In Acts chapter 18, we read about Paul’s visit to Corinth. We are told that he was there for 18 months.
Now, every preacher I have ever know for any length of time has covered a lot of ground in 18 months. Can you imagine what it would have been like to be one of the first converts in that place, and sit listening to Paul week after week for 18 months?
I don’t know what your imagination conjures up, but if you are anything like me, it is humbling to compare the imagined content of his sermons against the reality. Paul tells us about this in 1 Corinthians 2:2: “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
Think, if you can, of all the sermons you have heard over this last year. It seems to me that Paul is telling us he covered much less, and much more, than our sermons today.
We talk, we read, we preach about so many things; but the important bits, the valuable stuff, is all about Jesus.
At the transfiguration, they saw Jesus with Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets, the whole of the Old Testament, but at the end they saw only Jesus: at the end, it is all summed up in Jesus; at the end, only Jesus is left. Because Jesus is all that we need.
You can go through the whole of the New Testament: it is all about Jesus. Acts 1:1 tells us that the Gospel of Luke is about ‘all that Jesus began to do and teach’ so this next book, which today we call the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ is actually about the things that Jesus continued to do and teach.
It is all about Jesus. So what about us? We are the Body of Christ. We only exist, we only have any function, we only have any usefulness as His body. Putting it another way, we are “His workmanship” (Ephesians 2:10).
You can summarise the whole of the book of Romans like this: Jews and Greeks have been united, are one, in Christ. In fact, God’s entire purpose for creating us, for creating the whole universe, is “the summing up of all things in Christ” (Ephesians 1:10).
We are at the beginning of the season of the church year called ‘Advent’, and Advent is all about Jesus.
Advent is the time of year when we think about Jesus coming – we look back to Jesus coming at Bethlehem, and we look forward to His second coming.
At the beginning of Acts, the angel tells us two essential truths: Jesus is coming back, and it is this Jesus, not some other, Who will return.
Jesus is coming back.
There have always been believers who don’t believe that he will return. That is, they don’t believe it in any practical sense: they don’t allow the fact of His return to change the way they live here and now.
In 2 Peter 3:3-4 we read that ‘mockers will come … following after their own lusts and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the Fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”’
Their confidence is based on a fallacy. We were taught about this mistake when I was at university. One of the philosophy courses taught us about a classic mistake called ‘the problem of induction’. We are all prone to make this mistake: we think that because things have always been this way, they will always be this way. But it’s just not true.
The graphic illustration we were given is the turkey: every morning of its life, the farmer brings the turkey corn to eat, and every morning the turkey comes, confident of being fed. But the turkey’s confidence is based on ignorance because Christmas is coming, and one day the farmer will come with an axe instead of corn.
Please note: this is not intended as an illustration of the second coming, but an illustration of our own foolishness if we think that our past experience is a guarantee of the future.
The truth is that Jesus is coming back, and when He does, everything will change. So the only way of living which makes sense, is to live in a way which works in the light of His coming. Many of Jesus’ parables are about this basic truth. Your master is returning, so live every day as if today is the day he will return.
It is vital for our spiritual health that we believe this Biblical truth, and act on it.
It is vital that we believe this truth, because we find it almost impossible to believe a much more obvious truth: that one day, if the Lord delays, you and I will die.
We know with our heads that we will die, but most of us find it impossible to come to terms with this fact, to plan for it, or even to talk about it with the people around us. And, because we find it so hard to contemplate our own death, it is essential for our spiritual health that we live with the constant knowledge that Jesus is coming back.
After all, it makes no practical difference to us whether Jesus comes back first, or whether we die before He comes back. Either way, our time is limited, and either way, what matters is the way we live in the time we have.
As Paul goes on to point out in 1 Corinthians chapter 3, Jesus is coming back and nothing matters except that which will survive His return, and the only thing which will survive when he returns is that which partakes of and expresses His life and sacrificial death.
“For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
It is the same Jesus Who will return.
The traditional teaching is that Jesus came the first time as a servant, but He will return as a King. He came the first time as the Prince of Peace; He will come the second time carrying the sword of Judgement.
There is some truth in this picture. When He comes, His return will usher in the final judgement. There has to be a judgement, otherwise how will we ever be able to distinguish between right and wrong? Someone, somewhere, has to establish what was right and what was wrong, and we are told that this will be Jesus.
But then, who else would you trust to do this job? Who else can hold together the need for justice to be done, with the need to make allowance for our weaknesses and infirmities?
The Bible is quite clear: the One Who will return is ‘this Jesus’ Who ascended, the same Jesus the disciples lived with for three years, the same Jesus we know from the pages of the Gospels, the same Jesus we follow, Whose Spirit lives within us.
We are told He will come back with power and authority, but He always had power and authority. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells the disciples: all authority has been given to Me – so you go and make everyone you can My disciples. He already has all authority, which is why you and I are authorised to act in His name here and now. That is some responsibility.
It’s all about Jesus. He calls us, as He called the first disciples, to continue the things He began to do and teach.
But I don’t want to leave you with some sense of heavy responsibility. The final book of the Bible finishes not with warnings or commandments, but with an expression of our heart’s longing: Come, Lord Jesus.
That is our prayer. It’s all about Jesus. Come, Lord Jesus. Not because we want evil people to be punished; not because we want our troubles to be ended, but because we desire, as does every bride, to be with Him and to be united with Him.