Not too far off, right?
How did ‘current events’ go from something we ignore in elementary school to an everyday apocalypse? Truly, it seems like every time we turned around over the last few years, we were getting more bad news. If it wasn’t wildfires, it was Kobe dying, or COVID, or lockdowns, or not being able to find toilet paper anywhere. I remember seeing toilet paper on Amazon for $200 for a 24-pack! That stressed me out something awful! I even started pricing bidets. (Did I just get too personal?)
THAT END TIMES FEELING
But now, the last couple of years are behind us, so things are a lot better, right?
Mmmm, maybe not.
The economy’s in the crapper, COVID is still hanging around, gas prices are at an all-time high, a painful war is going on in Ukraine, global warming keeps rearing its ugly head, and the Browns have still not won a Super Bowl.
It has an apocalyptic feel to it, doesn’t it?
The crazy thing is, if someone were to write a movie about the end of the world, no one would include all of this stuff because it would just be too unrealistic. And yet, here we are.
Now, for some of you, you’ve experienced your own set of hardships that are more personal, and it just exacerbates the feeling that the world is caving in on you. It feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. And it’s heavy. And it just keeps getting heavier and heavier every day, and you don’t know if it will ever let up.
Will it ever get better?
Is Jesus ever going to do something about it?
That’s the question we’re exploring today…sort of.
In Acts 17 we find Paul in a city called Thessalonica.
“As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.” (Acts 17:2-4)
As Paul frequently does, he leaves the city, but he doesn’t forget about the people there. A few months later, he writes a letter to the Thessalonians to clear up any confusion about Jesus’ return, and to encourage them to live godly lives.
“Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about people who have died so that you won’t mourn like others who don’t have any hope. Since we believe that Jesus died and rose, so we also believe that God will bring with him those who have died in Jesus. What we are saying is a message from the Lord: we who are alive and still around at the Lord’s coming definitely won’t go ahead of those who have died. This is because the Lord himself will come down from heaven with the signal of a shout by the head angel and a blast on God’s trumpet. First, those who are dead in Christ will rise. Then, we who are living and still around will be taken up together with them in the clouds to meet with the Lord in the air. That way we will always be with the Lord. So encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thess. 4:13-18)
When I was growing up, I spent my formative teen years in a church that focused on what we call end-times theology. What I mean by that is, a heavy emphasis on what’s going to happen at the end of time.
How will the world end?
When is Jesus coming back?
And the primary thrust of this particular theology was that the world was going to hell in a handbasket, and the only thing that could fix it is – cue Sunday school answer – Jesus!
The way Paul describes it is pretty attractive, right? The world is broken, so at some point, Jesus will return and we’ll just be snatched up into the air with him, leaving all of the ick of this world behind us.
It’s known in many circles as the Rapture.
Along with this teaching came a healthy dose of new math, people trying to look at all the signs of the times and coming up with interesting equations to figure out when we can expect Jesus to return. In fact, in 1988 I remember seeing a book/pamphlet thing for sale at our local Christian book store called 88 Reasons the Rapture Will Be In 1988.
I also remember seeing it marked down 75% in 1989.
This idea of the world getting worse and worse until Jesus returns to take us all away and save us is a pretty new idea. This idea was developed and popularized by a guy named John Nelson Darby, an Anglican churchman in the early 1800’s. He spoke about the world getting darker and more painful to the point that Jesus has to come and whisk us away.
John Darby’s message didn’t really take off in America right away because things were good in America. Religion was a priority and thriving, so people weren’t as receptive to the idea that things had to get bad in order for Jesus to return.
Circumstances changed in the beginning of the 20th century, however. We had a World War. We had a Great Depression. We had another World War. Suddenly things were not bubbles and unicorns.
And that’s when John Darby’s message took off.
Believers were now looking through a different set of lenses.
They were trying to interpret what was going on in the world and fit it into what they read in Scripture. So, when they experienced wars and natural disasters and other really bad stuff, they would think, “This is it! Jesus is coming!”
But then nothing would happen.
This would continue on and on, up through today, when people see the wars in our world and COVID and racial tension and dissension and think, “This is it! Jesus is coming!”
“How long will you forget me, Lord? Forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1)
When? Jesus, you say you love us. You say you care about what happens to us. So, it’s high time to put some words to your actions and prove it. Chop chop, Jesus!
THE WRONG QUESTION
We’re asking the ‘when?’ question but perhaps we should be asking the ‘how’ question.
Instead of asking, “When will you fix everything?” maybe we need to be asking, “What is MY purpose in the midst of this mess?” and “How am I to live in the meantime?”
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus shares a parable with the disciples. They had just come to him and asked him how they would know that the end was coming. He also goes on to tell them that, “…nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows.” (Matt. 24:36)
So if no one knows, what are we supposed to do?
Jesus tells a story (Matthew 25) of ten bridesmaids, five of whom were wise and five who were not. The five who were wise were prepared for the groom, even though they didn’t know when he was going to arrive. You see, they had oil for their lamps, while those who were foolish, were not prepared, didn’t have any oil. When the groom arrived, the five bridesmaids who were prepared were able to go in for the wedding celebration, and those who were not were left out. Jesus conclusion was, “Keep alert, because you don’t know the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25:13)
If you simply take 15 minutes every day to do a little cleaning, when you have a big gathering, someone coming over for dinner or a party or something, cleaning to get ready for it will not be a big deal. Why? Because you have been preparing all along.
What if, instead of asking, “When will you show up to fix everything?” we spent every day preparing for whenever the Lord decided to return? How would that change how we approach our lives?
“You don’t need us to write about loving your brothers and sisters because God has already taught you to love each other. In fact, you are doing loving deeds for all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. Now we encourage you, brothers and sisters, to do so even more.” (1 Thess. 4:9-10)
Paul says, sure, the Lord is going to come back some day. And here’s how we prepare for it…
To prepare for the Lord’s return, We love people well – all kinds of people. We love people we like. We love people we don’t like. We love people like us and very different from us. We love people who vote differently, who look different, who live in a different zip code. We love people who society says are simply unlovable. That’s how we are ready.
After Jesus has shared the story of the ten bridesmaids, he tells another parable, the parable of the sheep and the goats. In this parable, the Son of Man – Jesus – will separate the people in his kingdom as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. On one side he will put the sheep. These are the people who, for the sake of our conversation today, were ready, who were involved in loving people well in preparation for the Lord’s return. Jesus welcomes them because, “I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’ (Matt. 25:35-36)
Loving people well looks like alleviating suffering for someone else.
Maybe the key to alleviating suffering in our lives, instead of wishing that Jesus would come and make it all better for us, is bringing heaven to earth for someone else.
We pray, ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ And Jesus is saying to you and me, ‘That’s right. And you can be the one who makes that a reality in someone else’s life. You can be their heaven.’
There’s pain all around us. Relationship pain. Job pain. Physical pain. Mental pain. Emotional pain. There are countless stories around each of us that are culminating in the cry, “When are you going to do something about this, Jesus?” And Jesus is saying: “You. You are the answer to their prayer. You are the one who will stand in the gap for them. You will be the one who provides them the relief they so desire. You are going to bring heaven to earth for them.”
LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL!
Life is beautiful, too. God is a good and loving God and is constantly giving us good gifts.
“Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above. These gifts come down from the Father, the creator of the heavenly lights, in whose character there is no change at all.” (James 1:17)
Perhaps we need to adjust our focus to also see the blessings in our lives.
What if, instead of waiting and wishing for Jesus to make it all end, we focused on the things in our lives we wish would never end?
“In the world you have distress. But be encouraged! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)
You have distress. He has overcome. Both can be – and are – equally true.
We were never promised easy.
But we have been promised the presence of the One who has overcome.
And we have been promised love. And beauty. God makes beauty from ashes and brings heaven to earth.
Where is the beauty in your life?
Savor that beauty.
The bad stuff ain’t going away. But neither is the beauty.
Instead of waiting for the bad in our lives to go away, waiting for Jesus to make it different, let’s be the heaven and embrace the heaven Jesus has already brought into, and continues to bring into our lives.
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