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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:To Give Eternal Salvation, Jesus Comes Again
Text:LD 19 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's return
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-08-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 9:1,4,6                                                                                       

Ps 27:1,2  [Nicene Creed]

Reading – Luke 21:5-38; 2 Peter 3:1-13

Ps 75:1,2,3,4  

Sermon – Lord’s Day 19

Hy 70:1,2,3,4

Hy 67:1,2,6,7

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, to you what does it mean to be saved? That’s a question to discuss or reflect later today. What does it mean to be saved? Being saved is about having comfort during the troubles of life. Being saved is about freedom from guilt and shame. Being saved is having the amazing gift of God’s forgiveness in Christ.

That’s all true. Yet we’re looking at just one small corner of the big picture. We see some of what’s on that beautiful canvas, but not everything. This is because we’re human, limited in comprehension, and we can’t see or grasp all of what’s revealed in God’s Word. For that reason, we sometimes think of God’s gift of salvation only in terms of this life: comfort, hope, freedom, forgiveness. As we said, all this is true. Yet salvation is more than a present peace. Salvation is eternal. Salvation is forever.

Again, it’s very hard for us to think of eternity, to imagine times without end. That’s because everything we know eventually comes to a finish: our relationships, our earthly work, our pleasures, our sorrows—it all ends. Even our own span of life is sharply limited. As Moses says in Psalm 90:10, “The length of our days is seventy years—or eighty, if we have the strength.” When you’re young, seventy or eighty sounds terribly old! But it’s really not very long, just “a watch that passes in the night.” Yes, all we know comes to an end.

But God says that his salvation is forever. Salvation isn’t a candy that keeps us distracted during all our present pain. Rather, right now we’re getting just a foretaste of salvation, while we get to enjoy its fullness forever. In this light, let’s look at Q&A 52 of the Catechism about the return of Christ. This is our theme,

To give us eternal salvation, Jesus will come again:

  1. his awesome appearance
  2. his just judgment
  3. his pardoned people

 

1) his awesome appearance: When Jesus ascended into heaven, his disciples were anxious. Their trusted Lord was leaving them on their own! But the disciples had another cause for fear, one which made Jesus’ absence even more fearful. The fear was this: Jesus had promised them that, before He returned, there was going to be great suffering for his people.

When you read the four Gospels, you see that Jesus had explained this hard news to his disciples on a few separate occasions. Clearly, He didn’t want them to forget it. Before the end comes, the followers of Christ are going to see a world in upheaval, and they are going to experience much oppression.

There will be false prophets and false christs. There will be wars and revolutions. There will be “great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven” (Luke 21:11). Somewhere else, Jesus describes this as “birth pangs.” That’s an interesting expression, because what our birth pangs? They’re painful contractions—intensely painful, I’ve been told—convulsions that announce a coming arrival.

In those days, there will be “wars and commotions,” says Jesus. Not many of us have had to live through a war, but it’s a time of great uncertainty, and danger, and hardship. “These things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately” (Luke 21:9). Notice that: “the end will not come immediately.” Before his return, there is going to be a slow build-up, one that will foreshadow the grand event yet to come.

Until Christ’s great day, troubles will continue without fail. And be certain of this, that the followers of Christ won’t get a free pass! On the contrary, we’ll even be specifically targeted for our confession of Jesus. “They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake” (Luke 21:12).

I once heard it said that Jesus gave two kinds of promises during his ministry. One type of promise was basically this: “I promise I will always be with you.” And the other type is the one we hear in Luke 21, “I promise that you are going to suffer for my name.” It’s the sort of thing we wish Jesus had not said! For He assures us that persecution will come against the church. There will be intense trials for God’s people, tribulations that result in pain and death.

Yet this is God’s way. For persecution has a few important results. One is this: persecution serves to separate the wheat from the chaff. If a person is not so serious about serving Christ, if a person just confesses him out of convenience, or because of family pressure—they won’t stand when the time of testing comes. Persecution—like all suffering—squeezes us, and what’s inside us comes out!

And those who endure persecution gain new strength. Because they realize that the gospel is all they really have, they deepen their insights into its glory and truth. In persecution, God’s people enjoy a closer connection to Christ, who says He’ll even give us the words to speak in the midst of trials. Through persecution, the church will be made stronger, purified in the fire, prepared for the last day. “Not a hair of your head shall be lost” (Luke 21:18).

What about the rest of humanity? What about those who deny the faith, or who persecute the church, or who are simply indifferent? Jesus says their terror will only increase as the end draws closer: “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth” (Luke 21:25-26).

Such things have to take place before the final day. These are the things that are taking place, and have always been taking place, ever since our Lord ascended into heaven. The signs of the end have rarely been hard to see. There have always been false prophets and false christs. There have always been wars and uprisings. There have always been famines and earthquakes, just as there has always been persecution against God’s people.

For as long as the church has been waiting for Christ, she’s noticed the signs of his approach. The signals and indicators have been there, not to discourage us, not to make us afraid, but give the church the full assurance that Christ really is coming back. He said all this would happen, and so it is!

And as our Lord said, many people have fear and perplexity about what is happening. If you listen carefully, you can hear a undertone of terror. They might speak with confidence about the progress that the world is making, pride in what has been accomplished. Yet not far beneath the surface, there is anxiety. Will we be able to live on this earth 100 years from now, after all the global warming? Will Russia or China push us all into another world war?

We’ve also seen it in the crisis around the coronavirus. Jesus spoke about “pestilences” or “plagues,” and so they have often come onto the world. As the latest virus has spread and taken hold, and the death toll rises, and some of the fabric of civilized society seems to wear thin, there’s a growing unease. What is next? When will it ever end?

And as God’s children, let’s acknowledge that we’ve been scared and anxious too. We don’t float above this world’s trouble, pretending that none of this affects us. Jesus says his people will be right in the midst of it. But praise God, for He gives us a sure hope! In the midst of “wars and commotions… famines and pestilence,” if a person doesn’t know the promises of Christ, how can they make sense of it all? So we need to hold onto the Lord’s promises too, and live by faith in his name alone.

Then, suddenly, when no one is expecting it—though the signs are there for everyone to see—our Lord will return. Says Christ, “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27). At last He’ll arrive. And how will everyone respond?

John tells us in Revelation 1. He describes Christ’s return like this: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him” (Rev 1:7). All unbelievers will mourn, because they’ll see the crucified and risen Lord, yet it will be too late. They will mourn, because now it all makes sense—yet they’ve missed their chance.

But for believers in Christ, his awesome appearance is no cause for fear. Says Jesus, “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28). “Lift up your heads”—in the Bible, that’s often the posture of a person who is living in hope and expectation: “I will lift up my eyes to the hills: Where does my help come from? (Ps 121:1).

The same phrase is found in the Catechism. It asks, “What comfort is it to you that Christ will come to judge the living and the dead?” And we answer, “In all my sorrow and persecution I lift up my head and eagerly await as judge from heaven the very same person who before has submitted himself to the judgment of God for my sake” (Q&A 52).

Christ will appear, the same man who laid down his life for us, the one who has been praying for us all these years. Only this time, He’ll come as Judge. He’ll be the awesome Judge, because God has entrusted to him all authority in heaven and on earth.

And Christ will be the Judge, because the question of that final day will be this: How have people received Christ? During their short time on this earth, did they believe in him? When life was good, and when life was difficult, did we trust and obey Christ? This core question alone will determine whether we mourn on the last day, or rejoice. What have we thought of the Christ? Did we know him? If so, the Judge will say, “And I know you. Enter the Kingdom of my Father!”

 

2) his just judgment: On his great day, Christ will sit on his throne as judge. And before him must come all people who ever lived. Those who have died will first rise out of the earth. Their spirits will be united again with their bodies, but now they will be completely perfect. As for those who are still alive when Christ returns, they will be suddenly changed in body and soul, from mortal to immortal.

With bodies prepared for eternity, all people will come before the Judge. The Bible says we shall be summoned with the archangel’s call and with the sound of the trumpet of God. This is a call to assemble. No one can plug their ears, no one can call in sick. All must appear.

And then, Revelation 20:12 says, “I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened.” Such a simple way to put it: “books were opened”—almost sounds like what happens on library day at the primary school. But this is the weightiest moment in world history. For these are the books of God, vast volumes on the heavenly bookshelf, in which He has recorded what every single person has said and thought and done—and also what they have not done. It’s written in the books!

It doesn’t mean that God needs help remembering details. Rather, these books make clear that nothing will be forgotten. We know that every offense against God’s majesty—every last one—is inscribed to be read. With the books opened before Christ, Revelation says, “The dead [will be] judged according to their works, by the things which were written” (20:12).

Now, someone might ask, “But isn’t it by grace that we are saved? Why then, will Christ judge us “according to our works?” No one could ever survive such a judgment! But remember that on that day, two kinds of people will be judged.

First, there are those who did not believe in God and his Son. Standing before Christ, all their evil deeds will be exposed. Page after page after page of transgressions, sins in thought, in word, and in deed. Almost more than can be counted. More convictions than could ever be read by a human judge.

In view of all those offenses, the deserved judgment will become abundantly clear. They must be condemned! Though they never cared much about their actions, now they will—for with their lives, they have rejected the true God, the Creator and Law-giver, and they’ve rejected one Mediator between God and men.

That will be a dark day for those who don’t believe. But it’ll be a glorious day for God. For through his judgment, God will receive all the glory for his perfect justice. People will finally be held accountable for all their attacks against God and the church. They will be held accountable for the crimes that were never punished in the life. They will be held accountable for the offenses that no human penalty could satisfy. Says the Catechism, “He will cast all his and my enemies into everlasting condemnation” (Q&A 52).

The second group of people, mixed in with that great crowd before the throne, are the true believers. And we too, will be judged by Christ. Our works too, will be laid out. Our sins too, all our failures, all our shameful deeds, will be exposed through the reading of the books. The pages and volumes will be piled high—a repository of sin, terabytes worth of data. For we too, have sinned against our God.

As the books are opened, our sinful deeds will be listed, one after the other. But here’s the difference with this accounting. It’s not done to accuse or embarrass us. It is done so that we understand the greatness of the gift of salvation in Christ! More than we could ever see in this life, on that day we’ll see what terrible sinners we were. We’ll see it with our own eyes, all the evidence: each bit of gossip, each day without prayer, each lustful glance, every cruel thought. It will all be there.

That’s surely troubling for us, because we all do things, presuming that no one will notice. We give in to temptation, because we think we can cover our tracks, and it’ll never come back to us. But Christ will judge with righteousness, leaving nothing unaccounted for. So indeed, thinking about that day might cause us to fear. We’ve got a lot to answer for!

But see how the Catechism asks the question, “What comfort is it to you that Christ will come to judge the living and the dead?” For those who trust in Jesus as Lord, the last day isn’t a day of terror—it’s a day of true relief and intense joy.

Because what are we waiting for? As we said, “[We] eagerly await as judge… the very same person who before has submitted himself to the judgment of God for my sake” (Q&A 52). On that day we come for judgment, we’ll know the one who’s in charge! The one sitting on the throne will be the same one who once was hanging on the cross, who has covered all our transgressions! We’ve seen the ugliness of our sin, but then also the beauty of God’s grace. For if we know Christ, every last sin will be blotted out with his blood!

In all this, our God receives the glory! He’ll receive all the praise, not only for his perfect justice, but also for his perfect mercy. Though we weren’t deserving, though we had earned only condemnation, God saw fit to freely pardon and to grant us eternal life.

Beloved, Scripture tells us that this day is just around the corner! The signs are all pointing in one direction—they’re pointing up, because we hear the approaching footsteps of Christ. This reality brings us steady comfort, but it should also cause us to redouble our efforts in repentance. Are we all ready for those books to be open and read?

Our Lord says that we should live in constant readiness. Even as the world trembles all around us, even as persecution gets worse, Christ calls us to faithfulness. Listen to the warning that Jesus gives us in Luke 21, “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly… Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man (vv 34,36).

Jesus knows we can become weighed down by all the things around us. We can become fascinated by this dying world and what it offers. He says there will be a lot of temptations that fill these last days, temptations that offer us a bit of escape from fear and trouble. He mentions “carousing and drunkenness,” and He could just as well mention many of the things that the world offers us, with its false promises of freedom, pleasure, and security. “Take heed to yourselves,” says Christ. Don’t go down with the sinking ship. Don’t let the day of Christ come on your unexpectedly. But watch and pray!

Peter says a similar thing in his second letter. Writing about the great upheaval at Christ’s return, he asks, “Since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be?” (3:11) And he answers: You ought to live “in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (vv 11-12).

 

3) his pardoned people: As we’ve said, the last day knows only two possible destinations. The unbelievers and wicked will be condemned. They will live eternally, but only to die forever, in the place where the fire never goes out. Yet those who have been made righteous in Christ will finally receive full redemption.

On the day of Christ, all our good deeds will receive their gracious reward. All of Satan’s accusations against the church will be dismissed. All the suffering and misery of this broken world will be ended. On that day, our pardon will be complete. In fact, it is complete already! Only on that day we’ll finally see just how awesome God’s forgiveness truly is: that in Christ we are perfect and righteous and holy.

If we’re looking forward to that day, let us live as the pardoned people of God. Already today, let us know that God, for the sake of his Son, holds nothing against us! Already today, in the midst of much fear and confusion, we stand with the victorious Christ! Consider all those pages of our transgressions—page after page, almost endless—and how every line will be erased and blotted out in the blood of Christ!

Such a salvation gives us every reason to live in unceasing thankfulness. What can we give to the God who gave everything for us? We present him our lives in humble gratitude. We give him our hearts with sincere adoration. We seek to do his will here on earth, and we want to hasten the great day of the Lord.

When Christ returns, the great picture of our salvation will be spread out before us in the greatness of its dimensions. It will be a beautiful portrait of the goodness and grace of our God. Yes, on that day, God promises that He will give such a glory, such as “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor mind conceived, the glory that God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9). That great day is almost here. Our eternal salvation is at hand. Let’s be ready for it!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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