Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Patiently Awaiting the Coming Lord

Here is my sermon manuscript from Sunday's sermon (October 14, 2012).  I write a manuscript as a discipline of preparation.  I reduce the manuscript to an outline and then preach extemporaneously from the outline.  Sometimes folks request a copy of the manuscript.  I do not stick to it at every point, and there are bound to be grammatical mistakes and other stumbling blocks for English teachers.  Yet here it is.  Enjoy!   

"7 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful."  James 5:7-11

The Second Coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is presented in the Scriptures as a day of judgment and salvation.  When our Lord returns, he will repay the wicked for their sin.  Last week we looked at the first six verses of this chapter and learned about the coming judgment on rich unbelievers.  This week we see in our text that this coming judgment on rich unbelievers means salvation for poor Christians.  God’s judgment on the wicked brings consolation to the faithful.  James assures us that God’s judgment on rich sinners (vv. 1-6) and God’s consolation to poor saints will happen at the coming of the Lord.  The coming of the Lord is mentioned in verses 7, 8, and 9.  We are told that the coming of the Lord is “at hand” (or “near”) and James provides a picture of the nearness of our Lord’s coming by presenting him to us standing outside the door (v. 9).  The Judge is ready to open the door and come in at any time.  Despite the fact that the coming of the Lord is imminent, believers may grow impatient as they await his return.  We may tire of serving him or grow discouraged by suffering and persecution or become defeated by temptation.  Yet James tells us that we must be patient as we await the coming of the Lord as verse 7 says. “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.”  This word “patient” means to suffer long.  We must suffer long and hard through the trials of life before the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.  He says, “Be patient,” in verse 7.  He says, “You also, be patient,” in verse 8.  He says that the prophets are an example of suffering and patience in verse 10.  So we are here summoned to patient endurance as we await the coming of our Lord.  This is the main point that I want to impress on your conscience today.  We must be patient as we await the coming of the Lord.  Now as we consider this patience I want us to examine our text in two divisions.  1.  The Exhortations to Patience in vv. 7-9.  2. The Encouragements to Patience in vv. 10-11.

1.  The Exhortations to Patience (vv. 7-9).
James exhorts us to patience by exhorting us to three tasks: waiting like the farmer (v. 7), establishing our hearts (v. 8), and not grumbling against one another (v. 9).

1. a.  Wait like the farmer (v. 7).
 Patience means that we must wait.  James illustrates the way that we are to wait by telling us about a farmer.  “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.”  This illustration would have been familiar to James’ readers who were living in an agrarian society.  Some of his readers were farmers.  Farming is an apt illustration of waiting on the coming Lord.  There are two main reasons for this.

          i.  The farmer waits actively. 
There is passive waiting and active waiting.  When we wait in line, we are passively waiting.  We are just standing there.  But this is not the way the farmer waits.  He plows the field.  He plants the seed.  He waters the crop.  He tends the garden for weeds and protects it from animals and other pests.  He is waiting for the plant to grow and bear fruit.  But he is not sitting around doing nothing.  He is actively waiting.  He works while he waits.  There have been some Christians who have gotten the idea that being patient and waiting for the coming of Jesus means inactivity.  This must have happened to the Thessalonians because when Paul writes to them about the Second Coming, he also warns them about idleness (1 Thess. 4:11-12; 5:13; 2 Thess. 3:6-12).  There have been cult leaders who have duped their unsuspecting followers into thinking that they should get together in a room and sit around and wait for the coming of the Lord.  This is not the teaching of our Lord.  Our Lord calls us to be ready.  He calls us to be prepared and watchful.  He tells us to be busy serving him until he comes.  “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes” (Matt. 25:46).  We wait actively like the farmer who tends the crops as he waits for them to produce fruit.

ii.  The farmer waits expectantly.   
The second reason that the illustration of a farmer is an apt image of waiting for our Lord’s coming is because the farmer waits expectantly.  To be sure, he may tire of plowing or planting or tending his crops.  Yet he waits because he expects growth and fruit.  And why is the farmer willing to wait?  Because the precious fruit is worth the wait.  Sometimes we are willing to go to a nice restaurant and wait longer than usual because we know that the food is worth the wait.  We may become bored or tired or agitated.  Yet we are willing to wait because the wait is worth it.  In the same way, we should be willing to wait for the coming of the Lord because it will be worth it.  We shall be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.  Mortality shall put on immortality and death swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15).  The sufferings of the present time cannot compare with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  Rom. 8:18.  We should wait actively.  We should be busy reading God’s Word, praying, sharing our goods with others, telling others about Jesus, and serving faithfully in our earthly vocations.  And we should be expectant.  Our precious fruit comes at the Lord’s return.  Rest assured that it shall be well worth the wait! 

1.b. Establish your hearts (v. 8).
After the illustration about the farmer, James says in v. 8, “You also, be patient.  Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”  The phrase “establish your hearts” is translated “strengthen your hearts” in the NASB and even more loosely in the NIV as “stand firm.”  The NIV leaves out the Greek word for “hearts.”  As we await the coming of the Lord, we must tend to our hearts.  We must strengthen and establish them.  According to Louw-Nida’s Greek-English Lexicon of the NT, this word means “to cause someone to become stronger in the sense of more firm and unchanging in attitude or belief.”  So as we are tempted to doubt, despair, and discouragement as we await the Lord’s coming, we must strengthen our hearts.  We must make sure that our faith is firmly fixed on the truth that is in Jesus.  God strengthens and establishes us through the preaching of his gospel.  “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ…” Rom. 16:25.  Sitting attentively under Christ-centered gospel preaching is the most important means of heart-strengthening.  James tells us that we must establish our hearts because the coming of the Lord is at hand.  The phrase “at hand” could also be translated “near.”  The Scriptures teach us that the Second Coming of Jesus is imminent.  Some theologians prefer to use the word impending.  We are to live every day as if he could come today.  We are to be ready.  And we can see that the way we get ready is by establishing and strengthening and confirming our hearts in the gospel.  We must be confident in Christ and his inerrant word.  We must trust God’s promises and pray for the faith to rely upon them.  We are not to be shifting from one idea to the next, but we are rather to be fixed upon the truth of the gospel.  We establish our hearts by bearing fruit in every good work.  We must put our faith to work in obedience.  We establish our hearts by increasing in the knowledge of God.  We must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord.  We establish our hearts by spurring one another to love and good deeds.  We establish our hearts by prayer.  We establish our hearts by fixing them on the Rock of Ages.

1.c. Do not grumble against one another (v. 9).
Verse 9 says, “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.”  Grumbling or complaining against one another is a sign of unbelief and gross ingratitude.  When the Lord delivered his people from slavery in Egypt through the leadership of Moses, his servant, the people later grumbled in the wilderness.  They grumbled against Moses.  They grumbled against Aaron.  They grumbled against the Lord for bringing them out of Egypt to die in the wilderness.  They even grumbled about the manna that God provided from the Rock.  Grumbling and complaining are always out of place for God’s people.  We are to be patient on the Lord as we await his coming.  We must also be patient with one another.  Let us love each other and not complain about one another.  The motive here is that we may not be judged.  God sent a plague on his people for their grumbling.  Shall we fair any better if we share in their grumbling?  James adds: “the Judge is standing at the door.”  What an image!  Suppose a father tucks his two sons into bed and then tells them to stay in bed and not get up and fight as they are prone to do.  Then suppose he closes the door to their room and stands outside.  If they disobey his orders and get out of bed and begin to fight, then the father does not have far to go in order to enter the room and reprove them for defying his orders.  Suppose the sons’ know about the presence of their father outside the door.  Are they not less inclined to fight with one another?  Do they not fear the father coming inside the room and punishing them?  Similarly, when we consider that the Lord stands outside the door, this should make us cease our grumbling with one another.  Is this not a fitting image when we consider that much grumbling happens behind closed doors?  We ought to consider that our Lord stands at the door.  He is ready to enter.  He is ready to judge.  He can hear.  He is coming.  Again we see the impending nature of his coming.  It is “at hand” for he stands “at the door.”  Let us fear.

So much for the exhortations to patience.  Now let us turn to the encouragements to patience.

2.  The Encouragements to Patience (vv. 10-11)
Our Lord gives us exhortations to patience to show us what is involved in patient endurance.  He also gives us encouragements to motivate us as we patiently await his return.  There are three encouragements to patience in verses 10-11: the Lord’s suffering prophets (v. 10), the Lord’s sovereign purpose (v. 11a), and the Lord’s compassionate heart (v. 11b). 

2.a.  Consider the Lord’s suffering prophets (v. 10).
The Lord’s prophets are a great motivation and encouragement to patient endurance.  “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” (v. 10).  The prophets suffered greatly for their faithfulness to the Lord.  They spoke the Lord’s Word and received the Lord’s reproach.  The prophets remind us that following the Lord is not a bed of roses.  Christ has promised us a cross of nails, not a bed of roses.  The prophets were ridiculed, ignored, maligned, beaten, and many of them killed.  Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet because of the agonies he endured even from his own people.  Isaiah preached and the more he preached, the harder the hearts of the people became.  Elijah and Elisha were both persecuted mercilessly.  We are not prophets. Yet when we patiently endure suffering in this life, we join their company.  We have the blessed privilege of suffering with those great men of God.  “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12). 

2.b.  Consider the Lord’s sovereign purpose (v. 11a).
James moves from the prophets in general to Job in particular.  Verse 11 speaks of what we learn from Job.  “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast.  You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”  James has already told us in 1:2-3 that our trials produce steadfastness (endurance) in the faithful.  He told us in 1:12 that those who endure trial will receive a crown of life.  Job is a great example of this.  He is one of the most well-known examples of righteous suffering. He did not suffer for his sin but for his righteousness.  That is why the devil wanted to afflict him and test him.  Job endured great suffering.  There are two aspects to the story of Job.  There is the human side, and there is the divine side.  The human side is Job’s steadfastness (endurance); the divine side is the Lord’s purpose.  When we finish the book of Job we realize that the Lord had a sovereign purpose for all that happened to Job.  God’s sovereign purpose is unstoppable.  Job 42:2 says, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”  That’s what Job learned from all the evil that the Lord brought upon him (Job 42:11).  He learned that God has a purpose that no one can counter.  Satan has nothing to say about it.  Wicked men have nothing to say about it.  We have nothing to say about it.  It is God’s sovereign plan.  He works all things according to the counsel of his will. Ephesians 1:11.  No one can stay his hand or say to him, “What are you doing?”  Daniel 4:35.  He does all that he pleases.  Psalm 115:3; 135:6.  This is good news because it means that Romans 8:28 is true.  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  God’s good purpose is to transform us into the likeness of his Son.  He seeks to make his people share in the holiness of Jesus. 

2.c.  Consider the Lord’s compassionate heart (v. 11b). 
The Lord’s sovereign purpose would not comfort us unless it was the sovereign purpose of the Lord who is compassionate and merciful.  Behind the purpose of the Lord is the Lord’s gracious plan for his people.  We must always remember that behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face.  The Lord has a good purpose for the tribulations that we must endure before he returns.  So let us face them with courage because we are in the hands of our compassionate Lord.  He is wise and good.  Or as we sing, “Jesus doeth all things well.”  Let us entrust ourselves to our Creator while doing good. 

The Lord Jesus is coming soon to judge the wicked and console the righteous.  We must be patient and endure suffering as we await his return.  We may grow weary in well doing or be burdened by suffering or pressed in by persecution or overwhelmed by temptation.  Yet we must be patient.  We must be like the farmer who waits actively and expectantly.  We must strengthen our hearts.  We must not grumble or complain about one another.  We must be encouraged by considering the prophets who suffered so.  We must think of the Lord’s perfect plan.  And we must know that behind it all is the Lord who is compassionate and merciful.  We are looking for the coming of the Lord.  It will be well worth the wait if we are patient.  Let us lift our heads for our redemption draws near.  Amen.

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