The Return

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
November 27, 2011 Advent I

Isaiah 64:1-9, Psalm 80:1-7, I Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37

From the Prophet Isaiah:
Yet, O Lord, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou art our potter; we are all the work of thy hand. Be not exceedingly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, consider, we are all thy people.

From the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians:
As you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ; who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

And from the Gospel of St. Mark:
And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
Amen. †

I hope everyone had a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving. Good food and good fellowship with family and friends. I trust that everyone thanked God for the delicious food and the many blessings He has bestowed upon us.

When things are going well for us, we may think that we don’t need God or we take Him for granted. We think we can handle things on our own without asking God for help or guidance or even thanking Him for the many blessings He has given us (such as, His Son, Jesus Christ). The question we all need to ask is: What priority is God in our lives? Is attending church and worshiping God a priority? Since you are here, it is.

Now what happens when there is a problem in your life. Let’s say you have to deal with the loss of a loved one; perhaps there is a problem in your family; trouble at work, maybe you lost your job; perhaps you are concerned about what’s going on in our country or around the world. Given any one of these situations, one might turn to God for help, guidance or understanding.
We assume that God will always be there for us. But should He listen to us if He is not a priority in our lives; when we don’t attend church regularly; when we don’t give of ourselves generously (which includes our time and our income). Why should God care about us if we don’t care about Him? God is with us through the good times and the bad times and He expects us to be with Him also.

When you read the Old Testament, you read about the history of God’s chosen people, the Jews. The Old Testament is the history of humanity: the good, the bad, and the ugly. The Jews certainly had their ups and downs with God. When they turned to God and repented of their sins, He forgave them and blessed them; they were victorious in battles and they prospered. However, after awhile when things were going well, they thought they could manage on their own without God. They turned to idols and other gods.

We read in Psalm 115:4-5: Their idols are silver and gold, the work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; they have eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but they cannot hear; they have noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but they cannot feel; they have feet, but they cannot walk; they cannot make a sound with their throat. Those who make idols will become like them, everyone who trusts in them.

In our Old Testament reading today, Isaiah was preaching to a “blind and deaf” Israel (like the Idols they worshiped). It is God’s people, who are blind to his ways and deaf to his word. They worship what they have made, rather than the creator – this is at the heart of idolatry. When the Jews turned from God, He would punish them and allow bad things to happen.

The prophet Isaiah, the son of Amoz, proclaimed his message to Judah and Jerusalem between 742 and 687 B.C., that critical period in which the Northern Kingdom was annexed to the Assyrian empire and which Judah, the Southern Kingdom lived uneasily in its shadow as a tributary. Nothing is known about the early life of the prophet, although it has been conjectured from certain aspects of his message that he may have been a priest.

Isaiah lived at a time when God’s temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, Gods’ glorious land had been ravaged, and His people were in exile in Babylon. Isaiah cries out to God to “come down” and reveal his awesome power to the nations. The other nations trust in dead idols, so let them see what the living God of Israel can do!

Why was God not working wonders? Because the Jews had sinned and must confess their sins and turn from them. God has planned for his people wonderful things beyond their imagination, but their sins prevent Him from sharing His blessings. Is there hope? YES, because god is a forgiving Father and a patient Potter. He can cleanse us and make us anew if we will let Him have His way.

The problem of sin was not restricted to the Jews, in fact it continues to this day. The problem is that we don’t always let God have His way; that we don’t always repent of our sins.
Perhaps as Christians, we have a false sense of security with the saving grace of Jesus Christ; that we can do whatever we want and He’ll forgive us. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.

Our Epistle reading this morning has Paul writing to the church in Corinth. Corinth was a defiled church. Some of its members were guilty of sexual immorality; others got drunk; still others were using the grace of God to excuse worldly living. It was also a divided church, with at least four different groups competing for leadership (1 Cor. 1:12).

How did this happen? The members of the church permitted the sins of the city to get into the local assembly. Corinth was a polluted city, filled with every kind of vice and worldly pleasure.

Around the 1970’s there was a slogan in the Protestant denominations: “we are in the world, but not of the world.” This meant that we would hold fast to our Christian beliefs; that we would set the example to a disbelieving world. Unfortunately, soon after that, the church developed a philosophy that the church needed to change in order to attract people or hold onto “young” people. We need to welcome diversity. So, the churches conscientiously or unconscientiously allowed the sins of the world into their churches. This was especially the case here in New England. Unfortunately, the opposite result happened. The church has lost thousands of members; attendance is down; churches are closing. People turned away from God and His Word.

The word church in Greek means “a called-out people.” Each church has two addresses: a geographic address (i.e. 730 Main St. Waltham, MA) and a spiritual address in Jesus Christ. The church is made up of saints, that is, people who have been “sanctified” or “set apart” by God. A saint is not a dead person who has been honored by men because of his or her holy life. No, Paul wrote to living saints, people who, through faith in Jesus Christ, had been set apart for God’s special enjoyment and use. In other words, every true believer is a saint because every true believer has been set apart by God and for God. We are God’s living saints!

As we enter the Advent season and look forward with anticipation to Christmas. It is natural for us to think of the coming of Jesus Christ. But I am not talking about the birth of a baby boy, I am talking about the return of Jesus Christ, where He will establish His kingdom on earth.

When we look at the times we are in: high unemployment, fighting in the streets, promotion of class warfare, fighting across the Middle East. One might wonder, will things get better or are these signs that His return is near?

Our gospel reading this morning talks about the end times and the tribulation. In the Book of Revelation, the last half of the Tribulation is called “the wrath of God” (Rev. 14:10,19). During this time, God will judge the world and prepare Israel for the coming of her Messiah.
It will be a time of intensive judgment such as the world has never seen or will ever see again. In it, God will be working out His purposes and setting the stage for the coming of the Conqueror (Rev. 19:11ff).

Satanic deception will continue to the very end, and false Christs and false prophets will lead people astray. In fact, they will even do miracles (Matt. 7:21-23). So deceptive will be these miracles that even the elect will be tempted to believe their lies. Of themselves, miracles are not a proof of divine calling and approval (Deut. 13:1-5). The final test is the Word of God.

The tribulation period will climax with the appearing of terrifying signs in the heavens and worldwide chaos on the earth (Luke 21:25-26). These signs, which have been predicted by the prophets (Isa. 13:10; 34:4), will prepare the way for the coming of Jesus Christ to the earth. It will be a revelation of His great glory as He comes to establish His rule on earth (Acts 1:11; Rev. 1:7).

The Apostle Mark describes the re-gathering of Israel from the nations to which they have been scattered throughout the world (Deut. 30:3-6). They will see their Messiah and trust Him, and the nation will be created in holiness and glory (Zech. 12:9-13). Some theologians think the reestablishing of the State of Israel to be a sign, where Jews from around the world have returned to the land promised by God.

Jesus did not want His disciples or us to get so involved in the prophecies of the future that they would neglect the responsibilities of the present. Those responsibilities are: sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with the lost, being a living saint, and living a life in the control and will of God.

As Christian believers today, we are not looking for “signs” of His return; we are looking for Him! But people living during the Tribulation will be able to watch these things occur and will know that His coming is near. This assurance will help them to endure (Mark 13:13) and to be good witnesses.

We as believers do not depend on signs; we depend on His unchanging Word, the “sure word of prophecy” (2 Peter 1:19-21). But He does command us to “watch.” To “watch” means to be alert, to stay at one’s best, to stay awake. Why must we stay alert? Because nobody knows when Jesus Christ will return. When He was on earth in His humiliation, Jesus did not know the day or hour of His coming again. Even the angels do not know. The unsaved world scoffs at us because we continue to cling to this “blessed hope,” but He will return as He promised (2 Peter 3). Our task is to be faithful and to be busy, not to speculate or debate about the hidden details of prophecy.

Watchfulness has nothing do to with going to heaven. It is purely a matter of pleasing Him, hearing His loving commendation, and receiving His reward (Matt. 25:14-30).

While Christians today may not experience the terrible sufferings described in the Tribulation, we will have our share of persecution and tribulation in this world before the Lord returns (John 16:33). But the warnings in this chapter of Mark may be applied to our own lives today: “Take heed that you are not deceived” (Mark 13:5); “Take heed that you do not become discouraged and quit” (Mark 13:9); “Take heed, watch and pray” (Mark 13:33).

“And what I say unto you, I say unto all, “Watch” (Mark 13:37).

Let us pray:
O Lord, most merciful and gracious God. As we look forward to and with anticipation to the return of your Son. Help us not to get lost in the affairs of this world. May we be ever vigilant to His coming again. We love you with all our heart, mind, and soul. Give us the courage to be a witness to a darkened world. Help us to be true to you and to your word. And may we be a living saint in your church and with all we meet. This we ask in the name of your Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in whose name we live and pray.


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