Subject: HOPE FOR A BETTER DAY.
Scripture: Luke 21:7-11, 16-20, 24-28.
Text: Luke 21:28: "And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." Romans 8:25: "But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it."
The prophets of doom seemingly have a field day in every generation. Our generation is no exception.
Day after day the headlines in the newspapers focus upon the bad things that are taking place in the world. Night after night the major news broadcasters come on with their stories of a world in turmoil, the threats of war, the increase of unemployment, a rising crime rate, a federal budget out of control, illegal aliens, homeless refugees, earthquakes, famines, floods, drouths and the like.
The voice of the pessimist is heard far more frequently than the voice of the optimist, even as the coarse cry of the whippoorwill with its sad message is heard far more than the beautiful song of the nightingale.
One thing most of us have perhaps not given much thought to, however, is how all of this bad news is supposed to make us feel. When we hear about all the many great problems of the world, other than doing what we can to help solve them, are we supposed to get depressed and feel terrible? When we hear about the threat of nuclear war and the possibility of all civilization being destroyed, are we supposed to be overcome with fear and have nightmares when we finally get to sleep at night?
In our Scripture this morning, Jesus talks about wars and commotions and earthquakes and famines and pestilences and persecutions and betrayals and death and distress of nations, and of fearful sights and great signs, and of how people's hearts will fail them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth.
Jesus points us beyond all of the great tragedies of earthly life to a brighter day ahead. He points us beyond the valley to the mountaintop; beyond the night to the day; beyond the sunset to the sunrise; beyond the things of time to the things of eternity; beyond the sufferings of this present world to the glory which shall be revealed in us if we walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.
This present time does have its problems and its difficulties. The earthly pathway is rocky and steep. Life here below has its trials, its heartaches, its suffering and tears, its disappointments and its withered hopes and dreams.
But these things do not have the final word. They do not dominate the final scene. Even though the heavens pass away with a great noise, and the elements melt with fervent heat; even though the earth be removed and the works that are therein be burned up; even though nation rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and famines and earthquakes and pestilences leave a desolate wilderness where civilization once bloomed before the final destruction of the earth, there is still no reason for a Christian to become a pessimist; for there is a brighter day coming for those who love the Lord.
Of course the hope for a better day is almost universal. Down across the ages, people in every generation who have been caught up in the trials and difficulties of earthly life have hoped for a better day.
When they finally entered the promised land and began to overcome their enemies, they looked forward to the better day when they might live in peace in a fruitful land with every man having his own vineyard and fig trees and olive orchard and wheat fields and flocks.
When their enemies were finally overcome and the land enjoyed both peace and prosperity during the reign of King Solomon, the people were still looking for a better day. Taxes were too high, they thought, and King Solomon oppressed them too much. Almost before the mourners over King Solomon's death had dried their tears, a delegation of the people went to the new king, Rehoboam, requesting that he lighten their load and give them a better life than they had under King Solomon.
When the request of the delegation was not granted, ten of the tribes of Israel pulled out of the kingdom and set up what is referred to as the northern kingdom or Israel, leaving Rehoboam to rule over the smaller area of Judah.
Jeremiah was looked upon as the prophet of doom of his day. He pronounced doom upon the nations of Israel and Judah because of their wickedness and called upon the people to repent. His words fell on deaf ears so far as giving heed to them was concerned. Yet, with the army of the Babylonians surrounding the city of Jerusalem and while prophesying the downfall of the city and the forthcoming captivity of the people, Jeremiah still bought a field as evidence of the hope that there would someday again be the possession of houses and fields and vineyards in the land by the people of Judah.
Beyond all the tragedy of those days when the world seemed to be caving in upon the people of Judah, and famine and death by the sword and captivity stared them in the face, there was the hope and promise of a better day coming.
Both Isaiah and Micah, in the midst of tragic times, looked beyond their present to the time when swords would be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, when nation would not lift up sword against nation and when people would learn war no more.
Indeed, one of the almost common characteristics of the Old Testament prophets who pronounced judgment and doom upon the people for their wickedness was that they had hope for the future. They looked beyond the present and had hope for a better day, even a day when the wolf and the lamb would feed together, and the lion would eat straw like the bullock, and no one would hurt or destroy in all of God's holy mountain.
The hope for a better day was still alive when Jesus walked the dusty roads of Palestine and Roman soldiers patrolled the countryside. The people were still hoping for a better day, a time when the Roman yoke would be broken and the nation would be restored to its former glory.
And, is that not true of most nations and most people? Are not all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, looking for and hoping for a better day? And has it not been this way as far back as we can remember?
During the early years of the thirties, the unemployment rate in our country ran around twenty-five percent. For those who had jobs, the hours were long and the prices or pay low. There was not a chicken in every pot nor a car in every garage.
Five-cent cotton and forty cents meat;
How in the world can a poor man eat?
It seems to me that Jimmy Carter said something about bringing in a better day when he was running for the presidency and that President Reagan also said something about how much better things would be if he were elected when he was running for office.
Now we have a depressed economy, high interest rates that have put the American dream of home ownership beyond the reach of millions of people, a high unemployment rate, and so many other problems throughout the world that again we are looking for a better day.
The hope for a better day is an all-time hope, a world-wide hope, a national hope and an individual hope. Most people probably are hoping for a better day in their own personal lives as well as hoping for a better day for the country and the world.
In 1881 the College of William And Mary in Virginia closed its doors because of after effects of the Civil War. The whole South was engaged in trying to rehabilitate its towns, its farms, its businesses and its homes. There were not enough students and enough interest in higher education to keep the college open. In addition, the college buildings had been left in ruins from battles fought around and within its walls and buildings, and there was no money available for rebuilding.
Every morning, however, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, President Ewell of the college went down to the old bell tower and rang the college bell just as if college were open and classes were being held. There were no students, no faculty. Rain dripped in through the leaky roofs of the buildings, while the empty rooms and halls were silent.
Some people said that President Ewell had lost his mind, but for around seven years, until the college finally reopened, he rang the bell as an act of faith, believing that someday the college campus would be alive again with students, faculty and administrators and that the empty buildings would again be halls of learning.
If we are hoping for a world where wars will cease before Jesus comes again; if we are hoping for a world where there are no poor and hungry who need to be fed; if we are hoping for a world where everyone will be a Christian and there is universal love and brotherhood, we are apt to be disappointed.
Jesus said, "the poor ye have with you always", and He indicated that the closing period of time before His return in power and glory with the holy angels would be a time of great tribulation and distress.
When Jesus says, "look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh," He is pointing us beyond this passing world to a kingdom that is everlasting; He is pointing us beyond the accomplishment of human power to the mighty works of Divine power; He is pointing us beyond the government of political leaders elected by people to the time when the government of the world shall be upon the shoulders of Him Who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, Who holds all power in His hands.
There's a bright day coming, a bright day coming,
There's a bright day coming by and by;
But its brightness shall only come
to them that love the Lord,
Are you ready for that day to come?
For us to say, "I hope to go to Heaven", when we haven't even found out what the New Testament says about the terms upon which we can share the timeless life of God may be for us to simply have a false hope.
For us to think we are ready for the coming of the Lord if we do not even know how He said to prepare for His coming may result in our being left behind when the redeemed are gathered to meet Him in the air.
The prophet Amos, in his book, refers to those who desire the day of the Lord to come, thinking that for them it will be a better day. He tells them, however, that for them it will be a day of darkness, and not light.
Why so? Because they were not ready for it. They had not repented of their sins. They were not obeying the commandments of the Lord. They were not dealing fairly with their neighbors, nor seeking the righteousness of God.
It is not a better day brought in by a change of governments in Washington. It is not a day brought in by new government programs. It is not a day brought in by the lowering of interest rates and a drop in the unemployment rate and by an increase in housing starts. It is not a day brought in by new industry being brought into the state and an increase in the minimum wage and a lowering of taxes. It is not a day brought in by a nuclear test ban treaty or a lowering of oil prices by the OPEC nations.
If the brighter, better day depended upon human hands to bring it in, then the carnal, self-centered, greedy, worldly nature of mankind might let the sun burn out and the stars grow dark and the earth dissolve in fervent heat and civilization perish without the brighter and better day coming.
Jesus does not call us to build the kingdom of God. He calls us to prepare to enter it. We don't have to lay the foundation for the Celestial City. Its Builder and Maker is God. We don't have to bring in the brighter, better day. We need simply to be ready when it comes.
This present world and earthly life have their problems and their difficulties. Nation will continue to rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be wars and commotions, great earthquakes, and famines and pestilences and fearful sights and great signs from heaven. There will continue to be the persecution of Christians and distresses and perplexities and things that will cause the hearts of people to fail with fear.
Yet, if our hope is in God and we are among those who love the Lord and seek to do His will, we need not be downhearted, depressed or discouraged. We should look up and lift up our heads for there is a better day coming.
At Lake Junaluska a couple of years ago Dr. Cecil Logan told of a newsboy in London selling papers during the dark days of World War II. As he sold his papers one morning, someone asked him what the news was about that morning. "I don't know, sir," he replied. "I don't read the papers. I know how the war is going to come out. We will win in the end."
We look about us and sometimes it seems that things are dark and getting darker, but if we are among the redeemed, we ought not get too disturbed about it, for we know how things will eventually turn out.
Some years ago in a great cathedral in Norway, the ceiling was so low as to make the atmosphere in the church oppressive, making the people within it feel closed in. A visitor remarked about it to the minister of the church one day.
"Yes, I know," was the reply. "It does make one feel depressed and shut-in. But it is only temporary. An artist is painting the ceiling of the Cathedral and the low ceiling is only his floor to work on. When the work is finished the low ceiling will be removed and you will see above a magnificent view of Christ as Lord above all!"
Jesus Christ is indeed Lord above all! Some glad day He will return with power and with great glory and will bring in the brighter and better day for all who love His appearing! So be it! To God be the glory forever! Amen!