“The Future Shapes Our Present”
November 29, 2015
(First Sunday of Advent)
By John Partridge
Scripture: Jeremiah 33:14-16 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 Luke 21:25-36
I want to share with you two statements that, at first, just seem wrong.
The course of our lives is straightened when we remember the future.
What will happen in the future, changes the present.
These statements seem a little odd to us. We are accustomed to sayings like “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana) And it makes sense to us to remember the past. It is likewise sensible for us to learn from our own past mistakes as well as our successes. But how can we learn from the future, or have our present shaped by the future, if the future itself is unknown to us?
That just seems obvious doesn’t it?
We cannot know the future. Right?
Fortune tellers and psychics are just scam artists. Aren’t they?
And the answers are, of course we can’t and of course they are…
…Unless, of course, God is the one who tells you the future.
This idea of God telling the future (I do not use the word “predicting” because God doesn’t predict or guess, God knows) is both a critical and a key factor in the story of Christmas. When God foretells the future, we have a name for that, and we call it prophecy. As an example of what I am talking about, let us begin this morning with Jeremiah 33:14-16, where we find God’s prophet, Jeremiah, warning Israel that their corruption would bring God’s judgment upon the entire nation. But amid all of the destruction and death that was to come, there was also good news of hope.
14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.
15 “‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’
Through Jeremiah, God proclaims that he will keep his promises, that despite Israel’s judgment, and despite the coming destruction, that God still intends to place a descendant of David on the throne as king. In these words, it is not difficult to see a foreshadowing, a foretelling of the future, of the birth of Jesus. But we must remember that Jeremiah lived at the same time as Ezekiel, Habakkuk, and Obediah more than six hundred years before Jesus was born. Psychics and fortune tellers do not come even close.
When God speaks of the future, God doesn’t guess. God knows.
And so, because of Jeremiah, and hosts of other Old Testament prophets, we know, and have great confidence, that God knows exactly how the future will unfold, and will, occasionally, share that knowledge through his prophets. In fact, in the story of Jesus alone, we can find more than 400 prophecies of the Old Testament prophets that were fulfilled. And so, with this understanding and confidence, we look forward and find Luke 21:25-36, where Jesus proclaims a prophecy that is fulfilled in two parts. First, Jesus presents a prophecy that was fulfilled in our past and second, an unfulfilled prophecy that remains in our future. Jesus said,
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”
In this, we see these two parts, those parts of Jesus’ prophecy that have been fulfilled, as well as those that remain in our future. These two parts are common elements of prophecy, and are often referred to as the “already and not yet.” In this particular passage, some of these things were seen and understood to have happened in 70 AD with the destruction of the Israel’s temple by the Roman army. But, at the same time, many of these elements have clearly not yet happened and so, even today, remain in the future.
And now we put these pieces together. First, God has proven to us that he knows the future and that he sometimes shares that knowledge with his people. Just as the people of Israel were comforted by knowing that “the years the locusts had eaten” (last week from the prophet Joel) would be returned to them, and that the promised Messiah would one day be their king forever, we trust that the words of Jesus are true. Jesus not only foretold the sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, but was also warning us to watch for the signs that signaled the end of time. Jesus warns us that there will be a time when the good times are rolling, when the wine will flow and the parties will rock, this will also be a time when the stress of day to day life will weigh us down as a terrible burden. It may be that the drinking and partying will be a way of destressing or forgetting our stress for a few hours, but however it happens, Jesus says, if we are not careful, that day will close on us like a trap. We are warned not to allow the alcohol, or the partying, or the worry and stress to distract us from what is really happening. No matter what else is going on around us, we must keep our focus on Jesus, live justly, and be ready to stand in judgment.
And so, if that is the future that we expect, how can, how should, our present be shaped by it?
In his letter to the church in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:9-13), Paul answers exactly that question.
9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.
11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
How can we thank God for the people who have come into our lives and given us joy? We can pray that we would see them again, that God would bless them, and supply what they need to grow stronger in their faith. But more than that, we should love more, love each other more, and love everyone else more. And finally, we should pray that God would strengthen us so that we can live lives that are just, blameless, and holy.
As we begin this season of Advent, God call upon us to both remember the past and look to the future.
We must learn from the past, so that we may become more than we used to be.
But we must also learn from the future…
…so that we can become the people that God intends for us to be.