The story for this week is about looking forward and expecting the Lord’s return. While that’s a good theme in itself, we want to draw out what it means for us in Christian living. How do we live differently, how do we live better, how do we live more ready to meet the Lord?
This article is based on these the Bible readings and the Living Word Bible Study for Nov. 28. Through the readings we hear God speaking His enduring Word to us, and — with the help of the Holy Spirit —– we can begin to discern what His message is for us today.
OT1: Psalm 25:1-10 – Anticipation rooted in confidence in God’s goodness looks forward to God’s kingdom coming in full
OT2: Jeremiah 33:14-16 — We hear a significant promise about the Lord becoming our righteousness, to be fulfilled in a radical new relationship
NT gospel: Luke 21:25-36 — Believers experiencing end-times turmoil will be able to recognise the signs of the Lord’s return, in joy and trust
NT letter: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 — Living free of guilt is being ready for the return of Christ Jesus with His heavenly retinue
• Watch the short introductory video ‘Be Ready — Be Made Righteous’
We start in Psalm 25 which is like a preface to our anticipation of God’s kingdom coming in its fullness.
Psalms are basically poetry to be recited, memorised and perhaps sung, and so there is a lot of repetition. The key words in this passage are trust, hope, and the Lord’s guidance. The key thought is that no one who sincerely places their confidence in God’s goodness will be put to shame but will be remembered by God in His mercy and love.
In You, Lord my God, I put my trust… No one who hopes in You will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause. Show me Your ways, Lord, teach me Your paths. Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are God my Saviour, and my hope is in You all day long.Psalm 25:1-6 (excerpt)
This introduces the thought that putting trust in God is also putting ourselves in the place where He can show us his ways. At this point it’s more about “doing” than “being”, but also with the thought that God is investing in us, and steering us in righteous ways.
The second OT passage is from Jeremiah 33, and it contains a really important prophecy and the essence of what Jesus proclaimed as Good News: that the Lord would, Himself, become righteousness for us.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will fulfil the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.
“In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; He will do what is just and right in the land.
“In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Saviour.”Jeremiah 33:14-16
In the NT we see Paul allude to these verses, expressing it in this way:
God made Him [Jesus] who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.2 Corinthians 5:21
In other words, in Christ Jesus we are recreated in the righteousness of God.
When faith rises in us to the point that we can put our whole trust in Jesus, believing who He is and acknowledging what He had has done for us in taking our sin, in a way we never could ourselves — we undergo as spiritual transformation. The Bible calls it being born anew, a new spiritual start, and the impartation of the Holy Spirit to our human spirit so we become responsive and spiritual. The ‘newness’ is important. The Bible also tells us that we become a new creation:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!2 Corinthians 5:17
His explanation continues and reaches its conclusion in v.21 quoted above.
This happens in our lives now, and we experience the change of being reborn now — often in ways which our friends find quite noticeable. We are experiencing being under Jesus’ good rule and reign — we are part of His kingdom, His domain of influence. Where our lives were selfishly our own, now we are living for Jesus — and by His Spirit, being very much helped and enabled in that. But the finality of that good decision will come when Jesus returns to preside over the full and unopposed expression of His kingdom. How will we know when that is going to happen?
Jesus, on earth with His disciples, was very clear that no one could know the day or hour. He would come back quite suddenly and unexpectedly. But, He said, there will be signs. There will be social and political turmoil and also disturbance of the natural order of sea and sky.
Jesus said: ”There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
“When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near…
…Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”Luke 21:25-28 and 36
Country dwellers can tell a lot about the changes in the weather, just by observation, and Jesus continues with a parable about the leaves appearing on the trees, which heralds the heat of summer to come. So, He tells, us, be alert to the signs. He didn’t say anything specific about a series of Middle East conflicts, or about global warming and extreme weather events. Perhaps He didn’t need to.
He did tell us, in stern words, to make sure we are right with God, to be able to stand before the Lord as one of His.
What does being right with God look like? This is where we have to unpick the man-made construction of the religious actions that now take place in church buildings. For the first three centuries before Emperor Constantine, the life of the Spirit shared as the people of the church took place wherever people were — often in homes, quietly and unostentatiously, so as not to attract the attention of the authorities. But following Constantine adopting Christianity as the faith of the Roman Empire, there was a huge growth in numbers (we don’t know how many of these were born again) with millions now obligated to follow the established religion of the empire.
The Roman way was systematic. They felt comfortable with prescribed and ordered ways of doing things, because that was the way their governance and their legal system worked. And so these new religious gatherings, now meeting in larger numbers in former pagan temples, with most of the people unused to the radical new ‘way’ of Jesus, adopted a format. The sacred practices and relationships that brought the presence of God — such as kingdom prayer, reconciliation, the fivefold gifting, the Lord’s table — were condensed into the actions of one person. Roman temples had pagan priests. And so this person began to be seen as a priest. And to keep it all uniform across the empire, the same words would be used every time.
But God is looking for faith, not form. He is looking for hearts that love Jesus, not heads that are reciting words. And if we look at Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, giving them a glimpse of what the End Time will involve, we see him calling above all for God and His ways to be honoured in the relationships that make the fellowship:
May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.
May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones.1 Thess. 3:12-13
Will we be found, receiving and practising God’s love as those who are His? To be found sitting in our usual place in church or chapel, but harbouring resentments against others, is not being found “blameless and holy”.
The Bible tells us the “God is love”. So we can say, that God is all about love and relationship. If we are in right relationship with Him, living by the values of His kingdom, we will be known, marked out, by our love — and at times, gracious forbearance — of others.
That’s more what we invite God to do in us by His Spirit, than what we achieve ourselves. It’s more a renewal of our way of ‘being’ than deciding to turn over a new leaf in our ‘doing’.
It’s allowing Jesus to give a new heart, and impart the new life of the kingdom in us. Belonging to God through Jesus, and loving His ways — that’s the righteousness of God in us which is the hallmark of His kingdom.