I like to think that my redemption is drawing near. I like to think that I will personally witness the return of Jesus Christ to this earth. There are times when I am so finished with this old world, that my prayer is, “Come and get us, Jesus, I’m done with this place.” And when I think like that, I am in good stead with the innumerable hosts of Christians who have lived and died on this planet for more than two thousand years. We’ve all hoped, we’ve all dreamed, we’ve all prayed, and still, for these two thousand years that have come and gone, all of us, so far at least, have had to admit that God’s timing is just that. It is God’s timing, not ours. And so we have to leave the timing of the climax of God’s kingdom up to God. Try as we might, we cannot force God’s hand. Here are some words that I have borrowed from last Sunday’s sermon. They were used in a slightly different context, but they make sense here, also. “God’s timing is not always in sync with our timing. In fact, we like to force God’s hand when it comes to timing, and it is quite a revelation to discover that God’s hand will not be forced under any circumstances.”
And yet, in all circumstances imaginable, my redemption is, in fact, drawing near. The Apostle Paul understood it best, perhaps when he said, “Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.” (Romans 13:11,12a) Two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul believed that he was living right on the edge of the world to come; and he was absolutely, 100% correct. He was living right on the edge of the world to come, and so are we. We’re just two thousand years closer than he was, that’s all. It is just that God’s edges are quite a bit wider than the edges that we like to imagine.
And so when Jesus talks about the transition from this age to the age to come he does so by using some rather vague, metaphorical imagery. And that is because the timing of this transition, the climax of redemptive history is unknown to everyone except God. Jesus talks about “signs in the sun, the moon and the stars.” He talks about nations being distressed and confused by the “roaring of the sea and the waves.” And we can try to make something of that, and we can try to interpret it, but it is best that we admit that we don’t know exactly what it means, not yet at least, and then understand that when cosmic convulsions do occur, that we are that much closer to salvation and that our redemption is drawing that much nearer.
These cosmic convulsions, at least according to Jesus, can have two very different effects on the human population of the world. Jesus says that some “will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming on the world,” while others, that would be us, the ones who are eagerly anticipating the arrival of the new age, will stand up, and raise our heads, for we know that our redemption is drawing near. Please notice that there is a huge difference between those who faint and fall down, and those who stand up and raise their heads. Jesus has presented us with two opposing and opposite reactions. We have been instructed in advance as to what our response should be to those convulsive indications when they occur. We’ll explore a little bit more about those differences in a bit, but first, Jesus presents us with a spring-time analogy. For those of us who are blessed to live in a part of the world that has seasons, we already have instilled within us a sense of God’s faithfulness. We know that there’s a regularity to this world, and that the seasons, falling one after the other, remind us of the dependability of God. And so when the snow starts to melt, and when trees begin to bud and blossom, and leaves begin to appear, we know that spring is here, and that summer will surely follow. And so when we begin to witness these cosmic convulsions, it is a sign that God is beginning to change the seasons of history. The thing is, we don’t know, and we can’t know how long those seasons are. But like the regularity of the change of seasons on this planet, we can trust God to regulate the changing of the seasons of history. It is important, though, that we remember that calendar time doesn’t have much to do with with God’s time. God is pretty much on his own with one. We can’t help him, nor can we force his hand.
So in the mean time, those of us who haven’t fainted and fallen down, have some work to do. First of all, we’ve got to stay standing up with our heads raised. Redemption is closer now than it has ever been. But equally important is this business of lightening up. Fear and foreboding is heavy stuff. It causes fainting. Lightening up is a really cool concept. It’s got a two-fold nature that really works with this passage. When someone says to me “lighten up”, it means I am taking things way too seriously. Cosmic convulsions can do that to a person, especially if they have no hope. We’ve got people convulsing all over the place in this world, living in fear and darkness. People who are standing up with their heads raised have something to look forward to. In fact, they’re watching for it, because they know that it is closer now than it has ever been. People who are standing up with their heads raised have learned to “lighten up”.
Secondly, getting lightened up is a very practical thing. Jesus says don’t be “weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.” “Weighed down” and lighten up are opposites aren’t they? Drunkenness and dissipation is a sure and certain characteristic of someone who has fallen down in a faint. It is how many respond to fear and foreboding. Even if we’re being very literal here, it is very difficult to stand up and lift one’s head, when one is drunk. But for the rest of us, being weighed down with with the worries of this life is equally troublesome. I may be weird and strange; I am weird and strange, but most of the worries of this life that I have, have to do with the abundance of my possessions, and the difficulty of managing them. And that is certainly not a good thing.
Being “weighed down” is unnecessarily taking on stuff that drags us down. It is carrying around burdens that we weren’t designed to carry, and that we have no business carrying. It is spending too much of our lives and time focusing on the excessive and the useless. So listen to the hypocrite: de-junk. Lighten up.
The end of the world will come upon all who live on the face of the earth. No one is exempt. For some, who are caught up and snared by the cares of this life, that day will spring upon them, unexpectedly, like a trap.
And that’s why I’m convinced that Jesus counsels prayer for those of us who are already standing up any who have raised our heads, looking for redemption. Prayer is necessary because fainting, and drunkenness and dissipation is never far from us, and Jesus does not want us to fall into that trap, but if we do he wants us to know that there is always a way of escape. The very good news is that God’s people are not, and will not be trapped forever, prayer can keep us out of the traps of this life and prayer can release us from the traps of this life, if we fall into them.
Today, whatever it brings, is always the gift of God, and always to be cherished, and always to be honored and always to held sacred. We like every moment of today in the presence of a loving and caring God, whether we choose to acknowledge that or not. We have a choice. We can be weighed down or we can lighten up. Jesus says lighten up. Stand up. Raise your heads. Redemption is closer now than it has ever been.
But tomorrow, we stand forever in the presence of the Son of Man. That will be glory. That will be joy beyond all imagination. I can’t wait. Come and get us Jesus, and come quickly.