Mark 13:24-27 “But in those days, following that distress, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.”
One mark of a false prophet it is that he distorts the plain teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. In this great sermon of Christ he is warning us about the constant activities of men who claim to be speaking in our Saviour’s name. Until the end of the age we must on guard against them. Have nothing to do with false teachers. Allow their teaching to have no access to your mind; let them have no grip on your life; let Jesus’ truth and his truth alone be the light to lead you forward. We’ll know that a man’s teaching is false because he will contradict the word of God. He will contort and constrict the teaching of Jesus Christ. The liberal will say, “Of course we believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ but we interpret it as referring to the coming of his Spirit on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. We believe in a realized eschatology.” The plain teaching of the Lord Jesus and his apostles is taken to mean something altogether different. Modernism is that Upside-down Philosophy:
‘Top is bottom,
Black is White,
Far is Near
And Day is Night.
Big is Little,
High is Low,
Cold is Hot
And Yes is No.”
The false prophets claim they have new insights, that Christianity has to speak in a new way to a new age of mankind, and that a new understanding has come about – the so-called ‘assured results of modern criticism.’ That has been the ecclesiastical spirit of the last century in Wales. They have been the decades when men’s academic degrees were painted on notice-boards outside their churches. The degrees went up and the congregations went down. A human philosophy was erected and the gospel was dismantled. So the modernist, rejecting the coming again of Christ, has his bleak vision of the future, that the world is to go on and on and on as it has done until now and will do for evermore.
In John chapter 14 and verse 6 Jehovah Jesus speaks and he claims, “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” In him alone we find the way to God. He is the all sufficient one. Only in him is the redeeming truth of God to be found; in him is the life of God and none other. Only in Christ do we know what is true truth. He has set the standard for reality for all mankind, for every single age and civilization. To find ultimate truth the genius and the scientist and the philosopher and the Nobel Prize winner and the whole United Nations must humbly bow at Christ’s feet. If they say someone else is the truth they are false prophets. All other religions except for the Christian religion are steeped in darkness and superstition and half-truth. Only Christ leads us to salvation and glory. If there were other ways he’d never have left his Father to be born in the stable and die on the tree. It wouldn’t have been worth the abject nature of the dereliction if there were other ways. Jesus Christ, God’s prophet and priest and king is the only one who saves a soul. He is the source of all blessing; he is the one great definitive teacher. He tells us who we are; he shows us what is wrong; he reveals to us who God is; he explains to us how we can get right with God; he opens up the future of mankind. The climactic event of the future is the return of the Son of God. What has the Lord told us of the future?
1. THE COMING OF CHRIST WILL BE A CERTAIN AND ANTICIPATED EVENT.
That is the one united voice of the Lord Jesus and all his apostles. Let us simply take the plain meaning of eight verses of Scripture. Christ himself said this, “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may also be” (Jn. 14:3). Immediately he had ascended into heaven two angels said to the disciples, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). His own apostle, Paul, said, “The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (I Thess. 4:16). The author of the Hebrews wrote that Christ “will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb. 9:28). James wrote, “the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8). The apostle Peter said, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief ” (2 Pet. 3:10). John, whom Jesus loved, wrote, “When he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (I Jn. 3:2). In the book of Revelation Christ promises, “Surely I am coming soon” and John’s response is, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev.22:10). That octet of testimonies sings to us one beautiful message, that we are to anticipate this certain event of the coming again of Jesus Christ. What else do we know about this parousia?
2. IT WILL BE A CATACLYSMIC AND COSMIC EVENT.
All those verses I quoted to you told us that Christ would certainly come again. They did not tell us the manner of his coming. In this sermon, after the Lord has spoken of the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 he turns to an incomparably more glorious event in our future, and in the words of our text Jesus describes something of this breathtaking event. He is hanging out before us a tapestry of Jewish apocalyptic. What do I mean? Jesus takes a number of distant inspired prophetic warnings and he tells us that those adumbrations of cosmic disasters will be fulfilled in a remarkable way and that he will be orchestrating the whole with the trumpet of God. Jesus says these words in our text, “But in those days, following that distress, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.'” (Mark 13:34). When you hear these words then those of you who know your Bibles understand that Christ is ransacking a number of Old Testament Scriptures. He is, for example, taking the words of Isaiah concerning the destruction of that great enemy of the people of God, Babylon, “The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light” (Is. 13:10). Babylon was the mightiest power in the whole world. The Babylonians worshipped the sun, moon and stars, but when the Lord returns all their splendour will be darkened in the judgment of Jehovah Jesus. The stars will fall from the heavens and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.
Again the Lord in this sermon before us is echoing the words of judgment which the same prophet Isaiah pronounced on the nation of Edom, which also worshipped the starry hosts of heaven. “All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree. My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; see, it descends in judgment on Edom, the people I have totally destroyed” (Isa. 34:4&5). That cruel mighty nation was going to know terrible cosmic destruction. Or when God comes in judgment upon his own defiant Jewish nation then Ezekiel tells us that he speaks of that judgment like this, “When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light. All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you; I will bring darkness over your land, declares the Sovereign LORD.” (Ez. 32.7&8). And again, when Joel the prophet speaks of what will happen when God’s judgment comes on his defiant people, these are the words he uses – words Peter quotes on the day of Pentecost, “I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; ” (Joel 2:30-32). Jesus did not have to make up his own imagery to describe his coming at the end of the world. The language was already in the minds of the people of God.
He took the prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel and Jonah and he applied them to himself! Just as he took the sign of Jonah, or the lifting up of the brazen serpent in the wilderness, or the eating and drinking and giving in marriage before the judgment that came when Noah preached righteousness to the people, and he applied those events to himself. The frightening pictures drawn by the prophets of cosmic cataclysms were mere symbols of those divine judgments coming upon nations and civilizations throughout history, but their ultimate fulfilment would not be until the last judgment when the Son of Man came in power and in great glory. Jesus is not here talking of the fall of Jerusalem, or the fall of Edom, or the fall of Babylon, or the fall of Germany, or the fall of eastern European communism, or any other past cataclysm. He is talking of his own final coming in judgment to the whole world. It is a picture of the return of Jesus Christ and it is in terms of total cosmic collapse. Darkness and chaos are going to envelop everything. When the tsunami occurred in the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2005 the whole globe wobbled on its axis like a lurching top. When Jesus Christ comes again the whole universe is going to know it. “For he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth” (Ps. 96:13).
What is he telling us about the world? The last stages of the coming of the kingdom of God isn’t going to be brought in by education or international socialism or bureaucratic control or the activities of the United Nations. It is not going to be established by gradual and imperceptible evolution as men who consider themselves the leaders of the world sit around tables or in conference halls and talk to one another over glasses of spring water or cups of coffee and make decisions about the future of mankind! There is no harm in talking and drinking coffee, but that is not going to bring in the kingdom of God. No factors that are now operating in the world are going to do it; it is not going by human engineering that the reign of grace will be seen in glory on the earth. There will be a fresh, unprecedented intrusion of the splendour of God, as it is described here by Jesus of Nazareth. The eruptive might of Christ will one day change his whole creation. The voice that said at the beginning, “let there be light!” will speak again and the stars will jump to attention, the planets will fall down before him, the moon’s light will be extinguished. It is not that those heavenly bodies have in themselves any power or potential for behaving in that way. You will look to the universe in vain for any explanation of what will happen. It is simply that God has determined that this is what will happen when his Son returns to the world that nailed him to a tree crucifying him. Only cosmic signs can capture in a little way the immense grandeur of the Son of God when he comes again. He of whom we read here, who sat on the Mount of Olives and looked across to the city of Jerusalem and spoke to Peter and Andrew and James and John of what was to come to them and to his world, is powerful enough to cause the sun’s light to flicker and die.
That is exactly how Peter understood Jesus’ words, and that is how he proclaimed the end of the world to the church. He said, “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. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:8-13 ). Peter, the apostle of Jesus Christ, preached a cataclysmic cosmic event.
3. IT WILL BE A PERSONAL AND GLORIOUS EVENT.
The Saviour says, “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (v.26?). It will not be the heavenly events that will capture our attention for long; they are the mere backcloth. The universe, the sun and the stars are mere bit-players in this drama. The focus of the whole universe is going to be on Christ, and the fact that the Lord of glory has come back. His presence in our memories has never grown cold, but that is not what is being referred to here. He himself, in a real and personal appearance, is going to be seen, and every eye will see him. The Bible does not tell us how in the world that will be possible or what kind of journey it involves. All it says is that the Christ who was once present in this world in his incarnate state will one day return in visible physical reality.
On this second occasion he will be “coming in clouds with great power and glory”. The very same one sitting and talking to Peter, Andrew, James and John was going to return. While he was with them he was scorned by the religious establishment; he was there in lowliness and humiliation. He had come in obscurity. He once came in hiddenness, in anonymity; incognito. He was surrounded by poverty, homelessness, oppression, lowliness and weakness. He came into pain, shame, dishonour, rejection. Three days after saying these very words men would strip him and nail him to a cross until he was dead, thinking to themselves, “So much for his grandiose thoughts of being a King!”
When Christ returns he will come in the glory of the blessed God (Titus 2:13). “He will look like what he is. He will look like the world’s Saviour. He will look like God. He will come with the doxa, with the form, the splendour, the majesty, of God himself. He will come in all the paraphernalia of deity. He will come in the form that he had for a moment on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17; Mark 9; Luke 9). He will come in the kind of glory with which Jehovah came to Mount Sinai in the days of Moses (Exodus 19). He will come in the splendour with which Isaiah saw him in Isaiah 6. He will come with all the accouterments of deity. He will come ‘in the clouds of heaven’; He will come with the holy angels. He will come with His glorified church. He will come with the voice of the trumpet that awakes the dead (Matthew 24:30-31; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). He will come to the accompaniment of events such as never were seen since the first dawn of creation: the resurrection of the dead, the great judgment and the re-formation of heaven and earth” (Donald Macleod, “A Faith to Live By,” Mentor, 1998, p. 262).
He is coming. Too often we are surveying the antics of this world and getting negative. These apostles having heard all of Jesus’ warnings of Jerusalem being destroyed, earthquakes and famines, wars and persecution, families divided, betrayal and death might have thought of giving up, but Christ tells them of the greatest event that lay ahead of them. Lift your eyes! Look beyond the tragedies of this life. Feed your minds with these words. See what is going to happen. See him coming. It will be a breathtaking day utterly mind-blowing and awesomely supernatural. To say that it will be like no other day the world has ever known is to say very little, but if you want some comparison then you must go back to creation when there was absolutely nothing – so space, no dimensions, nothing whatsoever, and God said, “Let there be . . . ” and into that nothing he made a universe. That was the beginning, and this will be the end of the beginning, a day whose only comparison is creation itself. There was once darkness and then by an act of God there was light. There will be light from sun and moon, and then one day by an act of God there will be darkness.
No mortal eye ever saw or ever will see the creation. What would Steven Spielberg give to have been there and shot such scenes! But all our eyes are going to see this immense day which is hastening towards us. “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory,” (vv.24-26). It will plunge the world into utter panic, despair and confusion. This is the world in which men say, “We are gods; we all have understanding; nothing is beyond our ability or comprehension. There is nothing that we cannot do; nothing over which we cannot triumph. We are men come of age; we are the captains of our fate and the masters of our destinies.” Then God says, “let me show you the glory of my Son, the one you’re ignoring, the one you hung on a cross; the one whose name in blasphemies is always on your lips.” And God opens wide the skies like a curtain and shows everyone the majesty of Christ. “Behold your God!”
I have told you before of the ministry of the Methodist preacher John Cooke of Maidenhead. One Sunday evening the mayor of Maidenhead went along to hear him and the text John Cooke announced was Revelation 1:7, “Behold, he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him.” As the mayor listened God put an arrow of conviction in his heart which killed all his pride and quickly he became a changed man. He had been a convivial man, always attending pubs and dances but he quickly shed that old way of life. His old friends chaffed at the change and teased him cruelly for his ‘Methodism.’ One day he quietly answered them, “I will tell you why I go to the evangelical church. I went there one Sunday evening, and Mr. Cooke took for his text these words, ‘Behold, he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him.’ Your eye shall see him.” Then he turned to them one by one and he said to each of them as they scorned his new life, “Your eye . . . your eye . . . your eye . . . your eye.”
The sun and the moon will do what they have never done until that day. It will be like none other. What sort of age will it perforate? The Bible tells us, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” (I Tim. 4:1&2). It will be a day in which men will be lovers of self rather than lovers of God; lovers of pleasure not lovers of God; lovers of money not lovers of God. There will be darkness in much of the professing church, and yet bursts of glorious light. It will be passing through a time of tribulation, but also great blessing, and then suddenly there will come a supernatural darkness to parallel the spiritual night in which people are living. The sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and money-loving men will tremble; self-loving women will weep; pleasure-loving young people will quake.
They will be going about their business of living for wealth and football and fashion and political power and pleasure and never giving a thought to Jesus Christ and his gospel of grace, and then the light of the sun will be switched off, and thus the light of the moon will also disappear. A brooding thick darkness will shroud the whole world and everyone will shiver in terror. Terror in Downing Street and in the Kremlin and in the White House and in Mecca and in Bombay and in Beijing. They will never have seen this kind of suffocating darkness before this day. Then the stars will fall from the sky, one galaxy after another going out of orbit; huge tracers of light disappearing down below the horizon. What a terrifying sight! What an awesome day! They won’t be talking of Richard Dawkins’ brave opposition to Christianity and the unanswerable rationality of atheistic unbelief.
Some people have read these words of Jesus and noted how he is quoting from the prophets describing the fall of Babylon and the fall of Edom and the fall of Jerusalem. They’re not sure whether when Jesus uses them here to describe the judgment coming on the world whether they should be interpreted literally or figuratively. I know that time will tell, yet having said that I have a strong notion that it will be more literal than figurative. That is how Peter describes it in his letter. There will be a moment when God will say to the world, “I will have your attention now. I sent you my prophets but you killed and stoned them. You drove them from your villages and out of your pulpits. I sent you my Son and you spat in his face and plucked the hairs from his beard and stripped him and hung him on a tree. You taunted him as he died and said, ‘If you are what you say you are then come down. Where are the legions of angels whom you thought served you?’ You have polluted my world with your sin, and you have brought darkness and all the flashy ceremonies you wanted into my church. You did not turn to me when I spoke to you in the gospel, but now you will listen. I’ll have your attention now.”
The Lord is going to do something quite outstanding and supernaturally spectacular to the creation he made. There will come this day when he will appear; he will humble men and women. This is what he says, “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” (vv.24-26). God will receive the attention of his world. The Lord Jesus Christ will be seen in all his majesty. God saying again, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” transfiguring his Son in unimaginable glory before them like the sun shining in noonday brilliance. Men and women will tremble, and then they will kneel, and then they will fall down before him, and then they will cry to the rocks and the mountains to fall on them and cover them. Better that crushing than to face God in our sin with no Saviour. What a God we have! What a great Lord we serve. What a day of vindication lies before us. He is coming. He is most certainly going to come.
4. IT WILL BE A ‘GATHERING TOGETHER’ EVENT.
We are told that, “he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.” (v.27). The Shepherd of Israel, David’s Lord, the one who took frail flesh and then claimed, “I am the good shepherd,” the one who came to seek and to save that which was lost will continue to seek them until the end. He leaves the ninety and nine and goes searching over hill and valley until his finds his own sheep and rejoices when he has it on his shoulders. On the very last day Christ will still be seeking his elect. These are those sinners for whom a full atonement had been made, those whose sins had all been covered, those who had been born again, those who had been saved by grace through faith and that not of themselves, it was a gift of God, not by works lest any of his sheep should boast. The Lord will send his angels and gather them all.
Christ is coming, and it is not to give sinners one last chance, he is coming back to set up his throne of judgment and gather all the world before him for the great separation. He is going to judge your life. The day for preaching will then be over; the time of gospel entreaties in which God’s servants besought men and women to be reconciled to him will be gone. The free offer chapter in God’s dealing with men is then closed for ever. Then is the time for divine evaluation. “What have you been sowing? Now you will reap what you have sown.” We are not yet living in that fearful day. This is still the time when God commands all men everywhere to repent of their sins, to turn from them and find peace with God through the blood of the cross. Do you know that you are a sinner? A lost sinner? A sinner without hope and without God? A sinner on a broad road whose destination is destruction? That is the judgment Christ makes of your life today, and he is saying, “Leave it for the narrow path; go through the narrow door. It is too narrow for you and your sins. You have to leave all them outside and just as you are enter into life by me.” That is the only way to God and eternal life, by God’s only Son, Jesus Christ. Cry mightily to God that you may be put on that road.
For all those people Christ is coming and he is leading 10,000 legions of angels, a vast innumerable company, and he himself, the Captain of our salvation is at their head. He gives them orders; he sends them forth to get his people and bring them to him. “Gather my elect,” he will say, and off they go at his bidding to find them. Why do the elect need to be brought? It is very simple, because on that day, as on many other days, many of them are uncertain whether they are elect or not. They are too convicted of their sins, and fearful, doubting whether a great holy Saviour like Jesus Christ could ever love sinners like themselves enough to die for them. They see others full of faith and love and good works, but they see in themselves only hypocrisy and failure. They have the tiniest confidence that God loves them, and so the good shepherd takes the initiative again and he sends his angels to gather his people “from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.” Let me ask you whether one of the four winds ever blows on the place where you live? “Of course,” you say. Then his angels will find you too. Do you live at the ends of the earth? Then that is where he will send his messengers. Are you on a distant horizon, the back of beyond, surviving at the very ends of the heavens? You will not be overlooked even there because that is where he sends his mighty angels to find you and bring you to his loving side. Are they flying in planes high in the sky? Are they mining deep in a South African gold mine? Are they serving in a nuclear submarine under the pole? His messengers will find them wherever they are.
How are they going to find their own way, all by themselves to the throne of the universe? Where is it? What is the map that will show me the route? Will I make it there? It seems such a long journey. “It is all right,” says Christ. “I will bring you there. I will provide a guide and strength and protection for the journey. You will not fail to arrive at journey’s end.” What if we die before that time? “I will raise you from the dust,” says Christ. All of God’s people will be gathered. The chief of sinners who has believed in Jesus will not fall at the last. The weakest lamb in the flock will be brought to the King. None will be left behind struggling and stumbling in the darkness trying to find his way to Jesus, no, the angels will go and gather them up and bring them to the Sun of Righteousness. Before we appear before the judgment seat of Christ he has given all his people assurance that all is well in their souls. He has given them the companionship of loving friendly angels. So they are assembled at his right hand side, millions and millions and millions of them, more than any man can number, stretching out in every direction as far as the eye can see and disappearing into the distance, all of them amazed that they are there.
He is coming for his people. When “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ ” then do not be alarmed, beloved in Christ, your Saviour is coming for you. When, “at that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory,” then don’t cry for the rocks to fall on you, beloved children of God, your salvation draws nigh. The angel who comes searching for you will not be the angel of death who smote unbelieving Egypt in the days of Pharaoh, he will be the angel of life who has come to bring you to the Lord of life so that you may inherit fullness of life at his right hand for evermore.
But what if you are as unready in that day as you are today? What if you are still putting off repentance and faith when the angels appear as you are putting it off today? You have been saying ‘later . . . not today . . . plenty of days . . . why hurry? . . . let me enjoy the world first of all . . . let me give the world my best years, my youth and my manhood. Enough when I am old and decrepit to give the fag end of my life to God.” “No way,” says God. “I called and you did not listen to me. There will come a day when you will call and I will not listen to you.”
Fools say, “When I see God I will tell him a few home truths. I will tell him about the sickness and disappointment and death that my family knew. I will want God to tell me what good reason he can offer for treating us the way he did.” That is what they say – these wonderful ‘innocents’! They are going to justify all their years without God by their heartaches. They’ve accepted all that God gives them and they give him nothing in return but their grumbles. They are going to tell God a thing or two, they say. They are going to defend themselves and humble God in the presence of his angels before the great white throne! Poor foolish rebels on their way to hell.
When the angels haste away with all the elect these sinners know their terrible destiny. They are going to stand with the goats at Christ’s left and they will be terror-struck – at last! “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Hebs. 10:26&27). Yet they will never cry for Christ to save them. Not one of them! There will still be no love for Jesus in their hearts. Rather, they will cry to the mountains – as Revelation 6:16 tells us – to the rocks, and not to the Saviour. They will cry to stones whom once they worshipped, not to the Maker of the mountains. Those who stoned Stephen will ask to be covered not with the blood of Christ but with rocks. They won’t want their sins hidden by Christ’s blood they will want the Saviour’s holy face to be hidden from them. They did not want him in life and now nothing has changed, they do not want him on the last day. They will never want him. When they have been in hell ten thousand years they will still reject him. They would rather be under the rocks than meet the wrath of the Lamb. What lies before them is unthinkable and yet their only hope is in a covering of rocks and mountains.
Last August in the great annual conference here in Aberystwyth David Carmichael, a Church of Scotland minister from Ayrshire, Scotland, was preaching to more than a thousand people in the Great Hall. He happened to be preaching on this passage, and I heard it again this week several times to my soul’s good, I believe. What you’ve been hearing is not his sermon, but this particular story is. Do you remember, those of you who were there, how he told us what had happened last July, three weeks before he had stood on the platform of the Great Hall and spoke to us? This is what he said:
“Three weeks ago my father was seriously ill in hospital. I was called in to see him at half past nine in the morning. They took him way; he had an emergency operation; they brought him back and said, “All will be well; we now know what to do. Go home. He’ll be fine.” My father is an unbeliever. In the afternoon I decided to go back to see him. I wanted to speak to him again about the needs of his soul. When I arrived at the hospital and entered the ward there was another man lying in my Dad’s bed. He had died and had been taken away. I cannot bear to think what he now experiences. He died without a Saviour.” What a solemn occurrence. David Carmichael bowed to the word of God and the will of God because David’s chief end is not glorify his family but to glorify the God of heaven and hell through always submitting to God’s will.
When the angels appear it is not to give us a second chance. Jesus will say to all the sheep whom he has gathered, “Come with me! Glory awaits you!” He will say to the goats on his left, “Go. Depart from me to the other place,” from which there is no return, in which there is no relief. We will all be going to the place which we have chosen for ourselves. That is, to be with Christ or without him.
The Lord is coming, and if it were today, what would he find in your life? A desire for him? A trembling hope that he might be your Saviour? A fine thread of faith from your life and lodged in him? A smoking flax which he had kindled in your life by grace? A conviction of your great unworthiness and an awareness that he is a great Saviour? A certainty that if you did belong to him you would be saved? Is that what he would see if at this moment the skies above Aberystwyth were opened, the sun grew dark and the stars appeared and began to fall from the sky and Christ came with all his holy angels.
What if Gabriel the archangel walked into this chapel now to gather together the sheep of Christ. Would you be amongst that number? If you are not amongst them now what hope do you have that you will be amongst them on the day that this will certainly happen? You say, “I will turn from my sins.” When? You say, “I will trust in Jesus Christ.” When? How do you know that you will be in a better frame of mind in the future than you are today? How do you not know that today you are the very closest you will ever be to his mercy, and that from now on you are going to move further and further and further away from him? Forbid it Lord, in your mercy, come and visit every heart. Make men obedient in the day of your power to make their peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ, that when he appears you’ll all be ready, clothed and prepared to stand before him. In the past there’ve been times when the Spirit of God so visited a congregation that people wouldn’t leave after the benediction. They said, “I cannot leave this pew . . . I cannot leave this building until I know that God has saved me,” and they have remained for a long time praying, waiting on God, asking him to visit them and make them ready for this day that Jesus speaks of here which in the sight of eternity is not even the width of the Grand Canyon away from us but a hair’s breadth.
Let us sing from our hearts this final hymn
“Great God, what do I see and hear?
The end of things created!
The judge of mankind doth appear
On clouds of glory seated;
The trumpet sounds, the graves restore
The dead which they contained before;
Prepare my souls to meet Him.
The dead in Christ shall first arise
At the last trumpet’s sounding –
Caught up to meet him in the skies,
With joy their Lord surrounding.
No gloomy fears their souls dismay,
His presence sheds eternal day
On those prepared to meet Him.
But sinners, filled with guilty fears,
Behold his wrath prevailing;
For they shall rise and find their tears
And sighs are unavailing;
The joys of sin are past and gone,
Trembling they stand before the throne,
All unprepared to meet Him.
Great God, what do I see and hear?
The end of things created!
The Judge of mankind doth appear
On clouds of glory seated;
Beneath his cross I view the day
When heaven and earth shall pass away,
And thus prepare to meet Him.” (B. Ringwaldt, 1802, tr, William B. Collyer).
30th January 2005 GEOFF THOMAS