cancer. It grows until it completely consumes its host. Without treatment, cancer always results in physical death; there is never a beneficial mutation from cancer. Without restraint, sin keeps getting worse and worse, it always needs to ratchet up the senses, the desires, to feed the heart that will not submit to God (Rom 1:18-32, Eph 4:19). Sin leads to a final, painful, spiritual death (James 1:15).
At this point, God is restraining the full force of sin in the world (2 Thess 2:3-11) so what we saw in WW II, Rwanda, and other places in the world doesn’t occur everywhere, every day. If these atrocities don’t make you shudder and long for them to be wiped from existence, then you have a very poor concept of sin and its results. We don’t long for the short time of misery that will come upon the world when Jesus comes back, we long for the eternal stifling of sin that has continued to cause billions of people to suffer since sin entered into the world in the Garden of Eden.
We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom 8:23 RSV)
Even without the devastating effects of sin that people perpetrate on others, there are still the dreaded consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin. Death, decay, and everything wearing out are some of the results (Rom 8:20). We all die. Things rot. Even the sun will wear out someday. Our death may be a result of our own sinful lifestyle or someone else’s sin. For most people, it is disease or simply getting old. Even though we are saved from the eternal consequences of sin through Jesus Christ, we will die unless Jesus comes back first. So we long for the day that our dead bodies or the ones that are still alive will be tuned into immortal bodies. We will be in heaven with Jesus and death will never happen again. Death’s final defeat will be accomplished (1 Cor 15:50-57). We do not need to fear death, but until that day comes, we will long for Jesus’ appearing because it will signal the end of death forever.
So, where are you at in your spiritual journey? Are you longing for Jesus’ return or are you apprehensive? Do you trust that Jesus will work all things out now and when He returns or do you question His goodness and justice regarding such an event? What is clear is that He will return. There are so many references to it that they are hard to count. Jesus mentioned it in parables such as the one where the master entrusted servants with talents until his return (Matt 25:14-30). He spoke plainly about it in Matt 24:36-44. Paul taught often about it and reiterated his teaching in writing (1 Thess 5:1-2). Peter wrote often about the day of the Lord in Second Peter. So we should get used to the idea and learn to love His appearing.
After all, if we are looking forward to Jesus’ return, we will receive a crown of righteousness. What is that crown of righteousness?
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor 5:21 NASB)
When we believed and were transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, we received God’s own righteousness through Jesus. In one sense, we already have that crown if we are believers. However, Paul may have been giving us a subtle warning that if we are not looking forward to Jesus’ return, maybe we aren’t the believers we think we are and should test ourselves (2 Cor 13:5-6). I pray that you do not fail the test.

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