From Virtual To Reality
Dr. Jim Denison
Historians will call this era the “technological revolution.” It’s an amazing time. For instance, just in time for Christmas, a fashion student in England has developed a way for Internet shoppers to feel clothes through their computer screens. Since 40 percent of all clothes bought online are returned by dissatisfied customers, there must be a better way, or so she theorizes.
With the help of her technology, soon you’ll be able to use your mouse to test the thickness of fabric by lifting up its edge and dropping it. You’ll be able to stretch garment and watch it return to its original shape. You’ll be able to stroke the fibers of a garment to test their quality. It won’t be the real thing, but it’s the best we can do.
Christmas is a little like virtual reality, an image you can see on your computer screen but aren’t sure is really there. We all have the picture in mind: a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger protected by his peasant teenage mother and her carpenter husband. Shepherds watching, Wise Men coming. But how do we know it’s real, or that it’s relevant?
We can’t go back in time, and even if we could, how could we know that this child is really God in the flesh? He is supposed to be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the ruler come to his realm. But his kingdom doesn’t seem to have changed much since his visit.
We’re still plagued with hurricanes, earthquakes, disaster and disease. The oppression of the Roman Empire is replaced by the global war on terror. Ancient diseases gave way to the Black Plague, which has given way to AIDS and the threat of avian flu. People live longer, but they still die. Global warming is producing 15 million acres of new desert every year. Each year we consume 160 billion gallons of water more than is being replenished by rain. A third of the world lives on $2 a day; a billion people live on $1 a day.
How did Advent really change anything? How is Christmas more than virtual reality to your soul, your marriage, your problems? It’s a good question, and the most relevant issue we can discuss today.
The Final Advent is coming
As you know, the bad news of the Bible comes early, with the fall of mankind in Genesis 3. Because Adam and Eve refused the word and will of God, they were cast out of paradise.
And the Lord said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So God drove our first parents out and “placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:22, 24).
With this fall of humanity into sin, everything changed. Satan became the “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Jesus called him “the prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).
Scripture teaches that Satan now holds the power of death (Hebrews 2:14) and “leads the whole world astray” (Revelation 12:9). He has “blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). He is a liar and the father of lies, a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44).
The reason our world is plagued with disaster and disease, suffering and sin, is because Satan is its god. The present fallen world has rebelled against its true King and is now the unlawful kingdom of the devil.
At the first Advent, the Son of God came into this fallen world to begin an insurgency, an underground movement to overthrow the “god of this age” and return the world to its rightful King. If Jesus is your Lord, you have joined his resistance. You are operating behind enemy lines, participating in a revolution against the unlawful, demonic ruler of this fallen world. This because of the First Advent coming of the Son of God.
At the Second Advent, the Spirit of God came into the world to empower the soldiers in this army of God. To give us the leadership, protection, and courage we would need to assault the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18). If we will confess whatever is wrong between us and God and ask the Holy Spirit to take control of our lives each day, Pentecost will come for us every morning. Christmas will be real; the Son of God will make our lives his manger. We will be a living nativity, the presence of Christ in the world. The Spirit of God will use the people of God to build the Kingdom of God.
Then one day, at the Final Advent, the King of Kings will return to claim this world as his own.
Here’s what will happen on that day: “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:11-16).
He will throw Satan and all who serve him into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). He will make a new heaven and a new earth to replace the world corrupted by sin and Satan (Revelation 21:1-5).
When the Final Advent comes, you and I who were barred from the tree of life will be banished no more: “On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2).
“No longer will there be any curse” from sin and Satan and death (v. 3). “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him” in the eternal Kingdom of God (v. 4). Because of sin, no one can today see the face of God and live (Exodus 33:20). But on that day “they will see his face, and his name will be on their forehead” (Revelation 22:4). And with God we will “reign for ever and ever” (v. 5).
Get ready today
When will the Final Advent come? Only God knows.
Mark 13:32-33: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert ! You do not know when that time will come.”
1 Thessalonians 5:1-3: “Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”
Luke 12:40: “The Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
No one but God knows when Jesus will return. We must be ready every day, for it could be any day. This is the clear teaching of God’s word.
Jesus may come back for us all today. Or you and I may go to him, stepping through death into life eternal. Either way, our time is short. Jesus was clear on this: “I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20). If right now you’re thinking, “I have plenty of time, this doesn’t apply to me,” know that you are deceived and wrong.
The early Christians were sure about this.
They didn’t have our programs or property or professionals. They did not have the Scriptures in printed form or the status we enjoy in this country. But they had the one thing we have lost. They had the urgency and focused passion which come from knowing that Jesus could return today. That just as his first Advent came without warning, so his second will come when we do not expect him. Just as Christmas was a real event which changed history, so the Second Coming is a real event which will end history.
Early Christians knew this fact. And so they lived in the daily expectation of Jesus’ imminent return. They wanted to be found doing what they would be doing if they knew Jesus were coming back that day. They wanted everyone they knew to be right with God, today. They had a passion for missions and evangelism, for they knew the time was short. They wanted to live holy lives, ready to stand before the judgment of God, for they knew that it could be today. They wanted to be found serving the King of Kings when he returned to his Kingdom. So should we.
The only reason Jesus has delayed his return is so as many as possible can be ready. Listen to Peter’s explanation: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (2 Peter 3:9-12).
Don’t let his delay fool you. We have no way to know if Jesus will wait another thousand years, or come this afternoon. And we have no way to know if we will go to meet him today. Your next car ride could end your life. This could be your final Christmas. In a congregation this large, it probably will be for some of us. It could be me, or you.
So we are not to speculate about Jesus’ return, but work hard to be ready for it. Then one day, it will come. Just as he came to earth at Christmas and ascended to heaven after Easter, just as the Spirit of God came at Pentecost, so the Son of God will come again to earth. His second coming is as real as his first.
You have seven days to be ready for Christmas, for the First Advent of God. But you have only today to be ready for his Final Advent. John could say, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20). Can you?
Do you have business with the returning King today? Have you been faithful in managing his possessions, on loan to you for a short while? Do you need to seek or share forgiveness with someone you know? To use your time for his purposes, your talents for his glory? Are you ready to meet your King today?
Even if he delays for another generation, being ready today is the best way to live today. The most effective, fulfilling, joyful way to live on this fallen planet is to live for your Father and King. To refuse the god of this age for the God of all ages. To be ready to see Jesus is the best, most exciting, most significant way to live today.
The longest funeral of my life occurred more than 20 years ago when I was pastor of New Hope Baptist Church while teaching at Southwestern Seminary. A former pastor of the church came back to preach the graveside service of one of our elderly members. It was a hot July day. I was wearing a dark wool suit. The service went on and on, and I grew more and more delirious. Some people dying of thirst in the desert have mirages of an oasis and spring; I had the mirage of this service finally ending.
Then the retired pastor told a story I’ll never forget. He talked about the death of his own elderly mother. She had been in a coma in the hospital for days. The family took shifts in her room. It was the pastor’s turn to stay the night. It was 3:00 in the morning–he could see the digital clock. His mother had not stirred or spoken for days. Suddenly she sat up in bed with such a noise that it startled him. She called out in the darkness, “It’s Jesus! Can’t you see him? He’s here!” She stretched her arms toward the sky. And in that moment, the pastor said he heard a sound as clearly as you hear my voice today–the rustling sound of wings, of angels’ wings. And she was gone. Jesus had come again for her.
One day you’ll step on ground and find it celestial. You’ll breathe new air and find it heavenly. You’ll hear new music and find it angelic. You’ll feel a touch and find it God’s.
What if it were today?