Sermon Ideas For Mark 13:24-37 Part 4
The first Sunday in Advent is the Sunday in the church year when we celebrate Christ's coming in glory. Some preachers, I suspect, do this with little enthusiasm, if a all. If so, they have missed out on a major theme and fundamental doctrine of the New Testament. Especially during this period of millennial mania it behooves us to tackle this crucial subject forthrightly and seriously.
The initial point of this passage is the same as that in last week's Gospel lesson: "The Son of Man will come in clouds with great power and glory" (v. 26. Cf. Mt 25:31). Note the terminology in both cases. Jesus of Nazareth, the lowly and humble servant of all, will return in glory and "sit on the throne of his glory" (Mt 25:31b).
The word that is used for the return of Christ is Parousia, which simply means `coming' or `advent.' Hence it is inappropriate to refer to Christ's return in glory as his "second coming," both because this expression is unbiblical and, more importantly, because it obscures a fundamental biblical truth, viz., the God whom we worship is a God who in mercy and grace condescends to come (down) to us again and again. We do not need to search out God for "Our God comes, he does not keep silence" (Ps 50:3).
This should be the overarching theme of the whole Advent season: the God who comes and comes again. The message of the Bible is not that simply of two comings, as a babe in Bethlehem and as the King of glory. Our God comes again, sometimes in judgment but above all as the compassionate redeemer. I submit that there are at least five major comings or advents of our God recorded in Scripture.
The first is God's gracious election in choosing the Jews to be his chosen representatives in the task of the renewal of a fallen creation. There was no logical reason for the choice of the Israelites. It was simply because God "set his heart" on them and loved them (Deut 7:7), an act of sheer grace. Later God "came down" to this people through special revelation to his servants, the prophets.
However, as we read in Hebrews 1:1-2, "Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these latter days he has spoken to us by a Son…" Thus, not even revealed words sufficed. The eternal Word of God, the Logos, came down and assumed our flesh. In Jesus of Nazareth we have Emmanuel, God with us. This is the crucial and central advent of our Savior-God, but it is by no means the last one.
The third form of God's coming to us is in the gift of the Holy Spirit, the paraclete, who not only descends on Pentecost but continually unites the risen Christ with his people. Thus the coming of the Holy Spirit is another way in which a holy, yet merciful, God condescends to come down to us and dwell among us.
A fourth way in which God comes to us in order to comfort and strengthen the people of God is in the sacraments, "the visible words of God" (Augustine). Here again we have a powerful illustration of this God who is not so high and lifted up that he cannot also stoop to have a peculiarly vivid fellowship with us through concrete elements.
Finally, we come to the fifth manifestation of our God's coming to us, the coming in glory of Jesus Christ. Now it should be apparent why it is inappropriate to speak of this event as Christ's "second coming."
One may also want to add a sixth `advent' in order to make this personal, i.e., the coming of the Lord into the life of the believer. For all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ will be of no avail unless the babe of Bethlehem and the Lord of the universe becomes the Lord of our lives. In the words of an ancient poet: "If Christ were born in Bethlehem a thousand times and not in you, you would be eternally lost"(Angelus Silesius).
A major motif in our Gospel lesson, however, is that of the need for watchfulness and preparedness, a theme common to almost all of the New Testament lessons for this month. Here, too, we have repeated warnings in view of the unexpected return of the Lord (vv. 33-6). "Be alert" (v. 23); "Beware, keep alert" (v. 33); "keep awake (vv. 35 and 37). As suggested earlier, the best way to do this is to keep doing the things we should be doing all the time: living faithful lives of witness and service. However, that ultimate end time, the kairos, gives both chronological and eschatological urgency to our daily work.
Finally, hold up before your congregation the importance of this subject. The return of Christ in glory is no incidental add-on to the basic gospel message. It is the key to the Christian hope and a biblical view of history, for the expectation of the consummation of all things is an integral part of the Christian faith.
Emil Brunner has stated this truth forcefully:
Faith in Jesus without the expectation of His Parousia is a cheque that is never cashed, a promise that is not made in earnest. A faith in Christ without the expectation of a Parousia is like a flight of stairs that leads nowhere, but ends in the void. As Paul says of the Resurrection: "If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, ye are yet in our sins" (1 Cor 15:17), so we must say similarly of the Parousia: without the Coming of the Lord in glory, the new life remains in concealment; there is no consummation for the unredeemed world.1
I. John Hesselink
1. The Christian Doctrine of the Church, Faith, and the Consummation (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), p. 396.
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