Living in the Light of Jesus' Return

Bible Book: 1 John  3 : 1-3
Subject: Jesus, Return of; Rapture

1 John 2:28 - 3:3

28 – And now, dear children,continue in Him, so that when He appears we may be confident and unashamed before Him at His coming. 29 – If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of Him. 3:1 – See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. 2 – Dear friends,now we are children of God,and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him,for we shall see Him as He is. 3 – All who have this hope in Him purify themselves,just as He is pure.

Author Doug Mendenhall wrote the following brief parable that should make all of us pause and reflect a bit: “Jesus called me the other day to say He was passing through and [wondered if] He could stop by and spend a day or two with us. I said, ‘Sure! Love to see You Lord. When will You hit town?’ (I said sure because I mean, it’s Jesus, you know, and it’s not every day you get the chance to visit with Him. It’s not like it’s your in-laws and you have to stop and decide whether the advantages of their visit outweigh your having to move to the sleeper sofa.)

That’s when Jesus told me He was nearby—at a convenience store out by the interstate. I must have gotten that Bambi-in-the-headlights look, because my wife hissed, ‘What is it? What’s wrong? Who is that?’ So I covered the receiver and told her Jesus was going to arrive in eight minutes, and she ran out of the room and started giving guidance to the kids—in that effective way that marine drill instructors give guidance to recruits. My mind was already racing with what needed to be done in the next eight—no seven—minutes now—so Jesus wouldn’t think we were reprobate loser slobs. I turned off the TV in the den, which was blaring some weird scary movie I’d been half watching. But I could still hear screams from our bedroom, so I turned off the reality show it was tuned to. Plus, I turned off the kids’ set out on the sun porch, because I didn’t want to have to explain Jon & Kate Plus Eight re-runs to Jesus either—six minutes from now. My wife had already thinned out the magazines that had been accumulating on the coffee table. She put Christianity Today on top for a good first impression. Five minutes to go. I looked out the front window, but the yard actually looked great thanks to my long, hard work, so I let it go. What could I improve in four minutes anyway? I did notice the mail had come, so I ran out to grab it. Mostly it was Netflix envelopes and a bunch of catalogs tied into recent purchases, so I stuffed it all back in the box thinking Jesus doesn’t need to get the wrong idea—three minutes from now—about how much on-line shopping we do. I ran back in and picked up a bunch of shoes left by the door and tried to stuff them in the front closet, but it was overflowing with heavy coats and work coats and snow coats and pretty coats and raincoats and extra coats. We live in the South; why’d we buy so many coats? I squeezed the shoes in with two minutes to go. I plumped up sofa pillows, my wife tossed dishes into the sink, I scolded the kids, and she shooed the dog. With one minute left I realized something important: Getting ready for a visit from Jesus is not an eight-minute job. Then the doorbell rang.”

I see more than a few grins out there—because we can relate can’t we?! A sudden visit by Jesus would lead us ALL to do some last minute hurried and harried cleaning up. Of course this will never happen because whereas the Bible tells us that Jesus IS going to pay each of us an unexpected visit—we won’t have EIGHT MINUTES to get ready—we won’t even have EIGHT SECONDS to try and get our THOUGHTS in order. No—the Bible says that Jesus’ return will be in an instant. 1st Corinthians 15:52 says that His appearing will happen, “…in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye.” That Greek word for “moment” is “atmos,” from which we get our word, “atom.” It’s an indivisible moment of time, quicker than the batting of an eye. It’s the length of time it takes for light to flash—TWINKLE—across the eye. So there won’t be time to clean and straighten up our lives. No—Jesus’ return will be too SUDDEN for that kind of thing.

Now—Christians are not in agreement as to the DETAILS of Jesus’ return—when it will happen in reference to other end-times events—but all evangelicals DO agree that it WILL happen. And that’s a good thing because the fact that Jesus will return is written in the Bible over and over and over and over and over again—and that’s not an exaggeration. I could keep “over-and-over-againing” for quite some time because the return of Christ is mentioned 1,845 times in the Old Testament and 318 times in the New Testament. That’s 2163 times! Let me put it another way. For every verse in the Bible that talks about Jesus’ FIRST coming, there are EIGHT verses that describe His second.

Perhaps the fact that it is mentioned so many times is what has made some people down through the years obsessed with figuring out the DATE of Jesus’ return—-in spite of the fact that the Bible also tells us this information is basically none of our business. Remember? In Acts 1:7 Jesus told His first disciples, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power.” Then basically He said, “All you need to know is that people need to hear the Gospel.” And then He commissioned them for that work and promised that His Spirit would come upon them empowering them for that task. But, as I said, down through the years people have still tried to predict exactly when Jesus’ second coming would happen.

Let me give you a quote: “The last days are upon us. Weigh carefully the times. Look for Him Who is above all time, eternal and invisible.” That statement was not made by a modern prophecy expert. It did not come from one of today’s religious TV channels. No—it was made by a Christian named Ignatius, who lived in 110 AD, just a few decades after 1st John was written.In the year 236 AD a church leader named Hippolytus predicted that Christ was sure to return by 500 AD. Here’s another quote: “There is no doubt that the Antichrist has already been born. Firmly established in his early years, he will, after reaching maturity, achieve supreme power.” That statement wasn’t found on some Internet prophecy site. It was written by a Christian leader named Martin living in 375 AD. The years between 999 and 1030 AD were characterized by excessive speculation about Christ’s second coming, so much so that farmers didn’t plant crops for the next year, buildings weren’t repaired, and the details of daily life were neglected because they thought Christ would return in their lifetime. In the 1500’s the Protestant reformer Martin Luther said, “We have reached the time of the white horse of the Apocalypse. This world will not last any longer than another hundred years.” Christopher Columbus said he was sure the world would end by 1656. The year 1666 saw an explosion in end time speculation, so much so that one pastor wrote in his journal that every time a storm hit people would go to church to await Christ’s second coming. In the 1800s a Christian named William Miller said, “I am fully convinced that somewhere between March 21st, 1843 and March 21st, 1844 Christ will come.” When Miller’s date came and went, hundreds of people walked away from the Christian faith, no doubt thinking, that if their pastor was wrong about that, what else was he wrong about?In our own generation, many modern day prophecy experts guessed that 1981 would mark the rapture of the church and the beginning of the terrible 7 year tribulation period that would culminate in the battle of Armageddon. As the end of the twentieth century and Y2K loomed dozens of prophecy experts on Christian TV, radio and in books made new predictions about the Lord’s return.Christian historian Richard Kyle sums this all up with a word of cautions—saying, “Through two thousand years of history millions of sincere, devout, and knowledgeable people have seen the end as [about to happen in their own lifetimes]. But they have all been wrong.”

Now—while we are not to try and PREDICT when Jesus will return—we ARE to be EAGER for that day to dawn—and I for one AM eager.One reason I feel this way is because of all I read about the persecution that Christians around the world are enduring right now.I yearn for Jesus to come quickly, so the horrors our brothers and sisters are facing will end. I encourage you to join me in praying for believers around the world who are suffering and dying because of their faith in Jesus. We must be mindful of the fact that more Christians are being persecuted today than in any other time in history.But I also look forward to that glorious day when things like disease and death and separations and sorrow will be no more—that day when we’ll all be together again in the Eternal Home Jesus is even now preparing for us.

And—with that glorious day in mind, I urge each of you to get more serious about sharing your faith. Remember, as Jesus warned, “The night is coming when no man can work.”Our time to share the Gospel is limited. The number of days we have to prepare for eternity get fewer and fewer with every passing sunrise. The fact is when it comes to Jesus’ return we aren’t on the PLANNING committee—but we are on the RECEPTION committee and we have a lot of work to do in that area!

The point I’m getting at is that we must strive to ALWAYS be ready for Jesus to come back. You see, I believe the Bible teaches we are to live lives that are built around Jesus’ future return. Our activities are to always have an eternal perspective. The question I want us to deal with this morning is how does living this way—how does constantly focusing on the day Jesus returns help us in our Christian walk today? How does knowing He could come back at any moment benefit us even if you and I die before that happens?

In my study this week I came across a message by Tim Peck that suggests three excellent answers to this important question. I want to build our study today around those answers.

I. We Learn to Live Confidently

First, Peck says that focusing on Jesus’ return helps us learn to live CONFIDENTLY.

Look at verse 28 where John says: “And now, dear children,continue in Him, so that when He appears we may be CONFIDENT and UNASHAMED before Him at His coming.” This verse tells us that John is not following in the foolish footsteps of so many others. I mean, he’s not speculating on a FUTURE date. No—John is focused on the PRESENT—he is focused on how we live our day to day lives. And he says the way to do this is by “continuing in Him.” Now—I want you to understand that this word “continue” or “remain” is a key word for John. He used it five times in last week’s sermon text alone. It means to “abide” or to “persevere”—to “persist” in something. More specifically, it is a word that describes a deep and intimate RELATIONSHIP between an individual and Jesus, a depth of relationship that causes a person to continue STRIVING to live in ways that please Jesus—even when the one who is CONTINUING faces difficulties and problems.

John is saying that knowing Jesus’ return is going to happen—and will happen suddenly, unexpectedly—well, it should motivate us to “continue” on with Christ all the time. It should compel us to keep deepening our relationship with Him—a relationship that empowers us to obey Him more faithfully. And—continuing to live in this OBEDIENT way day to day gives us this genuine CONFIDENCE at the prospect of His imminent return. Of course, to be “confident” like this means having nothing to fear. Even the sudden GLORIOUS appearing of Jesus does not scare the CONFIDENT Christian.

And—this leads me to point out ANOTHER WORD John uses in our text—the word: “unashamed.” It means we have nothing to hide. Those who don’t ABIDE in Jesus—don’t obey Him—will NOT be confident or fearless. No—they will be ASHAMED at Jesus’ appearing—disgraced by being caught doing things they are not supposed to be doing. But those who CONTINUE with Christ will have nothing to hide when Jesus appears for the second time. When they see Him they won’t shrink back in shame or hang their head with regret.

Of course there is no such thing as a perfect Christian. John’s not using this word to suggest a believer be absolutely sinless at Jesus’ sudden appearing. No—we’ll all have sin to be aware of on that day—but the more we continue to abide with Jesus the less we will have to be ashamed of. The closer we walk with Him the more eager we will be for Him to come back. With that in mind let me ask: which words best describe you best right now as you consider the imminent return of Jesus: confident or ashamed—terrified or eager?

Listen, I know that it’s very easy to get sidetracked in our Christian walk. We start out strong—maybe when we’re younger and filled with the zeal that comes from youthful idealism, but as we follow Christ through the years. Sometimes things don’t turn out the way we thought they would.

Life gets hard because life IS hard. There’s the constant pressure of unpaid bills, changing diapers, difficult bosses, and the OTHER regular stuff that comes with ordinary life as a fallen being living in a fallen world.These kinds of things can distract us from the event that John describes here. The struggles of living in this world make us think that THIS WORLD is all there is. We get sort of a “tunnel vision” and forget that Jesus IS coming back. And when we take our eyes off of that fact we soon find ourselves stalled spiritually, side tracked in our culture, no longer striving to remain close to Jesus.Then, before we know it our behavior goes south and we are not in the position to stand before Christ confident and unashamed. So God uses these 2163 references in His Word to Jesus’ return—verses like these in John’s letter to call us to stop and look up, to raise our eyes from today’s circumstances and to look beyond the horizon to that point when Christ will come again. You see, that look—that memory—that realization—-motivates us to get back to ABIDING in Jesus—get back to striving to obey Him—please Him.This not only gives us confidence in the fact of Jesus’ second coming but in the face of death itself.I mean, however our lives on this world end—we’ll be able to stand before God confident and unashamed. But without that focus we are liable to get distracted and sidetracked.

Like many of you, I enjoyed following the U.S. Soccer team these past couple of weeks as they competed in the World Cup finals in Brazil. You may remember that in their second game against Portugal, they were winning 2-1 with only 30 seconds remaining. Things were looking great! Their lead scorer Clint Dempsey even subbed out after scoring the goal that had given them the lead. A win seemed all but certain and would have secured their passage to the next round. However, the US defenders, tasting victory, seemed to let up slightly in the final seconds, allowing two Portuguese players to slip by them and score an astounding goal in the final seconds, which tied the game and left the US team and fans stunned. It was a stark reminder of the importance of playing hard right to the end, and not losing focus on the end-goal.

Well, many times we as Christians lose our focus when it comes to the truth of Jesus’ promised and certain return. We forget that He could come back at any moment—forget that our lives could come to an end without any warning. And if we don’t change our focus from this fleeting world to the next ETERNAL world—if we don’t get back on track and continue to deepen our walk with Jesus, like the US Soccer team we will be just as stunned and ashamed when the end comes. We must be like Paul who said, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3) Let me put it this way. We should always KEEP THE SON IN OUR EYES. We should live every moment as if Jesus could come in the next. This focus motivates us to live obediently so we will be CONFIDENT and not afraid when He returns to take us HOME.

This leads to a second way focusing the second coming can help us.

II. We See Ourselves Accurately

John also says the return of Jesus helps us SEE ourselves ACCURATELY.

Look at verse one of chapter 3 where John writes, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” Now—I think the translators of the New International Version miss the force of the original Greek here, because verse 1 actually starts out with a strong word of COMMAND—the word: “Behold!” John is ordering us to stop—to pause long enough to reflect on the incredible love God has shown to us. He invites us to BEHOLD it, to gaze at it, to meditate on it, to try and see it for how amazing that love really is. In fact, every other time this word “behold” is used in the Bible it refers to something you can actually SEE.That’s how vivid and graphic God’s love is to John and he wants it to be the same for us. He wants us to stop and strive to VISUALIZE God’s love because when we do that—when we BEHOLD it, we begin to grasp its true CALIBER.I mean, we’re not talking about a human kind of love here. No—this is the infinite love of our infinite God. And this infinite love has been LAVISHED on us—poured out GENEROUSLY—SEEN in the fact that God loves us enough to call us His children.

In his book Screwtape Letters, Screwtape, the senior demon who is instructing his younger, inexperienced understudy, Wormwood, in the art of guiding a human being into Hell—Screwtape warns his pupil that his task is all the more difficult because the “Enemy” (God) “…has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into sons.” Of course that’s exactly what God has done. By sending Jesus God has claimed us as His children!

In the ancient world a child would officially become the son or daughter of the father when the father “named” him or “called” him, and that’s the same word translated “called” here. Through our faith in Jesus Christ, God the Father looks at us and “names” or “calls” us His children, welcoming us into His family. Peck writes, “When I was about 9 years old, my adoptive father ‘called’ me ‘Tim Peck,’ and at that moment I ceased to be Tim BROWN and became Tim PECK.” John is reminding us that something like that happens when we decide to become Christians. In that moment we become, SON’S AND DAUGHTERS OF GOD Himself. Our identity as His children is our TRUEST SELF. As Christians that’s who we are! I want to point out two problems here. First, we forget this fact such that we tend to define ourselves by how physically attractive we are, by how much money we make, or by the size of our office or by how popular we are. Listen, if you’ve come to faith in Jesus Christ, more fundamental than your identity as a spouse or a parent, as a worker or a student, or a church member or an American citizen is our identity as God’s sons and daughters. For the Christian this is indeed our truest self. Well, this first problem leads to a second. I mean, the fact that we forget who we TRULY are leads us to embrace sinful thoughts and behaviors, attitudes and actions such that we don’t always look or act like God’s children. In this kind of behavior we lose our resemblance to our Father. I’m reminded of the story that is told about Charlie Chaplin entering a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest and coming in third place. Well, if there were a “God look-alike contest” many Christians wouldn’t even place. I mean, sadly our behavior makes people very doubtful about our Heavenly parentage. And John says one thing that can help us recover the memory of our truest self and begin to behave like God’s children is to remember that Jesus is coming back remember that one day—and it could be TODAY—one day our elder brother is coming to take us home.

Speaking of memory—I’m reminded of a parable that Max Lucado wrote a few years back about three brothers who disobey their father by going too close to a raging river. They fall in and are washed many miles downstream far from the beautiful castle that is their home. When they are finally able to pull themselves out of the swiftly flowing current they find themselves in a strange country—a country full of savagery and sin. After months in this fallen country turn into years the brothers stop going against the flow in that they begin to act more like their culture than their Creator—and when that happens one by one they begin to forget who they are. Then a day suddenly dawns when their elder, OBEDIENT brother comes to take them back to their father, comes to take them home. Lucado’s story illustrates why it’s so important that we never forget that Jesus is coming back because the HOPE of that coming event reminds us that we are adopted sons of the Almighty God Himself. It reminds us of who we are—WHOSE we are—which reminds us how we are to live. We are to live as children of THE KING!

E. V. Hill, once hired a young girl to be his secretary. He did not know who she was other than her name. One day one of his friends came by and said, “Do you know who your secretary is?” Hill responded, “Of course, her name is Natalie Cole.” The friend said, “But pastor, do you know who Natalie Cole is?” Hill said, “Of course. She’s a very nice young lady who works very well here at the church and we pay her $2 an hour.” The friend said, “No—that’s Nat King Cole’s daughter—THE Nat King Cole.” Hill was stunned. He asked Natalie to come into his office and asked her if she was indeed Nat King Cole’s daughter. “Yes,” she said. “Why didn’t you tell me?” asked Hill. She said, “I didn’t know it was required. I just wanted a job. My daddy left me something but I haven’t come into it yet. It won’t be mine until I’m 21.”

That is the way it is with all of us who are Christians. We are children of the King, but we have not yet come into our full inheritance. It’s ours now, but we won’t come into it until we get to Heaven and finally get to our REAL home—our ETERNAL home. The promise of Jesus’ return reminds us of this truth and this leads me to point out something I have already alluded to… one final way Peck says focusing on this future event can help us.

III. We are Motivated to Conduct our lives Rightly

He says it motivates us to CONDUCT our lives RIGHTLY.

Look at verse 3: “All who have this hope in Him purify themselves,just as He is pure.” John is saying that since we know we are God’s children—and that one day our Elder Brother is coming to take us home—that knowledge should motivate us to live Godly lives. Warren Wiersbe puts it like this: “An unbeliever who sins is a creature sinning against his Creator. A Christian who sins is a child sinning against his Father.The unbeliever sins against law; the believer sins against love.”

This week I came across the story of a group of teens who were enjoying a party. Someone suggested that they move the party to a local bar where alcohol was plentiful and where the bartender was known NOT to check ID’s. One of the teens said, “I’m going to head home instead. My parents don’t approve of that kind of thing.” One of her friends said sarcastically, “Afraid your father will hurt you? The young lady replied, “No—but I am afraid that I might hurt him.”

Listen! A true child of God—someone who has experienced the love of God—has no desire to go against that love. Knowing that He loves us enough to claim us as His children—knowing the price He paid for our forgiveness—knowing Jesus is coming back some day—all that should transform our lives. In John’s words, it ought to make us to strive to “purify” ourselves. I mean, in the same way we clean ourselves up before going on a date—as we look forward to meeting Christ who’s fully pure—we’ll want to get rid of our character defects. We will want to turn from lust and gossip. We will want to turn from getting—and focus on giving. We will want to share the Gospel—the message of God’s great love—every chance we get. We’ll want to get involved in our church and its ministry. In short, the knowledge of the second coming will change our lives, causing us to want to conduct our lives rightly.

As I said earlier, no Christian on this side of eternity ever becomes perfectly pure. But John reminds us that because Jesus is coming back, perfect purity is our DESTINY. Look at verse 2 of chapter 3 where he says, “Dear friends,now we are children of God,and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him,for we shall see Him as He is.”John’s point is that if we are to BE like Christ in Heaven, then we must strive to ACT like Christ now. The imminent return of Jesus should be an incentive to ask Jesus to help us live with purity in the present. As 2nd Corinthians 7:1 says, “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence before God.”

Let me put it this way. The hope of Christ’s coming doesn’t just encourage us to hang in there; it actually changes us—helps sanctify us—helping shape us into who we will be. Let me illustrate what I mean by leading you to look back to when Prince Harry of Great Britain was in the news during the war in Afghanistan. Harry and his older brother, William, are of course the sons of Prince Charles and Lady Diana and grandsons of Queen Elizabeth. As such, they could one day sit on the throne of Great Britain. Well, from the day they were born, that possibility—that destiny—has shaped them. Every aspect of their lives—their schooling, their friendships, their family life, their hobbies, their military service—has been shaped by the possibility of becoming king someday. And you may remember that’s why Harry was in the news during the war. He was pulled from the front lines in Afghanistan when it became too risky to leave him in harm’s way. He was pulled because he had a destiny to fulfill. You see, when you call someone a “prince,” you’re not just describing who they are TODAY, but who they could be SOMEDAY. In the same way, when the Bible calls you a child of God, it’s not just a declaration of who you ARE, but of who you are BECOMING, and who you one day WILL BE, in Christ. John says that knowledge, that destiny, “purifies us,” It shapes us. It compels us to live every day of our lives in anticipation of the day when we shall be like Him and reign with Him.

So—how does focusing on the return of Jesus SOMEDAY help us TODAY? As Peck puts it, “Not by setting dates for the rapture or making predictions about a new world order or by trying to pin the tail on the Antichrist.” No—focusing on the second coming of Christ helps motivate us to continue confidently, view ourselves accurately and conduct our lives rightly. This is how the return of Jesus is relevant to our lives today regardless of whether He comes again next week or in another hundred years.