Waiting for the Right Time

Sermon for Ascension Day (observed) based on Acts 1:1-11

Dear people waiting for the Lord: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Bible is a book about God’s work in time. It starts with, “In the beginning…” and ends with Christ’s promise, “Surely I am coming soon.”

Time is not some afterthought to God but is intimately related to His work of creation and His work of salvation. Thus, Genesis records God’s work of creation in each of the six days, and it reads, “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day… And there was evening and there was morning, the second day…” and so on, for each of the six days of creation. This was no accident, but God’s carefully planned design to create the universe in time.

Regarding God’s work of salvation, we read in Galatians, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (4:4-5) When the fullness of time had come refers to the particular year, month, day, and hour set by God the Father (cf. Gal. 4:2). In Titus, this is called “the proper time” (1:3) and in Romans, “the right time.” (5:6)

We read in holy Scripture that God’s plan of salvation was from before the foundation of the world (I Pt. 1:20), promised before the ages began (Ti. 1:2), and indeed we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4).

Yet, just before Jesus ascended into heaven, when the apostles asked Jesus if He would then restore the kingdom to Israel, Jesus responded to them saying, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

In other words, don’t worry about God’s work – worry about your own work. Don’t wonder or worry about what God’s plans are for His kingdom or when He’s going to do what He’s going to do. Leave it to God.

God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth has a plan and a time for Christ’s return as He had a plan for creation and a plan for Christ’s first coming. We do not know when it will be, but neither do we have to worry about it. Christ will return in the fullness of time, at the proper time, at the right time in the same way that He ascended into heaven.

As we have recorded in Scripture, God has always been with His people through the ups and downs of this life; through the good and the bad; the easy and the hard. He has always been with His people through life and through death.

As God has always been with His people, He is with His people now. Indeed, He has promised you, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” He has also promised us that all things work together for our good (Rom. 8:28) and that He will not leave us as orphans (Jn 14:18).

Christ did not return in the apostles’ lifetime, even though they thought that He might. If it was up to them, they might have waited on the Mount of Olives for years waiting for Jesus to return. Thus, Christ sent them to work, to be His witnesses to the end of the earth, proclaiming the salvation accomplished for us by Christ offering Himself as a sacrifice for sins for all time (cf. Heb. 10:12). The angels also prompted them to move along when they continued staring up into heaven, saying, “Men of Galilee, 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.”

The apostles then went about their work, waiting for Christ to return.

We join them and God’s people of all time in waiting. The waiting started with Adam and Eve waiting for the promised seed to crush the serpent’s head, and it continues today with us, and will continue until Christ does return.

While we wait for Christ’s return, we are exhorted in Ephesians to look carefully how we walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of our time, because the days are evil (5:15-16).

The little bit of time we have on this earth can be spent wisely or foolishly. In foolishness we can spend all our time in the pursuit of worldly goals and objectives, or in wisdom we can spend time doing the will of the Lord, pursuing heavenly goals and objectives.

There isn’t much time, but we don’t know how much. These days are the days the prophets call “the latter days” and the apostles call “the last days.” These are days of trial and tribulation, days of war, pestilence, and natural disaster, days of false teaching and false teachers. Thus, Scripture gives us so many admonitions to stay awake and spiritually attentive, making the best use of our time.

Now is not the time to seek excuses and justification for our sins, but the time to seek forgiveness and having our sins removed from us and covered. Now is the time to recognize our selfishness, dishonesty, pride, and hypocrisy, and repent. Now is the time to confess our sin of using time poorly, of wasting it, and using it to pursue sinful desires.

Why is now the time to do these things? Because Isaiah says, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” (55:6-7) And Second Corinthians tells us, “Behold, now is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (6:2)

God is near now, in His Word. God is near now with forgiveness. Christ is not only near you, but in you in His body and blood, given and shed for you.

He comes with forgiveness and healing in His body and blood because in the fullness of time, the proper time, the right time, Christ came into history as a man and saved you from the fires of hell. He purchased and won you with His precious blood and His innocent suffering and death on the cross.

It was God’s plan from before the ages began, but He did it when the time was right.

God’s plan for you was also made before the ages began. God chose you in Christ for eternal life, and He will come to take you to eternal life in the fullness of time, at the proper time, at the right time.

It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority, but Christ will return for you at the proper time, and until then strengthens you with His Word and His body and blood, the receiving of which is the best use of your time during these evil days.

Time is intimately related to all God’s work of creation and salvation, so it is also with your creation and your salvation. Your time is in God’s hands. You are in God’s hands.

Christ’s promise, “Surely I am coming soon” is for you. In the fullness of time, at the proper time, at the right time, Christ will take you to Himself, so that where He is, there you may be also.

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Ps. 27:14)

Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Rend the Heavens and Come Down

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent based on Isaiah 64:1-9

Dear people of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down. Isaiah longed for God to come from heaven to earth to see the suffering and affliction of His people. He longed for God to have pity on them and rescue them from their enemies.

Their enemies had trampled down God’s sanctuary among His people (Is. 63:18). Isaiah prayed that God would come down and make their enemies tremble at His presence; that He would reveal Himself in terror to those who terrorized His people. Even creation’s most secure elements are insecure in God’s presence, as even the mountains quake when God comes down. The mighty man who is bold to fight and tyrannize other men, cowers and cries aloud in fear before God (cf. Zeph. 1:14).

Yet, it was God who gave His people into the hand of their enemies because they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit (Is. 63:10). Therefore God turned into their enemy, and Himself fought against them. God was angry with them and hid His face from them.

Isaiah confessed their sins to God. He said, “Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.”

Why would Isaiah still pray to God that He would rend the heavens and come down? What hope is there for sinners before God who tears the heavens open and makes the mountains and nations quake at His presence? What hope is there for sinners before God; sinners whose righteous deeds are filthy rags? If their righteous deeds are filthy rags, how much worse are their unrighteous deeds? If their good works deserve punishment, how much worse punishment do their sins and evil works deserve? Why pray to God that He would rend the heavens and come down?

When God came down to Mount Sinai and gave His Law, His voice shook the earth. There was thunder and lightning and the sound of a trumpet and the mountain was smoking. The people were afraid and trembled and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Ex. 19:16-20:21; Heb. 12:18-29) Why pray to God that He would rend the heavens and come down?

Isaiah tells us. He prays, “But now, O Lord, You are our Father… Behold, please look, we are all Your people.” Because God is their Father, Isaiah prays that He would answer the plea for compassion and salvation for His children. Because they are God’s people, Isaiah prays that God would not be so terribly angry or remember their iniquity forever.

This is the same plea that Moses had for God’s people when thy fell into sin and worshiped the golden calf. God threatened to destroy them all, but Moses pleaded with Him, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? … Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” (Ex. 32:9-18)

The plea is for God to rend the heavens and come to His people in mercy, despite our sinfulness. Remember the promises you made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Remember the promises you made to us in our Baptism when you put Your name on us and made us Your people.

God is merciful to us for His own name’s sake; for His own glory. His glory is to snatch us from the devil. God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature… and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die (SC III.3).

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down. Come rescue us from sin, death, and the devil. Not because we deserve it, but because we are Your people. Come rescue us from this evil world. Not because we merit such salvation, but because You are our dear Father and we are your dear children. Come rescue us from our own sins because we cannot save ourselves, and you are merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

The Church prays that God would rend the heavens and come down, and the Church waits. The Church at the time of Isaiah and Moses waited for the promised Saviour to come. Ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin and God promised them a Saviour, the Church waited for the Christ. He did come. He came and fulfilled the Law of God on our behalf, took the punishment our sins deserve, and suffered and died for us. Now the Church waits once again. We wait for Christ to return as He has promised.

Advent is about waiting. Yes, waiting for and looking forward to Christmas, but even more waiting for and looking forward to Christ’s return, when He will rend the heavens and come down. Yes, He will come in power and great might. The mountains will quake, and the nations will tremble in His presence. He will destroy His enemies.

To His people, however, He will give everlasting life. He will not be terribly angry with us; all of His anger was poured out on Jesus. He will not remember our iniquity, He has removed our sins from us. He will remember His promises to us and He will save us eternally as He has promised.

Thus, the Church prays, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.” Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.