Right Around the Corner
There is a spiritual song that asks, "How long?" It ponders the return of Jesus.
"Oh Lord, how long 'til we shout the glad song? 'Christ Returneth! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Amen!'" One answer the Christian should never give is "Not today."
Christians must never lack vigilance and preparedness. The Lord tells us to
always be watching. Everyday. Always ready as we live by faith and focus on the
goal. To us, His coming is always "right around the corner." At least it is if
we are adopting the attitude as our own that the Bible says we are to have. The
Lord actually puts it a number of different ways to make sure we understand it.
Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from
sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. (Romans 13:11).
The idea that we are constantly and steadily moving closer to our eternal hope with every heartbeat is both a comfort and a caution for faithful men and women of God. It is a comfort to know that eternal glory awaits us. It is a caution in that we do not allow ourselves to be lulled into a complacency that will rob us of our diligent watchful service unto the Lord.
Not as Far To Go As It Once Was
We do not know how much further we have to go until the summation of all things occurs and eternity begins. We do not know if the time will be measured in hours or days or years. Though we can look at our own lives and perhaps see various stages, we do not know when it will be over and we will stand before our Maker and give account for our lives.
We may be at the beginning moments of a life of faith. We may have, in our dedicated obedient response to the gospel of grace, begun well. One such good beginning is described this way: For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:9,10).
Included in a good beginning is a turning from sin to God; a continuing faithful service to God, and a waiting for Jesus. But this is no guarantee that the end will not come before the beginning stage is left. But, again, no guarantee is needed for those who are "waiting" for Jesus, which simply means they are living prepared lives. Each breath leads us closer to eternity.
But perhaps we have left the beginning stage and are now mature in our faith. We've been around the block a few times and have met with both success and failure, and have grown as we made correction and applied diligence to obeying Jesus. This stage is described in Scripture this way: Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, (Philippians 3:12,13).
Here, in this more advanced stage, we see a continued diligence with the focus still on the goal. There is one thing new; now there is a history of faith. There are accomplishments and battles under our belts about which we might be tempted to dwell upon and think these past victories relieve us of present responsibility. Instead, we are to forget what lies behind. Instead of "resting on our laurels" we keep pressing on with the same diligence as we did at the beginning. And we remember, every day brings us closer to our eternal destination.
And then, there is that final stage as we near our release into glory. To the end, we fight the fight, we run the course, we keep the faith. Even as his departure from this life was imminent, Paul continued to serve. He did not stop proclaiming the gospel of Jesus. He said, But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:17,18; cf. vss. 6-8). Paul would live for Jesus unto the end, then die with Jesus, to live again with Him forever. He only had a little time left; just a few more steps, and he sensed that his victory and complete joy was near. But it had never been very far away; he had always been watching for it, ready and prepared. The Lord had always been with Him; at the door; near at hand.
Waiting Patiently for the Lord
James illustrates this active vigilance of faithful disciples by picturing us as farmers patiently waiting for harvest. Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. (James 5:7-9). For the disciple, the Lord's coming is always "at hand". We do not live as though the final judgment is some sort of far off, unlikely event. Our relationship with the Son of God is not like a relationship with a distant stranger whom we may never see again.
His coming is a breath away, and our conduct, both spiritually and morally, must recognize that possibility. The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. (1 Peter 4:7).
Focusing on the Goal
So many people are looking for signs of Jesus' coming in world events today. There are even date setters that suggest they have discovered the secret equation and announce the date of His suspected return, only to have the date fail and the world laugh again. They search in current events for clues.
Even if I thought that there were clues to be found in current events, that would not be where I would set my focus; not on the events leading to the goal, but on the goal which is exactly where the Bible says the focus ought to be. While we watch our footsteps and avoid pitfalls, our focus is on the goal. The Scriptures say, Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1,2).
Victory in Jesus is at hand. He is near. Maranatha!
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 11.8; August, 2004