Do We Really Anticipate Christ’s Return? (part 2)

(Today’s post is the second in a series about anticipating Christ’s return.)

The Importance of Last Words

If you have stood at the bedside of a loved one facing imminent death, you never forget their last words.

The most common last words often affirm love for a spouse or a family member. Here are a few quotes from the lips of famous people facing imminent death:

When Michael Landon’s son knew that his father’s death was imminent, he is reported to have said, “It’s okay, Dad. It’s time.” Michael responded, “You’re right. It’s time. I love you all.”

Leonardo Da Vinci: “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.”

Winston Churchill: “I’m bored with it all.”

Comedian W.C. Fields, when asked why he was reading a Bible on his deathbed replied: “I’m looking for loopholes.”

Frank Sinatra, famous for those lyrics, “I did it my way,” is reported to have said, “I’m losing.” (Ponder the stark contrast between the bravado of the song with Sinatra’s last regret.)

D. L. Moody: “This is my triumph; this is my coronation day! It is glorious!”

Jesus, just moments before he ascended to heaven, responding to his disciples’ question about his second coming, said: “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.” (Acts 1:7)

Those words—Jesus’ last words—should affect every moment of our lives if we truly love him and anticipate his second advent to earth. Jesus virtually ignored their request for details about his future return, but he reminded them of his promise to send the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ last words consisted of two promises: The disciples would “receive power” and they would “be his witnesses.” Both promises were guaranteed by the Holy Spirit who would not only be with them but dwell in them.

Those words were barely out of Jesus’ mouth when he was “lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” The disciples stood there, mouths gaping, when two angelic messengers appeared and said, “… why do you stand here 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.” (Acts 1:11)

That’s all they needed to know about Christ’s return at the moment. Anticipation of Jesus’ return became—and still ought to be—motivation to follow Jesus obediently. It was the assurance of Christ’s resurrection and the anticipation of his future return that enabled Paul to endure persecution and to courageously face martyrdom.

The question facing me today is whether anticipation of Christ’s return motivates me to follow him and influences my decisions and my priorities?

It’s easy to verbally affirm that I believe Christ will return physically and visibly just like he departed that day while his disciples trembled with awe-inspired amazement. However, it’s not my words but my actions that confirm whether I truly anticipate Christ’s return. Am I like Noah who anticipated the promised flood and faithfully constructed the great life boat to save him and his family? Or am part of the distracted multitude caught up in the routines of life until it was too late and the door was closed? (See Jesus’ warning in Mathew 24:36-42)

Jesus also told a story about three employees entrusted by their master to manage his investments while he was on a long journey. Each employee heard the master’s promise to return and to reward them if they were faithful. Two invested wisely. One ignored the maser’s instructions. All three expected the master’s homecoming. Two with anticipation. The other with dread.

Which employee do I reflect in my daily life? You don’t know for certain, and I can even deceive myself. The Lord knows.

It is not for me to know the times and seasons surrounding that climactic historical moment when the resurrected and ruling Jesus appears again. It is for me to obey His command to make disciples. It is for me to submit to the Holy Spirit who gives boldness and wisdom.

Approaching the big 80—4 decades—I realize that I have few years left. I pray almost daily that I will finish strongly. So whether Christ returns first or I die, I want live with anticipation of that encounter with Christ when He will evaluate my life.

So, do I truly believe Christ may return any moment?

When I reflect on Jesus’ last words, “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…”, I hear this inner voice: “What about V and G across the street? What about A and L next door? Do they know Jesus? Do they know He is coming back to judge everybody? Do they know that I know Jesus? Have I been His witness here on SW 24th Street?”

When I can affirm those questions, I will then be living as if I truly believe Christ may return today.

 A Lasting Legacy

“Finish Strongly!” That’s been my stated goal since retiring from full-time ministry. I prefer to call it retreading, because I can’t imagine a pastor or any believer discarding their spiritual gifts or passion to proclaim the good news. I know that I can’t. I appreciate the extra free-time to read the Bible more leisurely—not seeking sermon fodder—but for the sheer pleasure of new discoveries. Having read through the five books of Moses over the past several months was an amazing journey.

The final chapter of Deuteronomy describes the death of Moses when the 120- year-old veteran climbed Mt. Nebo to meet with the Lord one last time and to see the Promised Land. Standing on the summit of Nebo on my first visit to Israel and Jordan, I tried to imagine Moses’ emotions while he was observing the land but knew that he would not enter it. Instead, he died there on the summit. His race finished. Israel mourned Moses’ death for thirty days. Imagine what people were saying about this great leader who for forty years had led them through the wilderness.

What others may say to my face or behind my back is not as important as their eulogies after I’m dead. That will be my legacy—how I will be remembered. But far more vital is what the Lord will say about me.

Moses’ legacy is captured in this Spirit-inspired eulogy:

“… there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.” (Dt. 34:10–12, ESV. emphasis mine)

Moses was the prophet par excellence—the greatest of all the great prophets throughout history. He was greater because of his intimate relationship with Yahweh who is so glorious that no human eye can tolerate. Yet, Moses’ relationship with God grew so deep they spoke as “a friend with a friend.” However, it wasn’t always so intimate. To appreciate Moses’ relationship with God, we must consider the roots and the life experiences that shaped the great prophet.

Moses was the third child of a Hebrew peasant family living as immigrants and slaves in Egypt. He was sentenced to death at birth but was spared by his mother’s ingenuity and the grace of God. He was adopted by an Egyptian princess and enjoyed royal wealth. He was educated in the wisdom of Egypt and on the fast track to political greatness, but he remained a Hebrew at heart. At age forty, his sense of justice turned him into a fugitive in the wilderness where the “son of Pharaoh” became a common shepherd. Forty years enduring sandstorms, severe heat and solitude.

Drawn by curiosity over a burning bush, Moses’ first conversation with the God of Abraham began with a severe warning: “Take off your sandals. This is holy ground.” Moses “hid his face for he was afraid to look…” (Exodus 3:6) The conversation did not end but would grow more and more intimate through experiences such as the plagues that God released upon Egypt to break the stubborn will of Pharaoh. Moses, with the “staff of God”, would lead Israel forty years performing miracles at God’s command.

But it was the occasional encounters with this amazing God on the summit of Sinai that drew the two friends more tightly together. Still respectful, but no longer shaking with fear, Moses became so bold that he would ask to see God in all His glory. (No one dared ask, nor could they survive such exposure.) The Lord invited Moses to meet on the summit where Moses would be protected while seeing only God’s “passing” glory. Another line had been crossed and the friendship deepened until Moses would meet with God, “as friend with friend” in their “meeting place”—a tent outside the camp.

Finally, on the summit of Nebo these two “best friends” met for the final time before Moses’ death. Imagine with me this final conversation as God pointed out landmarks and borders of the Promised Land. Last words are important. Precious. Memorable. I know, because I have stood with families around the bed of a loved one as he or she slipped into eternity. Even the breathless silence of the occasion is holy.

Here’s what the Holy Spirit records after the news of Moses’ death on Nebo:

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.” (Joshua 1:1–2, ESV. emphasis mine)

If you continue to read the rest of the above quotation, Moses will be called “The servant of the Lord” again and again. Please note that Moses is called, “The servant”—not merely “a servant”—of the Lord. Forty difficult years, God’ faithful servant led a band of rebels and faced natural disasters including drought and plagues as well as military attacks. His leadership was challenged; even his own brother and sister criticized him. Moses never resigned his post but finished strongly to hear these words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

But, the rest of the story is even better.

Almost 1,500 hundred years later, Jesus invites his three closest friends to join him on a hilltop where they will be startled by an amazing sight. Jesus was transformed into brilliance almost beyond description—perhaps like a burning bush—and Moses was also standing there with the Lord Jesus, the God he had met on Sinai. The prophet par excellence was standing in the Promised Land with his best friend at last.

In Revelation 11, we discover Moses as God’s prophet once again performing miracles in The Promised Land. He will be martyred and his death celebrated. But a loud voice from heaven will call, “Come up here!”

Can you imagine the conversation between these two best friends that will follow?

That’s a lasting legacy.