Luke 9:26 “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
Most people are silent about the future of the world, or the future of man, or their own ultimate destiny because the thought of is so depressing. If they don’t think about it then it might not happen. For some there is the vague idea of reincarnation, of returning again to this world as someone or something else to continually repeat the whole cycle of life and death. They hope next time they will be happier than this time, but they may not be. They hope they are not going to return as an animal or reptile, but it is all a vague idea without any proof. For many others, what they are facing is the thought of being snuffed out, annihilated, ceasing to be, without any contact with all the people and things that have been precious to them in this world. They will enter non-existence, nothingness, and that is the most they can hope for. No wonder they are heavy in spirit.
When Bertrand Russell the atheist philosopher wrote of the future of our world he described it like this, “All the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction . . . The whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins.” Little wonder people who believe that don’t think a lot about the future. “Let us eat drink and be merry,” they say, “for tomorrow we die.”
The Christian thought of the future builds on the words of the Preacher of the Sermon on the Mount, the Saviour who was once transfigured on a mountain top while his Father said to him, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” the Jesus who conquered death and rose on the third day from the grave, the gentle, holy Son of God. He speaks in our text about the future, that he will come “in his glory, and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
IT WAS THE LORD JESUS HIMSELF WHO SAID THESE WORDS.*
I love meeting with Jesus, to hear him speaking, see him in action, know his personality. I love to see him for myself, go to a house where Jesus is having dinner, get into a boat with Jesus and his friends, sit on a grassy hillside and listen to Jesus telling parables, walking with Jesus down dusty country lanes and seeing how he relates to people, noticing who likes Jesus, and why, noticing who hates Jesus, and why. These Sunday mornings as I preach through Luke’s gospel this is what I’m doing. This inspired book has miraculous power to carry all of us across time and space and into contact with Jesus as he walked this earth. And as we gather to meet Jesus in that time and place, the Lord himself comes to meet us in this time and place. We enter his life, and he enters our lives.
Now one of the first things we notice is that Jesus is glad to see people, and pleased that they want to meet him. Just hang around with him for a while, and find out what happens. As you watch Jesus in action, you see that he has a remarkable effect on people. Just a few hours with him, sometimes just a few minutes, is enough to make people realize that Jesus is like nobody they’ve ever met before.
As we meet Jesus in the Bible, we find that he welcomes all kinds of people. It doesn’t matter who you are – man or woman, grandparent or child, fisherman or farmer, priest or prostitute, soldier or rebel, cop or criminal, ruler or slave, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, healthy or disabled, religious or rotten, sensible or demon-possessed – Jesus warmly welcomes anyone who wants to meet him and get to know him better. He never tells anyone that he’s too important or too busy or too good for that person.
As you’re hanging around with Jesus, you see several young mothers with little children and babies, wanting Jesus to touch their children and pray for them. Some of the people around Jesus tell the women to go away. They say that Jesus can’t be bothered with babies and housewives. But when Jesus sees women and children treated as though they don’t count, he gets cross. “Let the little children come to me,” he says. “Don’t hinder them. God’s kingdom is for kids like these.”
Later you’re walking down the road behind Jesus, along with a crowd of others. Suddenly you hear a couple of loudmouths making a racket: “Lord Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us.” Two blind men who are beside that road every day looking for handouts, have heard Jesus is going past. When they start yelling, the crowd scolds them and tells them to shut up. After all, Jesus is on the move. He’s got big plans! Why should a couple of no-account freeloaders make a scene and interfere with his schedule? But the blind men won’t give up. They shout all the louder, and Jesus doesn’t mind at all. In fact, he seems pleased. He stops and asks them what they want. They tell him they want to see. Jesus’ face is full of pity. He touches their eyes. Suddenly they can see. You look at them as they gaze around in wonder, eyes wide open, and you laugh with amazement and joy.
As you hang around with Jesus, you find out that he not only makes time for women and children and disabled people but also for people who are downright stupidly bad. He sits down for supper with crooks and prostitutes and riffraff of every kind. He accepts invitations from almost anybody, and he even invites himself to their place if they feel unworthy to invite him. Sometimes it hurts his reputation among the more upstanding, religious members of society. They think he’s got no standards. But Jesus calmly tells them that the reason he came is to help sinners – and it seems to be working. Eating with crooks doesn’t make Jesus go crooked; it helps crooks go straight. Talking kindly to prostitutes or to a woman who has gone through five divorces and now is living with number six doesn’t make Jesus sexually immoral; it helps prostitutes become sexually pure and it transforms the much married woman and she starts to put God in her life.
At times it almost seems Jesus prefers lowly people to important people and rotten sinners to decent citizens. But he tells every one of them that one day he’ll come again, and this time not to a stable to sleep in an animal feeding trough for a crib and to be surrounded by gawking shepherds, the smell of sheep heavy on them, but he is coming with glory, his own, and his Father’s glory and the glory of the angels. He tells this to them all, to the low life and to the big shots. He is not embarrassed to talk about coming again. He tells the smartest people with the highest I.Q. that he is coming again. He warns and welcomes them all.
The Jesus who said these words about coming again in glory doesn’t push anyone away but he also doesn’t pull any punches, either. He’s willing to meet people on their terms, but they can stay with him and follow him only on his terms. He won’t exclude anyone because of their past, but he won’t include anyone who refuses to leave their past and entrust their future to him. Nobody is so bad they can’t have him, but nobody is so good they don’t need him and his mercy and his love. He’s willing to meet you where you are, but then you must be willing to follow wherever he leads.
Let me emphasize this, that in meeting Jesus, you meet a combination of humility and authority you won’t meet anywhere else, an astonishing union of tenderness and toughness. One moment he’s cuddling babies; the next moment he’s confronting rulers. One moment he is lying exhausted and asleep in a boat that’s being rocked by a storm; the next moment he’s ordering the storm around. One moment he’s weeping at the grave of his dead friend Lazarus; the next he’s ordering death itself to release his friend. One moment he’s on his knees like a slave, washing other people’s dirty feet; the next he says he’s their Lord and Master. Jesus feels the weakness, pain and poverty of humanity, and at the same time he unleashes the power, healing, and abundance of God. He has come in humility, but he claims he will come again as the judge of all the world in power and glory. He doesn’t have even a small hut for a home, yet he strides through God’s temple with a whip in his hand reforming it as though he owns the place. He doesn’t have a penny to his name, yet he talks as though the whole world were his. Could even the least human be humbler and more vulnerable? Could even almighty God be greater and more powerful? What else can you think except that Jesus must be completely human and at the some time fully divine?
One thing is for sure: Jesus isn’t bland. There’s never a dull moment when you’re around him. When he speaks, you might feel confused, you might even get upset and angry at some of the things he says, but one thing you won’t do is yawn. So much of what he says has an unexpected twist. He tells a story about a rotten kid who runs away from home, blows all his money, wrecks his life, damages his family’s reputation, and, when he hits rock bottom, he sheepishly crawls back home with a rehearsed speech. Yet his dad runs to him and welcomes him back with kisses and a party – but meanwhile there’s a well-behaved older brother who seems to have done everything right and yet ends up feeling left out.
Jesus says some things that seem like splendid common sense, but he also says things that sound perplexing and outrageous. It’s not always easy to figure out what Jesus means. Still, his voice rings with such authority that even if you can’t understand him, you also can’t ignore him. He talks of the Day of Judgment like this, “Did you help the needy? Did you visit the prisoner? Did you serve the sick” but he also talks of the judgment to come in these terms, “Were you ashamed of me and my words?”
Expert scholars try to stump Jesus, or trick him into saying something foolish, but Jesus always has a mind-blowing answer. The smartest people can’t outwit him, yet the simplest people can benefit from his teaching. Jesus’ simple brilliance makes people wonder, “How did this man get such learning without having studied?” (John 7:15) People are amazed not only at Jesus’ brilliance but at the sheer authority of his speaking. He’s not like other teachers who debate the fine points of religion and pile up quotes from other experts. Jesus often challenges expert opinion and declares the truth based on divine authority.
Jesus’ enemies send armed guards to arrest him, but those hard country boys find themselves arrested by Jesus’ words. They drink in his words and then go away without seizing him. Asked why they didn’t arrest Jesus, they reply, “No one ever spoke the way this man does.” That’s because no one but Jesus ever spoke as God with us.
Wherever his power comes from, Jesus has plenty of it. He gives orders to the wind. He makes paralyzed people walk. He makes blind people see. He makes deaf people hear. He touches lepers and outcasts with contagious diseases, and instead of Jesus getting sick from them, they get well from him. Huge crowds start flocking to him, bringing their sick and disabled friends with them, and Jesus heals them all. He feeds thousands of hungry people with five loaves of bread and two fish. He even raises the dead. A funeral procession breaks up when Jesus brings the boy in the coffin to life, to the delight of his widowed mother. A girl lying dead on her bed suddenly sits up in good health, thanks to a word from Jesus. It is the greatest outburst of miracles the world has ever seen or will see before its end.
The miracles show awesome power, and they also show love and compassion. Jesus doesn’t just heal; he also touches and talks with those he heals, restoring their spirits as well as their bodies. Sometimes he declares their sins to be forgiven. Jesus doesn’t just cure problems; he cares about people. He is the one who says that he will be coming again in his glory and the glory of the Father and that of all the angels.
And besides his power and compassion, there’s also his personal purity. When you meet Jesus, you find that he practices what he preaches. He can’t be flattered or bribed or seduced. Even his enemies can’t come up with any scandal to discredit him. He treats women with utmost respect, without a hint of lust. He lives one day at a time, trusting his heavenly Father, without using his fame to pile up money. There’s nothing greedy about him. He is patient with people and never scolds anyone unless it’s for their own good. He always uses his power for the good of others, never for his own convenience. When Jesus asks, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” nobody can charge him with doing wrong. Never has anyone been so perfectly in line with God’s standards. He is the one who speaks of coming again.
Still, his perfect goodness isn’t a grumpy, sour strictness. Jesus often speaks of God’s reign in terms of a wonderful feast, and almost everywhere he goes, people are inviting him to sit and eat with them. In fact, he’s involved in so many parties and is the focus of so much happiness that some folks criticize him for not being stern and strict enough. There is laughter and softness where he is present. So men say that Jesus has got the wrong kind of friends, and they are enjoying themselves far too much, to suit the guardians of dour decency. But despite those complaints, Jesus keeps making new friends who keep throwing parties for him.
Jesus himself is the life of every gathering. The sinners he befriends can’t help celebrating. “I have come,” explains Jesus, “that they may have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10) – have it to the full. That’s why there are feasts where he has displayed his saving power. Jesus tells his friends that he embodies God’s love to them. He does all this, he says, “so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). Life to the full, complete joy – that’s why there are happy gatherings wherever Jesus goes. People have never been so happy as when they are with Jesus, and they keep inviting others to come and see. He is the one who says he is coming again in glory and judgment.
What about you? If you watch Jesus in action, you’ll see that no one ever did what Jesus does. If you listen to Jesus speak, you’ll hear that no one ever spoke the way Jesus spoke. If you sense Jesus’ character, you’ll feel that no one ever lived the way he lives and that no one ever loved the way he loves. Ultimately, you’ll see Jesus hanging on a cross, dying to pay for man’s sin. No one ever died the way he died as a substitute and sin-bearer. And you’ll discover him as the risen Lord who has defeated death to give you eternal life. No one else raised himself from the dead.
Sometimes just hearing a friend – your son, your brother – talking about Jesus is enough to convince you that our Lord is astonishing. That can be the first step in trusting him and having a relationship with him yourself, but there’s nothing better than getting to know Jesus for yourself. The woman who had gone through several failed marriages before she met Jesus was somehow known to Christ already – he knew all about her marriages and the man she was living with now – but Jesus befriended her and said that she could have eternal life in him. The woman was overjoyed. She hurried off to tell others in her village to come and see Jesus. Her testimony was so striking that many of the townspeople believed that Jesus must be the Messiah. But did they stop with what the woman has told them? No, they wanted to meet Jesus for themselves and get to know him better, so they asked Jesus to stay with them awhile. Many who weren’t convinced before soon became believers, and those who already believed what the woman said about Jesus had their faith made more personal and powerful when they meet him firsthand. They told the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world” (John 4:42). This the one speaking in our text and saying, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
*In this section I have been joyfully indebted to David Feddes of the Back to God Hour.
THE LORD JESUS AND HIS APOSTLES OFTEN SPOKE OF HIS RETURNING IN POWER AND GLORY.
It is claimed by responsible and knowledgeable men that one verse out of every 25 in the New Testament deals with the Lord’s return. In fact it is mentioned 318 times in those 260 chapters. Galatians is the only substantial book in the New Testament with no reference to the second coming, though in the little letters of 2 John, 3 John and Philemon it isn’t mentioned. It is also referred to numbers of times in the Old Testament. There were occasions when the Lord Jesus referred to the end of the world at length in whole sermons on this theme, for example in Mark 13 and Matthew 24. But then it is more significant that in the midst of a little sermon on discipleship when there seems no need for him to refer to the future as in this section he will say, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” that is the verse of our text. Or again in Mark 13 and verses 26 and 27, “Then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” Or again, John tells us that Christ’s last words to his disciples included the promise, “When I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (Jn. 14:3).
There is a particular word of Jesus that I find fascinating. It is in the last chapter of John; the author records a statement of Jesus to Peter in which there’s a reference to Jesus’ second coming but it is incidental to what he is saying. However that is all the more impressive on that account. Jesus had been encouraging Peter to faithfulness in discipleship, but Peter with his usual impetuosity had turned and seen John, the beloved disciple. He asked, “Lord, what about this man?” (Jn. 21:21). This was Jesus’ reply, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” (v. 22). John pointed out that although many Christians of his day had interpreted this to mean that John wouldn’t die until Christ came back, that was not what Jesus had said. He said only that even if that happened to be the case – that John would be around until Jesus came again – that fact should have no bearing on Peter’s faithful service of the Lord.
Then again as Jesus ascended and a cloud covered him and the disciples were all left alone looking up and around for Jesus; “Suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:10&11). So there is plain teaching in the Bible that the Son of God is coming to this world again.
THE APPEARING OF JESUS WILL BE THE DAY OF JUDGMENT.
This is a moral universe, and though Browning said, “God’s in his heaven all’s right with the world,” all is not right. There are murderers and thieves and liars and torturers and abusers walking the streets, with the lives of their victims and their families utterly destroyed and never finding closure. Is the man in front of them at the check-out counter the one who abducted and tortured their daughter to death? Who will speak up for the victim and vindicate her? A little girl on holiday in Portugal was taken from her bed and her British parents are still searching for her. God knows all things, and all men and women are to face this open-ended encounter with the Judge of all the earth.
When Paul went to Europe he first went to Greece and he preached the gospel in Athens to the men who had no background whatever in the Old Testament Scriptures. It is the great model, we are told, for contemporary evangelism. Here Paul wasn’t evangelizing the Jews in their synagogues. This is the pattern for bringing the gospel to the man in the street – the man who is utterly ignorant of the Bible. What did Paul say? He started with a reference to an altar to ‘The Unknown God’ and then he moved on to tell them that he knew who God was. ‘God made us all and he sustains us; he put us in the world and we live and move in him. He is not like the idols men bow before everywhere.’ Then this is Paul’s climax; “‘In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.’ When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject’” (Acts 17:30- 32). There is a day coming when God will judge the world. I must base this conviction on the fact that God raised his Son Jesus Christ from the dead. In Athens there was a classic mixed reaction to hearing that; some sneered while others wanted to hear more, and finally there gathered a little group of men and women who responded with faith and become disciples of Jesus Christ.
God is going to judge the world, but what is staggering about what Jesus said is that the standard of judgment is how you have responded to him. Were you ashamed of him or did you brag about him? “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory” (v.26). Have you crept out of the place you live and hugged shop doorways on your way to church hoping no one will see you or ask where you are going? Are you ashamed or afraid of being called Holy Joe, a Bible basher, a fundamentalist, or one of those ‘blood’ Christians who talk about the ‘blood’ and preach about the ‘blood’? Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Are you ashamed of being connected with an ordinary congregation like ours with its share of people with personality problems? We are not all beautiful people. Are you ashamed of the words of Christ? He spoke of God creating man in the beginning, and of Jonah in the belly of the great fish, of the need to be born again, of the day of judgment, and of the place of darkness and woe and the unquenchable fires. Are you ashamed of him and his words?
Let me extend that question further. Whose approval do you want in life? Do you live for God’s approval or for the approval of people around you? What if you weren’t seeking the approval of anyone but Jesus Christ? What sort of person would you be? Would you be the same as you are now? God looks at things differently than people do. The Bible says, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Peter speaks to women of “your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:3-4) How you look doesn’t matter nearly as much as who you are.
That’s true not only for women but also for men. What’s on the inside is what counts. Men focus on cars and how many horses are under the hood, but God doesn’t care about horsepower. Men focus on how many goals a man can score, but God isn’t much concerned about that. The Bible says, “God’s pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” (Psalm 147:10-11).
The first step to justification in the day of judgment is to stop worrying about what others think of you, and start focusing on what Jesus Christ thinks of you. Don’t bother so much with how you appear to others, and instead invite God to look deep into your heart. Pray with the writer of Psalm 139, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
Before you can ever begin to get real, before you can ever become a genuine person and not just an actor, you need to ask yourself three questions: The first question is, What does the Lord think of me? The second question is, What does the Lord think of me? And the third question is, What does the Lord think of me? Until that question is foremost in our minds, says Jesus, we’ll find it impossible to put our faith in him. We need to say with a biblical writer, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? . . . If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
How about you? Are you trying to win the approval of others, or of the Lord Jesus? If you’re still focused on the approval of others, then I have nothing more to say to you. You won’t believe it anyway. But if you want God’s approval, if you want to get real, then here’s what you must do.
i] First, be honest with God about your sin. God already knows the worst about you anyway, but you need to know what God knows. You need to admit that God is absolutely right in seeing you as a sinner. The Bible says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives” (1 John 1:8-10). Getting real can be painful. It’s hard to be honest about our faults. But the only alternative is to call God a liar by pretending we’re okay the way we are.
ii] Then, as you confess your sin, you cast yourself on the mercy of God in Jesus Christ. Your hope is the Lamb of God who came from heaven to take away the sin of the world. Entrust yourself to him as he invites you. Believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Believe that his blood washes away your sin. Believe that his Spirit can help you to stop living as a phony and instead to love God and love others from your heart. Getting real in the eyes of God means that you need to “obey his commands and do what pleases him,” says the Bible. “And this is his command: To believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us” (1 John 4:22-23).
iii] Then, ask him to deal with your whole emotional life, your sorrow, your pride, your shame. Ask him that you will never be ashamed of Jesus and his words ever again, but that you will glory in him as your God and Saviour for the rest of your life. Then you won’t have to prove anything to anybody. You can rest secure in the Lord’s love for you. That gives you a sense of identity and security, and it simplifies your decision-making. Whenever you face a choice, you simply say to yourself, “Whose approval do I want? I want the Lord’s approval. What course of action would be most pleasing to Jesus Christ? Then that is what I will do.”
1st November 2009 GEOFF THOMAS