So I thought, kind of like last week, that it would be good for us to begin this sermon at the level of category. I want to start by framing the way we think about the return of Jesu. We should think about it this way: it’s that the New Testament doesn’t merely tell us about the return of Jesus; instead, the New Testament was written because of the return of Jesus.
In one sense, the truth of Jesus coming back is unlike other truths because of how it is always in in view in every New Testament book. It’s like the return of Jesus is always in the horizon like the sun shining light on everything else. Everything else, in one sense, is illumined by and trending toward that sun. Everything in the New Testament is written in light of the fact that Jesus is coming back here, but that he’s not here yet, and therefore, we need to know how to live in the in-between. That is the shared setting of the New Testament authors and of readers like ourselves. We both live in the in-between, between the first coming of Jesus and the day when he will come again.
And this is so basic, so straightforward, that we can almost assume it and forget that we are a people waiting for Jesus to come back. His return is not an appendage to the gospel; it’s right at the heart. Jesus came and lived and died for us. And he was raised and ascended for us. And he is coming back for us. That is the total package of his salvation. And it’s either all of that or none of that.
And I think the apostle Peter teaches us, and that is where I want us to look today, in 1 Peter 1.
I’ll read several other passages as well, but I want us to camp out here in 1 Peter 1, and there are three things I want us to see in this passage.
- There is a future
- Life now is an intersection
- You will look Jesus in the face
Let’s take it from the top.
1. There Is a Future
So the New Testament has really three ways of talking about God’s work in the world. First, there is what he has done in the past. This is everything from how God worked in the life of Israel. And this is Jesus in the Gospels, who came to this earth at a particular moment in history and lived and died and was raised. That is the past. Then there is what God is doing in the present, how Jesus is reigning now as the ascended one, how the Spirit is working now in the world. And then third, there is what God will do in the future, and that is the day when Jesus returns, when our salvation is consummated, when evil is finally judged, and when God makes a new heavens and new earth.
So the Bible talks about God’s work in the world in these three ways, but sometimes I think we forget just how often the Bible talks about the future, about things that God has not yet done but will do. In fact, everything that is written in the Bible about God’s work in the past and present is meant to fuel our hope for the future. The apostle Paul, in Romans 15:4, comments on the Old Testament and says that the whole thing was written so that we might have hope for the future. So we should remember that the Bible and our faith has a future orientation. We’re not just looking back, but we’re also looking forward. God doesn’t intend to just save you from your past. He is also saving your future. And I just want you to hear this in the New Testament. Hear how commonly the future is talked about, and specifically the return of Jesus.
First, take Jesus himself, who talked about the future and said things like in Matthew 16:27, “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”
Then in John 14:3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
In Acts 1:11, the angel said to the disciples after the event of Jesus ascending, “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.”
Peter preaches in a sermon, Acts 3, verse 19, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.
Paul says in Romans 8:23, We “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
Paul starts his letter to the Corinthians by saying that he gives thanks for them “as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
He says in Philippians 3:20–21, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.”
Paul tells the Thessalonians that he heard the report of them, that they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
Do you hear all the future in this?
And first and second Thessalonians are all about the second coming of Jesus. I could just read those entire book because they’re all about the future.
Then there is 2 Timothy 4:8, Paul says, “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, [he’s talking about the future] and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
Titus 2:13, we are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Hebrews 9:28, “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
We see this obviously in 1 Peter 1. Verse 5: we are being “guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Verse 7: we want our faith to “be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Verse 13: “Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
It really is in every New Testament book. James 5:8, he writes, “You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
Then, of course, there is the way the whole Bible ends in Revelation 22 where you have Jesus himself talking.
Revelation 22:7, “And behold, I am coming soon.”
Then again in verse 12, “Behold, I am coming soon.”
Then in verse 20, “Surely,” he says, “I am coming soon.” And then there is John who says in reply — and remember, this is the last page of the Bible; this are the last words of the Bible — and the apostle John says, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
And that’s the book, y’all. That’s the Bible. It ends not by just talking about the return of Jesus, but by asking for, by praying for, the return of Jesus. And it means for us, at the very least, that we need to remember that there’s a future.
But a lot of times I don’t think we remember. I don’t think that in our way of seeing the world and living that we give the return of Jesus’s the kind of prevalence it has in the New Testament (not like what we just read, where it is always in the horizon). And my question is why. Why doesn’t the return of Jesus factor into our everyday lives in a way that’s proportionate to its prevalence in the New Testament? Why doesn’t it matter as much to us as it matters in the New Testament, to people who were living in the same in-between that we are?
I have a few reasons why I think this could be the case, and I want to just mention them briefly now. These are three reasons why I think the return of Jesus doesn’t feel like as big a deal to Christians now as it did to earlier Christians [These mainly apply to Christians in America.]
1. We downplay the return of Jesus because our prosperity muffles the urgency for change.
This means that the typical American life is doing all right. Unless God brings us into a season of suffering, most of our lives are pretty much on cruise-control. What I mean is that, unlike most of the world, we don’t fret over food. We don’t sleep in fear of our safety. We live with more freedoms and comforts than any other nation in the history of the world.
So yes, we believe that Jesus will come back, but because of our comforts and ease, most of the time we don’t feel like we need him to. We’re doing fine. People don’t go to Disney World to pray for the Second Coming — and we pretty much live in Disney World. And this is why hardship can be a gift — because it wakes us up. Like C. S. Lewis said, suffering is God’s megaphone to the world. It’s when we remember that there’s more than this. And that happens when God brings us to a situation, to our knees, where we are so overwhelmed by our circumstances that we say: “Jesus, please, just come back. Stop this. Come here. Finish this thing. Please.” Have you been there? There is a place of hardship and pain that forces us to look to the future if we want things to be different. It forces us to hope for a better day, and that day is when Jesus comes back.
And hardship is, in some way, in a way that we never want to think about in the moment, it’s a gift. Because this is not heaven.
So that’s the first reason: I think downplay the return of Jesus because our prosperity muffles the urgency for change.
2. We downplay the return of Jesus because we don’t want to minimize what God has done in the past.
There is a way that Christians can be so focused on the future that they forget the great things that God has already done. A few years ago I got to go speak at an event put on by a student ministry, and like with most worship services, we spent the first part worshiping through song. And during the singing it began to get a little strange because the songs we were singing and the way people were praying, was all about what they wanted God to do. It was like: God please come do this. Move like that. Act in this way. And that was the only thing really said, and it actually began to feel less like a worship service and more like some type of invocation ceremony. And as they kept going, the only thing I could think was: “Hey guys, it’s okay. Jesus is alive. He rose from the grave.”
And thinking back on that, there was nothing wrong with praying for God to come move and act. Clearly not. We want to do that. But as we are looking to the future, we have to remember that the anchor of our hope is what he’s already done. And that’s a big deal. It’s a big deal that Jesus came and lived and died and was raised from the dead and ascended. And we don’t in any way want to minimize that, and an overemphasis on the future — if all we talk about is the future, then we minimize the past. So that’s why in true worship we need to do both. True worship centered in the gospel includes both. Worship that’s all about the past is sentimentality; worship that’s all about the future is mere invocation; true worship means we celebrate the character of God as he has shown us in the past, and we celebrate what he has promised for our future.
Now the third and last point here,
3. We downplay the return of Jesus because it hasn’t happened yet and nobody wants to be a fool.
This is a good, honest reason that was already present in the time of the early Christians. Paul wrote First and Second Thessalonians to clear up things after some false teachers had been going around saying that Jesus had already come back. Others Christians wondered, even within the first 100 years of the church, what was taking Jesus so long. So Peter wrote in 2 Peter 3:9, “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.” In other words, Christians questioned why Jesus had not come back yet, and Peter says Jesus hasn’t come back yet because he is waiting for your neighbor to believe the gospel. We should see the Jesus’s delay as his patience, because of his mercy.
But it’s not strange that we are scratching our heads a little. It’s not strange that we’re wondering when it will happen. In a real way, just to be clear, we are waiting for a climatic event to occur that will change absolutely everything in universe. We believe that Jesus will come back to this earth and make everything about it new, including us. That’s what we believe, as modern people. So I get that we can be a little shy about it — not to mention that there are those over the years who have gotten weird about the Second Coming and have tried to predict dates and stuff, and they are fools, and we want to distance ourselves from them. I get that.
So I understand that, but Jesus is still coming back. Everything that Jesus said and was said about him has come true, and therefore so will his return. And that means we are not fools for believing it; the real fools, as we’re going to see one day, are those who don’t.
Okay, so all of that is the first thing to say, and the longest. There is a future. The Bible is clear about that. Now, two other things to see.
2. Life Now Is an Intersection
And you see this in 1 Peter 1. He begins by talking about the future — about our inheritance and the salvation yet to come — and then he talks about where we are now. For now, he says, we are grieved by various trials. There are hardships (verse 6). Now, we live in a situation where we love him whom we have not seen (verse 8). We believe in him who we’ve not yet seen, and not only that, but we rejoice with inexpressible joy filled with glory — because of a Savior we’ve not seen. That’s why it’s called faith. That’s where we live now.
This is the in-between. It’s the intersection of God’s past faithfulness and his future promises. We know everything that he has done; and he’s told us what he will do — and we are smack dab in the middle of it. How, then, should we live?
And that question is really answered by the New Testament. All of the ethical specifics of the New Testament take this into account. And here in 1 Peter 1, I think that Peter actually shows us an overall characteristic for how we live now that is foundational to all the specifics. Look at verse 13. He begins, “Therefore [because of our great salvation described in verses 10–12]” — then he describes the character situation: “preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded.” Some of you might have a note in your English translation that another way to translate “preparing your minds for action” is literally “girding up the loins of your mind.” The image is basically to roll up your sleeves. Peter is saying: we roll up the sleeves of our mind and we get sober. It means that we’re ready, that we’re awake to reality. And you see how this character piece could serve as a foundation to other New Testament commands. We’re awake and sober and ready to follow Jesus in all the specific ways that he calls us. And that is foundational to life now as we wait for Jesus to come back because we don’t know exactly when that’s going to be. There’s a connection to what Peter says here to what Jesus taught in the Gospels. Listen to Matthew 24:36–39, Jesus says,
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
Then Jesus tells a parable. Keep enough fuel for your lamp because the bridegroom could come in the middle of the night. Jesus says, “Watch therefore, for you know neither and day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13). He is saying to be ready. Roll up your sleeves and get sober all the time, because you don’t know when Jesus is coming back.
C. S. Lewis thinks that this is the main thing that the return of Jesus is meant to do for us now. He says that the Bible’s teaching on the Second Coming is meant to make us realize that one question is always relevant. It’s that “What if this present were the world’s last night?” That’s a question in the words of the poet John Donne. In other words, What if this is it? What if tonight was the world’s last night? It could be. And as long as we are here, every day could be.
This is Lewis in his essay, “The World’s Last Night,” and he says that the effect this should have on us is not strong emotional feelings, because strong emotional feelings can’t be sustained. They come and go. Instead, Lewis says, the reality that today could be the world’s last night should produce in us “sober work for the future, within the limits of ordinary morality and prudence.” Lewis says, in short, do your job, whatever that is. Whether it is feeding pigs or changing diapers or laying plans to do some great good for humanity. Just do your job, keep fuel for your lamp, remember that we live in the in-between and today might be the day. And one day, whether we’re still here or not, it will be the day.
And that brings us to the last point.
3. You Will Look Jesus in the Face
And I say it this way because I’m trying to make sense of the command in verse 13.
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
So there will be grace brought to us when Jesus returns. And Peter says here to set our hope fully on that grace. Now what does that mean? What does it mean to hope completely in the grace that comes to us at the return of Jesus?
This is the question I’ve been wrestling with this week. What does it mean to hope fully? Is there a way to hope partially? Are there different ways that we might think about the return of Jesus?
And yes, there are different ways we could think about his return. And if it’s not hoping fully, what else could it be? Well, the opposite of hope is anxiety and despair. And, in one sense, we could say it this way, there are two types of people in the world: there are those who hope fully in the grace that comes when Jesus returns; or there are those who are terrified by the judgment that comes when Jesus returns. When Peter says in verse 13 that grace will be brought to us when Jesus comes back, he is speaking to those united to Jesus by faith. But another common way to talk about the return of Jesus is to talk about judgment. Many times in the Bible, right beside the teaching of the return of Jesus is teaching about the judgment he brings . . . which is why the Nicene Creed reminds us: “He [Jesus] will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead.”
Now, I realize that we don’t all believe in this. This can be hard to believe. That’s okay. But entertain the thought for a second, whether you think this will really happen or not, imagine that Jesus comes back and you meet him. So just use your imagination with me, and don’t think, in some abstract way, that Jesus is coming back and you are one in a crowd of millions who sees him from a distance. But imagine that Jesus comes back and at some point he’s coming straight to you. At some point you are standing here and Jesus is standing there and you get to look him in the face. Imagine that scene, and let me ask you: does that give you hope or anxiety?
Again, I know this can be tough to imagine. But try to think: what if everything Jesus said about himself, and everything the Bible says about him is true, and he’s coming back, and you are going to stand before him. He is looking at you, and nobody else — he is looking at you, and you are looking at him. Does that give you hope or does that bother you?
Do you hope fully in the grace that will be given to you in that moment, or are you worried about what will happen? Because in that moment, this is the judge of the universe standing there, and he can see everything about us. He knows everything about everything when it comes to us and our souls. He sees it all. Nothing is hidden from him. And he’s standing right there, looking at me. What does that make me feel?
There was a time in my life when that scene unsettled me. I did not like the thought of standing before him. But the apostle Peter says that should be my hope. My entire should be happily trending toward and anticipating that moment. That’s what it means to hope fully in the grace brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
But that can only happen if you know it’s grace. And you can only know it’s grace if you know that all the sins that you should be judged for in that moment are sins that Jesus was judged for in your place. You can only have hope in that future if you know what Jesus has done in the past, and what Jesus offers to you right now. And what he offers to you is the entire forgiveness of all your sins. Because he loves you, he took all your guilt and shame and suffered in your place, and was he raised from the dead, and now, by his Spirit, though his gospel, he invites you to receive his grace, and to hope in the more grace to come.
And that brings us to the Table. Let me ask the servers to come forward.
It is here each week when we are intentional, together, to receive the mercy of Jesus. The bread is his body broken for us. The cup is his blood poured out for us. For us and our salvation, and for our hope.
So at Cities, we do this meal for the covenant members of our church who have received the mercy of Jesus, and for anyone who is here who has received his mercy. If you are here, and you’ve not yet accepted the mercy of Jesus, you can just pass the elements to the person beside, and I want to invite you to believe him. Receive his mercy.