Anticipating the Future

Wouldn’t you like to know what the future holds? Think how nice it would have been to know ten years ago that the stock of Apple® would soar to incredible heights. Think what might have happened if you had invested in Ford Motor Company just a few years ago? If we knew the future we could make better decisions.

In our text this morning Jesus is going to tell us about the future. He will do so, I believe, to prepare us for that which is certainly to come. In Luke 17:20 we read,

20 Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”

The Pharisees wanted to know the timetable of the coming of God’s Kingdom. (This may have been an honest question or they may have been mocking Christ.) When they talked about “God’s Kingdom” they were looking for an external, political Kingdom. The Jewish people had been waiting for such a Kingdom for centuries. Jesus answered, “You aren’t going to find this Kingdom by studying books and signs, it is personal. It starts in the hearts of men and women. It arrives in each life as Christ is made Lord of that life. In this sense the Kingdom has already arrived.”

Think of it like an election. As soon as the votes are counted things begin to change. However, significant change doesn’t happen until a couple of months later when people are sworn into office. When Jesus rose from the dead the “vote” was counted. Jesus is the victor yet He still waits to be “sworn in”.

It has been a long time. It is not an uncommon problem. When God predicted a coming Messiah it was thousands of years later before He actually came to earth in the person of Christ. God’s timing is different from ours. However, we are naturally a little anxious or eager for His return (especially as we get older). Many have become obsessed with seeking signs and clues of His coming. They make charts, lists, and have big prophecy conferences. These are hugely popular because we all want to know the future. We must always come back to the words of Jesus. He plainly and repeatedly told us that “no man knows the day or the hour”. There are some who conclude we can discern the week, month or year!” They miss the clear point that we should focus less on when, and more on being ready. This is the goal of Christ in this passage.

It Will Be Unmistakable (22-25)

In verse 22 Jesus is talking to his disciples.

22 “The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. 23 Men will tell you, ‘There he is!’ or ‘Here he is!’ Do not go running off after them. 24 For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

Jesus warned his disciples to be level headed rather than running after those who have the latest “insight”. In fact, Jesus plainly told the disciples that, “they will not see that coming”. He was preparing his disciples for the reality that His coming would not be in their lifetime. He told them that bad times were ahead and it would start when he was rejected and killed. Jesus was not surprised by any of the events that transpired.

We must face the fact that Christ may not come in our lifetime. It sure seems (to us) like the timing is ripe for the return of the Lord, but we cannot “figure out” when He will return. We can only be ready.

Sometimes people feel unprepared because they don’t understand all the prophecy stuff that is out there. They are confused by the terms and don’t understand where people get all the “signs of His coming”. Let me put your mind at ease. Jesus stated plainly, “You don’t have to worry about missing His coming. When He returns, the whole world will know it. Like a big bolt of lightning accompanied by earth shaking thunder that awakens you from a sound sleep, you will not miss His coming. It will be unmistakable.”

It Will Be Unexpected (26-29)

26 “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.

28 “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. 29 But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.

The second thing we learn is the coming of Jesus is going to be sudden and unexpected. Jesus drew an analogy to two well known Bible stories. First, he alluded to the story of Noah. It took Noah a long time to build the ark. Up until the time of the actual flood everyone else was oblivious. They surely thought Noah was just loony and dismissed the things he said. They were eating, drinking, and starting families with no clue that judgment was just around the corner. They were warned by Noah but they never even gave it a serious thought.

The same was true in Sodom. It was sordid business as usual in Sodom on the very day they were destroyed. I suspect they had meetings scheduled, gatherings to attend, tasks to accomplish. No one expected that day to be their last.

Imagine if you were working in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. You went to work that day with your calendar full. You greeted friends and co-workers as any other day. Yet, everything changed in a moment. This is the picture Jesus gives us of His coming.

Why will Jesus come suddenly? I think His sudden arrival will reveal people as they actually are. Why is it that a school and the Police do not disclose the day of a drug sweep of the school grounds? Because if they did so everyone would take precautions so they did not “get caught”. No one would actually reform, they would simply avoid detection. The Lord will return suddenly so that things are exposed for what they are. He does this for our benefit, not His. The Lord already knows those who are truly His. On that day the truth will be revealed before all. No one will be able to say, “That’s not fair!” The truth will be exposed. He has told us that He is coming…we haven’t listened.

In Matthew 24:12-13 (a very similar passage) we read these sobering warning from Jesus,

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

As sin becomes more accepted by society (and the church), faith becomes more superficial. Jesus warns us that if we are not diligent our love for Him may also grow tepid.  We know from the book of Revelation that Lukewarm Christians will be spit out of the Lord’s mouth.

It Will be Inescapable (31-33)

Jesus said,

31 On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. 32 Remember Lot’s wife! 33 Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.

On the day of His coming it won’t do us any good to try to save our stuff. That stuff will be useless. It will also be futile to try to hide because there will be nowhere to hide. Those who have insisted on living as “Masters of their own destiny” will face God’s wrath. Those who have surrendered to the Savior’s love and follow His direction will find true life in Christ. We will be judged not on our membership certificates or proclamations . . . we will be judged on our real faith as revealed in the way we have lived.

In verse 34 we read, “I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.” Don’t miss the picture: a husband and wife, who perhaps both attend church, maybe both are well respected in the community buy one may not be truly devoted to Christ. On the Day of His Coming God will distinguish between the true believer and the spurious or pretend follower. One will be taken to be with Christ and face eternal joy, the other will be left to face God’s eternal Judgment.

Two people who work beside each other every day. Maybe they work the same shift, work for the same company, or maybe they are partners in their own business. They may both be good workers. They may try to do the best job possible. They may both be people who have been named “Employee of the month”. When Christ comes one will be taken the other left behind because One truly followed Him, the other did not.

Jesus could have continued the picture. A family may be sitting around a dinner table. Some from the family will be taken; others left behind. People are sitting in church together. Some of the congregation may be taken while others are left behind. I am afraid even some Pastors may be left behind. People flying in a plane . . some will be taken and some not. God will exercise His perfect judgment based on what He knows is in the human heart.

On that day it won’t matter who you know or what you have. At that moment every opportunity to be saved will be gone forever. The door will be shut.

The disciples ask a very logical question: “Where Lord?” They asked. They wanted to know where this Judgment will take place. Jesus answered somewhat cryptically using what I believe was a saying of the day. “Just as you know that there is a dead body because of the circling of the vultures, so we will know that Judgment has come when we see these things taking place.” In other words….don’t worry, when He comes you will know it.

Conclusions

This is a sobering passage. Let’s draw some simple conclusions.  First Since Christ’s Coming will be Unmistakable we have no reason to fret. People don’t know how to understand all the things in the Book of Revelation, they don’t know the list of the “signs of His coming” and they wonder if they might miss Christ’s coming. If we have learned anything from Jesus’ words we have learned this: When He comes you will not miss it.

There are those who suffer for the cause of Christ. They are persecuted for their faith, some are imprisoned, and others labor for the Master under great difficulty. These people need not fret either. The Lord is coming! No sacrifice on His behalf will be forgotten. Every follower will be vindicated.

Second, Since Christ’s Coming will be Unexpected we should live in a state of readiness. There is value to studying prophecy. It can make us more attentive and alert and fan the flame of urgency to share the faith with others.  However, the study of prophecy can also make us smug and self-righteous. Jesus warns us that we will not find the Kingdom in books or charts…we find it as we follow Him in our daily lives and surrender to Him in our desires and aspirations.

How do we do that? The simple answer is we must continually grow in our love for Christ over our love for the things of the world. Lot’s wife turned back because she was more attached to the world than she was the Lord. I don’t think she was turned into a pillar of salt simply because she instinctively looked back. I believe it was a look of longing; a look of regret that she had left her home. That one look showed that she preferred the empty trinkets of the world to the blessing of God.  We must work to wean our hearts from the things of this world and set our hearts instead on Heaven.

But I still want to know how. Don’t you? How do we go about weaning our hearts from this world so that that become drawn to the Lord and what is to come? Here is a preliminary action plan:

1.     We must think more about Heaven. If we allowed our minds to dwell on the wonder of Heaven (as we do that item we long to have) we would begin to yearn for it like we do these things of the world which occupy our imaginations. We can set our hearts on Heaven by reading what the Bible says about Heaven. Get a topical Bible and look at the various descriptions of Heaven. Page through the Book of Revelation and look at how Heaven is described. Find some good, solid, and Bible based books that teach about Heaven and read them. (Be careful there are many imaginative texts out there that tell us about a heaven that is from the writer’s own imagination).

2.     We need to begin every day with a reality check. We need to remind ourselves that “this could be the day.” If we let this thought actually permeate our thinking we would hopefully live our lives in greater state of readiness. We will do our daily work but with a different focus and attitude. We will work more for the Lord than the paycheck. We will make different choices about what and how we do things. Would we engage in an activity or behave in this way if you knew the Lord would come today?” The point is: He may.

3.     We must put the Scriptures into practice. Live by faith. The best way to be prepared for His coming is to live as He told us to live now . . . then we can be sure we will be ready. Rather than make decisions asking “What do I most want to do”. We need to ask, “What would the Lord want me to do?” The Scripture will show us what that is.

4.     We must examine our hearts ruthlessly. We must stop letting ourselves off the hook by making excuses! We must daily look for ways where we are being controlled by our culture rather than the values of Heaven. I saw an interesting book subtitle it said “Taking Back your faith from the American Dream” Culture’s seduction is subtle. It will influence us through television, movies, music, newspapers, books, friends, the values in our community, and by the lusts of our own soul. Satan loves to take good things and entice us into making them ultimate things. We must be on guard or we will be sucked in.

Third, Since Christ’s Coming will be Inescapable we should make sure we will be among those who go with Him. In other words, we need to make every effort to be sure that we have put our trust and confidence in the Christ of history and Scripture. Ask yourself: “If Jesus came back today, would I be gathered to Him?” The root question is: Are you trusting you “good life” or good intentions or are you holding on to Christ?

Let me say it again: You can be religious, you can be a member of the church, you can be a student of the Bible and still be a person who trusts in themselves rather than in the work of Christ. Don’t make the mistake of waiting until the last moments of your life to make sure you are “right with God”. You may not be granted those moments. And even if you are, your heart may have grown so cold that you will no longer desire to be right with God. Stop right now and address this most serious issue in your life. Trust His sacrifice and follow His leadership in your life. Don’t gamble with your forever.

We must also be concerned about those close to us. Just this week someone said to me, “I believe in God . . . I just don’t go to church.” The question is: What God is it that you are believing in? Who is Jesus Christ to you? Is He the Jesus of history who died for us and calls us to trust Him enough to follow Him? Is He the One who calls us to join with others that we may serve Him as “one body”?  Or is the Jesus you follow the Jesus of contemporary culture who makes few demands, who loves you “just the way are”, and who always understands why you don’t have any time for Him? One Jesus will save you, the other is merely a mirage.

Allow the picture of the two people in bed or working together with one taken and one left behind, motive you. Do you want to leave family, friends and co-workers behind?

We have an obligation to share the good news. Just as we teach our toddlers how to recognize colors, letters, and how to tie their shoes to get them ready for school, so we must teach people the message of salvation to prepare them for eternity and the return of our incredible Lord and Savior. Here are some practical suggestions:

  1. Look for ways to bring God into conversations in your home and relationships in the world.
  2. Share sermon tapes or sermon transcripts, give someone a great Christian book, share a sermon podcast, or post a Christian YouTube Video or sermon link on your Facebook page.
  3. Make reference to the Lord’s coming, “If the Lord were to come today . . . “ to try to help people think beyond the present moment. If nothing else it will help you.
  4. Invite people to church and then talk about the message (rather than the people of the church) after the service.
  5. Define your terms. Instead of talking about salvation, grace, faith, righteousness, atonement (which are all wonderful and rich theological terms) work hard to explain those terms to others.
  6. Use your dinner table to view the events of the day from a Christian perspective. Discuss godly behavior and why it is superior to the options of the world.
  7. Ask people if they believe they are right with God. If they say yes, ask them why they think so. From that answer you will be able to determine whether they have placed their faith in their goodness, or in God’s grace.  If the person says they do not think they are going to Heaven, ask them why. Many will say they believe they have done too many bad things. If that’s their answer, ask them if they would like to know some really really good news.

The point of Jesus’ message in this text is not to give us items to put on our “End Times Chart”, He gave us this information to help us get ready for the day that every one of us will one day face . . . ready or not.

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