By Mike Ivaska
“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” – James 5:7-9
On Sunday we were blessed to hear a challenging word from Pastor Frank, discipleship pastor here at VICC. In his sermon, Frank challenged us on the necessity of prayer, especially in these times of upheaval and uncertainty. During his sermon, he also exposed us to some possibly significant coinciding events that many believe to be a portent of things to come. Based upon the Jewish calendar and certain astronomical events, Frank indicated that the years 2014-2015 could be signficant days – days of fear and hope. And because the most significant future event we as Christians look forward to is the return of our Savior, we were reminded about just how close the return of Jesus could truly be.
I for one greatly appreciated Frank’s sermon for several reasons – two in particular. First of all, I believe God spoke to me through Frank on the need for prayer and the need to tarry in our times of prayer instead of simply rushing through them and moving on to other things. And second, Frank’s clear presentation of these significant possible signs of future events has made me stop and really take seriously the fact that Jesus could return at any moment and within my lifetime.
Often when we talk about the fact that Jesus could return “at any moment,” the ambiguity seems to push the expectation of his return further into the future (at least for me). There have been so many attempts to date the return of Christ (did you know Jesus was supposed to come back in 1988? He was also supposed to show up in AD 1,000!). Speculation becomes exhausting after awhile. The much publicized Harold Camping brooha of the last year or two has not made end-times speculations any more believable for many folks. And the talk about “blood moons” and “sabbath years” can often leave the same taste in one’s mouth. I found that I had to just cool down, humble myself, and listen. And by doing so I found I appreciated what Frank had to say.
In subsequent conversations, I have heard and seen many responses to Frank’s sermon. For some, it was just more date setting, and date setting never works. For others, the idea that “the end” could be so soon was terrifying and produced little more than fear about the future. For others, it was exciting: Jesus is coming back! And there was a broad range of reponses in between.
I for one appreciated Frank’s sermon and the thoughts he put forward, and as lead pastor of this congregation I wanted to add a few thoughts to stay the course and provide a center for all of us to gather around.
First, I think it should be noted that Frank never said, “Jesus is coming back sometime before September 2015.” In fact in private conversation he explicitly denied that was what he meant. The importance of these calandar dates coinciding with astronomical events were simply put forward as things to be aware of and as a reminder that we live in signficant days – days in which it would be wise to be a people of prayer.
Second, the study of end-times prophecy by its very nature can produce both the most heated debates and the widest variety of opinions and speculations. Everyone who has studied the topic for any length tends to become pretty certain of their opinion (even though there’s no way of knowing if they’re right until it happens!) and sometimes they can get pretty passionate defending their view (The “truth” must prevail! Friendships be damned!). Because of all this, it’s important to remember that we know about as much today regarding the return of Jesus as the ancient Israelites would have known regarding his first coming. How many of us, armed only with the book of Isaiah, could have accurately predicted the events of the four Gospels?
Finally, and most importantly, the three things any of us need to take away from any study of the last days are…
1) We ultimately do not know when Jesus is returning. “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:36).
2) Jesus could return at any moment, so we need to be ready. “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Luke 12:40)
3) Knowing Christ could return at any moment does not mean we ignore this world, our neighbors, families, or jobs. Knowing Christ is returning should make us invest even more in the places and people God has put in our lives. “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Today, tomorrow, next year, or in a hundred years, Jesus is coming back. On this the Bible is clear. Let’s be ready!