Friday, November 23, 2012

"Longing for His appearing ..."

"Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing."
                                                                                                                          - II Timothy 4:8

I have a confession to make:  over the past week there was part of me that was hoping the conflict between Israel and Hamas was the beginning of events that would lead up to the return of Jesus Christ. It may still be, but for the moment it appears that there is at least a temporary calming of the tension between the two parties involved.  God knows the timing of what lies ahead and we are called to trust Him and to serve Him until Jesus returns.

Those of you who have heard me speak about "end times" know that the Bible tells us believers will go through the time of tribulation that is to come on the earth (worse than today!), and then be delivered from the earth in the rapture before God pours out His wrath on the earth and all who do not believe in Jesus Christ.  I am not one who believes that at any moment we will be taken from this world to escape the trials that are yet to come.  I could wish it were so, but the Bible says otherwise.  But knowing that and looking at the world around me, I long for "the blessed hope - the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ"  (Titus 2:13).  While some believe this "blessed hope" is the rapture itself, I believe, based on all of Scripture, that it refers to the whole complex of events that surround His coming, including the defeat of the Anti-christ, the judgment of the entire world system, and the establishment of God's kingdom on the earth.  THAT is the blessed hope of all who believe in Jesus Christ!  Those who are alive and who believe in Jesus WILL be raptured from this earth, but only after the tribulation and before the pouring out of God's wrath.

Part of me realizes that to "long for His appearing" is a good thing.  It means that you understand the temporary nature of this world and everything in it, including your own life, and that you are looking forward to what God has promised in the new heaven and the new earth.  But I also realize that the reason all of this hasn't unfolded yet, is that "God is being patient ... not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9).  God knows that not all people are going to repent and believe in Jesus and be saved.  In fact, God knows those who are His and it is by His Spirit and Word that God calls people out of the realm of spiritual darkness and brings them into the kingdom of the Son He loves (Colossians 1:13-14).  Jesus said in Matthew 24:14 that "the Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."

I pray for those who have not yet come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior.  At any moment those who do not believe could draw their last breath and be face-to-face with the Judge whom God has appointed, even His own Son, Jesus Christ.  None will escape His judgment because of their own goodness.   It is only those who by grace through faith acknowledge Jesus as Savior and Lord, confessing their sins and turning from them in true repentance, who will escape God's wrath.  Jesus said, "My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand"  (John 10:27-28).  What a glorious comfort to know WHO you are in Christ and to know WHOSE you are through Christ!  "Blessed assurance, Jesus is Mine!"

This is why I "long for His appearing."  The Apostle Paul could rightly say that He has "fought the good fight, and finished the race and kept the faith" (II Timothy 4:7).  He knew that his life was nearing an end because of his preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Some might wonder how God could allow so many who served Him so faithfully to face persecution, even unto death.  The same happens today more often than most of us can imagine.  God calls every disciple of Jesus to willingly give up their lives for Him, whether in eager service or in death.  We are not our own, but belong - in body and soul, in life and in death - to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ!

And so, I "long for His appearing," and all that must precede His coming to earth.  I pray for Christ's Church, the true body that is the "bride of Christ."  In the old hymn, "Faith of Our Fathers," one line reads, "How sweet would be their children's fate, if we like them, should'st die for Thee;" and then the chorus states, "Faith of our fathers, holy faith; we will be true to Thee 'till death."  I wonder how many, or how few, could honestly sing those words today.  Can I?  Someday soon we will find out who will be faithful, who will endure to the end.  Even as I write this I can imagine that some, maybe most, even in the church, will find these thoughts less than uplifting - even depressing.  But for those who know Jesus and who love Him, longing for His appearing is the most natural part of being one of God's true children, for it will ultimately mean the end of the struggle, and victory over sin and death and the grave.  What could be better than that?

As we enter the Advent season, I pray that parents and those who teach our children God's Word will point our children not only to a past event, the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, but also to what lies ahead - to all that God has promised.  The words Paul penned so long ago are true:  "Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing" (II Timothy 4:8).  I am longing for His appearing, and I hope you are, too.  We need to be working, and at the same time to be ready.  The King is coming!

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