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Charles Stanley - Anticipating The Lord's Return


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How often do you think about Jesus's return? Do you sometimes doubt that He's coming back because, after all, it's been two thousand years? You might have a reason to doubt that. And He said He was going to return, but two thousand years is a long time. And when you think about His return, what is the most preeminent question that people ask? What is it? When? That's what people want to know is when, when, when? And every once in a while, somebody will ask me, "Do you believe Jesus is coming soon"?

And here's what I've discovered, that my answer will either put joy or gloom in their response. And when I tell them what I really believe, which is I don't know, they just get gloomy in the face. Because they're expecting me to say, "Oh yes, I believe He's coming at any moment". Well, He can. But I know what they're looking for. And it's very interesting in the Scripture when... you couldn't fool Jesus. Very interesting in the Scripture when they kept talking about when, when, when, when, when. They had the same attitude we have. And what he said to them is what I want to share with you this morning. What I'd like to do is to talk about this whole issue of anticipating His return, thinking about His return.

And I want to begin by thinking about the promises He made. Jesus made a number of promises about His return along with the apostle Paul, Peter, and other disciples. So, what is the truth? So, let's just listen for just a moment what some of these promises are. So, turn, if you will, to Matthew chapter twenty four, and this is a very significant chapter in the Bible about Jesus's return and all the things that are going to happen. And because it's confusing to some people, I want us to read this twenty-fourth chapter, the first three verses. And I want to just mention one thing that when somebody brings it up, you'll have an answer. "Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple building to Him. And He said to them, 'Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one of,'" listen, "'Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.'"

Now, He's looking at the temple saying that. "As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, 'Tell us, when will,'" listen to this, "when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?'" Now, watch that, they asked Him three questions. If you read this chapter only thinking they asked one question, you'll be totally confused. They said, "We want to know three things. When these things will happen about all these stones being torn down," which happened, by the way, about forty years later when Titus came in and destroyed Jerusalem. "And what will be the sign of Your coming"? That's a totally different question. "And of the end of the age"? A totally different question.

So, when you read the twenty-fourth chapter, all the things you read here does not mean all this must take place before Jesus comes. That's not what it means. But what I want us to look at here primarily is this whole issue of the promises. In the twenty-fourth chapter, look at the thirtieth verse. He says, "And when the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory". Turn to John chapter fourteen for a moment. And in the night before He left, fourteenth chapter and the third verse. And most of you probably know it by heart. Remember He starts out by saying, "Don't let your heart be troubled, you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you, I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also".

Night before He left, big promise. Then turn to the book of Acts. He's already resurrected now. And look at this first chapter. And again, He's talking to them about things that are going to happen. And then the question comes up again. Because He says in verse six, "So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, 'Lord,'" look at this. Back to the same question. "'Is it at this time You're restoring the kingdom to Israel?'" You're going to defeat the Romans and restore Israel, put them in charge. "He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or epochs,'" which is seasons. "'It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority.'" Then if you turn to the book of the Revelation, the last book of the Bible. And again, this same emphasis. Look, if you will, in the first chapter. And in this seventh verse, "Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen".

So, all through the Scripture, there's the promise of His coming. So, you may say, "Well, it's been two thousand years, He still hasn't come". But I want to come to a passage of Scripture in the Revelation that gives an explanation of why we're still asking the question, why we're still talking about the timing. And it is the most preeminent question. People don't ask me, for example, what do you think is going to happen when Jesus comes? The first question is: do you think He's coming soon? Well, sure, He could come soon. In fact, the truth is, when you and I really and truly consider seriously that Jesus Christ could come at any moment, He says what happens is, when we are fixed with that conviction, we're going to live a godly life. If you knew, if you thought that He could come at any moment, and He can, if you really believe that, then you're going to be motivated to live a godly life. The world doesn't feel that way. They think, first of all, there's no such thing, or they don't even believe there was a Jesus, or they don't believe He's coming back or whatever. He says, "We have a fixed conviction that Jesus is coming again". And the result ought to be, in our life, to live a godly life, expecting Him at any moment.

And I would ask you, if you knew He was coming tomorrow, does anything come to your mind that you would need to change? Is it somebody you need to forgive? Some debts you need to pay? Whatever. Is it something that you need to change in your life? What he is saying is, you and I should live believing and convinced and persuaded He could come at any moment. There is nothing yet to be done before He comes. And so, with that in mind, I want us to consider seriously this whole issue now of the time because this is a problem with many people.

And so, I want you to see something interesting. Go back, if you will, to the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew. And let's look, if you will, look in this forty second verse. Listen to what Jesus said. He's talking to them now about the things that are going to happen. And He says to them, He says, "Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will". So, he's saying, now, He's coming when you don't think He will. So for the believer, we're to be sensitive and conscious continually that the Lord Jesus Christ could come any time that He chooses to.

Look in the twenty-fifth chapter for a moment. And I want us to look at the thirteenth verse. He says, "Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour". Neither the day nor the hour. And then back to the twenty-fourth chapter, want you to look at one more verse. "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone". Now, look at that verse, He says, "Settle the issue, nobody knows when I'm coming back". And I remember it hasn't been too long ago that some fellow had this thing all figured out. And there were a lot of people who believed him. And I thought to myself, all you have to do is read one passage. What did He say? He said He didn't even know. Listen to what He said, "Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many". You see, there isn't anything in the Word of God I need that He hasn't put there. And He says, "Make it clear, nobody knows when He's coming".

Now, that doesn't mean we're not to be conscious of the fact that He's to come. And I can remember this, and my mom was not a biblical scholar at all. She didn't know that much about the Word of God. But she drilled this into me. She would say to me, "You know Jesus could come at any moment". And this is what would get me, and I've said it before, you don't want to be doing anything you wouldn't want to be doing if He comes. Now, you say, well, for a twelve-year-old kid or ten or eight, whatever I was at the time, that stuck in my mind. I didn't want you know what, I still don't want to be doing anything that I shouldn't be doing when He comes. Because there, listen, there is to be a sensitivity, if you'll think about this, that God's whole time span of everything that He intends to do in the world and all things that are going on, He has it all worked out. And so, for the believers, we're to believe and to acknowledge that He's coming at whatever time He chooses. But the time is not my business.

And I want you to notice something in this passage also. Now, go down to verse forty-four, "For this reason you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will. Who then is this faithful and sensible slave whom the master put in charge of a household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of his possessions". Now, watch what he does. It keeps on back. When are You coming, when are You coming, when are You coming? And Jesus does what? He just refocuses their attention on the fact it's not when I'm coming, it's what you ought to be doing until I come back. It's your responsibility. It is your activity. It is your lifestyle until I do come back.

Now, go back to Acts chapter one for a moment. I'm going back on purpose here. And I want you to notice what Jesus did again. Because this is where our thoughts ought to be primarily. Remember, He said verse six now, Acts chapter one. "So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, 'Lord, is it at this time You're restoring the kingdom to Israel?'" That is, it's time. They wanted to know what's the time? What did Jesus say to them? "He said to them, 'It's not for you to know,'" it's none of your business to know, "'the times or the seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority.'" And then what does He do? He refocuses their attention. He says, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, even to the remotest part of the earth".

Every time they wanted to major on when You coming back? He would refocus their attention to what you ought to be doing till He does get back. He says, listen, it's fixed by divine, by God's authority. The time of His return is fixed. But isn't it interesting. And I think this is God in His wisdom. Jesus said, "I don't even know". I love that. And the truth is, friend, whoever you are and whatever you may believe, nobody knows when Jesus is going to return. He could return at any moment. But nobody knows when. Imagine what we would be doing if Jesus said, "In five years, I'm coming again". We might be surprised at the crazy things people would do in the next five years. Trying to get everything they could get in life. And do everything they could possibly do to satisfy every emotion, desire they have. Or whatever they might be doing. Jesus in His wisdom intended for His church, for His believers, to always be sensitive that He could come at any moment. What stirs us to live a godly life, for example? What stirs us to want to do our best? Knowing that He could come at any moment.

And so, when it comes to these passages, I want to go back to Revelation chapter twenty-two for a moment. And so, how do we deal with this issue that, in this last book of the Bible, in the last chapter, three times. Listen, we're talking about when we begin this chapter, we're talking about He showed me of river, the water, life and so forth about heaven. And then He says in the seventh verse, "And behold I'm coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book," that is, hey says in the beginning of this book, those who read it, those who hear it, and those who obey it will be blessed. Then He says in the twelfth verse again, "Behold, I'm coming quickly and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what has been done". Then in the twentieth verse, "'Yes, I'm coming quickly.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus".

So, what I want you to see is this, and that is when He says, "Quickly," He doesn't mean I'll be there tomorrow or tonight. He says, "But when I come, like instantly, I'm going to show up". Now, I want you to notice something as we said before, as each time Jesus refocused their attention from when He's coming back to what they ought to be doing till He gets back. So, let's think about from your perspective and mine, let's think about this whole issue of our personal responsibility. That is, we have a responsibility as a follower of Jesus. And He says, "We're the children of God". And He says, "We can't even conceive of what we're going to be like when He comes". But He refocuses their attention every single time.

Now, I think there are four activities - you and I could just put it down to four activities that we ought to be engaged in until He comes. We don't have to be concerned about when He's coming. Because, first of all, you can't figure it out. And I would say to anybody out there who's listening or watching, you may be brilliant with numbers, but if Jesus said He didn't know, only the Father knows. And He says it's not for us, He made it clear. It's not for us to know the times or the seasons of His activities. Then forget the time business and remember this, we have an awesome, at least four-fold responsibility till He comes. And the first one is this, and they'll put these on the screen. And that is to be watching faithfully.

Now, well, you say, "Well, watching what"? Well, what did He say in first John chapter three? He says He's coming, and His coming ought to motivate us to do what? To live a godly life. That is, we're to, listen, we're to watch how we live. We're to watch what our testimony's like. We're to watch those, listen, we're to watch for those who are watching us. What kind of a testimony are we living out before them? He says we're to be faithfully watching, watching for His return. Yes. Knowing that at any moment He could return. And therefore, because He could, I am to be busy doing what He called me to do until He comes. Faithfully watching.

Now, He didn't say, "Just watch". We're to be faithfully watching. That is, it should be a continuous mindset for us that we're the children of God. We're His followers. We're the ones Jesus has left here in order to get the truth of the gospel so that people might be saved worldwide. Faithfully watching. And He didn't say that we ought to be, He said we must be faithfully watching. So, I ask you the question I asked in the very beginning. When is the last time before this morning you gave serious consideration to the fact that Jesus is coming? We're to keep it uppermost in our thinking. It doesn't mean it's in front of my face every day. But it means that I'm aware daily that He could come at any moment.

Now, we know that He could come at any moment for any one of us or a group of us. But He says, "We're to keep before us all the time He could come and wrap it all up. But it's something we ought to be doing. Secondly, we should be waiting peacefully. That is, we shouldn't be worried about it. We shouldn't get all hung up. And it's interesting how certain things can take place in the world politically or economically or whatever it might be. And people get all upset. Well, what about this? And what about that? And what about the other? What did Paul say? He says, "Don't be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God". And he says He will surround you, He will garrison you about with a peace that surpasses all human understanding.

God knows, and especially the day in which this was written, these were turbulent times. Rome was like a steel boot on the Jews, hated the Jews. They hated the Romans. And so, this wasn't conflict or war over yonder. This was conflict in Israel all the time. And they felt like they were slaves to Rome, and they were to a great degree. But He said, "We're to be at peace". Why? Because we know who we are, we're the sons and daughters of the Living God. Because we know we have the gift of eternal life. Because we know that our name's written in the Lamb's Book of Life. We know that we're indwelt by the very Spirit of God who has all power to do all things. We know that He is always with us. He will provide what we need. He will protect us. He will watch over us. The Bible says that our God cares for us.

The third thing is this, and we've said a lot about it already. We should be working diligently. And you notice that passage in Matthew, He changed, focused their attention, that and in Acts, from what time is it going to be to what they ought to be doing. So, ask yourself this: as a follower of Jesus aware of the fact that He's coming, He's giving you a lifespan and a background and education and all the things that you have. What should you and I be doing according to Scripture till He comes? Diligently serving Him. Diligently working. And I'm asking you on the basis that Jesus Christ could come any moment, and He says He's coming as a thief in the night, I would ask you: what are you doing? What are you doing that counts as service to God? You don't have to preach and sing and play and go the mission field to serve God. But I am responsible, and you are responsible before Holy God to live a godly life and to serve Him until the day we take our last breath.

Somebody says, "Well, suppose I'm in the hospital and I know I'm dying, then what"? Well, when the nurse comes in, talk to her. Listen, can you can you give me any reason biblically not to serve God till the last day you die? You cannot. Then you better get busy. When is He coming? I don't know. The time's not the issue. Listen, watch this, and it's so simple. The issue is not the time. The issue is being obedient to the Son of God who went to the cross and laid down His life and made it possible for you to be saved. Then I'd say one last thing, and that is: we should be worshipping Him joyfully. Think about coming to church on Sunday morning, or whenever you go to church, and you meet your friends that you, most of the time in big cities, you only see them when you come to church. We sing together. We rejoice. We praise the Lord. And all these hymns we sing and the songs that we sing are things that we believe. "When We All Get to Heaven," "How Firm a Foundation," all those hymns that we could just go through many, many, many of them.

And what happens? We meet together. We fellowship together. We worship together. We sing, we give, we pray, we are challenged, we learn. And what happens? We go out to do what? To serve the Living God, conscious at every moment. Jesus could come take me at any moment. Or He could come at any moment. He said it's like a thief in the night. You see, if the body of Christ would just get this message that Jesus is coming and we are responsible till our last breath to be getting the message out in whatever way He calls us to do it. I'll tell you what'll happen. Something's going to happen to you because you're going to begin to recognize, watch this, don't we all talk about how fast time goes by?

You know we talked about it was January the first. And then there was Easter. And then it was summer. And then we talked about one of these days it's going to be Thanksgiving. Then we say, "One of these days it's going to be Christmas". And we're already talking about New Year. Time swiftly goes by. The question is: how are you spending it? Spending it or investing it? And my prayer is that you'll be conscious of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and you make every day count. If you didn't have but thirty days, you'd make every day count. If I love Him, I'm going to make every day count. Amen?

Father, how grateful we are. You're so patient with us, Lord. How grateful we are for Your love and goodness and mercy and patience and kindness. Just etch these truths into our heart and let the results be that our life begins to count in ways it's never counted before. And that we see ourselves truly as Your servants: working, laboring, worshipping, watching, and waiting, knowing that one of these days You're going to call us, either individually or when You come for all of us together as the body of Christ. We want our life to count. Show us how to make it count because You've given us the Holy Spirit to enable us to make it count. And we pray this in Jesus's name, amen.

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