Pay attention to the signs! (December 2, 2018)
Pay attention to the signs!
What’s your exit number? Maybe you are putting together travel plans for the holidays. Maybe you are planning to visit family. If you are driving long distance to do that, you probably have an exit number in mind. If I were traveling all the way back to my parents’ house in Connecticut, that number is 66 – exit 66. I haven’t done the drive from Texas, but I’ve done it from Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and Michigan. After a long drive when I’m sick of driving, tired, yet anxious to see family, I start looking for the signs. The Connecticut border, and Danbury shortly after. Hartford, I’m getting really close! Exit 66, there it is! Jonathan Drive, I can coast down the hill. I’m practically at the front door. Those signs kept me going after many long drives, and gave me hope as I was excited to see family I hadn’t seen in so long. What are the signs for you? The signs that tell you the journey is almost over? Or maybe you have family coming to see you, and the signs are the phone call you get when they are leaving the house, and then 1 hour out, then the headlights pulling into the driveway! These signs give hope and anticipation!
But what about when you miss the signs? There’s one sign in particular I almost always miss. It’s when I’m coming home from a trip to Killeen. I know it’s coming. I’m looking for the exit sign for highway 121. When I climb the steep hill between Killeen and Temple I know I’m close, but I’ve missed it so many times. Driven right passed and had to adjust my course. I think it’s because there are no signs leading up to 121. No signs except the one right at the exit. So, you’ve got one shot. And if you miss it, too bad.
As we begin another church year, we journey again through the life and ministry of Christ – starting with his birth. Yet as we make this journey repeatedly, we are really always on just one journey – the journey to our heavenly home. How often do you think of or take note of the signs that you are getting closer to your heavenly home? There are signs, you know. And they serve very much the same purpose as road signs. Are you sick of some of the things you see in the world around you? Are you at times tired of school, tired of working so hard, tired of the ailments that just don’t seem to heal? Or, on the positive side of things, are you simply excited to meet the one who gave your life purpose – who freed you from the power of sin? Are you excited to stand in the presence of your God and eager to see loved ones once again?! Well, there are signs to remind you it’s coming soon! They are like mile-markers measuring off the passing of time as we get closer to the Last Day. “Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’” (Lk 21:8). “Nation will rise against nation” (Lk 21:10). “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences” (Lk 21:11). Whenever you see one of these events, you know that you are headed home. You know that Christ is coming soon.
Yet, how much attention do we pay these signs? What is our state of alertness? Do we see these signs of the end as reminders that we are making progress, headed home? Or do we see them simply as the stagnant backdrop of the world we live in? Are we really living with the mental state of anticipation – and heightened anticipation every time we see these things happening?
I know that for me these signs are often simply a cause for disappointment. When the earthquakes hit I cry out, “Why?!” When I hear someone publicly teaching false doctrine, I stir with anger, “How could they?!” Yet really, I should be filled with longing, “How long, O Lord?” I should be seeing these as signs proving what Jesus said in the last chapter of the Bible, “Yes, I am coming soon” (Rev 22:20).
I think, often we forget that. I think we forget that every day we are one step closer home. In fact, any day could very well be the Last Day! And if that were to happen, would you be expecting it? Or would you miss your exit because you haven’t been paying attention to the signs? “Be careful,” Jesus said, “or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life” (Lk 21:34). How many of you have looked back on a day as you lie in bed and just thought to yourself, “Well, that was a day wasted. That was a day I’m not proud of – I wouldn’t bring it before God as an example of my living as his child? My sins have overpowered me. Laziness got the best of me. Or I just didn’t make the right choices.” And these days pile up. They take hold of us and weigh us down so that we are so self-absorbed, so preoccupied with me struggling to get my life in order until suddenly, “that day closes on you like a trap” (Lk 21:34).
Earlier in Luke 21, Jesus mentions the “mile markers” the signs that the end is surely coming near. But here, in verses 25-26, Jesus describes the signs of the Last Day – the “exit sign”. “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. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken” (Lk 21:25-26). This whole world – the whole cosmos – is held together and kept in perfect balance by God. So, when the end comes and God decides that this will be the Last Day of the heavens and the earth – all things – will be shaken and thrown into chaos. And for those who haven’t been paying attention to the mile signs – for those who always made God a “later” thing and never something to be put first each and every day – they will be caught weighed down and unprepared when the signs of the Last Day suddenly appear.
Pay attention to the signs! “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” (Lk 21:36). The signs are clear! There’s no missing them. You see them all the time even when you are not connecting them with their meaning. And so that is my hope today. My hope is that the next time you see an earthquake on the news, or hear a minister leading people astray, or are unsettled about rumors of war, when you see and hear these things, connect it with Christ. See them as signs, mile markers, anticipating his coming. And take comfort that “your redemption is drawing near” (Lk 21:28).
Because there is only one way to escape that day. There is only one who can free you from the power of sin that enslaves and the deep darkness of death. And that’s the One who came near to break those powers and defeat death for you. It was Jesus who came near to you, to be tempted in every way in your place yet the traps of Satan did not ensnare him. It was Jesus who took the weight of sin, anxiety and doubt off of you and was brought low in your place. It was Jesus who walked through the valley of the shadow of death in front of you to show you the way out – breaking the seal of the grave so that every one of his children could safely travel home.
This is your redemption. This is your way home. You have it already. Jesus came for you to save you from the wreck of a life that each and every one of you were born into. And now, as he takes you home, he points out the signs along the way – not as signs of concern or to scare you – but to remind you that Jesus came for you. And to give you hope because your full redemption is surely drawing near.
Some of these signs are terrifying by nature. How many of you were at least a little on edge as Korea tested rocket after rocket and their reach came closer and closer. How many of you were concerned for the men and women in our congregation, in our community, who could have been called upon to ship out. How many of you are troubled by the polluted doctrines and false truths that are promoted and so easily swallowed by sheep being led astray. These events are terrifying. Yet for the believer, they have a comforting significance. You and I know that with each passing sign we are getting closer and closer to home.
And that means redemption. Yes, we are already redeemed children of God. That’s why these are signs of hope. But the end means complete fullness to our redemption – a final redemption. It means no more sin which seems to overpower us day after day. It means no more Satan trying to blind our eyes to the signs and lead us off course. It means no more death. Pay attention to the signs. They are very clear, and they are reminders that redemption is near. So, when the earth is shaken, and you see the final signs in the sun, moon and stars, do not be afraid, you are no longer weighed down by your sins. “Stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is” here.