Sermon 11-28-2021: “Your Redemption is Drawing Near”

Scripture: Luke 21:25-36

Welcome to the first Sunday of Advent. The ancient church decreed at the Council of Nicaea in the year 325 that the first Sunday of Advent would always be the Sunday following Black Friday… Just kidding. But this Sunday does follow Black Friday, of course… So I have an unenviable task in front of me: While the rest of our culture rushes headlong into the monthlong Christmas shopping season, people like me are supposed to say, “Hold on! Not so fast! It’s not Christmas yet! It’s Advent… it’s a season of preparation for celebrating the coming of God’s Son into the world at Christmas… But we’re not there yet!” 

To make my task even more challenging, traditionally, on this First Sunday of Advent, we don’t even get to look at Elizabeth and Zechariah, much less Mary and Joseph, or the Wise Men, or King Herod, or the shepherds abiding in the field, or Simeon and Anna—those people are coming, of course. But on this first Sunday of Advent, preachers like me prepare you for celebrating the first coming of Christ by focusing on the Second Coming.

So… While I’m not oblivious to the fact that our culture has already started the Christmas season, I’m hoping that preaching these traditional Advent texts will help us celebrate Christmas more joyously when the time comes!

And I’d like to begin by asking you to travel back in time with me to the spring of 1985. I went with my family, and a group of Shriners, oddly enough… my dad was “Grand Poobah” of the Shriners back then… but we went to the British Isles. Let me share with you the two best parts of the trip: First, the principal of my high school excused me from having to make up any schoolwork that I missed for the two weeks that I was gone. That was the best part! But the second best part of the trip was this—and I’ve only come to appreciate how rare this was in recent years: But I saw the queen, Queen Elizabeth II, in person… She had already been queen for 32 years at the time, and here she is, still queen 36 years later! 

But Queen Elizabeth was as far away from me as those of you who are sitting in the first couple of pews are! She and the Queen Mother rode by, in horse-drawn carriage, on their way to Buckingham Palace. Whatever the reason, there wasn’t much notice: Our English tour guide was breathless with excitement as he announced the change to the day’s itinerary. But let me tell you what I liked best about this experience: Standing beside me was an elderly man. He was easily in his eighties. He was wearing his old army uniform… faded, for sure, but freshly pressed. The uniform was now too big for him on his shrunken frame. I imagine he was a veteran of World War One. 

But he stood there, at attention, saluting the queen as she passed by. There was a tear in his eye. 

And I think—I hope—the queen saw him, too. I feel confident she did. This man deserved to be seen by his queen! It was so… sweet. So moving!

And he had this look about him that said something like this: “I serve at your pleasure. I am here to do your will. Wherever you want me to go, I’ll go. Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do.”

This man was ready—on short notice—to meet his queen… to meet his sovereign.

And the first and most inescapable message of Jesus’ words in today’s scripture is this: Be like this man. Be prepared. Be ready… at a moment’s notice… to meet your Lord.

Let’s confess, first of all, that this is difficult. 

I think I can safely say that most of you—not all of you but most of you—can remember the terrorist attacks of 9/11, including the collapse of the two World Trade Center towers, the attack on the Pentagon, and the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in a field in Pennsylvania. If so, you remember that in the days, weeks, and months of its aftermath, we Americans were vigilant. We were watching and waiting for the other shoe to drop… Oh, gosh, almost literally. 

I just thought of the so-called “shoe bomber,” that guy on the flight from Britain to America, who tried to light an explosive built in to his shoe, before his fellow passengers wrestled him to the floor! Unless I’m mistaken, the legacy of that action is that we have to take our shoes off when we go through airport security! So “thanks for that!” you loser! Good grief! 

And you may also remember things like daily color codes, which told us what the “threat level” for a terrorist attack was on that particular day.

As our experience with 9/11 demonstrates, however, in the absence of another terrorist attack on our soil, it’s hard to maintain that kind of mindset.

And the Second Coming is at least a little bit like that, too. The single biggest challenge to believing in it, and being ready for it, is the fact that it hasn’t happened yet. And let’s face it: today’s scripture includes one of the most difficult verses in the whole Bible, verse 32: Speaking to his closest disciples, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.”

This generation will not pass away… And yet, it’s clear that that the generation to whom Jesus spoke these words did pass away. And there have been about 70 generations since then. And the Second Coming still hasn’t happened. 

So… Was Jesus wrong?

Skeptics and atheists and people who refuse to submit to the lordship of Christ like to think so… But not only them! One of my heroes in the faith, C.S. Lewis, thought so, too. Lewis said that Jesus was simply wrong in verse 32… but it’s O.K. that he was wrong, Lewis said, because when Jesus preaches this same sermon, for example, in Mark 13:32, he says that even the Son of God—at least when he became flesh and dwelt among us—even he didn’t know the day or the hour—only the Father knew.

But here’s the problem with Lewis’s rationalization: If Jesus was wrong, he was spectacularly wrong: He doesn’t just say, “It might happen in your lifetime,” or “It will probably happen,” or “It seems likely to happen.” He introduces his words by saying, “Truly I say to you.” In other words, “You can take what I’m about to say to the bank, because it’s going to happen. It’s a rock-solid guarantee.” Therefore it defies logic and sense that Jesus would say that and then turn right around and say, “But I really don’t know for sure if what I just said is true.” See what I mean?

No… Whatever Jesus was talking about when he said, “This generation will not pass away,” he clearly wasn’t talking about the Second Coming—because he said that his Father hadn’t revealed the time to him.

So what is Jesus talking about?

Well, if you go back to verse 5, near the beginning of this chapter, you see that Jesus begins this conversation with his disciples as they are admiring the Temple: “while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings”… So the context of Jesus’ words is that the disciples are remarking on how beautiful and impressive the Temple is.

That’s when Jesus says that—impressive as it is—the Temple is going to be completely destroyed: “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And his disciples ask, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?”

Notice their question is not, “When will the Second Coming take place,” but rather, when will these things take place—that is, the events leading up to the destruction of the Temple—and how will we know it’s about to happen? And so, in the verses preceding today’s text, verses 5 through 24, Jesus literally gives the disciples signs to look for regarding the destruction of the Temple. 

So I, along with most other commentators I’ve read, believe that the references to “these things” refer not to the Second Coming but to the destruction of the Temple, which took place in A.D. 70, which was between 37 and 40 years after Jesus spoke these words—so literally that generation didn’t pass away before the events took place.

And we know from history—from documented evidence—that the early Christians did heed Jesus’ warning about the destruction of the Temple and the siege of Jerusalem. They did see the signs, and they left the city before all this destruction took place.1

Maybe that seems clear enough… But look at verses 25 to 27. Because here, in these verses, Jesus switches gears and talks about the Second Coming. And his words about the fall of Jerusalem sort of blend together with his words about the Second Coming. Why does he do that? Because he’s speaking the same way that prophets in the Bible often speak. He’s saying that the events associated with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple are going to be a foreshadowing of the events related to the Second Coming. There was tribulation and suffering in the year 70, there will be greater tribulation and suffering before Christ returns. There were Christians falling away from the faith in the year 70; there will be more Christians falling away before Christ returns. 

In other words, what happens on a small scale before the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70 will happen on a large scale before the Second Coming.

While it seems like Jesus is mixing together the events associated with the fall of Jerusalem with the Second Coming, he is employing what Bible scholars call “prophetic foreshortening”2: It’s like looking at mountain peaks from a far distance: From a far distance they look like they’re close together, but when you get up close to the first mountain, you see that the next group of mountains might be separated by dozens or even hundreds of miles!

I hope that helps…

Still, you may wonder, doesn’t it seem like a long time has passed? Shouldn’t the Second Coming have happened by now—if it was going to happen at all?

By no means! In 2 Peter 3, the apostle writes that “scoffers will come in the last days” with their “sinful desires” and say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” Peter then compares these scoffers to people living in Noah’s day, who also didn’t believe the their world was going to come to an end. The Second Coming and final judgment are coming as surely as the flood came in Noah’s day—even when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky! Peter continues:

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness…3

If, from our Lord’s perspective, one day is as a thousand years, it hasn’t been a lot of time, has it? In fact, given that Christ spoke these words in the year A.D. 30, or thereabouts, it hasn’t even been two days, from the Lord’s perspective. We’re only in the second day.

But we face another obstacle when it comes to believing in the Second Coming. Literally every prediction of it in the history of the church has been proven wrong. 

Here’s my favorite example: back in 1988, a NASA engineer and Bible student named Edgar Whisenant published a book called 88 Reasons the Rapture Will Be in 1988.4 Instead of “rapture,” I would say Second Coming… but same difference. The book sold 4.5 million copies! Obviously, he was wrong. So—I kid you not—he revised it, and published an updated version in 1989, saying, “I was wrong about last year, but it’s definitely going to happen this year.” And then when it didn’t happen in 1989, he revised it again in 1993, saying, “Yes, I was wrong about 1988 and 1989, but it’s definitely happening in 1993. And then he revised it again in 1994, saying, “O.K., sure, I was wrong about 1988, 1989, and 1993, but it’s definitely happening this year!” 

I’m not making this up!

See, another important reason that the Second Coming often seems unreal to us is because there are always Christians out there making predictions about when it’s going to happen, and every prediction since Jesus spoke these words has been wrong! And let me go on record saying that the next prediction will also be wrong, too! Why? Because Jesus warns us earlier in Luke’s gospel that no one knows the day or hour… “the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”5

In fact, Jesus, Paul, and Peter each say that the Lord’s return will be like a ‘thief in the night’! 6

This image implies two important truths—and I confess that, for most of my life, when I contemplated the image of a “thief in the night,” I considered only one aspect of the image: that Jesus’ return will be unexpected. As Jesus says in Luke chapter 12, “But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into.”7

The Second Coming will be unexpected—at least for the vast majority of people living in the world. Many of us have security systems in our homes, not for the sake of people breaking in during broad daylight but in the middle of the night, when we’re fast asleep. So the alarms can go off and we can be alerted to the danger. So, when I’ve considered the “thief in the night” image in the past, I’ve always considered the “in the night” part more than the “thief” part. 

But that’s my problem… Let’s turn our attention now to the “thief” part: How and for whom will Jesus, in his Second Coming, be like a thief? 

He’ll be like a thief for those people who find their treasure in anything other than God and his kingdom and his glory; he’ll be like a thief for anyone who treasures earthly things above heavenly things; he’ll be like a thief for anyone who values temporal things above eternal things. He’ll be like a thief for the people that Jesus describes in verse 34—those who are “weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the cares of this life.” Why? Because everything in your life that isn’t of God, and of his Son Jesus; everything that isn’t of his kingdom; everything that isn’t for his glory—in the end—will be “destroyed by fire,” the apostle Peter says.8 It is passing away. Jesus says: “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”9

So the most important thing that we can do to be ready for the return of Jesus Christ is to do what our church’s mission statement says we must do: “We must learn to treasure Christ above all.” If we learn to do that, Christ will not return to us as a thief—because there’s nothing that he can take from us… there’s literally nothing we can lose… that will have any ultimate value. In fact, when Christ returns, we who are in Christ, we who have believed in him, we who have received his gift of eternal life, we who are adopted into his family and have become his beloved sons and daughters… we lose nothing; we gain everything!

So his Second Coming, for us, should not represent something to fear

On the contrary… the picture Jesus paints verse 28 is not a picture of fear, but of readiness, of confidence, of eagerness, of excitement: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Straighten up and raise your heads… Once again, I’m thinking of that old soldier I mentioned at the top of the sermon. He could straighten up and raise his head because this experience of seeing his sovereign queen was his great joy. It was the fulfillment of his dreams! It was what he longed to do!

And so it should be when we meet our Lord!

A few years ago, I was deeply moved by a 20-year-old young woman named Maggie, a friend of my daughter’s, who died after a long battle with cancer. Shortly before she died, as she lay unconscious in hospice care, her parents posted the following on their blog about their daughter’s imminent death:

And it is, after all, a transition. We’re walking her home as far as we’re allowed. Her faith is firm and secure. Her mansion is ready. Where would we be without the promises of God? Don’t find yourself on the brink of what the world would say is the worst thing to happen to a parent without a rock hard grip on the promises of His Word. Don’t. We know her healing is close. Closer than any treatment or surgery could ever bring her. Her healing will be complete. Her future secure.

Amen! 

Don’t find yourself on the brink of what the world would say is the worst thing to happen to a parent without a rock hard grip on the promises of His Word. Don’t.

And that’s the same message that emerges from Jesus’ words in today’s scripture. Look at verse 34 again: The danger, Jesus says, is that that “day will come upon you suddenly like a trap.”

This is a point similar to the one that Solomon in Ecclesiastes makes, as well, in Ecclesiastes 9:12: “For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.” Now first please notice Solomon isn’t talking about the Second Coming falling suddenly upon us—and ensnaring us and trapping us. He’s talking about death doing that to us.

And I point this out because at least in one sense, whether Christ returns in our lifetimes or not—and he might—but whether he does or not should make little difference in how we live. Why? Because our own death may be exactly as unexpected as the Second Coming! And if we die before the Lord returns, that may as well be the Second Coming… because it is literally the last opportunity that any of us will have to be ready for it… to be ready to meet our Lord Jesus… to be ready to face God in final judgment.

Will we be ready? Or, as Jesus warns us, will that day come upon us “like a trap”?

Listen… my own father, the Shriner whom I mentioned earlier, lived most of his life indifferent to and actively resisting the Lordship of Jesus Christ. And he greeted the news of my conversion to Christianity with hostility. I’m not exaggerating. My parents met with my youth minister at the time. “We’re worried about Brent. We’re worried he’s becoming a fanatic. He’s reading his Bible all the time, he’s inviting his friends to church, he’s here every time the church doors are open. Can’t you do something to calm him down?”

And Bill Bullard, my youth minister, did do something. He took me aside and said, “Don’t change a thing! I’m proud of you!”

But Dad got cancer. It was killing him and during that last year of life—praise God—he not only got cancer, he got ready… Now he was the one reading scripture and praying all the time, he was the one telling others about Jesus, he was the one talking about his faith.

And I hope you don’t misunderstandwhat I’m about to say… the fact that people get cancer and die is a symptom of living in a sinful and fallen world. The fact that cancer exists is evil. But for my father cancer was a gift. Sure, I lost Dad at a young age, and it hurt; I was only 25. But if I hadn’t lost him then, he would likely be dead by now. And where would he be if he hadn’t repented and gotten ready to meet his Lord Jesus?

I am going to see my father again… in heaven… but not only that: after the Second Coming, the Bible says that my father will get a new body—there will be no feeding tube in his stomach, no IVs in his arms; he will be completely healed and completely whole, with a resurrected body that will never suffer disease or death again. And I get to look forward to that when the Second Coming happens!

We have this time right now to get ready. And we may not get a year facing the sobering reality of death the way my father did! We may only have this time…

We are living—in this time between Advents, in this time between Christ’s first coming and his Second Coming… we are living in a season of God’s mercy on the world. God is graciously giving us this time right now—and we no guarantees of any further time… God is giving us this time right now to repent… that is, to lay down all of our earthly treasure and lay hold of this eternal treasure that we find only in Jesus Christ!

In Acts 20:26-27, as Paul reviews his pastoral ministry in Ephesus, he tells the Ephesians, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”

He’s “innocent of the blood of all”—meaning, Paul has done all he can to tell his people how they can be ready to meet their Lord Jesus, either at the Second Coming or their deaths; they’re blood will not be on Paul’s hands.

Please appreciate that as your pastor, as difficult as this message may be, that’s what I’m doing: “I’m declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”

Don’t find yourself on the brink of what the world would say is the worst thing to happen to us without a rock hard grip on the promises of His Word. Don’t.

  1. William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 468.
  2. Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), 149.
  3. 2 Peter 3:8-10 ESV
  4. It was actually called 88 Reasons the Rapture Will Be in 1988. Same difference, except I’m not getting into Rapture theology in this sermon. I don’t believe that the Rapture is faithful to our best understanding of Christian eschatology, and it would introduce more complexity than I have time for!
  5. Luke 12:40 ESV
  6. 1 Thessalonians 5:2
  7. Luke 12:39 ESV
  8. 2 Peter 3:10
  9. Luke 12:33-34 ESV

2 thoughts on “Sermon 11-28-2021: “Your Redemption is Drawing Near””

Leave a Reply