As most of you know, I like baseball. More exact, I love to play it and coach it. Since I was five years old, there has been only one year where I didn’t play, until I was a senior in college. In my home town, at the start of every spring, they had a big parade marching the baseball players through the town to the local park. From the t-ballers at 5 years old, to the senior league at 16, and the fan fair was huge.
But there is one thing I never liked about baseball in little league or in high school ball, and that was the time limit rule. Because baseball isn’t like other sports where there are time limits. But in the younger leagues they impose a time limit, because no one wants to be there all day long watching a 100 point game.
Now, I’ve been on teams where I’ve welcomed the time limit, because we were getting trounced by the opposing team. I’ve also been on teams where I’ve been doing the trouncing, and I welcomed it there too, because those games are really no fun either. But the reason I despise this rule, is because of three games I’ve been involved in.
One happened in little league when I was in the senior division, the other one happened in high school, and the third was when I was coaching for a high school team. In each of these games my team was down, and in each of these games we were on a comeback. The games went all the same way. Our team started off slow, and the other team shot off. But by the fifth inning we were coming back. Our bats came alive, and our defense finally was holding. The momentum had shifted in our favor. And as we ended the sixth inning, the Umpire would stand up, and in a loud voice, call the game on account of time. One maybe two, runs were all that we needed. The other team’s players were exhausted, but ours had adrenaline pumping through at break neck speeds.
But with the Umpire’s words, we hit a wall going a hundred miles per hour. And it’s because of these three games, that I have come to loath a time limit in baseball, because it’s unnatural for the game, and I feel like it cost me three victories.
And it’s this idea of a time limit where we find ourselves in our Descent series on this Christmas Sunday. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to start off in the book of Acts chapter 1, using it as a jumping off point for our talk today.
But before we get into Acts chapter 1, verse 6, let’s bring ourselves up to speed where we’re at in the our Descent series so far.
In our first week of our Descent series, we talked about God’s purposeful creation. How you and I are created by God out of his desire for us. We are not randomly here as ancient creation accounts or modern naturalist believe. No, we are here because God wants us to be here. And not only does God want us to be here, he created us to be in relationship with him. This is the first descent, God’s descent in creation.
Then on our second week we talked about how, we broke our relationship with God, because we wanted to go our own way. How we desired not to listen to God’s created order, but instead try to run our lives and the world around us, on our own terms. This breaking of relationship with God, is called sin. Desiring our way over God’s way is sin. Sin is taking what God designed, and distorting it, and using it for our own purposes, rather than his. This is why lying is sin, because it distorts the truth. This is why sexual promiscuity is a sin, because it distorts God’s created purpose. And the list can go on. And so we see in the Old Testament, a cycle of God working to restore our relationship back to him. This cycle begins with God reaching out to people, people accepting him, then turning their backs, then the consequences of the people’s actions occur, and they cry out to God, which God again reaches out to his people. But God wants to bring a permeant fix to this cycle. And so we see this as the second decent, God’s descent in our need.
That brings us to last week, where we saw that there needed to be a bridge between God and humanity. We saw this in the book of Job, where Job recognized that we need someone that was equal to God, yet was like man. This is who Jesus claimed to be, God made flesh. God who came down to be with his creation as one with his creation. He paid our sin debt that we have been building up. And death is how this debt is paid. So Jesus pays our debt with his own life, so that a bridge between God and humanity can happen. This is Christmas, and when we accept what Jesus has done for us, we can then enter into a right relationship with God, because God has done everything for us. And all we have to do is accept it. We accept we’re a sinner, we accept we can’t fix it, we accept Jesus paid the price for us, and we accept him as God and Lord of our life, living for him the rest of our lives. This was the third descent, God’s descent in Christmas.
But we talked about how there is one more descent left. And it’s this descent that will lead us into an enteral joy, or an eternal sorrow. So let’s pick this up in Acts chapter 1, starting in verse 6, where Jesus has raised from the dead and is talking with his disciples one last time while on earth.
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “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.”
Jesus goes up to heaven, and to his disciples, they don’t understand. See, their thought from the moment they started following Jesus was that he was working to make the nation of Israel a powerhouse over all the other nations. They thought Jesus was going to free them from the oppressive rule of the Romans, and make them great over everyone. And so their question speaks to this idea, but they still were not fully understanding the plans of God. Jesus leaves them, so that they would be filled with the Spirit of God, and so they would carry the message of Jesus to the ends of the world.
But, as Jesus ascends, the disciples were given a promise, “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.”
Jesus will be back. There will be a time when Jesus will return. When is that? Jesus tells us a few verses before, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”
So we don’t know the time, but what we do know, is that he will return. About 50 times, the NewTestament it speaks of this promise of Jesus’ return. From Jesus’ own words in places like John 14:3, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”
To the book of Revelation 22:12, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”
The promise of Jesus’ return is confirmed again and again throughout the Scriptures. And this a physical (Zechariah 14:4), and visible return (Matthew 24:27). Everyone on the earth, will know when it happens. The book of Revelation chapter 1, verse 7 says this, “‘Look, he is coming with the clouds,’ and ‘every eye will see him, even those who pierced him’; and all peoples on earth ‘will mourn because of him.’ So shall it be! Amen.”
But did you catch that last part of that verse? “…and all peoples on earth ‘will mourn because of him….’”
Wait a second? Shouldn’t Jesus’ return be a happy time? God has come back! He has fulfilled his promise! Shouldn’t everyone be rejoicing? Why would anyone be morning?
Philippians 2 sheds some light on why people would be doing this. “10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
C.S. Lewis in his book the Great Divorce, says this about the attitude of people when their knee will bow. “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done (pg. 75).’”
See, those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior; who have sought after God; who have desired God’s restoring relationship, they will rejoice in Jesus’ appearance. They will bow out of reverence. They will bow out of love. They will bow because Jesus is their rightful King. They will say to God your will be done. And on that day, the promise of God will be fulfilled.
But those who have rejected God; who have sought to flee from God; who have desired to have no relationship with God, even mocking God’s gift of right relationship, they will mourn at Jesus’ appearance. They will bow out of fear. They will bow because Jesus is the rightful King. Because they wanted their will to be done. And on that day, they will detest that God fulfilled his promise.
C.S Lewis goes on to say in the Great Divorce, “All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desirers joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened (pg.75).”
And it might sound strange to bring up Hell on a Christmas Sunday, but the reality, is, the purpose of Christmas is for us to realize everything God has done to keep us out of Hell. God created us to be with him because he desires for us to be in relationship with him. And only in relationship with him are we fulfilled.
In our rebellion of sin, wanting to do things our own way, God still pursues us because of his great love for us. God knows the consequence of our sin, it’s death. God knows the eternal consequence of our broken relationship, it’s Hell.
And so God does everything possible to get us to realize his extreme love, by the Son coming to earth as Jesus and dying for us.
And his promise is, Jesus will return. But, will we be ready? Will we be welcoming him with joy, bowing to him, out of love. Or, will we not be ready? Receiving his coming with sorrow, and bowing down in obligation of defeat?
Christmas is a joy to all those who accept the birth of Jesus, because it’s the precursor to his return, to his final descent. And at that final descent, there’s no going back. Because what we do with Christmas, is what we’ll do with Jesus at his return.
If we accept God’s descent at Christmas, that means we accept we are sinners. We accept we can’t fix our broken relationship with God. And we accept that Jesus died for us, to save us from sin. And then, at Jesus’ return we will rejoice into eternity because we will be with the One who loves us and died for us.
If we reject God’s descent at Christmas, that means at Jesus’ return we will enter into eternity, by our own choice, in sorrow because we will understand what we have rejected.
So this Christmas I want to implore you, if you haven’t decided what to do with Christmas, accept Jesus as your Savior. Turn your life over to him. He loves you and has done more for you than you can imagine. And for the rest of your life here, until his return or your body’s decay, to find out how a relationship with God can transform your life. And all you have to do is accept what God has done, calling on him to give you the gift of his descent at Christmas.
But for you who have accepted Jesus as your Savior, your not off the hook. You get to rejoice in that day when you see your Savior, but you are given a job, to tell everyone God brings into your life about what he has done for them. About his four descents of creation, need, Christmas, and return. We are told by Jesus in Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
We need to get out there and share Jesus with people. Don’t rely on a pastor, or someone else to do it. You have been given the Spirit of God, and he will speak through you. Let us not stand in front of Jesus with the knowledge that we could have done more for those sorrowing around us. Instead, let us stand in front of Jesus knowing that we spoke of his work to everyone he gave us. And in the old saying of the of the Alliance, let’s bring back the King!
My challenge for you this week is simple: on your way out there will be a picture for you to hang up. It has the four descents that we have talked about these past four weeks. Take one, hang it up where you will see it, and every time you do, thank God for this work, and ask him to help you speak his word to people so they might be saved.
Merry Christmas, may you accept the descents of God on your part this season, and look forward to the return of the King. Amen!