In his Gospel (18:1-8), Luke recounts the parable of the widow who seeks justice from a judge. Unfortunately, the judge was “unrighteous”; he didn’t care about justice for the widow. In her culture, however, the widow was powerless; only the judge could help her, and so she returned to him again and again, beseeching him, “Do me justice.” Finally the judge grants her request, not because he is just (he doesn’t “fear God nor respect man”), but because he is tired of the widow bothering him.
God is like that judge: He is the only one who can bring justice to the world. Unlike the judge in the story, however, God is not unrighteous; He cares about justice and about those who seek it from Him. Jesus, who told His disciples the parable “to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart,” asks them: If an evil judge will grant justice after a long time just because he is weary, won’t a good judge “bring about justice for His elect, who cry to Him day and night” and won’t He “bring about justice for them speedily”? Of course God will “keep faith” with us; He will do what He has promised. But, Jesus asks, “…when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”
BELIEVING WHAT IS TRUE
In an episode of Star Trek, The Next Generation (non-Trekkers, please bear with me!), Worf looks for meaning in his people’s legend of a Klingon warrior who vowed 1500 years ago to return from death and unite the Klingons in victory. Traveling to a Klingon “monastery,” Worf desperately tries to conjure up a vision of the warrior. Others say they have encountered the warrior in vision; Worf cannot, and he blames his “lack of faith.” In a last attempt before abandoning his faith, Worf is rewarded; the warrior appears, not in vision, but in reality. The Klingons surrounding Worf stare in stunned silence. Worf, who longed to see the vision, finds he cannot believe that the man standing before him is indeed the warrior returned. During a verification process, Worf regains his faith, convinced that the man is the warrior of the legend, only to discover that the man is a “clone.” Taking cells from an ancient artifact, the Klingon priesthood cloned the hero to counter the moral degeneration of the Klingon empire and the breakdown of their civilization. Disillusioned, Worf returns to the starship Enterprise where Captain Picard advises him to take “a leap of faith,” to believe in the legend for the values and good the belief will bring to his life. The clear implication of Picard’s advice–and a clear reflection of our culture–is: truth doesn’t matter; only “faith” in something, anything, matters.
The parallel between Worf’s story and the Christian believer’s is obvious. We, too, are waiting for the return of our hero, and we have been waiting a long time. But our story must have a radically different ending than Worf’s. For us, truth is everything.
In his first letter to the Corinthians (15:12-14), the apostle Paul dealt with a crucial fact of the gospel: the resurrection of Jesus. Some among the Corinthians taught there was no resurrection from the dead. Paul wrote:
Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.
Paul understood how important the truth is. If the facts of the gospel are not true, we have nothing. Believing in Jesus means nothing if his body rotted in a tomb. But He didn’t rot in a tomb; from death God raised Jesus, the perfect, necessary sacrifice, victorious over death. And Jesus promised He would return, a victorious king to bring justice to the earth and life to His people. He will keep His promise. But when He returns, “will He find faith on the earth”? Will He find us eagerly waiting for Him, expecting Him?
Although Jesus said no one knows the day or hour of His return, theories about the events surrounding Jesus’ return abound; and though most claim to be grounded in the Bible, they can’t all be true, and perhaps none of them are. Two precursors, however, appear fairly clear: the Jewish people will be in their homeland, and their hearts will turn to God and His Messiah. After being exiled from Israel for 1900 years, the Jews returned to Israel in 1948; during most of those 1900 years no one would have predicted their return–except one who knew and believed the promises of God.
Recently I heard one of McKenzie Study Center’s teachers describe a conversation he had with a Jewish man. This man, whose parents did not actively practice their religion, had seen a need in his own life to return to his religion; he spoke of a stirring among the Jews to return to their spiritual roots. As I listened to the recounting of this conversation, a thrill of delight passed through me. Perhaps, I thought, the day Jesus will return is drawing near.
SIGNS OF THE HEART
While signs of God’s promises unfolding are encouraging, being able to predict and recognize all the events surrounding Jesus’ return–as many have felt compelled to do–is not important. Believing that Jesus will return, however, has profound implications for the way we live our lives, our values and priorities, because our belief–or lack of it– says something about the condition of our hearts and how we view God and His promises. Our day-to-day choices, large and small, reflect what our hearts believe:
- If we are driven to preserve this world for “future” generations (rather than caring for the world because we are God’s stewards), are we unconsciously acknowledging that we don’t believe Jesus will return?
- Is our “treasure” on this earth? Does our “collecting” what might be valuable someday unconsciously acknowledge that “someday” is more likely than Jesus’ return? Are we intent on making “our mark” on this world because we don’t believe in the next?
- In a world where evil seems to triumph more often than good, do we believe God is sovereignly in control, that He will keep His promise to bring justice to the world? Or do we feel compelled to see justice done at any cost–because God is not doing it?
- Is the desire of our heart to be secure in this world? Or does the desire of our heart echo the prayer Jesus described to His disciples: Father, may Your name (which has been trampled on this earth) be revered as holy; may Your kingdom come; may Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven?
Jesus said we are to be ready whenever He returns. We are not to be like that servant who assumed his absent master would not return for a long time, and therefore he acted wickedly and was not prepared when the master returned suddenly. We are to be like the faithful servant who does the business of his master, so that whenever the master returns, however long, he is prepared. We are to be like the wise virgins who took extra oil with them to the wedding feast; they did not know when the bridegroom would come, but they knew their wait might be long, and they wanted to be prepared to meet him whenever he came. We are not to be like the people in Noah’s day who pursued the pleasures of life “until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all”; or like those in Lot’s time who also immersed themselves in this life until “the day that Lot went out from Sodom [and] it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all.” For, said Jesus, “It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed”: Jesus’ return will “surprise” those who, assuming this life will continue as it always has, are intent on pursuing the things of this world; His coming will end their pursuits.
PERSPECTIVE WHILE WE WAIT
From our perspective, we have been waiting a long time for Jesus to come back. But we should have expected it. In various of the parables and in His teaching about the events that must take place before His return, Jesus indicated to His disciples that the wait could be long; He wanted them to “at all times…pray and not to lose heart.” When He does come, however, I think we will know that God has acted “speedily” and has not delayed. Even our limited experience shows us that perspective on time and waiting changes. When I was a child, summer vacations seemed endless; now years pass quickly. I remember wanting to be sixteen; now my son is approaching sixteen, and it “seems like no time” since he was born. How many events–good and bad–have we waited for in our lives, events for which the waiting seemed endless at the time, but which now seem to have come and gone “in no time at all”? Generations have waited for Jesus to return, but when He comes and we look back at His absence from an eternal perspective, surely the time will seem to have passed quickly; surely we will know that Jesus came back at just the right time, God having accomplished that which He intended.
As the wait seems long this side of eternity, let us remind one another that just as surely as we expect Christmas Day or Easter, we can expect and look forward to the day Jesus returns. Let us comfort each other with the knowledge that the trials of this life will end, that evil will be judged, and that we who believe now will someday be as righteous as our King. Let us encourage each other to keep believing the promises of God so that when Jesus does come He will find faith on the earth.