Christmas reminds us of the Old Testament promise: “He’s coming.” God’s son is coming. But it also reminds us of the New Testament promise: “He’s coming–again.”
The one who arrived for the first time as a child will arrive again in the clouds. The one who was first born in modesty will come to us again in majesty. His first arrival was as a kid. His second arrival will be as the King. Christmas is a time to reflect not only on Jesus’ initial visitation among us but also on Jesus’ eventual return to us. Jesus is coming again.
But some of us face the Second Coming of Jesus with anxiety rather than gaiety Why? Because there’s so much work to be done.
When I became a Christian as a teenager in a rural New Mexico Church of Christ, the song they often sang about the second coming went like this: “Jesus is coming soon, morning or night or noon, many will meet their doom, trumpets will sound…” As a young Christian, I found the song a bit troubling. Jesus is coming soon. Many will meet their doom. Why? Because they didn’t get all their work done. The work of becoming more and more like Jesus. The work of living and loving as Jesus. There seems to be more panic than pleasure in contemplating the fact that the one who arrived in the manger is coming again.
In 1 Thessalonians Paul is writing to a group of young Christians. From reading this letter, and the second letter, we get the sense that they are a bit worried about Jesus’ return. Paul writes to correct this.
He begins in this way: 10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith (1 Thess. 3:10 ESV). The word “lacking” literally means “to be behind.” If faith was a schedule, the Christians in Thessalonica are behind schedule. On a spiritual inventory list, there’s so much they still don’t have. They are lacking in their faith.
To address this Paul points to the second coming of Jesus: 11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1 Thess. 3:11-13 ESV)
What are they lacking? Paul spells it out: an increased and abounding love for other Christians and for all people; blamelessness; and holiness. These are the words Paul uses here to describe what they are lacking. They are behind.
I wonder if you can relate. It’s the end of 2012. A New Year is about to start. Are you where you thought you’d be by the end of 2012? Do you have the kind of love you hoped to have? Do you have the kind of blamelessness you hoped to have? Do you have the kind of holiness you hoped to have? Or are you, like the Thessalonians, behind? Are you lacking?
But it’s just when we feel overwhelmed with the weight of our sin that we can truly feel the wonder of the return of Jesus. Listen once more to the way Paul uses the return of Jesus: 11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1 Thess. 3:11-13 ESV)
Did you catch what Paul was saying? We do not make ourselves increase and abound in love. Jesus does. We do not establish our hearts blameless in holiness. Jesus does. Paul’s prayer is not that we would do all the work remaining so that at the coming of the Lord Jesus we’ve increased and abounded in love for one another and for all and we’ve established our hearts blameless in holiness. Paul’s prayer is that God would do all the work remaining. Paul’s prayer is that Jesus would do all the work remaining.
The Jesus who is coming again is working right now so that we might be blameless when he comes. The Jesus who is returning is working right now so that we might increase and abound in love when he returns. The Jesus who will once again visit is working right now so that we might be holy when he visits.
The work Jesus began in us at his first arrival he will complete by his second arrival. It’s not all up to us. It’s not all up to our ability to make resolutions and keep them. It’s not all up to our willingness to work harder on our heart and our character. We have a role to play. There are things we must do, for sure. But we are not alone in this struggle. Jesus works with us. Jesus works for us. Jesus works in us. He is even harder at work within us than we are. And by the time he comes again, his guarantee is that we will be complete.