Media Illustration: For once, it was great to have one of these stories turn out right. On a Wednesday evening, March 12, 2003, Salt Lake City, Utah, there were TV cameras and microphones and lights and happy people to celebrate the homecoming. After being missing for nine months—kidnapped and certainly feared dead—15-year-old Elizabeth Smart was safely home at last. Her parents, Ed and Lois, could hardly believe their incredibly good fortune. Back on June 5, the year before, at 2:00 a.m., a man had forced open a window, broken in, and taken the teenaged girl, wearing just her red pajamas. And for the next nine agonizing months all the family could do was watch, pray, wait, and hope. They put their trust in the Salt Lake City police and in John Walsh’s TV program, America’s Most Wanted. Now, these many terrifying months later, when two randomly passing couples—Rudy and Nancy Montoya, and Anita and Alvin Dickerson—spotted the missing girl with abductor Brian Mitchell and called the police, the moment of dreams finally came.
Second Coming: This takes us to the wonderful day when Jesus comes again, and reunions like that one will just be happening everywhere. Kidnapped victims will be restored to their families. Sick children will be well. In cemeteries all around the world, someone who was seemingly taken beyond your reach forever will miraculously be there again. You’ll see them, touch them, feel them, hug and kiss them, cry for joy, and most of all, fall down on your knees and praise the mighty name of Jesus . . . as the Smart family continues to do every single day, I’m sure.
An Unknown Poet described the Second Coming as “Christmas morning for ever and ever,” and I daresay we can’t improve on that.
Matthew 24, the “Second Coming Chapter”: Jesus gives a warning that too many of us have ignored, forgotten, misinterpreted, reinvented, dissected away, or just plain tried to beat. Verse 36: “NO ONE knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
A Humble Denomination: We don’t have to try to be humble, because our own Adventist earnestly but unwisely swept right past this clear teaching back in 1843 and then again in 1844. “No man knows the date,” Jesus warns, but good Christians from that feverish era went right ahead and set a date . . . twice. Twice they were wrong. Twice they were disappointed. Twice many of them were disillusioned. And those looking on from the sidelines were amused, gleeful, and spiritually cynical.
Two Goals: Here in this 21st century, we need to prayerfully do two things all the time. First of all, remember this warning. “No one knows about that day or hour.” Because God’s followers continue to set dates, continue to predict, continue to stubbornly do math and dissect prophecy and try to narrow down what God said could not be solved. There are dates and timelines all over the Internet, as people try to construct a “millennial year framework” to show that Planet Earth is about to enter into a seventh thousand-year era of peace.
Review Editorial: Author Chris Blake recently had one simple plea. “Never again,” he wrote. “Please, everyone, never again. Let’s never again have the arrogance to defy what our Savior and Lord told us. No one knows the day or the hour. No one knows! No one CAN know. No one can solve it. Because God isn’t telling.”
Writer and pastor Leith Samuel: “If there is one thing certain about the timing of the Lord’s return it is this, that we CANNOT be certain of the timing.” “You know perfectly well that no one knows. It is inevitable, but unpredictable.”
Ready All the Time: All through these New Testament warnings, Jesus teaches His friends the spiritual lesson of constant readiness. Of mature faithfulness in the sunshine and in the shadows. If people really did know the day and the hour, what kind of Christianity would that lead to?
1. It leads to hysteria.
2. It results in arrogance and persecution.
3. It fosters the ever-present tendency to wait and “catch the last trolley out,” an expression Morris Venden coined and put on a book cover.
Goal #2: God is looking for faithful servants who will humbly take the assigned five talents, or the two, or the one, and then just keep on working for the Master. When signs look hopeful and when they don’t. When the glad reunion day might be tomorrow or 1,000 years from tomorrow.
Tyndale New Testament Commentary by R. T. France: “Endurance is a prominent apocalyptic theme. When the majority ‘cool off,’ only those who endure will be saved, i.e. only they will enjoy the blessings of the new age. . . . It is possible to prepare for the parousia, not by calculating the date, but by a life of constant readiness and response to God’s warnings and introductions. There will apparently be only two categories, the prepared (and therefore saved) and the unprepared (and therefore lost.)”
Faithfully Waiting Parents: Think of the moment when Elizabeth Smart finally walked into the embrace of Mom and Dad. Those parents never once gave up. Did they know a date when their child would be with them again? No, they didn’t. They didn’t know if or when the case would break open, and the one crucial tip, that hotline call, would finally pay off. But these Bible-believing parents did know, with all the certainty that God’s Word provides, that there would come a day! There would be a moment when they would have Elizabeth back. They would either get her back because of brave citizens and diligent police officers, or because Jesus Christ is a diligent and courageous Redeemer who comes in the clouds. They couldn’t set a date, they couldn’t mark a calendar; all they could do was to watch and pray. And trust and abide.
Discipleship: This is discipleship: to “abide till He comes,” in calm expectation. We keep one eye on the sky, and the other on our needy neighbor. We continue to plant our field, go to church, love our neighbor, care for our environment, pray and work for peace. And even though we realize we don’t know the hour, we know there IS going to be an hour. Elizabeth Smart and all the other orphans taken away by Lucifer WILL come back home.
John Stott, the powerful evangelical writer, calmly puts it this way: “It is just as mature to say ‘I don’t know,’ as it is to say ‘I know,’ provided we say it about the right things.”
Thief in the Night? In Matthew 24:43 Jesus likens His own return to the coming of a thief in the night. Not that Jesus is in any way like a thief, or that His coming will be secret and surreptitious like a thief. Many of us twist that metaphor in the wrong direction. When He comes, every eye will see Him. But it will be unexpected like a thief in the night. When He does come, it will not be a date that anyone successfully posted on a web site. Because no man knows the day or the hour. R. T. France wisely observes: “The Son of man, like the burglar, does not advertise the time of his arrival. The only precaution, therefore, is constant readiness. In view of such plain statements as this it is astonishing that some Christians can still attempt to work out the date of the parousia.”
Conclusion: We need to be a glad part of the great body of expectant believers. We don’t set a date, but we certainly look forward to it. Just like the Smart family, our confidence doesn’t waver. We know Jesus is going to do it; He’s going to come back and get us.
H. M. S. Richards: “He said He’d come! Christ will not leave us. Forgotten on a hostile shore. Through all our exile and our waiting, His promise holds—to come once more. He will return! With flash of glory, With shout on shout of risen men, With thunder anthem of the heavens—He’ll keep His word to come again.”
Submitted by David B. Smith. Better Sermons © 2005-2008. Click here for usage guidelines.