Advent: The Coming of the King

Text:  Matthew 21:1-9

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

I’m sure you’re all quite familiar with the old saying about how a watched pot never boils. It isn’t true, of course. A watched pot does boil. It only seems to us, waiting on it, like it takes an eternity to do so.

Einstein’s famous Theory of Relativity suggests that time may not be the constant we think it is. Here on earth a minute, is a minute, is a minute. But Einstein argued that elsewhere in the cosmos a minute may not be a minute, at least not as we perceive a minute. Time may be relative. And there are certainly moments in our own experience where time seems relative. Take for example how time seems to stretch out endlessly when we are children; it feels like an eternity between Christmases. Now consider how time appears to almost exponentially shorten as we get older; the time between Christmases just speeds by.  And consider also the differences in time we feel when we are enjoying an activity and when we are waiting for that proverbial kettle to boil.

And, of course, we must consider the difference between God’s perspective of time and our own perspective—especially now as we enter this Advent season, the time when we as God’s elect look for, hope for, and prepare for the triumphant and glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In every Gospel it records that following the Lord’s resurrection from the dead He appeared to His disciples; He ate with them, taught them, and prepared them for the next task appointed for them, to evangelize all of the known world. In the opening chapter of Acts Jesus appears to His disciples again, commands them to remain in Jerusalem awaiting the gift of the Holy Spirit, and directs them to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the outer parts of the world. Then, suddenly, while the disciples were watching Him, Jesus was taken up into a cloud and out of their sight.

Acts 1:10-11: And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” 

Hallelujah! Jesus Christ is coming again. He Himself said so. But it has been almost two thousand years since He said He would return. Why the delay? Well, there are two reasons for His delay. Peter records them both together in chapter 3 of his second letter.  Peter writes: “Knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 

 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.2 Peter 3:3-4,8-9

The Lord’s delayed return, according to Peter, isn’t actually a delay at all. It only appears to be a delay to us. From our perspective, time-bound as we are, it seems as if there has been an eternity of time passed between when Jesus promised to return and the fulfillment of that promise. From God’s perspective—He the author of time, standing outside of time—it’s only been two days. Moreover, the Lord’s delay—or seeming delay—is grace. When Jesus comes again He will not come as He did the first time as a humble carpenter from Nazareth, an itinerant rabbi proclaiming the Good News of salvation to sinners, and a willing sacrifice for sin. When Jesus comes again He will come gloriously, triumphantly, as God’s instrument of salvation for the saints and as God’s agent of justice and wrath for sinners.

In the Nicene Creed we proclaim our belief in one Lord Jesus Christ, very God of very God, born of the Virgin Mary, suffering under Pontius Pilate, buried, resurrected, ascended into heaven, and coming again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead.

The Apostle John opens his apocalyptic letter, Revelation, with this news,  chapter 1 verse 7: Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.

Why will all the nations of the world wail when Jesus returns? Because the time of grace will be over. Because this humble sacrifice for sin, whom they scorned and rejected, is coming as their judge and they are unprepared. Because the time to repent has passed and all that awaits them is outer darkness, and weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.

Peter’s message is really quite simple. Don’t mistake the Lord’s delayed return as an indication that He is never returning; and don’t test God’s patience by continuing in sin and unbelief—He is waiting on His Son’s return lovingly, mercifully, graciously, so that you will be saved.

In some ways Advent is a schizophrenic time for Christians. It requires us to look two ways at the same time. We look backward in time to the Messiah’s first coming as a lowly Baby in a backwater town, even as we look forward in time to this same Messiah’s second public coming in the clouds with great glory to take possession of the kingship that is His alone by right.

At first glance it may appear as if the two Scripture texts appointed for this First Sunday in Advent, Romans 13:8-14, and Matthew 21:1-9, are strange lessons for this day and completely unrelated to the second coming of Christ and the call upon the believer in light of that coming.

If we look closer, however, we can see the connection of these two passages and how they both relate perfectly to the message of Advent and the responsibilities believers have to live as strangers and pilgrims in this world until Jesus comes.

The Gospel, Matthew 21:1-9, is the record of Jesus’ triumphant return to Jerusalem. Please don’t miss the point of this passage: Jesus Christ returning triumphantly in judgment.

The New Testament lesson, Romans 13:8-14, contains two warnings —in fact, the two most important warnings for how Christians must live in this world in anticipation of the return of the Lord in glory. The first is to love everyone. The Second is to live righteously. Notice, there’s a “don’t” and a “do.” Don’t have any outstanding, unpaid, delinquent debts, Paul says, except the continuous debt to love one another.. Do, considering how much closer Jesus’ return is today than it was the day you believed, cast off every opportunity to sin and put on—that is, make it a habit of lifestyle—those things that are of God.

What are we, then, as believers living in this time between Jesus’ first coming and second coming, to do until He returns for us? First, we are to watch. In the Gospels Jesus tells several parables comparing Himself to a landowner who goes away on a long trip and leaves the responsibility of his land and goods to servants until he returns. The point of these parables is the same: it is the foolish servant who misuses his master’s things, believing he will never return; and it is the wise servant who is a good steward of his master’s things, looking always for his master’s return.

Jesus Himself said that His return will come swiftly, and without warning.  Listen to Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 24: “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 

Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

Christ’s point is this, verses 43-44: But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. 

Watching here means looking in the Scriptures for the signs of His coming. Watching here means watching the news, reading the paper, looking to world events, all with the hopeful eye to maybe seeing Jesus come today. Watching means looking forward to the Lord’s return with anticipation and excitement, convinced that His return will mean the judgment and end of evil, sin, and death, and the justification of the righteous and the establishment of righteousness. We pray for this every Sunday, by the way. Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. And watching means being prepared for Christ’s return. It means living with your spiritual bags packed, dressed in Christ’s righteousness. Secondly, we are to work. You and I are supposed to be about the kingdom’s business, not our business, until the king comes. Jesus said that the fields where ripe for harvest, the work was plenteous but the laborers few. “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only,” James tells us. Blessed is the laborer, Jesus said, who is busy about his master’s business when the master returns.

At the great day of reckoning, those who sat on their backsides and did nothing will, unfortunately for them, (Slide) hear the judge say,  ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. 

Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. 

But to those quietly doing the kingdom’s work, they will hear: Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 

I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you? And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. 

My fear is that we have heard those words so often they’ve lost their warning, and we are no longer concerned with working to please our Savior. We aren’t saved by good works. But we are saved to and for good works. We are saved by faith alone, as Luther said, but by a faith that is not alone.

Finally, we are to witness. “You will be my witnesses, in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth,” Jesus told the disciples. The Greek word the New Testament uses which is translated into our English bibles with the word “witness” is the word marturon. It is the same word from which we get our English word “martyr.” A marturon is one who testifies, or bears witness, to something. Sometimes that witness is with words. Sometimes it is with deeds. Sometimes it is by death. We’ve got this Christian life thing wrong if our belief is our best kept secret. If we are ashamed to testify about Him before the world, Jesus said that He will be ashamed to testify about us before the Father.

Being a witness for Jesus means ordering your life around His commandments. If you sing like an angel on Sunday morning and live like the devil the rest of the week, you’ve misunderstood what all this is about.

Being a witness for Jesus means clearing your throat, opening your mouth, and risking a little public ridicule to share the love of Jesus with someone. The truth is, if you are striving to live righteously, the lost will notice and ask you what accounts for the change in your life. When they ask, tell them. You know what you are waiting for? We are waiting for that sky to part, and Jesus Christ to make his promised appearance. Until then, even as Advents come and go, we are to be watching, working and witnessing. Keep watching that pot. I assure you without hesitation, doubt, or fear, it is going to boil. “Behold, I come quickly.” Come quickly, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Note:  Sermon adapted from an Advent sermon by Quinton Morrow.

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