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I want to share with you a theme which has become very important to me. It’s one which God impressed upon me sometime in the latter part of last year and it’s kind of lingered in my mind, it’s been the subject of meditation, a subject of study from the scripture and it’s caused me much self examination. I want to share this with you tonight and I hope this theme will do as much for you as it’s done for me. The title of the theme is the same title on one of those newsletters that I showed you, “Longing For His Appearance.”
I’d like to turn to the initial scripture in 2Timothy 4:6–8. These are some of the last words that Paul wrote, he was in prison at the time. He probably had already undergone trial by the emperor Nero and been sentenced to death. Or, he might not have already undergone trial but he was anticipating being tried and being sentenced to death. You need to know that the emperor Nero was probably one of the most wicked rulers that ever ruled in the human race. A totally ungodly, unrighteous man. We can better understand Paul’s words in the light of that situation. So he says:
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.”
I was reading the Greek text this evening and it struck me that a better word than departure would be release. Departure doesn’t carry much sense of what you think about it. It might be a good departure, it might be a bad departure. But the word release suggests that Paul, in a sense, was longing for this release from the body that he’d served the Lord so faithfully in for so many years.
I like the phrase “I’m already being poured out as a drink offering.” If you go back into the offerings of the Levitical priesthood, mainly described in the book of Leviticus, you’ll find that the primary offerings were animals or birds that were slain or such things as grain or baked flour. But with nearly all offerings God ordained that there should also be a drink offering, a certain quantity of wine poured out together with the offering. That’s what Paul is referring to and he’s speaking of himself as his life, even his life blood being poured out to seal the offering that he was bringing to God of the fruits of his ministry. I want to suggest to you that there really are very few offerings that mean anything or that are acceptable to God unless they’re accompanied by the drink offering of a life poured out. I think if you analyze the ministries that have really changed the world and blessed the people you find that with every one of them somebody had to pour his life out. Not necessarily as a martyr but in selfless giving of himself to the point where it’s like this drink offering poured out.
Then he comes to this triumphant statement in verse 7. Bear in mind he was getting on in years, he was somewhat infirm, it was pretty cold in the prison, he didn’t have sufficient covering and he sent an urgent message to Timothy to bring a cloak with him when he came. There’s not one single hint of defeat or regret anywhere in this epistle. I think the words that I’m going to read to you are some of the most triumphant words ever penned by a human being.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith...”
Each one of them is in the perfect tense meaning it’s done, it’s complete. I’d like to suggest to you that if you want to finish your race and if you want to keep the faith you’re going to have to fight the fight. One major aspect of the Christian life is that it’s a conflict. I tell you, I’ve said many times to people I think you can get to heaven without theology. I’m not sure you’ll get there without courage. It’s more a test of your character than your intellect.
And then we come to this 8th verse which contains the text that I want to speak about.
“Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness...”
The word crown there is not a royal diadem. There are two words translated crown in the New Testament. One is the Greek word diadem which is a royal mark of kingship. It says in Revelation that when Jesus appears, on his head are many crowns, many diadems because he’s the king of all kings. He has a right to wear every crown. But this is the other kind of crown which refers to the Olympic games of those days. It was a laurel wreath, just a sprig of laurel that was placed upon the brow of the one who had won any contests, exactly corresponding to the gold medal of our Olympics today. So, in a way, if you want to modernize it, Paul was saying from now on I’m expecting my gold medal because I’ve won.
Then he comes to the phrase which really impressed me. He said:
“Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day...”
Notice he emphasizes the Lord is the righteous judge. He was appearing before Nero, a very unjust judge who gave him an unjust sentence. He said that’s not the last word. There’s one more judgment and that judgment will be for a totally righteous judge and his sentence will be totally righteous and just. So he says:
“...the righteous judge will give to me on that day...”
And then he adds the phrase which is what gripped me:
“...and not to me only, but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
Now, that’s the New King James which I think is also the Old King James. It is a very good translation. I chose the title “Longing For His Appearing” from the NIV, the New International Version because I thought it perhaps was a little more up to date in what it conveyed. This phrase “who have loved his appearing” is very important. The word used for love there is ?agapao? which is the strong word for intense love. And it’s in the perfect tense. It describes a settled attitude. You’re in love with, I think that’s the best way to say it. You’re in love with the appearing of the Lord in his glory.
As I studied that verse I saw that God within the body of Christ recognizes a special group of believers. They’re marked out by the fact that they are in love with the appearing of Jesus. And for those special believers God has a special honor which is the crown of righteousness. It’s not going to be given to all believers, it’s going to be given to those believers who in this life have passionately loved the appearing of the Lord Jesus. Or who are longing for his appearing.
As I meditated on those words I asked myself a question. I’m going to ask you the same question. I’m not going to answer the question for you, you have to answer it for yourself. The question is, Do you qualify for that special honor? Are you one of those who have loved his appearing? Who are in love with his appearing? Who are longing for his appearing? That’s your business to answer, not mine. I’m going to try to present that thing to you in such a way that you’ll know the answer. I asked myself, I wasn’t examining other people. I was saying to myself do I fulfill the requirements for that crown?
There’s much in the New Testament about our attitude toward the return of the Lord Jesus Christ in his glory. I want to just put side by side with what I’ve read a couple of other scriptures in Titus 2:11–13.
“For the grace of God that bring salvation has appeared to all men...”
Or, that brings salvation to all men has appeared. You can translate it either way.
Did you know that grace teaches? I think a lot of people think grace is just something you receive and that’s it. I want to tell you, grace is free. You receive it freely, you cannot earn it but once you’ve received it it imposes obligations on you. So, it’s not cheap. There’s a lot of difference between being free and being cheap. The grace has appeared teaching us that:
“...denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in the present age...”
So grace teaches us how we should live. We should not live like the people of this world; we should live lives that are totally different. I’m not sure that most of God’s people in America are doing that. Some little while back somebody handed me a survey by a marketing survey firm—totally secular, not in any way spiritually motivated—but the object of this survey which was conducted nationwide was to determine how to sell to born again Christians. Because, the popular estimate is today there are 50 million born again Christians in the United States which is about one fifth of the population. It’s a major market. These secular business enterprises wanted to know what do you have to say, what do you have to do to sell to born again Christians. It was a very penetrating analysis. Being a born again Christian I could see how accurate it was moving among born again Christians. But, the bottom line was rather disturbing. Do you know what it was? There’s no difference between them and the others. They’re motivated in the same way, they respond to the same enticements and impulses, their standards are basically the same.
That’s not grace. Grace makes people different.
Now we come to what I believe is the real motivation for this, that we should live in a certain way. Verse 13:
“...looking for the blessed hope, and glorious appearing of our great God and savior Jesus Christ.”
That is the ultimate motivation for the way we live? It’s anticipation of the coming of the Lord. That’s what motivates us to live differently. I think if you analyze the New Testament you will discover that nearly all of the appeals to holy living in the New Testament are related to the anticipation of the Lord’s return. I want to suggest to you that where the church is not living in that anticipation its standards of holiness will always be below those of the New Testament.
It says “the blessed hope.” I feel tonight there are quite a number of rather hopeless people here. I want to suggest to you that maybe your hopeless because you’re only looking at the things of time. You may be suffering economic problems, you may be suffering family problems. As you look out horizontally across life you don’t see much to hope for. Your problem is you’re looking in the wrong direction. The outlook is dark, the uplook is bright. No Christian should be hopeless. Only the unconverted should be hopeless.
But, if our eyes are in the wrong direction and if we’re living like the world we’ll suffer the problems of the world. Hopelessness is one of the main problems of our generation today.
You notice that Paul there calls Jesus the great God and our savior. That’s important. Jesus is God. If you are not willing to call him God I question whether you have the right to call him savior. Because, Isaiah said God has become my salvation. I want to tell you that nothing less than God can save you. The church can’t save you, the law can’t save you, morality can’t save you; it takes God in the person of Jesus to save you.
Then we look briefly in Hebrews 9:27–28.
“And as it is appointed for men to die once, and after this the judgment...”
And remember, those are two appointments you’re going to keep. You may break every appointment you make on earth but there’s two you’re going to keep. Number one, dying. And, number two, appearing before the judgment of God. So, you better live in the light of those two appointments.
“...so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many; to those who eagerly wait for him he will appear a second time apart from sin for salvation.”
To whom will he appear? To those who what? Eagerly await for him. Are you in that category? You have to make your mind up about that.
Now, for the rest of this evening I’m going to offer you some scriptural reasons why all Christians should be longing for Christ’s appearing. I have four main reasons. The first one, I think, may surprise some of you. I hope I can give you solid, scriptural basis for it. The first reason is that Christ’s appearing will bring about the consummation of our personal salvation. Which is the transformation of our physical body. Our salvation is not complete until we have received our resurrection body which is like his body. I want to read from Philippians 3. I’ve been much impressed by Paul’s motivation as stated in this chapter. I think if you can read it with an open mind it will give you a new perspective of your salvation. See, the end of salvation is not dying and going to glory. That’s not the end. That’s one stage which is a very important stage but it’s not the end. There’s something beyond that. Paul says in Philippians 3:8:
“But indeed, I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having my own righteousness which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith: that I may know him and the power of his resurrection...”
Can you say amen to that?
“...and the fellowship of his sufferings...”
Can you say amen to that? It takes some doing to say amen to that, doesn’t it? I had to acknowledge to the Lord for many, many years, “Lord, there are some things that Paul said that I can’t say amen to but I hope you’ll change me so that I will be able to.”
I’m going to read that verse again.
“That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death; if by any means I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
That phrase “by any means” could alternatively be translated “somehow.” If somehow I may make it through the resurrection. That indicates to me that he gives tremendous priority to that. No matter what it costs, no matter the obstacles; that’s my aim, to make it through to the resurrection of the dead.
There’s an unusual word used for resurrection which means the out resurrection. In other words, it’s not the general resurrection of all the dead but it’s what’s called the first resurrection concerning which it says, “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection.”
Then Paul goes on to make it very clear that he has not yet attained at the time writing.
“Not that I am already attained, or am already perfect: but I press on that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has laid hold of me.”
You see, Paul had purpose in his life. Nothing distresses me more than to meet Christians who are aimless, who are just drifting, carried to and fro by the currents of life. Paul had a definite, positive, specific aim. He united his purpose with the Lord’s purpose for him. The Bible says, “He that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” When you make God’s will your will you’re unsinkable, unshakable and undefeatable.
Now let’s go on to the end of that chapter where Paul, in a sense, explains what he means and why this is so important. That is, Philippians 3:20–21.
“For our citizenship is in heaven...”
We are residents on earth but our citizenship is in heaven. It’s important to realize that.
“Our citizenship is in heaven; from which we also eagerly wait for the savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Notice again “eagerly wait.” That’s a consistent theme, it’s an attitude that is continually emphasized.
“Who will transform our lowly body, that it may be conformed to his glorious body, according to the working by which he is also able to subdue all things to himself.”
Notice that’s the climax of the chapter, the climax of Paul’s purpose. What does it consist in? The transformation of his body. He says at the present time I’m in a body of humiliation. That’s the literal meaning. But he says I’m looking forward to a time when I’ll have a body of glory like the glorious body of the Lord Jesus.
You may be wealthy, you may be strong, you may be healthy but let me serve notice on you, you’re living in a body of humiliation which is the result of man’s fall. It’s manifest in many ways. You ladies can put on the sweetest perfume and make yourselves look very delightful. Praise God for that but if you run around and get hot and flustered you’ll start to perspire. That’s just a little token of your humiliation. Or, we may be able to afford to eat in the finest restaurants and choose the choicest steaks. But you know what will happen? We all have to go to the bathroom. That’s a continual reminder of our humiliation. Understand? Why are we humiliated? Because we rebelled against our Creator and we are in a body which is a continual reminder of that fact. We’re going to be in that body until we die or ‘til Jesus comes.
But, that’s not our permanent condition. Praise God. We are going to get a new body and it’s going to be a body of glory. We’ll be released from our humiliation and we’ll enter into the Lord’s glory. That is what Paul says he is aiming at. He doesn’t just talk about dying and going to be with the Lord. He’s mentioned that in the earlier chapters of Philippians. But he goes beyond that to the appearing of the Lord, resurrection and the resurrection body. That’s the final consummation of our personal salvation.
Colossians 3:3–4, Paul says to the believers:
“For you died...”
That’s important. I think the Old King James says “you are dead” if I’m not mistaken. But really, that’s the right translation. It’s the simple past tense. It brings out that we’re talking about a historical fact. When did we die? When Jesus died on the cross. Our old man was crucified in him. See? That’s a historical fact. It’s true whether you believe it or not. But believing it is going to make a lot of difference in your life. Paul says you died. Then he says where is your life? And he goes on:
“...and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
That should give you a sense of security. If your life is hidden with Christ in God there is no power of evil that can touch that life. It’s absolutely outside the range of all the forces of evil. Your life is hidden with Christ in God.
“When Christ, who is our life, appears...”
Let me give you just a simple thought if you’re struggling with weakness or sickness. Some of the simplest statements of scripture are the most profound. It says Christ is our life. What more can you need than that? See? That life is greater than every problem, every pressure, every infirmity. Let’s say it together. “Christ is our life.” Let’s say it once more. “Christ is our life.” Let’s say it a third time. “Christ is our life.” We have to say praise the Lord, what else could we say after that? “Praise the Lord.”
“When Christ, who is our life, appears...”
That’s his appearing, you understand, which is what we’re talking about.
“...then you will also appear with him in glory.”
That’s when the world is really going to see who we are. At the moment the world doesn’t realize who we are. We’re king’s kids already but they don’t recognize it. But one day the whole universe is going to see who we really are. When Jesus appears in glory we will appear with him in glory. So, be content to be hidden for the time being, it’s a safe place. “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” There’s no safer place than to be hidden in Christ. Don’t always aim to be conspicuous. Sometimes it falls to our lot to be conspicuous but, believe me, it’s much harder. Be content to be hidden with Christ in God. There’s a day coming when you won’t be hidden any longer.
And then one other passage in this connection in John 6 where Jesus speaks about what results from believing in him. Four times in John 6 he says “the end of faith in me is resurrection.” Not going to eternity but being resurrected. Listen. John 6:39:
“This is the will of the Father who sent me, that of all he has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.”
Raise it up, resurrected, understand? Don’t stop in the middle of that verse, get to the end. The next verse:
“And this is the will of him who sent me, that every one who sees the Son, and believes in him, may have everlasting life...”
Praise God for that but it’s not the end of the sentence. What’s the end of the sentence?
“...and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Understand? Never fail to look to the end. I think so many Christians really are not in any way very much interested with the resurrection. That’s a mistake. The resurrection is the climax. It’s the climax of our personal experience, it’s the climax of human history. Believe me, God is not the author of an anticlimax. When that climax comes it’s going to be a climax.
Going on in John 6:44:
“No one can come to me, unless the Father who sent me draws him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
“Whoever eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Jesus obviously intended us to know that. He said it four times in about 15 verses. But many of us testify, you know, “I have eternal life, I believe in Jesus.” That’s wonderful. But why stop your testimony there? God is going to raise me up at the last day. Believe me, that will attract a lot of attention from people who are not impressed by just having eternal life. We have, in a sense, been truncating the message, we’ve left off the climax. It’s like having a book without the last chapter. See, the last chapter of our book is the one everybody wants to read. It’s Ruth’s chapter. How we met and all that happened after that which, believe me, was very exciting. If we publish the book without the chapter people would complain. They’d say, “You don’t tell us the end of the story.” So, when you testify to people remember, include the last chapter of the book.
The second reason why all Christians should be longing for the Lord’s appearing is that it will mark the consummation of our union two ways. First of all, with Christ himself. Our union with him will not be complete until he appears. Turn to Revelation 19. I’d like to ask you that. Don’t you find the Bible exciting? I tell people if you’ve never been surprised by what you read in the Bible, you’ve never really read it. It is a surprising book. It’s not a religious book. You understand what I mean by that? Religion is predictable, the Holy Spirit is unpredictable.
Verses 6–7. This is actually the climax of human history.
“And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the sound of many waters, and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigns. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give him glory...”
What’s all the excitement about? I mean, the whole universe is in an uproar of excitement. What’s it all about? It’s about you and me.
“...for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his wife has made herself ready.”
We all know, I mean, how many of you have been married? Don’t bother to put your hands up. But, you know what it is to court, to date if you want to use that phrase, to get engaged. Hold hands, express emotion, get excited. But you all know that that’s no substitute for getting married. There’s a union in marriage for which there’s no substitute. When it talks about the marriage supper of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, there’s going to be a union with him which we can’t even imagine at this time. One of the things that impresses me about the book of Revelation, it doesn’t try to describe it because in human language it’s indescribable.
But, that’s what every bride is longing for. Am I not right? She may be excited about being engaged, she may be tremendously thrilled about her engagement ring but that’s no substitute for being married. Any bride that isn’t excited about being married probably ought to reconsider her decision to marry.
The same is true of us as Christians. We are the bride of Christ. If we’re not excited there’s something wrong with us. I’m not upset by people who get excited about their religion, I’m upset about people who don’t because the only logical reaction is to get excited. Anybody who isn’t excited really doesn’t believe.
I’ll just give you this little illustration. I grew up as a boy in the Anglican church in Britain. It was very dignified, the service was often beautiful, the buildings were very old. I didn’t really believe you could worship God in a building that was less than 400 years old! I thought some of the other things were about as old, too. I mean, I knew all the prayers, I could repeat the general confession and the creed and all that. In a sense, I thought they’re wonderful. But, I looked at the people as they went out of church after saying all those glorious words and I thought to myself they don’t look like people who believe what they’ve said. In fact, in my critical teenage mind I said if that lady were to drop her beautiful lace handkerchief and I were to run after her and pick it up and say, “Madam, you dropped your handkerchief,” she’d get much more excited about her handkerchief than about all the things she said in the service. Is that right? People have got the impression that you ought to troop out of church looking very dignified. I think you ought to come out of church looking very happy. If you were dancing and leaping I wouldn’t see anything against that.
Sincerely, I’m not jesting. I’m just trying to acquaint you with the fact—I think it was an old servant of God about a generation back. He said the temperature of the church is so subnormal that if anybody gets normal we’ll think they have a fever. That’s right. So, remember, the Bible is a romance. It has a climax. That’s what we’re headed for. Nothing else can take its place.
Not only will the coming of the Lord mark the consummation of our union with him, it will also mark the consummation of our union with one another. If you turn to 1 Thessalonians 4:16–18 for a moment.
“For the Lord himself...”
I like that. The bride will never be satisfied with anything less than the bridegroom, will she? No substitute for him. Many forms of Judaism today teach that there really won’t be a personal Messiah, there will be a Messianic age. Believe me, no one who is really in love with the Lord Jesus is going to be satisfied with a Messianic age. They want the Messiah.
“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout...”
Do you know what that shout will do? Call forth the believing dead. He alone has the authority. When he stood in front of the tomb of Lazarus and called Lazarus out he was very careful to be specific. He said, “Lazarus, come out.” If he just said, “Come out,” all the dead would have marched out. Really.
I also have the impression—this is just a thought—that he’s going to call every one of his believing people by name. No matter if there are billions of names, he can do it. As our names are called out we’ll come.
Then there’s going to be the voice of the archangel. I’m sure that must be the archangel Gabriel who, generally speaking, is the one who announces on earth great interventions of God.
And then with a trumpet of God—I love the sound of a trumpet.
“...and then the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with him in the clouds...”
I want to comment on that word “caught up” for a moment. That’s the word that gives the noun rapture. I know there are a lot of different views about the rapture but a lady said to me once, “Do you believe in the rapture?” I said, “If you mean do I believe we shall be caught up, I certain do because the Bible says so very clearly.” If you’re asking me whether it will be secret or pre-Trib or mid-Trib or post-Trib, that’s another question. Let’s not let all those problems cause us to forget that we shall be caught up. I think we ought to say that. “We shall be caught up.” Turn to your neighbor and say that. “We shall be caught up.” All right. Now you feel better.
It’s an interesting word. It’s a very active word. It’s used, incidentally, of Philip the evangelist when he was on the road to Gaza and he just baptized the Ethiopian eunuch. It says the Spirit of the Lord caught him away. It’s that same word. That’s a little proof that the Holy Spirit can catch us up. It’s used, interestingly enough, also when Jesus speaks about the wolf coming amongst the sheep. It says he catches the sheep. It’s the same word. So, in a sense, it’s a sudden, violent grab. That’s how it’s going to be. One moment we’ll be here and the next moment we’ll be somewhere else. No warning. The wolf doesn’t warn the sheep, it just catches the sheep.
We will be caught up in the clouds. I think literally it’s “in clouds.” Just like Jesus himself ascended in clouds.
“...to meet the Lord in the air...”
The Greek word for air is ?aer?. There are two Greek words. One is ?aer? and the other is ?aither?. ?Aither? gives us ether, ?aer? gives us air. Both words are derived from Greek. The interesting thing is that ?aither? is the high, rarefied atmosphere. ?Aer? is the lower air contiguous with the earth’s surface. The word used here is the lower air. The Lord is going to come very close to earth and then we will be caught up in clouds to meet him.
Then it goes on:
“...and thus we shall always be with the Lord.”
That’s what I wanted to bring out. This will be our final, permanent union with the Lord and with one another. No more separations after that. A unity that with our limited perspective we cannot conceive at this time.
Moving on. The third reason why I believe all Christians should long for the return of the Lord, the appearing of the Lord is that it’s the only hope for suffering humanity. There are those who preach what is called a social gospel. I am not criticizing that, I do believe that Christians have an obligation to identify with the suffering, with the persecuted, and to do whatever is in our power to help them. James says pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit the fatherless and the widows. That’s neglected in a whole lot of churches today. We have committees for almost everything except he fatherless and the widows. James says our religion is unreal if we don’t take care of those who need our care. I firmly believe that. But, I do not accept what is implied by some who preach the social gospel that we can solve the world’s problems with that gospel. We cannot.
If you traveled as Ruth and I do in different countries praying for the sick, sometimes I just have to say my mind is absolutely staggered by a little glimpse of the total suffering of humanity. I don’t believe it’s getting any better. In fact, you could argue that it’s getting worse. Modern medicine has done miracles but how many people have access to modern medicine? You know, the people of the United States, the population of the United States is 7 percent of the total world’s population. Don’t judge the condition of the world by what you see around you in America.
They say 10 million people die of starvation every year. Most of them are little children. If you consider the extent of war, famine, of oppression, the injustice, the cruelty, the hatred, the sickness—I really don’t believe our minds could bear a total revelation of that. I am naive enough to believe that when the Lord comes and establishes his kingdom he will banish war, oppression, famine, sickness, hatred and all their attendant evils. I believe we have an obligation to demonstrate even now his compassion for the suffering. But let’s not have the idea that we, the church, by ourselves can meet the total needs of humanity. I don’t believe we can.
Furthermore, I don’t believe that a large majority of humanity are prepared to meet the conditions to have their needs met. That’s the real root problem. If man does not lay down his rebellion against God he shuts himself off from the mercies of God.
I want to read to you a picture of what I believe will be what we call the Messianic kingdom. Some people use the word millennium which is all right by me. Millennium simply means a thousand years. I do believe myself there will be a millennium. It says so six times in the 20th chapter of Revelation, so I don’t know how many more times God has to say it before we can believe it. If you don’t believe, I mean, that’s your privilege. How you will interpret these words, that’s your problem.
Let’s look at Psalm 72 which is a prayer for the king’s son. The king was probably David. In a sense, his son was Solomon. As we read the story of Solomon’s life it’s very, very obvious that Solomon didn’t fulfill this prayer. I believe—and I think many Biblical scholars do—that it’s ultimately a prayer for the greater son of David, Jesus the Messiah, and for the setting up of his kingdom. In the first 14 verses there’s a pretty thorough description of what his kingdom will be like. I want you to notice that his kingdom will banish oppression, injustice, poverty, sickness and war. I want you to notice the special emphasis on God’s concern for the suffering, the afflicted and the oppressed. I don’t think most of us have got any concept of how much God hates oppression. Here we are.
“Give the king your judgments, O God, and your righteousness to the king’s son. He will judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice [or your afflicted]. The mountains will bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness.”
I don’t believe there will be peace by any other means but righteousness. There’s a lot of talk about praying for peace which I think is rather unreal. Everybody wants peace but how many people want righteousness? I don’t believe we can have peace apart from righteousness. Verse 4:
“He will bring justice to the poor of the people, he will save the children of the needy...”
Of whom today in the earth there are millions and millions. In Mexico City alone there are probably 5 million at least. Children of the needy.
“...and will break in pieces [or crush] the oppressor.”
I like that. I don’t know whether you think that’s a Christian attitude but I’ll be happy to see the oppressor crushed. I’ll be happy to see some of the injustices that are perpetrated in Soviet Russia and other countries, Afghanistan. I think they need to be crushed. Maybe you think I’m a little extreme but I believe God agrees with me!
We’re going on, verse 5:
“They shall fear you as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations.”
This is an eternal kingdom, it’s not just a temporary kingdom.
“He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.”
What a beautiful picture. Notice “he shall come down.” He’s coming from above.
“In his days the righteous shall flourish, and abundance of peace until the moon is no more. He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river [that’s the Euphrates] to the ends of the earth. Those who dwell in the wilderness will bow before him; and his enemies will lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of the isles will bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba will offer gifts. Yes, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him. For...”
Now this is why God blesses.
“For he will deliver the needy when he cries; the poor also, and him who has no helper. He will spare the poor and needy, and will save the souls of the needy. He will redeem their life from oppression and violence; and precious shall their blood be in his sight.”
He’s going to require that humanity accounts for the blood of the unjustly slain. It says in the book of Revelation the earth gave forth the dead and those that were slain.
I’d like to read also in Psalm 102, just two verses which really just enforce this picture. Psalm 102:16–17. Key verses.
“For the Lord shall build up Zion...”
Build up, modern English restore.
“...he shall appear in his glory.”
That’s very clear. He shall appear in his glory. The Old King James says “when the Lord shall build up Zion he shall appear in his glory.” In other words, the Lord is going to appear in a season of restoration of God’s people. For this century we have lived in that season. It started right at the beginning of this. God has two covenant peoples in the earth. The church and Israel. If you’d like to look over the history of the past 90 years or so you’ll find that there has been a consistent parallel work of restoration of God’s two covenant peoples. The Lord couldn’t return until he built up Zion. The scripture says when he will build up Zion, then he will appear in his glory.
Note the next verse.
“He shall regard the prayer of the destitute, and shall not despise their prayer.”
The coming of the Lord in his glory, one purpose will be to vindicate the poor and those who have been unjustly afflicted and oppressed.
I had an experience which was very vivid to me. As many of you know, Ruth and I live about half the year in Jerusalem. One of the places we love to go to from time to time is what’s called the western wall or the Wailing Wall, the western foundation wall of the old temple area which is the most sacred spot on earth for the Jewish people. They go there regularly to read their prayer books and hold services and to make their prayer requests. The way they make their prayer requests is they write them out on little pieces of paper just like we would in a church service. But instead of putting them in the offertory bag they go and stick them in the cracks between the rocks. So, any time you go there you’ll see literally thousands of little pieces of papers stuffed into the cracks between the stones.
I happened to be there one day, it was a very windy day and the wind was blowing a lot of these pieces of paper out of the cracks and they were blowing up and down on the stone pavement floor. I was just a little bit cynical and I looked at all these little pieces of paper and I said to myself there’s a lot of prayers that haven’t been answered. It was like the Holy Spirit gently reproved me and he said this. “But there’s a day coming when multitude of prayers will be answered in a very short time.” I suddenly saw that the coming of the Lord, amongst other things, is an answer to the cry of the desperate and the poor and the afflicted who really have little or no other hope. This world system doesn’t do too much for them.
I’d like to also just look at a passage in the book of Daniel which describes, I believe, the setting up of Christ’s kingdom. You may remember that in Daniel 2 king Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. His problem was he couldn’t remember his dream. So, he sent for his magicians and soothsayers and wise men and Chaldeans and all the rest who were on his regular payroll and he said, “Now, listen fellows, I have a problem. I’ve had a dream and I can’t remember my dream. But I want you to tell me the interpretation.” They said that isn’t fair. No king has ever asked that of any Chaldean, magician, soothsayer or astrologer. They said, “You tell us the dream and we’ll tell you the interpretation.” He said, “I know you’re just trying to gain time but if you can’t tell me the dream you’re all going to be executed.” There’s no other sentence.
So, amongst the wise men was Daniel. The man in charge of the execution squad came to haul off Daniel for execution. He said, “What’s the hurry?” They said, “The king had a dream and nobody can tell him what his dream was so everybody is to be executed.” Daniel said, “Give me a little time because there is a God in heaven who can answer that.” And he said to his three friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “Pray, brothers.” I imagine they spent a pretty fervent night in prayer! And God gave him the answer. He was able to tell Nebuchadnezzar what he had dreamed. That’s a major miracle, that’s astonishing. He said, “In your dream you saw a great image, very high, very impressive. Its head was of gold, its breast and arms were of silver. Its belly and its thighs were of bronze. Its legs were of iron and its feet partly iron and partly clay. In your dream you saw something else that came and completely smashed this image to pieces.” The language is very strong.
Now, Daniel then interpreted the dream and the standard interpretation of most Biblical commentators is it was four successive Gentile empires that were to dominate Jerusalem, the land and the people of Israel. He told Nebuchadnezzar, “You’re the head of gold.” That’s Babylon. After Babylon came the chest and arms of silver which was Persia. After that came the belly and thighs of bronze which was Alexander the great and the Greek Empire that rose. After him came the empire of iron which undoubtedly was Rome. Then, you know, there’s a lot of controversy about the feet but it seems to me very clear the feet must be placed at the end of the age because it’s on the feet of the image that destruction comes. Of course, many, many Biblical commentators believe that there will be a ten kingdom confederation in Europe, the ten kings corresponding to the ten toes. That’s speculation. I think it’s reasonable speculation. I’m not saying it’s true.
I don’t want to go into that but I just want to read briefly the account of God’s kingdom impacting these Gentile kingdoms. Incidentally, if you think God has a sense of humor because these are the four great empires that dominated history. In the sight of man they were tremendously powerful and impressive. But God in his satirical way presented them in the form of a dream. First of all, no reality, just a dream. Second, the man who dreamt about them couldn’t remember his dream. And third, in the dream they were only an image, they weren’t reality. It’s as if God were to say, “That’s what I think if Gentile world powers.” It’s a dream that he can’t remember and it’s a dream about an image and it’s going to be smashed anyhow.
Let’s read this, the little passage where it speaks about what happened. Chapter 2, verse 31. This is part of Daniel’s interpretation.
“You, O king, were watching, and behold a great image. This great image, whose splendor was excellent, stood before you; and its form was awesome. This image’s head was of fine gold, his chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. You watched while a stone was cut out without hands [this stone is Messiah’s kingdom], which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay [that’s the last form of Gentile rule, the feet], and broke them in pieces.”
It didn’t just gradually adjust the world situation. That’s not the picture by no means. Nor did they suddenly decide that it would be better to serve the Lord. They’d had their chance and turned it down. Listen to the end.
“Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold [that’s all the material], were crushed together [or crushed at one time], and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away, so that no trace of them was found: and the stone that struck the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.”
I suggest to you that’s a picture of sudden, total intervention by God that leaves no trace of the existing Gentile world order. It’s totally terminated. It’s terminated suddenly and violently. Would you agree with that? I don’t think you can interpret that picture any other way.
Now, this is how Daniel continues. Just verse 44. This is the end of his interpretation.
“And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom, which shall not be left to other people, it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.”
That stone that became a mountain is the Messianic kingdom which God is going to set up. Why I’m dwelling on that is I think we need to see that it’s not the result of some gradual process of Christianizing the world but it’s going to be a sudden intervention of God that will smash in judgment all the ungodly rulers and kingdoms of the earth. Can you say amen?
You know, it’s important we consent to God’s judgment. It’s not going to change him but it helps us.
Now I’ll just turn to one passage in 1Thessalonians 5 just after the passage that we read about the Lord coming with a shout, with a voice of the archangel, the trumpet of God. 1Thessalonians 5:2–3:
“For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.”
Unexpected for people who are unprepared except the children of God.
“For when they [that’s the people of this world] say, Peace and safety [or peace and security]; then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman; and they shall not escape.”
When the world just thinks it’s got everything fixed up nicely without any nasty interference from God or without any obligations to observe his righteous requirements or to honor his son Jesus Christ, when the world has just got everything fixed it’s all going to fall apart. Praise God.
Then we need to read the next verse.
“But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.”
It shouldn’t catch us unprepared. Let me ask you this. Would it have caught you unprepared before this message tonight? How ready were you, how ready are you?
One more reason why we should be longing for the Lord’s appearing. This is going a little bit beyond our personal situations which is embarrassing for most Christians because we live in the little circle of our own needs and problems. We hardly ever lift our eyes to the horizon. To put it another way, I’ve said that the Charismatic movement is somewhat like astronomy before Galileo. You remember, in the Copernican system they believed what they saw which was the sun going around the earth every 24 hours. Their astronomy was earth centered. The sun just was something that revolved around the earth. Galileo said that’s wrong, it’s really the earth that goes around the sun. When he said that he was about to be burned at the stake until he recanted. It’s interesting the church couldn’t bear that revelation! I think there’s a lot more to it than just the fact that it changed our ideas. I don’t think the church likes to feel it’s anything but the center.
See, the truth of the matter is Jesus Christ the Son of righteousness does not revolve around us. We revolve around him. What’s important is not what we want or what we think. What’s important is his will and his purpose and his priorities. I want to tell you there’s got to be a mental revolution in the Charismatic movement just as great as the transition from Copernicus to Galileo. We’ve got to learn to think differently about ourselves. The world doesn’t rise and set on us. Jesus is the sun that never sets.
I’ll tell you something else. As long as you are preoccupied with your own needs you’ll live in them. The way out of need is not to get all your needs answered. The way out of your need is to be involved in something bigger than yourself. Then, surprisingly you find your needs aren’t that important. In fact, they’ve disappeared. I think Charismatics are the most need oriented group of people that has ever crossed the stage of history. Is that right? You can gather a crowd anywhere if you’ll preach to people on how their needs can be met. You can be healed, you can prosper, you can have all you want and more. Well, there’s a certain truth in it but it’s out of bounds. What really matters is what God wants, his purpose. The first petition that Jesus ever told us to pray was what? Thy kingdom come. All right? Further down the prayer we come to our needs. Give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our trespasses, deliver us from the evil one. But you’ve got to get the order right, you’ve got to lift your eyes from your need of daily bread or your need of deliverance or your need of forgiveness to the supreme overall purpose of God which is very simple. It’s the coming of his kingdom.
When you’re looking for his kingdom your corns stop aching. As long as you focus on your aching corns, they’ll ache. Is that right? Self-centeredness is a prison that Satan has imprisoned man in. My friend Bob Mumford says when man fell he got shut up in his little ego box and it takes the grace of God to break that box and liberate us from it. The people who are happy are not the people who are living for themselves, they’re the people who are living for others.
We’re coming to something that’s greater than us. This won’t put more money in your bank account, it may not even get you a new Cadillac but it’s exciting. What I want to say is the appearing of Jesus will bring about the redemption of all creation. We’re looking beyond ourselves, understand? It’s not me and my need. You’ve heard, I’m sure, the standard prayer of the church member which goes like this: “God, bless me and my wife. My son John and his wife. Us four, no more.” And if you’re Pentecostal you add, “Acts 2:4.” Is that right? It’s very near the truth.
We turn to Romans 8 which is really the picture of the Spirit controlled life. Romans 8. I want to point out to you—and if I get into this I won’t get out of it so I’ve got to be cautious—there’s a doorway to Romans 8. You cannot live in the Spirit filled life unless you go through the door and the door is verse 1, logically enough. What does verse 1 say?
“There is no condemnation...”
As long as you live under condemnation you cannot live in Romans 8. The previous 7 chapters of Romans are designed to eliminate every possible source of condemnation for those who believe in Jesus. But you have to work through them to get into chapter 8. We’re going to assume we’re all in chapter 8. We’re going to start reading at verse 18.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
It’s very obvious that Paul didn’t write without some experience of suffering. If you read the list of all he’d endured, none of us have experienced anything comparable to what he experienced. He said it isn’t worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
“For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.”
Who are the sons of God? Us, that’s right. See, the whole creation is waiting for the church to get it together. That’s embarrassing, isn’t it. Especially when you think how far we are from getting it together. Verse 20:
“For the creation was subjected to futility [or vanity], not willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope.”
When you read the word vanity or futility it should take you back, above all, to Ecclesiastes. You know how Ecclesiastes begins? “Vanity of vanities, says the preacher, all is vanity. Vanity of vanities.” That opening verse has the word vanity in it five times. If I remember rightly, the word occurs 27 times in the book of Ecclesiastes. You know why? Because he was only dealing with the things under the sun, in the visible, temporal, material world. Even though he was the wealthiest and wisest man of his day, in the end it was all futility. There is no permanent answer or satisfaction merely in the things of time. If anybody could have had satisfaction it was Solomon but he said it’s all vanity.
That statement is not merely a matter of man’s subjective experience, it is actually in line with physics. For the second law of thermodynamics, the law of entropy, states simply in unprofessional language the universe is getting progressively less and less well organized. There is less and less power available for useful work. Unless some power is at work to maintain a system it will gradually go into vanity, futility. That’s amazing because that’s an established, accepted law of physics. I never have understood how scientists reconcile that with the theory of evolution. To me, it sounds like the two things are directly opposite. I never have believed the theory of evolution. I hope you don’t think me naive but I was a professional student and teacher of philosophy and I studied it. Even when I was totally alien to Christ and to the church I couldn’t believe the theory of evolution. It bristles with inconsistencies. That’s just by the way. But, as a matter of fact, it can be a real obstacle in the minds of some of you from seeing what the Bible says.
So, the creation was subjected to vanity, to futility because of man’s fall. See? The Lord said to Adam, “Cursed is the ground for your sake. Thorns and thistles will it bring forth.” There never were any thorns or thistles ‘til man fell. See, man was answerable to God, he was God’s authorized representative over the whole earth. And when he fell his domain suffered. That’s an extraordinary fact but it’s true.
I don’t know whether you’ve ever thought about Jesus when he was brought before Pilate. They had put on him a purple robe and pressed a crown of thorns on his head. He stood there with the thorns on his head and the purple of the thistle on his garment as a testimony that he was bearing the curse that man’s sin had brought on the earth. Because Jesus was made a curse the earth ultimately will be redeemed from that curse. But, only when the sons of God come into their own. Let’s go on reading. Verses 20 and 21. Usually nowadays it’s translated at the end of verse 20:
“In hope that the creation itself will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.”
When we get into glory creation will be liberated. Verse 22:
“For we know...”
The problem is most of the time when Paul says “we know” most of us don’t know. Just as when he says, “Brethren, I would not have you ignorant” you can be sure 9/10 of the church is ignorant. It’s ironic but that’s the way it is.
“For we know [or we hope we know] that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.”
That’s an amazing statement, isn’t it? Let me ask you honestly, were you aware of that fact before now? Did you realize that our fault has brought this agony on the whole creation? The whole creation is in the process of birth pangs to bring forth a new age, the Messianic age. Do you hear the groaning? Paul says in the next verse:
“And not only they, but we also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit...”
That should be Charismatics. And others, let me not limit it to Charismatics.
“...even we ourselves groan within ourselves...”
Is that true of you?
Notice that phrase again “eagerly waiting. We’ve had it about three times this evening. Always for the same event.
“...eagerly waiting for the adoption, that is, the redemption of our body.”
We got back where we started. What’s the goal? Redemption of our body. Nothing short of that. When our bodies are redeemed, when we are come into our glory, when we receive our resurrection bodies, the whole creation is going to experience a dramatic and glorious change. Isn’t that exciting? If you’re not excited there’s something wrong with you. I don’t want to criticize you but, I mean, you couldn’t believe that without getting excited.
I just want to read a couple of passages from the psalms to close tonight, trying to show you that if you’re not excited, nature is. From Psalm 96 first and then from Psalm 98. Psalm 96:11–13.
“Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and all its fullness.”
That’s tremendous when the sea starts to roar. You remember that Jesus said as one of the signs immediately prior to his return the sea and its waves roaring and men’s hearts failing them for fear. Those two passages are directly related.
“...let the sea roar, and all its fullness. Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it: and all the trees of the wood will rejoice before the Lord: for he is coming, he is coming to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth.”
You see, there is no substitute for problems but righteousness. Whether it’s our personal problems, whether it’s the problems of humanity, the problems of this earth. The only solution is righteousness and righteousness will not be established until the Lord returns.
I think Psalm 98 is a little bit more vivid. Verses 7–9.
“Let the sea roar, and all its fullness...”
I read that and it’s almost as if I were kind of setting the stage. You know, let the sea roar. Because God said it I can say it with faith. If it was just my thinking it would have no effect. But, it’s almost like I’m releasing the sea to do its job. That’s how I read the Bible. When I pray, much of my praying is releasing God’s word into a situation. Understand? I proclaim what God has said. For instance, about the situation in Israel in the Middle East. One interesting scripture says, “The scepter of wickedness shall not remain over the land allotted to the righteous.” There’s a lot to that. I’m not going to go into a prophetic discourse on the situation in the Middle East but the scepter of wickedness will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous. I declare that into the unseen world. Because I say it with faith and it’s in the word of God it has the same effect as if God said it. Can you accept that? I hope that doesn’t seem to be breathtaking but that’s the truth of the matter. When God’s faith flows through his word it doesn’t matter whether he said it or I said it or you said it.
I’m going to read this with real faith.
“Let the sea roar, and all its fullness; the world, and those who dwell in it. Let the rivers clap their hands...”
Can you imagine the rivers clapping their hands? Isn’t that beautiful? I picture the rivers running and the wind blowing and foam coming up like this, like this and the rivers are clapping their hands.
“...let the hills be joyful together before the Lord; for he is coming to judge the earth: with righteousness he shall judge the world [notice the emphasis on righteousness], and the people with equity [or fairness].”
Let me ask you frankly and I’m closing my message. Could it be that nature is more excited than the church? Isn’t that rather tragic? See, if you’re not excited about the coming of the Lord you’re missing an awful lot. You’re probably living in a level of faith that’s much below what God has for you. You’re probably, frankly, living in the level of your problems.
I want to suggest to you tonight that you need to lay hold of this fact that this is the blessed hope that’s set before the church. It is the consummation of our personal salvation, the consummation of our union with the Lord and with one another, the consummation of redemption for this earth, for creation. That’s exciting. One of the things that impresses me is how much depends upon the church. After all, we’re the body of Christ and God is not going to do anything in the earth that bypasses his body. See that? Because it would dishonor the head Jesus. We need to rise to our destiny, we need to spend less time in front of the television and more time in front of the Bible.
You know, I’ve told people in many places lately if you want to be a real spiritual giant I can tell you the way. You just need to exchange two things, trade one for the other. The two things are the amount of time you spend with your Bible and the amount of time you spend in front of the television. Just exchange them and you’ll become super-spiritual. Is that right? It’s not true of all of you, it’s true of most of you.
I’m not anti-television but it doesn’t tell you some of the things the Bible tells you, believe me.
I would like to just consider for a moment that we would give our thoughts to what I’ve been saying, to the theme I’ve been presenting and really face up to what I’ve said. I would like to ask that just for a moment or two you bow your heads in prayer and shut yourself in with the Lord and with the word that you’ve heard. Consider what I’ve been teaching. I believe, really, I can say it’s all straight from the Bible.
Then I’d like to say perhaps you realize tonight that you’re not as excited as you ought to be about the coming of the Lord, that you’ve let other things come between you and this glorious hope, that you’re perhaps much too deeply embedded in the things of this world and in your personal problems. Tonight you’d like to ask the Lord for his forgiveness, for his mercy and for a spiritual renewal in your life where your priorities will be in line with God’s. If you’d like to make that decision and offer that prayer I’d like you just to raise your hand for a moment as a token. That’s tremendous. Praise God. Those of you that have raised your hand, will you stand up? If you’ve raised your hand and you want to offer that prayer, that’s no condemnation of those that didn’t raise their hand, believe me. We shouldn’t all have to raise our hands.
Now, we’re going to close now with a prayer. I’m going to offer these words to you to say but they’ll be of no effect unless you say them from your heart to the Lord. Say these words. “Lord Jesus Christ, I believe you are coming in glory. I believe this is the blessed hope set before us. But Lord, that hope has become rather dim in my thinking and low in my priorities. I’ve given too much attention to other things. Lord, I want to ask you to forgive me, to release me from any bondage and to make the reality of your coming very vivid for me. Help me, Lord, to make proper preparation that I may be ready for anything that’s coming on the earth and that I may stand before you, the Son of man. To see you in your glory and be transformed into your likeness. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
Thank you, Lord. Now just take a moment to pray yourself.