A reading from Matthew chapter twenty-four:
“About that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away.
That is how it will be at coming of the Son of Man.
Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.
Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
And again, from the Gospel of Luke chapter seventeen:
“I tell you, on that night two people will be in bed; one will be taken and the other left.
Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”
Now after hearing this teaching from Jesus what is better – to be taken or to be left behind??
The answer is that we don’t know.
At the time that Matthew and Luke wrote their gospels on the life of Jesus Christians were being taken by the Romans to be executed.
To be left behind meant that you were saved from the terrors of the Roman army.
The Romans would come at any time of the day to capture and to take Christians away.
To focus on whether it is better to be left behind or taken is a terrific exercise in missing the point.
Here Jesus is making the critical point that we need to be ready at all times for his coming.
Just like how the Romans could come at any time to take you away Jesus will come at a time when we don’t expect it and because this is true, we need to be ready for him.
Do you see how this teaching from Jesus would connect with Jesus’ followers?
They would have seen this teaching of being taken as a great warning to be alert at all times for Jesus.
And the Apostle Paul said in 1 Thessalonians that those who are left will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord.
Here Paul is encouraging Jesus’ followers that if we are left behind and have not died yet we can still have hope that we will be gathered with all of God’s people when Jesus comes again.
And this leads us once again to the book of Revelation.
The book of Revelation is both a warning to Jesus’ followers to keep the faith and it is a letter of hope to Jesus’ followers who are suffering persecution for their faith that God has not left them behind and that God is with them.
Last week I spoke about how the book of Revelation has some parallels to modern day apocalyptic stories such as the story a Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
What do I mean by that?
Both books tell of both warning and hope.
Warning that we might miss the purpose and the intention of life and the hope that the intention and purpose of life can be found.
Just like a great treasure that is discovered we have hope that God’s truth will be revealed to us.
For John in his book of Revelation he takes us on a series of profound visions on behalf of his seven churches.
In his book he gives us contrasting visions of two cities.
He sees Babylon which is code for Rome.
Christians are to reject the evil empire of Babylon.
And then there is this beautiful, alternative, new city.
This city descends from heaven.
John compares this new city like a bride.
We are invited into this city.
In this city God dwells among God’s people.
Even now we are to hope for and pray for this coming city.
And in this in-between time that we find ourselves in now we are to be faithful to God.
We are to reject and to renounce the forces that oppose God.
Like John’s churches we are to turn away from Babylon, meaning those things that are against God, in order to turn to God and God’s future kingdom and God’s future city.
So, this is John’s message of both warning and of hope.
Revelation, which means to uncover or to reveal, showed the persecuted Christians that the Roman empire, as powerful as it is, is not the power it claims to be.
And through a cosmic, spiritual battle John’s churches were to take a new Exodus out of Babylon, which again is Rome, and they needed to take that exodus journey towards Jesus.
You might say that in Revelation we take a spiritual journey through earthquakes, great and terrifying plagues, terrible disasters and battles in order to wake up to the ways of God.
Just like how Scrooge was led on a transformative journey one night in order to wake up we too are led on a transformative journey through the book of Revelation.
And just as there was still hope for Scrooge there is still hope for us.
There is still hope for God’s creation.
There is still hope for the next generation.
There is still hope for us to join God in what God is doing in the world – we have hope to plant a tree, to care for a child, to rescue an animal, to love the world that God has made.
There is still hope that God is making all things new and turning death into resurrection.
Jesus came to bring about a new kingdom here on earth that was marked with love, grace, and forgiveness.
The Romans tried to silence Jesus and his message.
But something happened when the Romans tried to silence Jesus.
And this great happening changed the world.
And to talk about that now I first want to go back to the very beginning of the Bible once again to the book of Genesis.
In the book of Genesis there is this man named Joseph.
Joseph’s brothers are extremely jealous of Joseph and so they decide to sell Joseph to be a slave.
Years later when his brothers come back to Joseph -after Joseph rises out of slavery to great power in Egypt -Joseph says this to his brothers in Genesis chapter fifty:
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
God takes something bad and turns it into something good.
In a similar way… the Romans try to harm Jesus and even to kill him but God takes what happened and makes something new.
God transforms the cross.
God makes the cross the place where we receive forgives for all of our sins.
God makes that which was death into something which is life for all of God’s creation.
Jesus lived at a time when there was a sacrificial system in place.
You atoned for your sins by sacrificing an animal at the temple in Jerusalem.
If you wronged your neighbor, if you have some guilt, if you broke one of the ten commandments then there was a sacrifice that you were to make.
At the cross Jesus becomes the sacrifice.
In his sacrifice we receive life and salvation.
We no longer need to offer a lamb or a bird or a cow at the altar for a sacrifice.
When you come to worship on Sunday mornings, I don’t see anyone bringing a bird or a cow to sacrifice on the altar.
No, Jesus does away with the whole sacrificial system of blood and violence.
In his death and resurrection, he comes to us now as the new conquering king.
What does he conquer – he conquers death, sin, evil, destruction, killing, blood, violence – his death does away with it all.
Isaiah’s prophecy comes true in Jesus’ presence the wolf lies with the lamb.
And there is no more hurting or destroying on God’s holy mountain.
In the Bible the mountains were seen as the place where God meets God’s people.
Jesus’ new kingdom will embody God’s shalom.
Shalom remember is God’s dream for the world – healing, restoration, and renewal of all things.
The judgment will happen which will be a judgment on all things which do not bring life.
God will act quickly and decisively.
These things which disrupt God’s shalom will come to an end.
God will cleanse the world.
Because God is life-giving.
In fact, it says at the end of Revelation:
“The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes to take the water of life as a gift.”
God provides the water of life because God is life-giving.
And just like in the gospels of Matthew and Luke when Jesus gives the warning of those who will be taken and those who will be left behind there is this great urgency to the message in Revelation.
This urgency to the message is the announcement that God’s future grace which will be given to us at the end of the age impacts us now.
Knowing the end of God’s story impacts how we live today.
And as I said last week in my sermon it is not as if we can usher in God’s future kingdom.
Only God does that.
We don’t even know the time or the day in which all of this will happen.
Today we are to simply to trust and to lean into God’s kingdom.
We are also to listen to the urgent call and warning that we receive from the Bible to be awake because the coming of our Lord will come at a time when we least expect it.
And life can pass us by very quickly and suddenly we miss what Jesus was trying to tell us.
In other words, Jesus is saying to us in the Scriptures that the life that we have to live today matters and how we live our days matters to God.
It is not as if this life doesn’t matter and all that matters is God’s coming kingdom.
The grace that God will give to us in the future is the same grace that God extends to us today.
We don’t have to die in order to know God’s grace.
We don’t have to die to be in a relationship with God.
We can receive grace and know God in this life as well as the life to come.
Our lives here on earth is a precious gift from God.
As difficult as life can get from time-to-time life is still precious and life is to be lived in God honoring ways.
This is the conclusion that the Israelites and the first Christians came to.
Life was hard for them.
I have been preaching about how difficult it was for them beginning with the Israelites being held in slavery by the Egyptians and ending with the Christians being killed by the Romans.
But there is this steady theme of hope throughout the entire Bible.
God hears the cries of God’s people and God does something about our cries.
The grace that we will receive in the future is the same grace that we live with each and every day.
And what grace is this?
The grace of the cross – on the cross Jesus was faithful to us even to death and in his death, we have life – future grace, grace now!
Come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with us all.