By Dr. Walter A. Maier
"Our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body." PHILIPPIANS 3:20.
LORD JESUS, OUR ADVENT KING; Once, in fulfillment of Thy loving promise, Thou didst come into this world of wickedness to live for us, die for us, and atone for our sins. Once again Thou wilt come to us in might and mercy to judge the earth and to resurrect the bodies of Thy faithful. Even now Thou dost come to us, in Thy Word and Sacraments, to call us to repentance and deeper faith. What marvel of mercy these three advents show Thy believers, yet what terror Thy return to judge the quick and the dead brings every unbeliever! Oh, come, Lord Jesus, into this world of war to comfort the afflicted, strengthen the weak, cheer the lonely, raise the fallen, all through faith in Thy self-forgiving love! Come to bring peace on earth by sending Thy pardon into sin-sick souls! Come to protect Thy children at home and abroad, on land, on sea, in the air! O Christ, our Savior and Sovereign, our Prophet and Priest, come to every one of us so that we may come to Thee for the assurance of heaven and eternal happiness! By Thy promise we plead" Come quickly, Lord Jesus! Amen!
WHEN General MacArthur left the Philippines after the Japanese conquest of the islands, he gave the solemn pledge, "I will return!" Repeatedly during the reign of enemy terror which followed, he broadcast to the cruelly oppressed Filipinos, ""I will return!" Swift planes scattered millions of cards, mirrors, candy bars, and books of matches, all inscribed with the same promise, "I will return!" Can you not imagine how these brave, liberty-loving people, secretly listening to underground radios, thrilled as they told each other, "He will return"? Can you not feel the rejoicing which must have gripped the captive heroes of Bataan, Corregidor, Manila, when, in whispered confidence of victory they told each other, "He will return!" And he did return. General MacArthur kept him promise. He freed all the thousands of hard-pressed, heavily burdened American prisoners and captive natives.
In a far greater, world-wide struggle, when Christ, heaven’s Commander in Chief, left this earth, not in the flight of defeat, but with the task of His redemption victoriously finished, He also promised His faithful for all succeeding generations, in whatever clime or country, of whatever caste or class they might be, "I will return!" As He ascended to His celestial throne, God’s holy angels solemnly declared, "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven." During long years of pain and persecution, while God’s children were man-hunted, racked, tortured; when bloody atheism and sensual unbelief were securely entrenched, what strength and courage the redeemed of the Lord found in that angelic pledge, "He will return!"
He will return; and because this second coming can be a promise of everlasting victory for every one of you, a source of divine comfort for the hardest blow that may ever strike you, and a gracious guarantee for the Church in the cross-marked, problem-weighted days ahead, I ask you across America, at the beginning of this Advent season, to join in the last prayer recorded by Scripture, the plea,
"COME, LORD JESUS!"
and to learn the personal, perpetual encouragement offered by our text, the words of Saint Paul in Philippians, chapter three, verse twenty, "Our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body."<>1- COME QUICKLY, AS THOU HAST PROMISED!>
When the early Christians followed the Apostle in looking heavenward "for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ," who would come back to them from His realm of glory, their hope was built on the strongest foundation. In the entire New Testament no record of divine grace, save the atonement itself, is more repeatedly emphasized than our Lord’s second coming. At least 300 passages of the New Covenant writers speak of His return. A single passage of Scripture is divine assurance itself; but when 300 verses (at least one for each New Testament chapter) tell us that the Savior will come again, men ought to fall on their knees, gratefully to accept every one of these restatements promising His reappearance. Besides, many Old Testament predictions refer to our Savior’s second advent. Sir Isaac Newton, called "the prince of scientists"—and what a better world this would be if all twentieth-century men of learning had his Christ-centered faith!—states: "There is scarcely a prophecy of the Old Testament which does not, in some thing or other, relate to the second coming of Christ." Confidently basing its conviction on this mass of errorless evidence, the Church proclaims in the Apostles’ Creed that the risen Redeemer sits at the right hand of God the Father, "whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead." No matter to which protestant group you belong; regardless of whether you are Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Polish, Apostolic, Old Catholic, if your church truly bows before the authority and inerrancy of God’s Word, with Saint Paul it will "look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ," who will come again from heaven.
Despite all this testimony the record of our Savior’s return is often ignored by American ministers. How many sermons have you heard on His second coming? Preachers often mistakenly regard this subject as too uncertain, too controversial, too different to be discussed from their pulpits, although I testify to you that this is one of the crown truths of our faith.
Of course, Christ’s second advent is often misunderstood and incorrectly explained. The Bible clearly says, "Of that day and hour—when He will come—knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven." But some who claim to be better informed than the Almighty have set the exact time of the Savior’s reappearing, only by that error to be revealed as false prophets and to cause unspeakable sorrow among the masses of their disillusioned followers. The Bible, preserving our Lord’s own Word, declares, "My kingdom is not of this world," but men who claim to know more than the Son of God contradict and say that Jesus will have a temporal kingdom on thus earth, when everybody will be converted to the Christian faith, when all believers will travel to Jerusalem, when Mount Zion will be pulled up from its foundations and placed on top of other mountains.—The Bible speaks of our Lord’s return as "very sure"; but some teachers have made these prophecies uncertain in many minds by finding in Scripture false references to present-day world figures. Twenty-five years ago they wrote books to say that the wicked destroyer predicted in the Old Testament was Kaiser Wilhelm; but he ended as a woodchopper, an exile, stripped of power. These self-appointed propounders of prophecy, then found that evil figure in Nicolai Lenin, until Russia entered the war on our side. Later the choice fell on Benito Mussolini, who became a fugitive from his own empire. Even Adolf Hitler has been unable to meet these requirements, although books have been written to prove that he is the malicious spirit who would rule the world. Yet while misguided teachers have been busy proclaiming these private interpretations, they have often had little time for the Gospel. Clergymen of America, never permit any subject to restrict or crowd out the gift of grace through faith in Jesus! If your churches were open day and night, you would not be able to tell your people enough about the Savior of a sin-sick race! You can lose souls by every sermon you preach which contradicts God’s Word or restricts His compassion. Glorify the Gospel with every talent, with all the strength the Holy Spirit has given you!
Even when the unbelieving world about us repeats the age-old taunt and demands, "Where is the promise of His coming?" sarcasm cannot change the truth! You cannot make the Pacific Ocean disappear by throwing in a few pebbles from the California coast. Christ will not only return, but His second coming will be comparably more glorious than His first. Years ago, Galileo, applying the telescope to the heavens, discovered the startling rings which encircle Saturn. Yet as that planet sped on in its orbit, those mysterious rings disappeared. For a long time all traces of them were lost. Men began to doubt and ridicule his discovery. Yet all the while Galileo continued to scan the skies, waiting and watching, until finally the radiant rings reappeared, more clear and beautiful than he had seen them before. Similarly, our Savior came to this earth 1900 years ago, only to go back to His Father. But—no matter how men may ridicule, doubt, and question—He will surely come again, not as a helpless Child, not amid poverty and persecution, not despised and rejected, but as the Lord of Lords, the Victor over His enemies.
To show us that He will soon be with us again, and to help us prepare for His return, our God graciously decreed that certain, definite, unmistakable signs should precede Him. These predictions are being fulfilled before our very eyes, as never in previous history. Thus Jesus Himself foretold that "wars and rumors of wars" would be a token of His advent. No thirty years in human records have been marked by such widespread bloodshed as the period from 1914 to 1944, with many nations hovering on the edge of bankruptcy; with 90 percent of the world’s indebtedness directly or indirectly caused by war—and this in the age of peace treaties, disarmament conferences, international antiwar pacts, funds, and foundations. Before the election three weeks ago some of the candidates confidently promised that if they were elected and their programs adopted, there would be no more bloodshed. But if we are to choose between such utterances, which have repeatedly miscarried, and the unbreakable Word of our Savior, who says that until the end "nation shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom," we stand with Christ. Do you think that as long as men can make money from war, they will never banish it? Do you actually believe, with the youth of many lands conscripted for military purposes; with their scientists urged to produce bigger bombs, more powerful planes, more ruinous robots and rockets, that ruthless, Christless rulers will not continue to use invasion and oppression?
Some of you are asking, "Isn’t this a hopeless prospect, and doesn’t this make the Biblical faith puny and powerless?" "Quite the opposite!" we answer. It is the sacred duty of those who are the Lord’s to work for a peace that can help restrict the spread of warfare and reduce its brutality. Read the ancient records of Babylonia and Assyria, to see how those who rejected the Almighty waged war! They cut off the ears and noses of their captives, chopped off their hands and feet, pushed in their eyes, ripped out their tongues. Their monuments show how they skinned their victims alive, impaled them on sharp poles, chopped off their heads, cut out their vital organs, dashed even little children to pieces. Survey the horrors and tortures of the present-day heathen world! Then you will realize that if men were left to themselves without Jesus, but with all the means of mass destruction now at their disposal, the earth could destroy itself. The most helpful agency in war is the Red Cross. Who founded this mission of mercy? Henri Dunant, a Swiss banker! What was his religion? He was no atheist, infidel or skeptic, but a humble, consecrated follower of the Savior who requested that he be lowered into the grave without any oratorical ceremonies, as "a simple disciple of Christ." If only the 500,000,000 plus who call themselves Christians would follow Jesus as he did, pray for peace, strive for peace, spread the Gospel of peace, the number of future wars would be reduced, their horrors restricted, their profits removed.
Another sign which, the Savior declared, would indicate the beginning of the end is the widespread occurrence of "famines and pestilences." As if in fulfillment, a high authority writes of more than 30,000,000 human beings in occupied Europe who will suffer from famine. He says, "At least 10 per cent of these people are almost certain to die of starvation or of diseases." The extent of famine and pestilence, he declares, would be at least as great in Asia. Thus about 60,000,000 people almost half the population of our country, are in danger of death because of war's hunger and malnutrition. When you read of Greek mothers paying billions of drachmas for a loaf of coarse bread; when you hear of masses in China mad for want of food and then think that the greatest scarcity in America has been the cigarette shortage, resolve that you will personally show your gratitude toward God for His blessings by following the example of Christ, the Good Samaritan, by helping relieve the sorrow and suffering of millions of the Old World!
Study this list of Saint Paul’s other predictions of "the perilous times" in the last days: 1) juvenile crime, and we have more youthful lawbreakers than ever before; 2) selfishness and self-indulgence-one of the basic causes for most present-day suffering; 3) greed, individual and national-and what else provoked the two world wars? 4) boasting and self-praise, as politicians, dictators, and public figures use "I," "me," "mine," with lavish self-satisfaction; 5) pride, the prevalent sin we like to excuse as manliness, self-confidence, or even patriotism; 6) unthankfulness to God-and how empty many churches are, when they should be crowded with grateful worshipers! 7) unholiness of life, with the Ten Commandments laughed away, and sin often openly applauded; 8) widespread immorality, to which the police of every large city, the domestic courts of the nation, and the crime statistics of our country bear shocking witness; 9) truce-breaking; the streets of Rome, Paris, Brussels are filled with Communist agitators who seek to create confusion and chaos; 10) lying and perjury—look at the collusion in our divorce trials! 11) drunkenness and lust—with women conspicuous 12) cruelty and—despite our culture and scientific demands—brutality and vicious tyranny have dropped to new depths of terror; 13) hating God and everything good, and even the horrors of war have not made the masses repentant; 14) betrayal–Europe is full of it; 15) recklessness, heaping up national debts and wasting millions of lives; 16) bloated godlessness which joins Nietzsche in declaring, "Dead are all the gods; now we will that superman live!"’ 17) worshiping sensual pleasures more than the great God–$2,300,000 bet in a single afternoon at one California race track; 18) form religion, outward worship, which leaves the soul untouched—with parade and display often outward evidences of the modern inner spiritual decay! I ask you: Can any unbiased mind read these eighteen predictions of the last times preceding Christ’s coming, without matching them, one by one, with the exact counterpart which confronts us today?
Our Lord clearly foretold that "great signs shall there be from heaven," preceding His return; and shortly after the beginning of this twentieth century startling tokens were beheld in the sky. On June 30, 1908, at seven o’clock in the evening, a fiery body, blue with heat, was seen speeding through the sky in North Central Siberia. It fell into the ground with a gigantic, ear-splitting explosion. Hundreds of reindeer grazing in the vicinity were wiped out. A train 400 miles away on the Trans-Siberian Railroad was rocked so violently that it stopped to prevent the coaches from being thrown off the tracks. Seventeen years ago a scientific expedition investigated the spot where this weird, meteorlike sky messenger had stuck the earth; they found a hole about two miles wide. The territory had been thickly wooded, but professor L.A. Kulick, leader of the expedition, reported not only that all trees in the crater had been completely destroyed, but also that for fifteen or twenty miles around tens of thousands had been blasted to the ground.
As we recognize this and many other meteors as some of the predicted signs in the heavens, and thank God that His mercy has directed this devastation to strike sparsely settled areas instead of New York, Chicago, or Los Angles, where it could have killed millions, let us also remember that when Christ returns, the time will have come when God’s annihilation will embrace the entire sinful world, which, as Saint Peter reminds us in the third chapter of his Second Letter, shall "melt with fervent heat; and pass away in a great noise. Our Lord’s coming means the absolute end of our earth. You may sneer and object that this New Testament truth is a fairy tale with which to frighten children. You may insist that this earth will always continue; but some of the most eminent of today’s scientists will contradict you. Last week in Cambridge, England, death came, as it does to all men, to Sir Author Stanley Eddington, internationally renowned astronomer, who energetically taught that this globe, with everything in it, would end in colossal collapse. The soil beneath us has been saturated with too much innocent blood; the air about us poisoned with too many foul, blasphemous curses; the skies above us forced to witness too many centuries of cruel, incrusted sin to continue indefinitely. When Christ comes, He will make an utter end to our globe and hold judgment over all mankind. He will welcome those who have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, clothed the ragged, visited the sick and imprisoned, but he will reject those who have lived in godlessness and never shown the fruit of their trust. While every one of us is justified by faith, once we know the Lord Jesus, we should live our faith. How disastrous to deceive oneself into believing that because the Savior did everything for our redemption, we need not live a new, Christ-centered sin-hating life!
How vital, too, and how eternally important our Lord’s return will be for every one of us! We should learn from its reality, first of all, that nothing on this earth is permanent; that the money, gold, treasures, for which men fight so madly, will all be destroyed, while our souls continue to exist either in the everlasting life of glory in heaven with Christ or in the everlasting darkness of doom in hell without Christ. Therefore, don’t attach your hearts to perishable baubles and passing trinkets, while you neglect your eternal soul! Give up everything which separates you from the Savior! Get right with God in the only way you can, through Jesus, by faith in His sin-removing, death-destroying atonement!
Again, Christ’s second coming and His overthrow of evil teaches us that though God’s children are often oppressed and persecuted, while corruption and transgression reign brazenly; though some of you who love the Lord live on in pain and poverty, while skeptics, critics, infidels seem to flourish in prosperity, the time is surely coming when every uprising against the Almighty will be smashed to pieces and each believer will know that "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."
Again, the Redeemer’s return will be proof of His power to fulfill His predictions, His threats, and His promises. He may delay His appearance in order to give men a chance to repent, but be sure of this: He will return, just as he must fulfill each of the thousands of promises His Word contains. Men may guess as to the future and make roseate but unfounded forecasts concerning the things which are to come, but Jesus keeps His Word.
Especially is this sacred truth of Christ’s second advent all-important because it directs us, upon whom the ends of time have descended, to live in constant preparedness, always ready to receive the Son of God. If the Apostle could write 1900 long years ago, "The Lord is at hand"; if in the early New Testament days the Savior Himself declares, "Behold, I come quickly"; surely now the hands of God’s clock are pointing to the midnight hour of His immediate arrival. If American Christendom today would stop squandering its energies on a thousand side issues and with fervent faith prepare to welcome the King of Glory, it could do more to advance the Kingdom and save souls than it can ever achieve with a thousand programs for earthly power, with ten thousand social gospels, with a million systems of modern pulpit unbelief. But whatever the churches do, ‘watch and pray" that you may always be on the alert for the returning Redeemer! Say with Saint Paul, "We look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ," who will come from heaven as our own Rescuer from ruin and our Savior from sin.
2- COME QUICKLY, WITH THE RICH PROMISE OF OUR RESURRECTION!
We who love God’s Son also look to heaven for His appearance because, as our text declares, He is the Lord "who shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body." Do you grasp the full, blessed pledge of this promise? Christ’s coming grants these radiant reassurances: there is a life beyond the grave; the dust of the cemetery is not our own final destiny; though we die, with our bodies decaying and reverting to the earth, this is not the end. We shall live in Jesus. Remember that, you, the recently bereaved, who have wept bitterly at the side of a casket, whose hearts are torn with unspeakable pain, and who now plan a Christmas decoration, not for your home but for the grave of a dear, departed one! We who are the Lord’s shall live. His promise must be fulfilled, "I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." Again: "Because I live, ye shall live also." And more, "If a man keep My saying, he shall never see death." To rob the grave of its terrors and defeat hell’s power, Jesus was born among men, lived with them, and was crucified by them, He came to remove sin, "the wages of death" to wash away our transgressions, to destroy the gruesomeness of the grave, to give us the triumph through which we can declare,"O Death, were is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?…Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!"
The believer cannot explain how or why the Almighty grants us new life instead of decay; the most advanced scientific laboratories cannot analyze His power. University faculties cannot understand how the dead shall rise. Yet the simplest child of our heavenly Father in humble faith has this glorious assurance: "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Therefore I have prayed today that through our First Advent broadcast you will receive this promise of glorious grace: "If you know the Savior as the Son of God; more: if you love Him with all your heart and soul, all your might and mind; more: if you worship Him with sincerity and humble devotion; more:—and this is the all-important climax—if your accept Him as your own Savior, trust Him as your Redeemer, you have the promise of life eternal, even now. You must die, of course, but if you breathe your last in Jesus’ name, then, as your eyes close on earth, your soul will wing its heavenward way to be with God forever. Can you imagine a greater blessing?
There is one, however: On the day of our Savior’s return, when the trumpet of His triumph resounds throughout the world, all graves, the hundreds of millions of them, will be opened; and by His almighty power, Christ the Lord of life, will resurrect the decayed, destroyed, sometimes dispersed remains of our earthly frame. Let me tell it to you in the words of our text, "on that great day of His coming our bodies, resurrected and reunited with our souls, shall ‘be fashioned like unto His glorious body.’" Praise God every day that through Christ yours will be a heavenly existence on the other side of the grave; not an unconscious or subconscious gloomy estate; not a dark, doleful, vague, shadowy being, but a real, personal, full, blessed, celestial glory in your own resurrected bodies! The sickly, the deformed, the wounded, the disfigured, the amputated, the bent and broken, those of subnormal and abnormal appearance, those torn and battered by accident, shriveled or stunted by disease, those with furrowed faces and failing vision—if only they are Christ’s, they will be awakened in perfect, beautiful ,radiant bodies. No more illness, weakness, paralysis and invalidism; no more breakdowns, blindness, and physical burdens; no more pain, infirmity, and old age! Rather a body which, freed from sin, will be preserved in complete holiness, health, and happiness! Recall the wasting, destructive power of disease which can take a man in his virile prime and within a few days make him a thin, pale, terror-filled, helpless victim of forces over which he has no control! Think of the 300,000 young men who have been discharged from our armed forces because they are burdened with mental or psychological defects! Try to envision the hundreds of thousands of our wounded, those who have lost their limbs or their senses, those whose appearance is so horrifying that no visitors may see them! Think of those among you whose vital organs are being consumed by cancer; and then realize how intensely blessed it must be for them to know that through Christ their bodies, pain-ridden, sin-torn, will be resurrected in perfection, restored in heavenly beauty! What divine strength for the 34,000 victims of World War I still in American hospitals! What source of joy and measureless gladness for the patients in the 300,000 hospital beds which, experts say, our country must provide for the victims of World War II!
Even this, however, does not begin to measure the magnificence of our Lord’s love. We shall be resurrected in such a marvelous manner that our vile bodies will be "fashioned like unto His glorious body." "Can this be?" you ask. "We like Christ? Our bodies like His, the Son of God’s? Should we actually resemble Him whom angels adore, the beautiful Savior, of whom it is written, "Thou art fairer than the children of men’?" Oh, if the Bible would say, "We shall serve Jesus," that would be overflowing grace. If it would promise "we shall be given the privilege of seeing the Savior once," that would be priceless compassion. If the Scriptures would declare that we might kiss His feet and then worship Him from a distance, that would be mercy beyond all merit. Yet God’s Word says today that our bodies shall be like His, as it other wise asserts plainly and pointedly that "we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." We ought to fall on our knees daily in gratitude for this priceless pledge, sealed by Christ’s blood, supported by His cross, verified by His open grave, and proved by hundreds of heavenly promises. Oh, come, Lord Jesus, come quickly, and manifest Thy might in the cemeteries, the tombs, the graves, and the unmarked resting places of Thy children! Grant us new, celestial bodies like Thine, perfect, painless, sinless, stainless, not limited by place and time, not barred by locks and bolts, unhampered by distance or delay, but all-glorious, all-radiant, all victorious!
If only we could fully realize and unquestionably believe "the glory which shall be revealed in us" when in the resurrection we see Jesus and are reunited with those gone before us in the faith! Then we would not shriek in uncontrolled sorrow and terror whenever a loved one is called home to Christ. We would not hate life’s end, as France’s Louis XIV did when he permitted no one to mention death in his presence, when his processions and journeys were arranged to avoid the sight of cemeteries, monuments to the departed, and whatever might recall the grave. With Jesus firmly enshrined in our hearts, we can say with Saint Paul, "To depart, and be with Christ…is far better," and understand that heaven is so indescribably more glorious than the best on earth that we should constantly ask, "Oh, come, Lord Jesus," come quickly!
While the beginning of the last month on the calendar reminds us that this year will soon slip into history, never to be recalled or relived, may we each know personally that if we are to enjoy the blessings of a resurrected, a redeemed body, heaven’s glory, and our Lord’s eternal companionship, we must always be read to receive Him, either in His coming to us or at our coming to Him. While there is still time, welcome Christ in His present advent, by which he would hold entrance into your heart! Do not delay or postpone your allegiance to the coming King! At any moment death can stand before you unannounced. Next Sunday some of you may not be on earth to hear this radio appeal, pleading that you receive your Redeemer. A few weeks ago an Ohio women went to church and heard the pastor say, as he prayed for the soldiers, that the end can come suddenly, that no one can foretell to which family in the congregation the death notice would next come. Hardly had the woman returned home after the service, when a messenger brought a starred telegram from Washingtron announcing that her husband had been killed in the Pacific area. To be prepared for such a shocking notice, to conquer fear, be assured of the victory over death, the eternal triumph over the grave, let us look to heaven, where, as the Apostle says, "our conversation", or, as we would say today, "our citizenship," and know that the blessings of eternity are ours, ours, surely, but ours only by reliance on our loving Redeemer! As citizens of that celestial realm, where no sun is needed, since all is everlasting brightness in Christ; for all the glories of eternity, where we shall be like our Savior in marvelous resurrection bodies, let us live in trusting Jesus and be saved by that faith! O Christ, keep us in Thy grace, come to us in our need, deliver us from our enemies, preserve us unto Thy kingdom! Bring us to Thee in heaven! Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly! Amen!
The preceding Lutheran Hour sermon first aired in December 1944.