Come Quickly, Lord Jesus
Earlier today (yesterday as of this posting – 12/14/12) a terrible tragedy occurred. The type of tragedy that rocks a nation. The type of tragedy that causes anger and sadness. I doubt anyone who heard about this tragedy said, “Huh. That’s too bad,” and went on about their business without a second thought. Many have commented on Facebook and Twitter and are still commenting as more details are made available to the public. One comment that I have read many times is “Come quickly, Lord Jesus” or some variation of this statement. I wonder what is meant. On the one hand, this phrase is so ingrained in America’s predominantly evangelical mindset that it may just simply be a way of expressing frustration, grief, and confusion. On the other hand, there may be a lot of thought behind it. In fact, I’m willing to bet that this is mostly the case.
When a terrible tragedy occurs, all the sin that ravages our lives and land becomes enormous. It dominates the landscape. Even the small things become great. We feel helpless. We know that God is in control and that He has a purpose, but at that moment it’s of little consolation. Evil fills our world and we see it on the news, hear about it the lives of friends and family, and experience it in our own lives. Sometimes it even wells up in our own hearts. As Christians we know that evil is not good and it’s not part of God’s ultimate plan. We know that evil did not exist at one point in time and that there will be another point in time when it will no longer exist. When tragedy strikes, we want that time to be now. We long for it. We wonder why it hasn’t happened yet. We become frustrated with God, wondering why He allows bad things to happen, why He allows bad seeds to grow and produce poisonous fruit, why He creates life, only to allow it to be snuffed out in an instant. We don’t understand, but we do know that He told us to pray. So we pray. “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”
This prayer is appropriate. We should pray it, and often. In fact, this is the theme of Advent, which the church is currently celebrating. It is good for us to desire the coming of our Lord. But why does He come? Herein lies the problem. Many who pray “Come Lord Jesus” are praying that He would come and take them away. They see tragedy occur and evil deeds done and they want to leave. This world is full of evil – Heaven is not. We don’t want to be here – we want to be there. But this is not just escapism. They don’t say this prayer in desperation and despair, but then wise up once the sun rises again. Their theology says that this world is bad. Evil is rampant because this is an evil world. God will one day destroy this world and make a better one – a perfect one – but before that happens, He’s going to come get His people. So they pray for Jesus to come and whisk them away, because this is what the Bible tells us will happen. Only it doesn’t… but you knew I was going to say that.
The theme of Jesus’ coming has a number of meanings for the season of Advent. Primarily, I think, it has to do with the birth of Jesus. One of the aspects of Advent is reading through the Old Testament stories that anticipate the coming of a Savior. Typical Advent readings spend the first three weeks reading about how Abraham trusted God, how Joseph saved his family, how Rahab protected the spies, and how Daniel survived the lion’s den. Then, in the last week before Christmas, the readings focus on the actual story of Jesus’ birth. Reliving the Old Testament stories and sharing the anticipation with our fathers is extremely beneficial and comforting. Of course, we know the outcome – we get to celebrate Christmas! Jesus’ birth, though, is not the only coming that we should celebrate. Throughout Jesus’ life, He said He would be coming soon. He wasn’t talking about the rapture – He was talking about the destruction of Jerusalem.
In the old covenant, Israel had been the priestly nation. God had given them a land and temple at the center of the world in order to change the world. They were to pray, sing, and offer sacrifices on behalf of the world. They were to invite the world to worship God with them. And they were to go out into the world and covert them to the one true God. The problem was, Israel thought they were special. They thought the other nations were rotten. They didn’t want to have anything to do with them. But God wanted the whole world to worship Him. And He wanted the whole world to be one. Israel should have known that their priestly job was only temporary and that the end goal was to prepare the world for the coming of Jesus. They should have known that this meant that they would join with the Gentile nations to make a whole new nation – a whole new world. Jesus came to usher in a new world. He did this at His death, resurrection and ascension. The thing is, He also came to destroy the old world. He could have done it right away – Israel was no longer needed. But God was gracious and for 4o years the church grew and the gospel went out into the world – to the Jew first and then to the Gentile. Many Jews believed and were saved. They were made new. Unfortunately, many did not. And they hated the Christians. They persecuted them mercilessly. They killed many Christians. And in A.D. 70, Jesus came in judgment (through the Roman army) and wiped them out. This is what the whole New Testament is all about. That’s the context. And when the writers of the New Testament quote the Old Testament over and over again and look forward to the coming of Jesus, this is what they were talking about. So Advent had a whole new meaning for them. And this is also what we celebrate when we celebrate Advent today. When I read Psalm 27, I think about how those first Christians sang this Psalm as they were being persecuted and their friends and family were being murdered… and how they were looking forward to Jesus’ coming.
Yet, there is still another way to celebrate Advent. Much like the Jesus’ birth, the events of A.D. 70 were a one time event in the past, and we’re way beyond that now. Jesus is still coming. But not in the way that many think. As I’ve already stated, many look forward to Jesus coming to destroy this evil world and establish His kingdom. That already happened though. It’s not going to happen again. This defies expectations, because bad exegesis, fantastical theological deductions, and our culture have ingrained in our minds what a second coming is supposed to look like. It’s hard to wrap our heads around events that happened so long ago, and don’t look like what we think they should look like. But getting this right is vitally important – for a number of reasons. Here’s two: First, our outlook on life changes significantly when we realize that we now exist in a new world, that Jesus is the King, and ALL authority and power has been given to Him – and therefore His church. It’s easy to say that Jesus is King, but it’s much harder to live like it. It becomes easier when we understand what happened in the New Testament and A.D. 70. Evil, all of a sudden, becomes less of a threat. Sure, it exists – sometimes in mind-numbing proportions – but it doesn’t reign. There can’t be two rulers and Jesus already claims that right. Jesus is not the rightful heir of a kingdom that is overrun by evil, waiting patiently and gathering an army so that He can one day conquer and rule. He is already King. He already rules. The kingdom is His. Yes, there’s still bad guys out there, but that’s what we’re for. We’re the police force, in a sense. Our job is to meet with our King, receive our instructions and go out and destroy evil. We don’t use swords and guns, though. Which leads us to the second reason – understanding that Jesus is King, helps us understand how He comes to meet us.
God always met His people in worship. To be more specific, though, He always met His people at the table. When the Lord comes to meet with His people, He does it over food. He met Adam and Eve in the garden at a fruit tree. He later met His people at an altar, and after the appropriate offerings, they ate together. Later, in the Promised Land, wine was added into the mix. Jesus, of course, met with His disciples over bread and wine. And now He meets us the same way. Having a meal with our King means we have peace with Him. But much like the food we eat everyday, this holy food and drink strengthens us. It builds us up and prepares us for battle. Our battles are fought with prayer and singing. Instead of swords of steel, we brandish The Word. The world tells us that if you want to wipe out evil, you amass an army and drive them out with tanks and weapons. Well, our army is already amassed – and it’s growing every day across the planet. But instead of tanks and weapons, we raise families, we love our spouses, we our kind to strangers, we invite our neighbors over for dinner, we educate and discipline our children, we work hard at our jobs and even harder in our homes, and most importantly, we regularly attend worship where we pray, sing, hear the Word and eat with our King. Every week. And this here is the kicker. Most churches don’t do this. They don’t understand that this is the heart of worship. We internalize worship and shift the emphasis to what we’re learning and feeling. We replace congregational worship with community groups. We get rid of communion because it cuts into our 45 minute sermons, videos, skits and special performance music. We do all this and we fret. We fret about evil and the direction our country is going. We get scared and worry about what will happen next. We blame the government, the culture, the atheists, the schools and the media. We don’t blame God, though… well, at least not directly. But we do call on Him to come and take us away from it all and destroy this place… and wonder why He doesn’t. We only have ourselves to blame.
The events that happened at that elementary school in Connecticut are horrible. We should weep with those who have suffered and be angry at the evil that occurred. But we should not ask Jesus to take us away from it. It should cause us to pray harder, to serve more, to invest time in others, to gather together as communities and sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. It should cause us to fight. Jesus is coming, but He’s not coming to take us away. He’s coming tomorrow when we gather for worship, and the next week and the next. He wants to feed us. He wants to prepare us for battle. He wants to give us peace. He wants to use us to make this world perfect. He’s coming quickly. What will we do?