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Before I had made a faith decision for Christ, I had a dream of being left behind. In my dream, I dreamed I had awakened, I got up out of bed, noticing that my wife had already gotten up. I walked down the hall peeking in the bedrooms, no kids in sight. They must be in the living room watching television; but no, nobody in the living room, this was strange I wonder where they are. In the dining room, no; kitchen, no. In the garage; both cars were there, so where were they? The house was quiet and felt eerily empty.
And then I heard a faint noise, seemed to be coming from outside in the backyard. Went to the patio doors hoping to get a glimpse of someone in my family. And there they were, but they were in a line with other people; dressed in blue robes, moving slowly forward, holding candles and singing. Instinctively I somehow knew that they were going to be with God, and I was not. And I just wanted to be with them, so I ran down the steps of the deck and began to run across the yard to join them, but was stopped in my tracks by an invisible barrier that prevented me from joining them in their pilgrimage. And I started to yell, “Hey, wait for me, I want to go with you!” But they didn’t seem to hear me, so I started screaming, “Wait for me!” However, the barrier that was preventing me from going to them was also apparently a sound barrier. Something inside told me that was the last time I was going to see them and I watched helplessly as they moved on and disappeared out of my sight. The strangest thing about that dream was I was a professing atheist at the time and yet I knew that they had gone to be with the Lord while I had been left behind.
Matthew 24 is one of several Bible passages that clue us in to the fact that somehow, someway, someday the Lord Jesus is going to make another grand entrance.
It’s one of the four traditional themes of advent; last week Proclamation; next week, Hope, the Sunday before Christmas, Love, and today Preparation. Preparation for the first and second coming of Christ.
When was the last time you thought about, or anyone reminded you about the Second coming of Christ? In the midst of all our Christmas preparations, that aspect of Christmas often is forgotten.
Katherine Kehler, Christian author and founder of numerous Christian websites, tells about driving from store to store Christmas shopping with her son, daughter-in-law and three-year-old granddaughter. To keep her granddaughter occupied, she began to sing the song, “Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King.” Her granddaughter listened carefully as she sang it several times, then the little girl said, “No, Grandma, we are going to see the mall.” 1
We get so busy with living that we forget that we are on earth for a short time, compared to eternity. And at Christmas we tend to focus so much on the Christmas truth that Jesus was humbly born an infant and placed in a manger, and sometimes forget that He will someday return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords to bring about an end to life on earth as we have come to know it.
And it’s my calling to ask you, “Are you prepared for the future event?”
For the most significant truth coming from Matthew 24 is that when the day of the Lord comes, some are going to be chosen and some left behind.
“And He will send out His angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather His chosen ones from all over the world (24:31) “Two men will be working in the field; one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken and the other left” (40-41).
The puzzling part of this is that the person chosen and the one left behind are engaged in the same activities. “Two men are working together in the field, two women will be grinding flour at the mill. One of these two will be taken, one left.
Wouldn’t be easier to swallow if it said something like, “One man (the one chosen) was at a prayer meeting and the other (left behind) was robbing a bank.” Or, “One woman was home cooking dinner and the other was catting around on the town.” But Jesus says, here are two outwardly identical people; one is selected the other is left behind.
Which begs the question, what is the selection based upon? Simple, the people selected are those who have previously selected to put their trust in Christ.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Paul echoes this teaching in his first letter to the Thessalonians:
For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape. But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief. For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out His anger on us. Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when He returns, we can live with Him forever (I Thessalonians 5:2-4, 9-10).
So according to the Lord, the selection takes place before the day of the Lord arrives. The people who have chosen to put their trust in Christ for salvation are going to be the ones taken. And those who have not will be left behind.
I’m not asking you if you believe in God. I’m not asking you if you have always been a good, moral person. I’m not asking you if you are a church-going person.
I’m asking you whether you have ever reached the point in your life where you have confessed to God that you sin and asked for His forgiveness through the power of the cross. For the angel said to Joseph, “And she will have a Son, and you are to name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their SINS” (Matthew 1:21).
There may be some here today who can say, “I can’t really point to a time where I became a Christian I have always been a Christian because I was raised in the church and my mother started reading these stories to me when I was a kid and I accepted it then and I still do now.”
I understand that; however, if all your church upbringing and story listening hasn’t led you to the point where you not only came to understand the gospel but also acted on it by confessing your sin, asking forgiveness and determining to follow Christ to the best of your ability, I’m sorry.
Some of us have fallen into the trap of thinking we can play games with God. Some of us play Let’s Make A Deal. Okay God I blew it, I know it was wrong I know You’re like an elephant, You’ve got it marked in a ledger. So let’s make a deal; for every bad thing I do, I’ll make up for it with a good deed.
Wrong; the Bible is clear that God doesn’t play games like that. Paul writes the Romans, “People are counted as righteous, not because of their good deeds, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners.” (4:5)
Some of us play the game of Cover-Up. Yes, I sinned today and I have a feeling you saw that God, but tell You what; I’ll go to church Sunday or I’ll buy some Girl Scout cookies and that kind of smooth things over, right?
Wrong again; Paul to the Romans again, “People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood” (3:25b).
So according to the Lord, the selection takes place before the day of the Lord arrives. The people who have chosen to put their trust in Christ for salvation are going to be the ones taken. And those who have not . . . will be left behind.
“You must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected” (Matthew 24:44).
But beyond being having faith in Christ on the day of the Lord’s return, Jesus goes on to say:
If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward (46). But what if the servant is evil and thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? The master will return unannounced and unexpected, and he will cut the servant to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites. 48-50).
And so I would want the Lord coming back to find me being supportive of what’s most important to Him on earth, and that is His Church. The NT says Jesus is the architect of His Church, the head of His church, He gave His life for His Church, He prays for His Church! His Church manifests His presence on this earth.
And so if the Lord returns on a Sunday morning, I want to be found with His people. If He comes on Saturday night, I want to be found anticipating Sunday morning. When He comes, I want Jesus to find me, not just a spectator on the sidelines, but participating in His Church by sharing my time, my talents, my resources. And then, when Jesus comes back I want Him to find me doing what I can to prepare someone else for His coming; to be praying for someone else, to be inviting someone else, to be encouraging someone who needs Christ to accept Christ so that when the Lord comes that person is not left behind.
This promise of Jesus is meant to stir us up to love and good deeds! Not in order to earn salvation but to say thanks be to God because He has gifted us with it through our faith in His Son!
At the height of WWII, Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for taking a stand against Hitler. Yet he continued to urge fellow believers to resist Nazi tyranny. A group of Christians, believing that Hitler was the Antichrist, asked him, “Why do you expose yourself to all this danger? Jesus is coming soon and all your work and suffering will be for nothing.”
Bonhoeffer, “If Jesus returns tomorrow, then tomorrow I’ll rest from my labor. But today I have work to do; I must continue the struggle until it’s finished.” 2
Bonhoeffer was right; it is not for us to determine the “when” of the Lord’s coming it is for us to be expectant of His coming at any time that we might be found doing what the Master has called us to do.
And so I say again one of the four traditional Advent themes is preparation.
Preparation for the coming of the Lord’s second advent. When is it going to happen? We don’t know. All we know is that Jesus promised He’s coming again and every time He talks about it, He implores His listeners to, “Be ready!”
Are you ready? Have you accepted Christ what Christ offers; the forgiveness of your sin through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
How many of you have been procrastinating about making a decision about this? How many of you have been sitting on the fence?
In this 24th chapter of Matthew, Jesus is calling fence-sitters to get with the program! He is asking us to consider if we are ready for His coming return. He is inviting us to think about which person we are going to be when He sends His angels to gather His chosen ones from all over the world.
Are we going to be a person who is chosen? Or are we going to be one of those caught sitting on the fence and left behind to sadly watch those who are chosen to enter into the joy of their master? Which is it going to be?
In the Book of Revelation, the Risen King of Kings and Lord of Lords, His name is Jesus, extends an invitation to all people everywhere, “Behold! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends” (Revelation 3:20).
Arthur Gordon, who followed Norman Vincent Peal of Marble Collegiate Church in NYC tells about a familiar ritual he goes through each day with his big black and white cat, Oreo. Oreo has been outside for a while and it’s time for him to come back in. So I open the back door and wait, but will he come in? No, he won’t; he stops and lowers his head suspiciously as if I am some threat to him.
“Come on in Oreo,” I say impatiently. He sits down and begins to wash his face with one paw; maddening.
“Oreo,” I say, “I give you food, I supply all your needs, if you do anything in return, I don’t know what it is and now I am personally inviting you into my house, so please won’t you come in before I close this door?” Oreo puts one foot across the threshold, then draws it back. He looks out across the yard as if he is hoping to see something that will draw away his attention.
“Oreo,” I say, “I’m not going to stand here forever; if you don’t come in now I am going to close this door, this is your last chance.” I start to close the door slowly; does he come in? No; he sits there exercising his free will or something. He’ll come when it suits him, not before. He figures I’ll be patient. So far he’s right.
And then Gordon says, “God made cats; He also made people. I wonder how He feels when He stands at the door and waits, and waits, and waits? I think I know.” 3
“When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes. Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left. … You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected”
(Mathew 24:37-41, 44).
1 Katherine Keller, Morning Story and Dilbert. December 22, 2013.
2 Our Daily Bread, November 10, 1991.
3 Gordon, Arthur. “Make Up Your Mind, Oreo.” Stories of the Heart. Compiled by Alice Gray. [Gresham, Oregon: Vision House Publishing, © 1996]. Page 113.