Jesus’ second coming

Confidence! (Philippians 1:1-11)

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What are you confident in? What are you relying on when it comes to faith and the continuation of that faith? Life is filled with unexpected complexity and challenge – so what anchors you and your faith?

Paul prayed for these Philippian believers, thanking God with great joy and certainty for their faith because he had great confidence that was anchored in God alone.

The early converts of this church were a successful businesswoman, a redeemed fortune teller & a converted jailer (see Acts 16 for the full story of this churches inception). This diverse bunch of newly saved ones must have faced many challenges to their faith. Challenges that came from both from within & from outside the church. 

To this group of believers in Jesus Paul could write;

“I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (vs6)

He wasn’t there to hold their hands! But he was confident that they would make genuine progress in spiritual growth. So what was Paul’s confidence anchored in?

1. That salvation is a work of God

No doubt Lydia, the Slave-girl & the Jailer could all remember the day that they put their faith in Jesus. But this is not Paul’s confidence; it is not that they ‘really’ believed. His confidence is that God started it all! Acts 16:14 says of Lydia’s salvation moment; “the LORD opened her heart”. God was at the bottom of it all as Charles Spurgeon said;

One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me; How did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind in a moment—I should not have sought him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. 

How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so?  Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all and that he was the Author of my faith, and so the doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, “I ascribe my change wholly to God.” — Charles Spurgeon 

Friend, your faith is sure and secure only if God is at the bottom of it all.   

2. God will bring what He started to completion.

‘So my faith had a good start, but will I be able to keep it going?’ – I hear you wondering.  

Friend, Philippians 1:6 says that not only was God the originator of your faith in Him, more than that it is God Himself who will bring to completion what He started in you.

God doesn’t do half-jobs. God doesn’t get distracted or dejected because of slow progress. The writer to the Hebrews says it like this; “Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:25 in NIV).

It would make no sense; it would not honour Jesus’ life, death & resurrection in our place for our sin for God to start and not bring to fullness our salvation. Friend, God is supremely invested in, God is behind not just the origination of your faith but the sustenance and progress of your faith. For some more verses on this theme check out: 1 Corinthians 1:8-9 & 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 & Colossians 1:21-22.

3. The Outcome and the Day are Guaranteed

There is a timeline when this completion will be fully realised. It is not today or tomorrow or in 1years time, but it is on THE DAY of Jesus Christ – the day Jesus returns in glory. 

Sometimes spiritual progress in our own lives or in the lives of those we love or lead can feel like three steps forward and two backwards! Don’t despair, don’t give in during the long dark nights when you feel like you have to hold on to what faith you still have.

There is a day coming. And you can be confident that God who inaugurated your faith will bring it to complete fullness by the time of the return of Jesus Christ. That day on which you will see Him face to face, and you will be transformed & raised in glory (1 Corinthians 15:42-43 & 51-55).

If you have believed in Jesus, you can know with absolute certainty that you have believed because God is at work within your life, and you can rest assured that what God has started in you He Himself will continue until it is fully complete at the Day of Jesus Christ. Be secure, be full of praise and thanks!

The Day of Jesus’ Return (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10)

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Writing to believers enduring persecution for their faith and wanting to encourage and fortify them the apostle Paul lifts their gaze to the future horizon – the great Day of Jesus Christ’s return.

Right thinking or understanding about the impending return of Jesus will help one to know how to live today and tomorrow. A biblical and eternal perspective focusses us on what’s truly important and fortifies us in the present realities which might be hard.

‘God considers it just to repay…’

Have you ever questioned the revealed will of God or the revelation of God’s ways in Scripture? I am astounded how commonplace this is these days. People read something in Scripture only to then react with statements like;

  • ‘Well I’m not happy with that!’ or
    ‘I don’t think that’s fair/right/loving.’
  • And yet Scripture never apologizes for God, never tries to defend God. Here in our passage, it says that;

“God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven.”(1 Thessalonians 1:6-7)

A passage like this calls one to decide whether or not Scripture has authority over our thoughts and questions over our preferences.

Someone once said to me; “Well my Jesus would never…” To speak like this is tantamount to making your own god (idol).  But then the god you made is not the God of Scripture!

God considers it just to repay evil for the evil done to His beloved children and therefore, it is just.

Are you wrongfully accused or mistreated in some way? God will repay that person. You don’t have to try to take revenge or fight back or defend yourself; God will do it, He will repay that person for their wrong.

And when will this happen? At the Day of Jesus’ second coming. You might not see the wrong being righted in your lifetime, but you can know God will vindicate you.

Only Two Groups of People

It is human nature to want to belong to a group of people to identify with others. The world is full of a myriad of tiny groups of people who all hold on to their differentiated sense of identities.

And yet according to our passage, on the Day that King Jesus returns there will only be two distinct groups of people;

  1. Those who did know God, who did obey and accept the Gospel about Jesus
    And those who did not
  2. On that Day, all other identities will be worthless & irrelevant. All that will matter is whether or not you believed the good news about Jesus Christ or not prior to that Day’s sudden arrival.

Two different experiences

And depending on whether you believed in Jesus and knew Him as your Saviour and LORD or not, there will be two very different experiences on that Day and into eternity.

  1. You will be in the great crowd of ‘saints’ (vs10) to whom God will grant relief from their suffering (vs7) and who will glorify Jesus as they marvel at His majesty (vs10).
  2. Or you will experience the judgement and the vengeance of God (vs8) and ‘suffer the punishment of eternal destruction’ being shut out from the presence of God forever (vs9) – terrifyingly bad news.

Who would not want to be in the first group? And who would not do everything in their power to urge all those they know and love to do the same by believing in Jesus Christ?

Death & Hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

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“We don’t like to think about death; yet, worldwide, 3 people die every second, 180 every minute, and nearly 11 000 every hour…As human beings, we have a terminal disease called mortality. The current death rate is 100%” – (R.Alcorn)

Many cultures in the world shun speaking about death for superstitious reasons. However, it is ludicrous to think that we can avoid thinking our mortality since it is both personally inevitable and also impossible to avoid since people die every day and in time, people close to us will die.

Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, death has been the normal experience of all of humankind; however, that doesn’t make it natural! Death is unnatural since God created Adam and Eve for eternal life in the Garden. And because it is unnatural, we wrestle with this horrible intrusion into our human experience which tears beloved people apart and brings great sadness and loneliness.

 We need to talk more about death, not less. Not talking about death is non-sensical. No one would approach a monumental moment or an epic life-changing trip to an unknown place without some thoughts of preparation. It is normal for travellers to do some fact-finding and engage in discussions with others to find out more about the experiences they are about to have when planning a trip. We all have a date with death. It’s a date we can’t change, can’t be late or early for and one that we cannot change or reschedule! Therefore, surely it is normal to talk about death with others, to ask our questions and to find the answers in Scripture.

Because Paul’s time in Thessalonica was rushed & was brought to a premature end as he had to leave for his safety. It seems as though he hadn’t managed to get to teach the new believers at Thessalonica about death and what will happen when we die. So when some of their congregation died, they naturally had questions about what happens to those who die. And so now as we read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 we get to listen in as Paul assures them by teaching them what will happen when we die as believers.

1. Don’t be uninformed about those who have died are ‘asleep’ (vs13)

Being naive about life and death and eternal life is very unwise. It will leave you either unprepared or unnecessarily worried about things you don’t need to be concerned about. Those who have died are in a state of waiting what theologians sometimes call the ‘intermediate state’ a transition between this life & eternal life. Here, Paul describes them as being ‘asleep’ waiting for a new dawn, the day when Jesus will return in glory.

2. We don’t grieve as others do, who have no hope (vs13)

Because of what we know (which will be expanded on in the verses that follow), we do not grieve in the same way as those who have no hope because they have not believed in Jesus. What we know gives us peace and hope both for ourselves and for those we love. Note, however, how Paul does not say; ‘don’t grieve’! We do grieve as believers. We grieve because death is a terrible, unnatural, intrusion in our lives and relationships. Death is our enemy that Jesus came to destroy and overcome, but that victory will be only fully realised at Jesus’ second coming. So in this life, we do grieve, we suffer the pain of separation, but we do so with that pain limited by hope!

3. Our hope is rooted in our belief that Jesus died and rose again (vs14)

Jesus rose again victorious from the dead, and so we know that we too will rise with Him (Romans 6:4). As Rick Warren said; “Death is therefore not your termination, but your transition into eternity.” Famously DL Moody supposedly said; “Soon you will read in the newspaper that I am dead. Don’t believe it for a moment. I will be more alive than ever before.” And as PJ Smyth says; “Do you best death – all you do is promote us!” This is why we do not grieve as those with no hope do.

4. The Great Reunion! (vs14-17a)

We know that at his glorious second coming Jesus is going to bring with Him all those believers who had fallen asleep before that moment. They will rise from their state of sleep and will meet with us in the air with Christ! What a day, what a reunion! I am sitting writing this in an airport. I love airports and watching some people both crying and as they hug good-bye, aching for the moment they will be reunited and then also others crying with the joy of home-comings, reunions of loved one. Imagine for a moment all the married couples being reunited, parents and children, best friends. Can you hear the excited chatter? Can you feel the relief and the intensity of the hugs, can you see the Father’s joy?

5. Together Forever (vs17b-18)

Paul goes on to complete this thought with the words; “and so we will always be with the Lord”. This reunion of believers never ends; the joy will never subside or be replaced by a new sadness. This is the era of unhindered & unending proximity to Jesus and one another. The best you’ve ever experienced of the joy of relationships in this life is the worst you could imagine in the new heaven and the new earth because even best things are tainted by sin in some way or end through our mortality. The best is yet to come! So, encourage one another with these words (vs18), speak about our glorious future and allow that certain future to shape today.  

Lastly, maybe contemplating these things will also cause you to have the courage to reach out to someone who doesn’t yet believe in Jesus Christ so that they could be with you in eternity – share your life with them, share the good news of Christ with them, bring them to church.

“It ought to be the business of every day to prepare for our final day” (Matthew Henry)

Employment issues… (Colossians 3:22-4:1)

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Although there is no time here to extensively address the issue of why it might on a superficial reading of Colossians 3:18-4:1 appear as if Scripture were condoning the slavery (as we understand it in the 21st century) let me make some brief comment before we get to applying this passage to our lives.

Yesterday’s devotion made it clear that the foundation for these imperatives for godly living was that Jesus is now our Lord, our King and this is what His kingdom ought to be like. Does that mean then that slavery is endorsed as part of Jesus’ kingdom?

No. As the ESV translators have said in the preface to their translation; “A particular difficulty is presented when words in biblical Hebrew and Greek refer to ancient practices and institutions that do not correspond directly to those in the modern world.”

Translators seek to translate the original words into the modern equivalent in English and yet sometimes that English word can contain (as does the word ‘slave’) modern meaning that is distracting from what the original meaning was to the original hearers.

Here in Colossians ‘bondservants’ (in the ESV translation) is the word used to translate the Greek word, ‘doulos’ (which can mean either slave, bondservant or servant). In the Roman Empire, a bondservant was someone who was officially bound under contract to serve his/her master for seven years, when the contract expired the person was freed.

Scripture instructs ‘bondservants’ (ESV) or ‘slaves’ (NIV) to ‘obey’ their earthly masters and to work hard, to work as if they are working not just for their earthly masters but for the Lord ultimately (see 3:22-25).

The question is how does this apply to the present day since employment practices have changed so dramatically? The most obvious ‘hermeneutic bridge’ to the present is surely the issue of employment and being an employee or an employer.

Employees have ‘masters’ or ‘bosses’ whom they are contracted to work for. And as Christ followers we are to be the most incredible employees (Colossians 3:22-25)! We are to work respectfully, to work harder than anyone else because in fact we are working for our ultimate Master – Jesus. We are therefore those who are looking not just for the reward of a salary but looking for His reward in eternity for how we worked.

In Colossians 4:1 the instruction turns to those who are called ‘master’ by others. These are the equivalent of employers in our day. And to such people the instruction is clear and bold. Masters are to treat those who work for them in a manner that gives dignity, honour, value & proper respect (see the general instruction in 1 Peter 2:17).

Christ followers who employ other people are to know that their King requires that their faith and their belonging to His kingdom must impact their treatment of others in all spheres of life. And so, those who employ others are to be just and to be fair in all their dealings with their employees. They are to pay fairly and justly, they are to be like their Master, Jesus is towards them.

Finally, they are to keep in mind that they will appear one day before their Master, Jesus and will give an account on that day for how they treated those who worked for them.

What we see in this section of Scripture is that Jesus’ kingdom rule impacts every sphere of life. Employees for whom Jesus is Lord become the best employees on the planet and employers likewise have their employment practices transformed by the Lordship of Jesus so that they become blessing to those who work for them. Nothing in life is untouched by our followership of Jesus.

So in closing; whether you work for someone or whether you employ anyone in any context, contemplate for a moment whether your attitude, your thinking and your treatment of others in those contexts is godly?

Are you treating others (employers or employees) as King Jesus wants you to?

What might need to change?

Sharp Contrast (John 3:16-36)

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The Gospel explained in three verses.  Verses 16, 18 & 36 of chapter 3 of John’s gospel present a full and clear picture of the Gospel hope that we have in Jesus and the desperate situation of those who reject Jesus.

‘For God so loved the world(vs16)

The good news Jesus introduces here is news that would have been radical to the Jewish hearer – that God so loved, not just Israel but the whole world.   God had foretold of this widening of His blessing to encompass the whole world when He covenanted to bless Abraham and that Abraham in turn would bless all the familes of the earth.  The prophets had prophesied about this too like when Zechariah prophesied about the future incarnation of Christ and the impact this would have on the nations not just Israel;

Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord.  And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. (Zechariah 2:10-11)

‘that whoever believes in Him(vs16)

The offer is as wide as can be, it is to anyone, to whosoever.  But the offer is not without condition.  The condition for all people, whoever they are, is that they must believe.  They must have faith in or put their trust in Jesus Christ, God’s Son.

‘should not perish but have eternal life(vs16)

The result of believing in Jesus is that the believer can be assured that they will not be die/perish or be destroyed in the judgement to come but will enter into perpetual/eternal/everlasting/forever life!

‘Whoever believes in Him is not condemned(vs18)

All those who believe in Jesus are not and will not be condemned.  They will not be judged or damned by God the righteous judge.

‘but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God’ (vs18)

In sharp contrast is the current and future position anyone is in who does not believe in Jesus.  There is no nuetral ground here.  Our post-modern pluralistic world likes to make space for and validate every perspective but that is not the teaching of Scripture.  As inclusive as the ‘whoever’ is positively in vs16, that same ‘whoever’ is now inclusive of all who do not believe.

All who do not believe are at this very moment condemned by God!  They are in the most dangerous position imaginable right now and will be into eternity if there is no change.  They will be damned by God because they rejected God’s only Son whom God lovingly sent to save them from their sinful condition and consequences.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.’ (vs36)

Re-iterating what He has already said, Jesus repeats the wide offer that anyone may believe in Him and that those who believe already have in this life entered into the eternal life only He can give us.   The Christ follower is not waiting for something that is only future but enters into real life now in this present age already.

However, again in sharp contrast whoever disbelieves/not believes/is disobedient/obeys not/is unbelieving will not experience this life that’s possible now or into eternity because their position is that the justifiable righeous indignation of the Holy One remains on them now and forever.

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All are invited to believe, all who believe will be forgiven and be given life eternal now and forevermore all because of Jesus’ life, death & resurrection, because of the love of Father God.  And yet not all will believe, and those who reject Jesus are right now in this present moment condemned already and have the wrath of God focussed on them.

May we who have already believed, tirelessly take this kind offer God’s made to ALL so that whoever believes will be forgiven, saved & will receive everlasting life now and forever.

Choose your focus (Mark 13)

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When it comes to questions regarding the end of the ages, the last days, the tribulation, judgement day & Jesus’ second coming – there are lots of questions and abounding interpretations.

Chapter 13 starts with one of the disciples remarking to Jesus how amazing the architecture of the temple in Jerusalem was. Maybe surprisingly to them Jesus replies prophesying about the imminent destruction of the temple (which happened in AD70) and launches into a discourse that teaches them regarding this imminent tribulation in Jerusalem & also instructs the disciples and us on the end times.

When we read sections like this in Scripture, may I suggest an approach. Focus on the imperatives – the crucial action items, the things we are urged to do.

Its a bit like driving in thick mist. Most years around this time of year when I and my family travel down to another part of the country at night, there is a section of the trip that almost invariably poses the challenge of really thick mist at night. The national speed limit is 120km/h but on those night long sections of driving safely require a speed as low as 20-30km/h. There is just too much that can’t be seen, questions as it were; is there an oncoming bend in the road (with dangerous cliffs), is there a truck or car just around the corner? In moments like this, apart from slowing down, I choose to focus not on what I can’t see, but to focus on what I can see! I can see the yellow line on the left margin of the road & I can see the middle line of the road. So I focus on those and know that what’s imperative is for me to stay between those two lines in order to stay on the road and to stay on my side of the road.

Passages like this are similar. Sometimes they uncover more questions than answers, provide more mystery than revelation. They are difficult to reconcile with other passages at times… However they also contain yellow & white lines – the imperatives.

Read again through this chapter and look for every imperative, everything you can do, are instructed to do.

What’s the overall impression you have now of what Jesus is telling you regarding the end times?

  • “Be on your guard” 3x
  • “Don’t be anxious” 1x
  • “Persevere” (implied from ‘the one who endures to the end will be saved’ vs13) 1x
  • “Stay awake” 3x

We are to be watchful & alert, not fearful, we are to persevere knowing Jesus will come for His ‘elect’ (vs20&27)! Come Lord Jesus come.  Choose your focus!

False teaching (2 Thessalonians 2:1-17)

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The Thessalonian church faced persecution from those outside of the faith, which the apostle has addressed in chapter 1.  Now in chapter 2 he turns his attention to another form of opposition that can be even more difficult to withstand: false teaching.

Some had been claiming that Jesus had already returned, and that the Thessalonians had somehow missed it (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3)!  Sadly this sort of stuff still happens today.  Just the other day the world was supposed to have ended – ooooops did you miss that!

Did you know that according to some, the so-called “Rapture” was supposed to have happened on Sep 23rd 2017.  Some doomsday so-called Christians who seem more focused more on crazy number patterns & astronomy than on the Bible itself put together a Youtube clip watched by 4.5million people in under 2months claiming such.  

And yet, no surprise really, but we are still all here.  Or did Jesus come back and we  somehow missed; ‘Jesus’ shout of command’, ‘the voice of the archangel’, the trumpet blast of God’ ‘and dead people rising up everywhere’ (1 Thessalonians 4:13-16)…? 

Friend, “Let no one deceive you in any way” (vs3), “we ask you brothers not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed” (vs2).  Jesus is coming back, he will destroy the anti-Christ with just the breath of his mouth (vs8) – no contest!  There will be displays of power and false signs and wicked deception from Satan himself (vs9-10) but we are all called to ‘love the truth and so be saved’ (vs10)

And Jesus Christ Himself is the way and the truth, and so believing in Him, trusting in Him is the only way to life eternal.  So do it, trust Him, believe in Him, and call all you know to do the same.

And, if you have already believed in Jesus, stand firm (vs15) and hold to what you know from Scripture and may Jesus Himself comfort your hearts and cause you to do great good works in the world because of Him (vs16).