Christ will return to judge

Sunday, November 14, 2021

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When Does Jesus Appear

Some events only happen once. Way back in 1986, I was a child. And I remember that year because my science teacher went out of his way to let us know that 1986 was an amazing, unique year. In that year Haley’s comet would appear again. And it only appears once every 76 years.1 So he was excited that we would all be together to see Haley’s comet. This was such a huge event for him that he named his new-born daughter, “Haley.” It was a huge event for him. He was into science and the starts. But it was an even more momentous event for him because, he told us, it might only happen once in our lifetimes. This morning God’s word shows us that there are even more momentous events that only happen once. And the fact that they only happen once makes them even more meaningful. In Hebrews 9, we read: “For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.” (Heb. 9:24 NIV11-GKE)

In these words the writer to the Hebrews lets us know that Jesus went to heaven once. Here, most likely, God’s word is speaking about Jesus’ ascension. 40 days after he rose from the dead, he went to heaven once. And now that he is in heaven he prays and pleads for us.2 There’s this amazing picture and promise that we sin every day. But our Savior in heaven is directing our Father’s gaze not to our sin, but instead, to our lack of sin. And this is troubling for us to hear. For, as Luther reminds us, “We daily sin much.” How can Jesus turn his Father’s gaze away from our sin? To answer this question, we learn about another one-time event: 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Heb. 9:25–26 NIV11-GKE)

What amazing, wondrous event happened so that the Father would not look at our sin as he has every right to? Jesus appeared to bear sin. And how many times did he appear here on this earth to bear our sin? He appeared once. But the writer to the Hebrews add one more detail to focus our thoughts even more at what he came here to do. He answers a “when” question. Jesus appears at the culmination and completion of the ages.3 This is strange for us to think of. As the writer to the Hebrews is speaking these words to his congregation he is letting them know that already, right then and there, they were in the end-times. How amazing is it that God’s word tells us this same sort of message again and again: When Jesus appears on the earth, heaven follows quickly after.

This is important for us to look at this morning because, if we miss this point, we can fall into a subtle and sneaky temptation. Jesus appeared here once. And he did so to put an end to sin.4 And from his viewpoint, he will quickly appear again. Think that through. If what we read here is true, then it reshapes how we look at the world and our lives. What we see in our lives here, day after day, is a holding pattern. But it’s a holding pattern we are willing to endure because we know that heaven is just there waiting for us. It’s amazing what we are able to endure if we know there’s an end soon in sight. When Camille was tiny and we didn’t have a clue how to be parents, Karin’s mom was not shy about handing down to us wisdom. It would be time to change little Camille’s diapers. And we’d rush and take care of that problem like a pit crew at Nascar. But Karin’s mom said, “babies are smart. They’ll be patient with you as long as they see you making progress.’”

Our great temptation and dilemma is that we have to endure life here on this earth. And it’s a broken, shattered existence. We see abuse and abandonment. We see need and neglect. We see pain and persecution and we ask our Savior, Jesus, “when will you appear and bring peace to this earth?” My dear friends in Christ, when we ask that question, we are missing the point. Ever since the fall into sin, the path and plan was never to to make this world what it used to be. Instead, as the pastor here says to his congregation, it was to do away with sin. Our good and gracious Savior instead holds and contains this world for a small amount of time.

When we understand this it reshapes our understanding of the world. We take care of the environment around us. But Jesus came to do away with sin, not to make a new garden of Eden here. We see and deal with the abuse and abandonment here in our hearts and out there in the world. But we remember why Jesus came. He came here to do away with sin, not to bring a new social order. And as the Holy Spirit changes our understanding day by day, we look at our lives in the world the same way we look at the dentist. Being in this world is like the dentist coming after us with that scraper-claw. We are willing to endure it not because it’s fun while it’s happening. Instead, we endure it because we know what will soon follow—clean, shiny, healthy teeth. Jesus came once to do away with sin. And because of that we are able to have this holding pattern here because we know that heaven follows. When does Jesus appear? He appears once to bear sin. But there’s more to hear and learn: 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (Heb. 9:27–28 NIV11-GKE)

Jesus appears once—once to bear sin; but also once to bring salvation. This, my friends, is a very important point for us to consider. It’s important because, sadly, there are many churches out there that refuse to see this point. Jesus appears once to bring salvation—only once for Judgment Day. Sadly, there are some churches that say that when you die you can’t be sure that you’ll be in heaven. But if you’ve tried to be good continually and sincerely, then eventually Jesus will appear again and take you out of purgatory into heaven. But Jesus doesn’t appear twice. He appears once. Likewise, there are many churches out there who believe in a rapture—that Jesus will appear silently and secretly, bringing believers to heaven, but leaving the rest behind here on earth. And then, according to the, he will come back again for Judgment Day. But the clear and continual teaching in God’s word is that Jesus will come once to bring salvation.

But my friends, before we speak too strongly against these churches that teach this, we have to recognize that the reason people rush to this sort of teaching is that inside each of us there is a sinful nature that wants a second chance and time to be lazy. After all, if purgatory exists, then I can worry about the Jesus stuff after I die. And if the rapture is true, then, when a whole bunch of people suddenly disappear, then I can take the Jesus and bible more seriously. Even if these strange teaching didn’t exist, we would still have the draw and desire. How sad it is that, on the one hand we would be willing to admit that this world is broken and shattered and that we want out of it. But, on the other hand, the opportunities to prepare for heaven are so easy for us to say “no” to. It’s so easy to say, “no” to time reading, hearing, and studying God’s word. It’s so easy to say, “no” to time speaking to our Triune God in prayer. We may not say that we follow the teachings of purgatory or the rapture. But in our lives we show much the same pattern.

And that’s why these last words mean so much to us. Jesus appears one last time to bring salvation. There will be a day when there is no conflict and warfare in us. There will be a day when completely and absolutely all that heaven has we want. But the irony is that the day when we, without distraction and diversion, want heaven is when we finally arrive there.

So my dear friends in Christ, let us repent of the times we were not willing to see our time in this world as a temporary holding pattern as we wait for heaven. Let us repent of the times that the temporary times meant more to us than the eternal times in heaven. And let us rejoice and find strength and comfort that our Savior appeared once to do away with those sins. And he will appear again to take us out of this holding pattern into heaven itself. Amen.

2 “ⲩ̈ⲡⲉⲣⲏⲙⲱⲛ·” (Heb. 9:24 GNT-ALEX)
3 “ⲉⲡⲓⲥⲩⲛⲧⲉⲗⲉⲓⲁⲧⲱⲛⲁⲓⲱⲛⲱⲛ” (Heb. 9:26 GNT-ALEX)
4 “ⲉⲓⲥⲁⲑⲉⲧⲏⲥⲓⲛⲧⲏⲥⲁⲙⲁⲣⲧⲓⲁⲥ·” (Heb. 9:26 GNT-ALEX)

Pastor at Immanuel, Steve Bauer

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