As We Await Our Lord's Coming...
Dear Lord Jesus, as I approach Your mercy seat in prayer and look forward to praising Your holy name with my fellow believers, please send Your Spirit to inform and instruct me. Strengthen my faith through the study of Your Word. Increase my love for and patience with my fellow believers, even as You increase their love for and patience with me. Grant that we might serve You effectively in Your kingdom as we await Your return in glory. Amen.
God’s Old Testament people had earlier rebelled against Him and endured His chastising. Now Joel urged them to rejoice in the faithfulness of the LORD, Who promised to take care of them. Joel assured them that they would never be put to shame as long as their faith rested in the LORD!
Jesus promises us that if trust in the Lord and ask for His blessings, we will receive them. Our heavenly Father is good and gracious and will take care of us—His children.
Text: James 5:7-9
Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!
In Christ Jesus, our present Lord and future Judge, dear fellow redeemed:
First of all, I would like to wish all of our mothers a very happy and blessed Mother’s Day! I hope that you all both know and feel that you are loved and appreciated by your families!
This past Thursday I took a little survey of my Junior and Senior religion students asking them to jot down the two most important virtues or characteristics necessary to be a good mother. Not surprisingly the number one virtue mentioned by the students was love. There were a variety of answers offered for the second most important virtue—faith, wisdom, loyalty, firmness, caring, and being a good cook, but two of the students…young ladies, I would assume from the handwriting…suggested patience, one of the two virtues I had in mind. Whether you would rank patience in the top two virtues a mother needs or not, I am sure that all of us would recognize the importance of a mother possessing patience…if not infinite patience! I am sure that all of us would also agree that mothers require strength to fulfill all of their duties and to fulfill them well.
Patience and strength, however, are not only necessary for successful mothering. If you think about it, they are necessary for each and every one of us to live successfully in our world and to accomplish our God-given tasks, whatever those tasks might be.
This past Friday as I was working in the church kitchen preparing for our Men’s Breakfast, one man came into the kitchen and asked me whether Immanuel had a plan of action should the U.S. Supreme Court declare gay marriage the law of the land. “What would you do pastor, if a gay couple asked you to perform their marriage?” he asked. I responded that I would have to decline and then face whatever consequences might come. A passing thought in our conversation was that we are surely in the end times, given the nature and course of our society.
That thought, however, has been on the minds of Christians since the 1st Century, as our text indicates. The apostle James states that “the coming of the Lord is at hand,” and suggests, “the Judge is standing at the door!” James was not in error when he made those comments, even though nearly 2,000 years have passed since their writing. Indeed, Peter informs us when discussing the end times in his 2nd Epistle: “Beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:8-9). The entire New Testament is the end times. We are always to be prepared for Jesus’ coming. What virtues…what characteristics are most necessary for us as Christians as we await that return? I would suggest both patience and strength. Therefore I would encourage you this morning, AS WE AWAIT OUR LORD’S COMING…be patient with one another, and strengthen one another!
Yes, my dear friends, let us be patient with one another! James first speaks of being patient in a general sense. He writes: “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain.” (James 5:7)
Here in southern Minnesota we can appreciate James’ illustration of the farmer waiting patiently for his crops to grow. We are in the midst—perhaps even nearing the end of this year’s planting season. The fields have been worked, seeds planted, initial applications of fertilizer and herbicides have been made. Now farmers simply have to wait patiently for the rains to come and the crops to grow. This past Friday as I traveled both to and from the penitentiary in Faribault for a monthly visit with a prisoner we are serving, I could just see the tops of the corn forming new rows in the freshly planted fields. We pray the gentle rains will come and that no late frosts will damage the crops. We trust that the Lord will bless the efforts of our farmers. We must be patient, because no amount of fussing or fretting will make the corn and beans grow faster!
James then goes on to speak about being patient in a particular setting, as it applies to our dealings with one another as Christian brothers and sisters. He writes: “You also be patient…. Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:8-9)
It is so very easy to become impatient with our fellow Christians. We are, after all, living in a sinful world filled with stresses and strains, which can so easily put us on edge. Our expectations regarding our fellow Christians may indeed be higher than those we set for unbelievers. Consequently, when our fellow Christians fail to meet our expectations, we can easily become upset and impatient. One of my favorite sections of Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians addresses this very issue. Paul writes, “As the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also do” (Col. 3:12-13). Paul, in essence, is calling for patience. We are God’s elect, and we are holy and beloved, but we are also sinners. When we rub shoulders the result will be friction at times. It is then that we have to remember our Savior's attitude and dealings with us. Christ’s relationship with us is then to become the pattern for our relationship with others.
James certainly knew about that! There are at least two James identified in the New Testament. One, perhaps the more famous, was James, the brother of John and one of the twelve apostles. He was martyred very early in the New Testament era (cf. Acts 12:1-2). The James who wrote this Epistle is thought to have been Jesus’ half-brother, along with three others—Joses, Judas, and Simon (cf. Mt. 13:55). These half-brothers of Jesus did not initially believe in Jesus as their Savior, nor did they put their trust in Him. In fact, it would appear that at one point early in Jesus’ ministry, they came looking for Jesus, worried that He was nearing exhaustion and thinking that He may have gone insane (cf. Mk. 3:20-21). Later in Jesus’ ministry and apparently delighting in His notoriety, James and his other half-brothers encouraged Jesus to go up to Jerusalem so people could see Him perform His miracles, but the evangelist John, while recounting the incident, comments: “even His brothers did not believe in Him” (John 7:1-5). It would appear that James did not come fully to understand who his brother Jesus was or believe in Him until after His resurrection. What patience Jesus had with James, his half-brother, who ultimately became the head of the church of Jerusalem and was utilized by the Holy Spirit to write his Epistle. How easy it would have been for Jesus to write His half-brother off! After all, he had known Jesus his entire life and still was so slow to believe!
My dear friends, let us not become impatient with one another! We are all by God’s grace through faith children of God, but we are imperfect human beings. We will at times fail to live up to each other’s expectations. It would be so easy for us to grumble about each other—something that is all too often done behind a brother or sister’s back. James warns us that such impatient and unloving actions will be judged by no lesser authority than Jesus Himself. He urges us not to put ourselves into a position to be condemned by Jesus. Rather, let us be patient—addressing any issues that must be addressed by speaking to each other words that reveal both truth and love. AS WE AWAIT OUR LORD’S COMING, be patient with one another!
AS WE AWAIT OUR LORD’S COMING, strengthen one another! James says, “Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” The concept of “establishing your hearts” is an interesting one. Literally, in the original language, the phrase would be “strengthen your hearts.” The NIV translates the phrase as “stand firm.” The idea is one of necessary internal strength translating into a steadfast outward confession of faith and life as a child of God.
One of the key reasons why James wrote his Epistle was to strengthen the faith and commitment of Jewish Christians who were being pressured to leave Jesus behind and return to the law-based religion of their fellow Jews who had rejected Christ. Life for the child of God in the 1st Century was not easy. The temptations to give up Christ were great. Christians were being falsely accused of hate crimes and subject to the persecutions of the Roman government. Today is really not that different. The forces of opposition simply differ. Today university professors, social activists, and ambitious politicians apply pressure to children of God hoping to have them give up their belief in biblical morality and the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It takes strength to overcome those temptations and with God’s help to remain faithful to Jesus.
Even as we must be patient with one another, we must seek to strengthen one another! How might we do that? We are doing that right now as we sit next to each other in God’s house for worship. By singing our joint praises, by raising our joint prayers, by making a common confession of faith we are strengthening each other in our faith and commitment to Christ. Isolation breeds weakness, but genuine Christian fellowship leads to strength!
In a chapel address to our high school students this past Friday I spoke about the place of friends in our lives and the importance of choosing good friends. The example I used was that of Jonathan and his friendship with David. Jonathan and David were godly young men. They were sensitive to the will of God and sought to fulfill that will in their lives. They placed God’s will above their own and sought to encourage one another in the midst of life’s storms. At one point Jonathan slipped away from his father’s palace, found David hiding in the woods, and we are told he “strengthened David’s hand in God” (cf. 1 Sam. 23:16). How did he do that? He reminded David of God’s promises and His certain providential care.
This is what we are to do for each other, my dear friends. When we are in the hospital; when we are facing financial struggles; when we are struggling with doubts when confronted by the supposed elite of this world—we need to hear God’s promises repeated again and again. We need to be reminded that God is our heavenly Father, that He cares about us, watches over us, and listens to us! It is in this way that we strengthen one another.
One of the topics for discussion at the upcoming Minnesota Delegate Conference is going to be "encouraging the use of God’s Word in our daily conversations." Why are the delegates going to consider such a topic? It is because it is through the use of the Word of God that we become strong! The Holy Spirit works faith, confirms faith, and then moves us to exercise our faith as we grow in the knowledge and confidence of God’s truths as proclaimed in His precious Word! We need that to happen in our lives! AS WE AWAIT OUR LORD’S COMING,therefore, be patient with one another, and strengthen one another! Amen.