Sermon 11-27-2022: “About that Day and Hour No One Knows”

Scripture: Matthew 24:36-44

On this First Sunday of Advent, I feel a little like “the Grinch who stole Christmas.” Like the Whos in Whoville, your Christmas decorations are out, your tree is trimmed, you’ve strung your Christmas lights, you’re singing Christmas songs. And if the presents aren’t yet wrapped and put under the tree, you’re at least well on your way… You are in the midst of buying Christmas presents. 

And here I am, like the Grinch, saying, “Oh, no you don’t! There will be no celebration of Christmas today!” 

In fact, I am going to preach on what is seemingly the most “un-Christmasy” topic imaginable: the Second Coming of Christ.

“Why are you being a Grinch, Pastor Brent?”

I promise I’m not! Along with many preachers around the world this morning, I am simply preaching on the scripture that coincides with the First Sunday of Advent. 

“Advent,” you may recall, simply means “coming.” And the Advent season is a season that prepares us, spiritually, to celebrate the first advent—or the first coming—of Christ into the world… And part of this preparation for the first advent is to remind us of the second advent, otherwise known as the Second Coming of Christ.

So that’s why I’m talking about the Second Coming and Jesus’ words in today’s scripture. And I want to do so by making three points. First, I want to clear up some confusion about the doctrine of the Second Coming. Second, I want to talk about the danger of complacency. Third, I want to talk about the reason for confidence.

Confusion, complacency, confidence… That’s what this sermon is about. 

But first, let’s clear up some confusion…

Verse 36: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” That day and hour, of course,refers to the Second Coming. 

But here’s a good question: Why doesn’t Jesus himself know when the Second Coming will take place? Don’t we believe that Jesus is God in the flesh? Don’t we believe that Jesus is both fully human and fully God

Yes we do believe that!

So how does God not know everything?

And the answer is this: When God the Son, Jesus Christ, took on human flesh and became incarnate, the Bible says in Philippians 2 that he “emptied himself,” he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.”1 In other words, he volunteered to become just like us, except without sin; he never sinned; he never failed to obey his heavenly Father perfectly. But except for not sinning, he was just like us, with all the human limitations that we have. 

That’s why, by the way, one popular Christmas carol gets it wrong, in my opinion, when it says, “The little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.” 

Wait, what? 

Why would the little Lord Jesus not cry? He became a baby, after all… just like any other baby. There’s nothing sinful about crying, is there? Of course not! When Jesus was lying in the manger, he was not faking it; he wasn’t pretending to be a baby. He really was a baby! 

And the gospel of Luke gives us even more insight into this, in chapter 2, verse 52: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” Jesus, even though he was fully God, “increased in wisdom.” How? Because God, the Second Person of the Trinity, voluntarily took on the limitations of being fully human—he subjected himself to all the limitations of being one of us. One of those limitations was that he had to learn and grow just like the rest of us!

Now, there is much mystery here, and I can’t begin to answer all questions concerning how Jesus can be fully God and fully human. But there are times in the gospels when Jesus knows things a mere human shouldn’t know—he often knows exactly what people are often thinking, for instance; he often knows what will happen in the future; but there are also times when Jesus doesn’t know the future—for example, in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he prays that his Father would “take this cup from me, if possible”; he clearly doesn’t know whether or not that’s going to happen. 

How do we explain this? According to one Bible scholar, “One possibility is that Jesus regularly lived on the basis of his human knowledge but could at any time call to mind anything from his infinite knowledge.” 2 So when his Father didn’t want him to know—for instance, whether or not he would have to endure the cross or when the Second Coming would happen—he submitted to his Father’s will not to know.

Again, there’s a lot of mystery here. What’s important is that Jesus Christ voluntarily chose to take on the limitations of being human. And one of those limitations was knowing the time of the Second Coming.

And here’s another confusing thing: We Christians keep thinking that we’re supposed to be able to predict when the Second Coming will happen… And this is completely wrong!

Let’s notice verses 37 and 38: Jesus compares the time of his Second Coming to the time of Noah: “For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark.” 

What were “those days before the flood” like?

If you have your Bibles, and you should, turn with me to Genesis chapter 6, verse 5, and see: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Wow! That sounds really bad, morally speaking. It sounds like the sinfulness of humanity couldn’t be worse than it was! It sounds like the scope of evil and wickedness was unprecedented. And of course this is why God sent the flood in the first place. 

So… before Christ returns, it’s going to a lot like that… except… 

Notice that this aspect of life before the Flood—the conspicuous evil, the spectacular sinfulness, the unprecedented wickedness—isn’t at all what Jesus chooses to emphasize about those days before the Flood. No, what Jesus chooses to emphasize is how completely normal life was. In so many ways, Jesus says, life went on as usual. People were doing perfectly good and normal things—like eating and drinking, marrying and being married… And then… suddenly… without warning… It all comes to an end. Just like that.

It wasn’t completely without warning, of course.

When I was a kid there was a science fiction TV show called Space: 1999, which wasn’t set far enough in the future, obviously, since nothing that it predicted in the year 1999 came true. But be that as it may, I had a Space: 1999 storybook record in which people from the future go back in time to the time of Noah. He’s building the ark. And Noah’s neighbors are laughing at him and ridiculing him for building this ark when there isn’t a cloud in the sky… when there’s no sign of imminent danger. Meanwhile, Noah is preaching to the people, warning them to repent and get on board the ark while they still had time.

I was surprised to learn, years later, when I actually read the Bible story itself, that there’s no indication of what Noah’s neighbors thought of this ark he was building. There’s no dialogue recorded between Noah and his neighbors. There’s no description of an attempt by Noah to invite people outside of his immediate family to join him on the ark.

But the apostle Peter, in 2 Peter 2:5, refers to Noah as a “a preacher of righteousness,” 3 so he probably was warning people to repent and turn to God while they still had time.

Plus, the Bible implies that it took Noah decades to build this ark: surely most people who saw it wondered what on earth he was doing… and they probably asked him about it. And surely many, many people thought he was crazy and ridiculed him—just like my Space: 1999 storybook record imagined. They ridiculed him because everything seemed perfectly normal.

And just think: as incomprehensible as the destructive flood must have seemed to people in Noah’s day, so the Second Coming of Christ must seem to many people in our day… especially since—for the last 2,000 years—Christians sometimes think they’re “smarter than Jesus” and try to predict when Jesus is going to return.

I shared this last year but it bears repeating: 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!

You have to admit that it takes a lot of nerve for Christians to contradict the direct teaching of Jesus and say, “Well, Jesus himself said he didn’t know when the Second Coming was going to happen, and he told us that it would be completely unexpected. But… I know something Jesus didn’t know. I know better than Jesus… I know for sure that Jesus is going to return at this particular time!”

And when Christians do stuff like this, it just makes the Second Coming seem unreal… unbelievable… like science fiction—like Space: 1999, for instance.

In today’s scripture, Jesus emphasizes that we simply will not be able to predict when he will return. So how about we not try, okay?

What Jesus wants for us Christians is not to know when it’s going to happen; he wants us to be ready for it when it does happen. And what prevents us from being ready?

In a word… complacency.

And this is Point Number Two: the danger of complacency.

Because there will be so many other things to distract us and take our mind off of God and his kingdom…

Just as in the days of Noah… people will be “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage…” We can update it for the time in which we live: People will be getting jobs and sitting in traffic and going to work; paying bills and paying mortgages and paying off debt and worrying about how to make ends meet; graduating high school and going to college or vocational school or joining the service; celebrating holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas; raising kids and changing diapers and going to children’s birthday parties and going on play dates; watching the news and doom-scrolling on our smartphones and arguing politics; watching the World Cup and college football rivalry games and arguing about who deserves to be in the playoffs; falling in love, going out with friends, enjoying hobbies.

Immediately before the Second Coming of Christ, life will seem perfectly normal for most people in the world.

Of course, Jesus has already warned us elsewhere of signs of the Second Coming, including increased persecution of Christians. He’s warned us of large segments the church abandoning the faith, of increasing numbers of false messiahs and antichrists and false teachers, of increasing warfare

My point is, there are signs that will be fulfilled—signs that likely are being fulfilled right now, for all I know—Jesus is clear about that… 

But none of these signs changes this fact: For most people in most places in the world life will seem perfectly normal… or close enough… Not that there won’t be alarming things happening in the world, but life will seem normal enough that people will still be surprised when the Second Coming takes place.

And we Christians will be surprised, too! Verse 42: “you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” Verse 44: “for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” That “you” includes me and you. So, in case you’re tempted, don’t bother writing 23 Reasons Christ Will Return in 2023. You simply don’t know that! You can’t tell. You won’t expect it. While there is a lot of mystery about events associated with the Second Coming, on this point, Jesus is perfectly clear: verse 42, “for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming,” and verse 44, “the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

And again, we will be surprised by the Second Coming in part because so much of our lives and world will seem perfectly normal. There will be no unusual crisis, no unusual threat, no conspicuous world event about which any of us will be able to say with certainty, “A-ha! Now Jesus is going to return! Now I’m going to publish my book, 23 Reasons Christ Will Return in 2023.

It’s not going to happen that way! “[Y]ou do not know on what day your Lord is coming… the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

When Jesus says, “Stay awake,” he’s not asking us, in other words, to live our lives in crisis modeuntil he returns. 

Which is a good thing, because it wouldn’t work anyway. 

Most of us in this room know from experience that living in “crisis mode” doesn’t work!

Because most of us remember the days, weeks, and months following 9/11. We remember how easy it was, for a little while at least, to be vigilant, to be on guard, against the threat of terrorist attack. All of us who were alive back then were in a heightened state of readiness… We were waiting for the other shoe to drop. We just knew that there was going to be another World Trade Center-like attack, or at least an attempt, and we were all ready, willing, and able to do our part to make sure it didn’t happen.

We even had color-coded days… I don’t remember what the “system” was—red, yellow, green, blue, purple… Beats me! But whatever the color was, it summarized how likely terrorists were to attack us. I’m not making that up. And we paid attention for a little while. We got rid of the color codes when it became clear that no one was paying attention any longer.

But one legacy of all that is that we still have to take off of our shoes when we go through airport security—which I absolutely hate, by the way. That one idiot tried to ignite a “shoe bomb” on that one transatlantic flight that one time, and we’ve having to take our shoes off ever since!

But for a while we didn’t mind these kinds of inconveniences: whatever we must do to be safe… to be ready… to be vigilant… to be alert…to be awake

But we simply couldn’t keep that up. We became complacent. When there doesn’t seem to be a threat, we always become complacent.

Which is why Jesus warns us that the biggest threat that we face, when it comes to being ready for the Second Coming, isn’t antichrists or false teachers; it isn’t persecutions, wars, or hostile nations or governments; it isn’t widespread apostasy or heresy or Christians abandoning the faith… Those things may threaten us, but none of them is our biggest threat.

No, Jesus tells us that the biggest threat that we face when it comes to being ready for the Second Coming is mundane, normal, ordinary, average, everyday living!

So the absolute most important question I can ask you is this: Do you know Jesus right now—evenin the midst of your mundane, normal, ordinary, average, everyday life? 

Is Jesus the most important part of your mundane, normal, ordinary, average, everyday life? 

Is Jesus the best part of your mundane, normal, ordinary, average, everyday life?

Our have we grown complacent? Have we put our Christian faith on the back burner? “Yes, one day,” we tell ourselves, “one day I’ll obey the Lord and start coming to church regularly—and meet Jesus where his people are gathered together in his name—but not now.” “One day I’ll make prayer a priority, but not now.” “One day I’ll make reading God’s Word a priority, but not now.” I’m reminded of something the 19th-century English preacher Charles Spurgeon said: “There is dust enough on some of your Bibles to write ‘damnation’ with your fingers.” 

That’s complacency!

Jesus warns of the same danger in the Parable of the Sower. Remember some of the seed is sown among thorns? The thorns prevents the plant from growing and thriving. Jesus says, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” 5

The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches… I’ve been there!

When I was 15, there was an older guy in our youth group named Brian Davis. Brian was a United Methodist. He later became an ordained elder in our conference, by the way, twenty years before I did. But Brian didn’t belong to the Baptist church of which I was a member. But he dated someone who was in my youth group, so he was around a lot. And he told me one time—after I led a Wednesday night Bible study… He told me, “Brent, have you considered that the Lord may be calling you to be a pastor?”

Well, I hadn’t considered it, but it seemed clear to me that he was!

I was so excited I went home to tell my parents. And far from sharing my excitement, they were angry! The first thing they said to me was, “Do you know how much money Bill Bullard makes?”—Bill was my church’s youth pastor. Their point was, “Not much”—he doesn’t make much money. “You can’t do this. You’d be wasting your life!”

And I argued with them, of course… I argued with them a lot back then—I was a teenager. But their fears about money and practical worldly concerns planted a seed of doubt in my heart… And for the next fifteen years I made college and career decisions based not on “seeking first God’s kingdom and his righteousness” but on becoming successful based on how the world defines success. And I was, in many ways, deeply unhappy. My faithfulness to God’s Word was being choked by the “cares of this world” and the “deceitfulness of riches.”

All the while I still professed to be a Christian. I went to church. I wasn’t experiencing any kind of crisis. To look at me, no one knew anything was wrong, spiritually speaking. Everything was fine.

Yet… if Christ had returned during that fifteen-year period, would I have been ready for him? Not at all!

With all this in mind, Jesus’ message to us isn’t,“Live in such a way that you won’t be surprised when I return.” It can’t be that! Jesus says we’re all going to be surprised.

No, instead, it’s as if Jesus is asking us, “When you are surprised by my return, will you be ready?”

Point Number Three: If you are ready for the Second Coming, you can live with confidence.

Because, please listen… The Jesus who will return in the Second Coming is the exact same Jesus who was resurrected and is alive today, who has revealed himself in the words of this amazing book, who speaks to us through the inspired words of its pages, who speaks to us through prayer, who is living within our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who meets us through the bread and wine of Holy Communion, who meets us when we gather for worship, who is present where even two or three are gathered together in his name…

The Jesus you know today is the exact same Jesus who is returning… If you know Jesus now you can be confident when he returns!

On the other hand, the inverse is also true… if you don’t know Jesus: the Jesus you don’t know today will be the Jesus who doesn’t know you when he returns at the Second Coming. If you don’t know Jesus, he will say of you, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” 6

My mother-in-law, Anna Lee, is in the final stage of Parkinson’s Disease. She has spent her entire life getting to know Jesus and making that her life’s top priority. 

I could be wrong, but it seems unlikely at this point that Christ will return in these short days or weeks before Anna Lee makes a transition not so much from life to death as from life to an even greater kind of life… in heaven with Jesus.

If Christ doesn’t return before that transition takes place, Anna Lee’s death may as well be the Second Coming… For her, it’s the same difference. Her last moment on this side of eternity will be her last moment before she meets Jesus face to face! 

And Anna Lee Blancato is not afraid of that moment! She is ready! She is confident! She is looking forward to it! And in moments of lucidity and clear-mindedness she can still tell you about it!

A month ago, while family was gathered around her bed, she told everyone, “I’m going to see Jesus. Are you going with me?… Are you?… Are you?”

I am ready… And I am confident… Because when I see Jesus, I’ll finally be meeting my best friend face to face. 

I would love for you to meet him too!

  1.  Philippians 2:7 ESV
  2.  ESV Study Bible, Personal Size (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 1875.
  3.  2 Peter 2:5
  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.  Matthew 13:22 ESV
  6.  Matthew 7:23

One thought on “Sermon 11-27-2022: “About that Day and Hour No One Knows””

  1. Good sermon. I agree that based on what Jesus says on the subject, no one can be certain exactly when the Lord is returning. The most we can do is see if the “signs” seem to be occurring or not. It is interesting to note that Jesus did both–says you won’t know the day or hour (as he did not at the time, which is indeed a puzzle), but says, “When you see the fig tree begin to blossom,” and also answers the disciples’ question about what will be the “sign” of his return. Of course, there is some debate over what part of what Jesus said related to 70 AD and what to the end of time (although certainly the 70 AD stuff related to “this generation” and some of the rest of what he said could not relate to that, as I believe you have noted earlier). And there is much debate over what exactly would be the fulfillment of the “signs” of his return in even the part clearly related to that. (I believe it is Paul who said, “The day of the Lord will be like a thief in the night,” but then also says, “But you are not in the darkness, that the day should take you as a thief.” Of course he could simply mean, “You will be ‘ready’ whereas the world won’t, not because you will be expecting it, but because you will always be ready regardless because you are living for God.”)

    Nonetheless, I still think there is some “warrant” for “following the news” and world events with “expectancy” to see if the “signs” are there. Hebrews says, “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, and the more so as you see the Day approaching.” And Peter says, “In the last days it will be like such and so.” Also, I believe there are some “more specific” prophecies that have to be fulfilled. The “man of sin” has to be “revealed,” per Thessalonians. If I am reading Paul correctly in Romans 11, there has to be a swing back to the Jews as to who primarily is being saved. It does not appear that at least these two have happened yet, so much as I would love it for the Lord to surprise me by returning while I am typing this, I am not expecting it. So, for better or for worse, I am watching and praying for what it looks to me like has to happen first. I think that is a valid thing to pray for. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!'” “Even so come, Lord Jesus!” And once I do see these things happen (assuming my understanding of the prophecies are right!), I will believe the Day is “drawing nigh”!

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