Beyond All Expectations

Both of these passages are from the lectionary readings for this Sunday. The concept behind preparing our hearts for the Advent of Christ is to make sure that we are expecting and preparing ourselves for His return. The first time Jesus came to earth many people missed it. They met Him, and they flocked around Him like a rock star until He started talking about picking up one’s cross. No one much wanted to follow Him when He was headed for a crucifixion.

The crowd missed it. The question for us is simple: Will we be ready when He comes again? We use this time of the year when we are thinking about Jesus first Advent, to prepare our hearts and lives for His Second Advent.

In Matthew 24, Jesus is having a conversation with his disciples about what the end of times will look like. He is responding to their questions regarding when and what the end of the world will look like. They ask him what the sign of his second coming will be. After giving them some pretty serious things to think about Jesus makes a transition in verse 36:

A Sufficient Warning

36 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself.[k] Only the Father knows. 37 “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. 38 In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. 39 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.

This warning has been interpreted many ways. The main point however is: Don’t miss it. In Noah’s day, people were preoccupied with their lives and relationships and so busy that for 120 years they ignored the words and warning of Noah that a flood was coming. Jesus is giving a simple warning to all those who will hear or have ears to hear.

Do you and I have ears to hear this message? Wouldn’t it be great if we could just slow down and take a deep breath this month of December and prepare our hearts for His coming?

Jesus said, “no one knows the day or the hour when these things will happen.” The idea is be ready. Don’t lose site of the fact that Jesus is going to return some day.

Do you ever think about the fact that Jesus is coming back to earth someday? Does it ever cross your mind that this life is the shortest piece of eternity.

We have been given the opportunity to take our earthly lives and make them count for God.

What are you passionate about? What takes your time and your resources on this earth? What are you investing in? You and I may find this distasteful at first but the Advent season is a time for us to reflect on our lives and what we are doing that matters to God.

What is your purpose? What are you doing with the gifts that God has given you? How are you touching others with those gifts?

Jesus continued in this teaching and gives us a principle to live by regarding His second coming.

Get Prepared for the Unexpected

40 “Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left. 42 “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. 43 Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. 44 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” Matthew 24:36-44

Don’t allow yourself to get caught off guard. Expect the unexpected. We are called to pay attention to our faith. We are called to be vigilant and watchful of our faith.

Those folks who witnessed Jesus birth and life here on earth weren’t prepared for the unexpected.

They expected a Messiah. They expected a Savior. But not like the one they got. They expected a Savior, but not like Jesus.

They expected a king, they got a baby.

They expected a royal mansion, they got a stable.

They expected a royal nursery, they got a manger.

They expected robes, they got swaddling clothes.

They expected royal attendants; they got shepherds and wise men.

They expected a royal birth; they got an unwed mother on a donkey.

They expected a mover and a shaper, they got a carpenter.

They expected a King on a white horse claiming his throne; they got a Messiah riding into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey.

They expected a throne, they got a cross.

They expected riches, they got parables.

They expected glory and honor, they got a crucifixion.

They expected a Savior, but not like this.

What are you expecting with the return of Christ? There are people who love to study the biblical accounts of the last days or the return of Christ. Much of the Bible’s teaching about His return or the end of time on this earth is wrapped and shrouded in metaphor and mysterious prophetic language. It has been subject to numerous interpretations of men and women who have written and spoken their opinions. There have been charts and graphs and those who have insisted that their view is the only view.

The bottom line is that Jesus is coming and it will not be in the way you or I think.

If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. 44 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.”

Just this past week in Akron, the owner of a bar that had been broken into three times in ten days started spending the night in the bar. The newspaper article was entitled: Akron’s Tavern Burglar Vigil Pays Off. Basically the owner and a friend spend eight nights in a row waiting for it to happen again and sure enough it did. One held a gun on the guy and the other hit him in the knees with a hammer and immobilized him until the police could get there. (redneck Newark Advocate comments)

They were expecting the unexpected and they were vigilant. That’s what Jesus is wanting from us. Sometimes we miss things because we don’t expect the unexpected.

A mother told the story that one year at Christmas, things were tight. After all the bills were paid, there wasn't much left for her and the four kids to use to spend on each other for Christmas. That year she took them to the mall and gave them each a twenty dollar bill and told them that's all they had to spend on each other. The kids didn't care. They all went off thinking of inexpensive and creative ways they could spend their five dollars per person. Mom gave instructions to meet back in an hour.

The hour went by quickly and pretty soon everyone gathered. Everybody was excited and they were all hiding their bags so no one could see. The youngest daughter’s bag was the smallest. But Mom didn't think too much about it until they got into the car and she dropped it. It fell open and candy bars fell out. The youngest daughter turned red, hurriedly picked up the candy bars and shoved them back in her bag.

Mom was furious. She knew her youngest daughter was a little irresponsible and had a sweet tooth but to go and spend all the Christmas money on herself was unthinkable. Mom stewed on it the whole way home. They all rushed into the house to wrap their presents. Mom followed the youngest daughter into her room, closed the door and started telling her how disappointed she was in her for spending all of her money on candy bars. The girl started to cry. And then said, "But I didn't." These aren't for me. These are the presents for you and the others."

Then Mom asked, "But what happened to the rest of the money?"

The little girl explained that she had been shopping and couldn't find anything she liked for anyone else. While she was shopping she saw this tree covered with Angels. So she went to see what it was all about and found an Angel with the name of a little girl on it who needed a pair of gloves, a coloring book and crayons. She thought about all the things she and her family had and decided to buy those things for that little girl. When she was finished, all she had left was enough to buy everybody in the family a candy bar. This mother learned a valuable lesson about assumptions and expectations. When it comes to God, we're called to be ready at all times. And we're called to expect the unexpected.

A Call to Change

“This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. 13 Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.” Romans 13:11-14

These are strong words of warning. They are practical words and convicting words. These are words that call for action in a personal way. I have pulled out the writers words in short phrases so that we can look at them one at a time:

        A. Wake up for our salvation is nearer than when we first believed:

This is a call to not be asleep about your faith. It is very easy to drift away from being everything God would like you to be. It is easy to become lukewarm in our faith and just coast along without paying attention to His word and our relationship with Him.

How is your relationship with Christ? Are you working on it everyday to develop it and nurture it? Are you building a relationship with Him in which you are drawing closer to Him?

        B. Remove your dark deeds:

The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes,

This is very straightforward and simple. If you have begun to do something or add some sin into your life that you know is wrong but you have compromised your values now is the time to quit this behavior.

Only you may know what this is but I have been praying this week that when you hear these words you will your consciences will be shaken and that you will find the strength to stop the sin that is dragging you down day after day in defeat and discouragement.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” Hebrews 12: 1-2 NLT

        C. Put on right living:

“...and put on the shining armor of right living.”

Every one of us knows what is right and what is wrong. We all know today where we are living in our personal walk of faith. This is a call to change your clothes and trade the rags of sin and of self-righteousness for armor of right living. What a beautiful phrase.

We read about this one other place in the scripture. In Ephesians Paul wrote these words:

“Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:11-17

        D. Don’t participate...

“Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy.”

Isn’t it interesting that the Bible gets right to the point? I find it fascinating that in this one sentence there is something for everyone here. I think many of us read these kind of verses and we read the first part only and miss the last five words. It is a no brainer that wild parties, drunkenness, sexual promiscuity and immoral living all qualify as things a real Christ follower will not do but the writer also included in the same breath “quarreling and jealousy.”

Le t the word of God speak to you today.

        E. Clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ

“Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.”

What beautiful language is used in these verses? Can I ask you a question today? What are you wearing?

How is your spiritual life? On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your relationship with God?

The good news is that God longs to be in a relationship with you. He has always been looking for a people who will love Him with all their hearts, minds and souls and their neighbors as themselves.

He longs to be in community with you. He longs to walk alongside of you everyday of your life. This Christ who was born in a manger came for one reason and that was to bring us salvation. He came to die so that we might live and when I say live, I am not talking about earthly living. I am talking about a life that is spiritually minded, sold out to God and His ways and in a growing relationship with Him.

When he was a boy growing up in Philadelphia, Tony Campolo and his best friend devised what they considered a brilliant and creative Halloween prank - one which, by the way, they never carried out. Their plan was to break into the basement of the local five-and-dime store. (To explain to children and young people, that’s a mini Wal-Mart.) They never planned to rob the store, but had they carried out their dream, it would have been far worse.

Their plan was to get into the store and change the price tags on all the merchandise. They imagined what it would be like the next morning when people came into the store and discovered that radios were marked at a quarter each and the price of hair pins had suddenly been raised to five dollars a package. With a great deal of delight, they wondered what it would be like in the store when no one could figure out what the prices of things really should be.

In recalling his boyhood plan of Halloween mischief, Campolo said that he often thinks that the world in which we live is trying to play that trick on all of us. At times, it appears that somebody has broken into our lives and changed the price tags—the value—attached to practically everything.

What makes matters worse it that we often play along with this malicious devilment! We have a tendency to treat with loving care those things that are of little worth, while at the same time making great sacrifices for that which, in the ends, has not real lasting value.

Sometimes is seems that we have little notion about how to realistically assess and assign appropriate values to the contents of our lives. It often seems like there is a complete failure to understand what is important in life.

That’s what this sermon is today; it is a call to value and expect the unexpected. We are to expect God to work in us beyond our expectations. We are to expect His coming and we do that by focusing on our relationship with Him .

We are going to watch this music video and I invite you to examine your life and to right now ask Christ to clothe you in His presence, to clean you up and to give you His salvation.