Question from the Street: “Why Does It Take So Long?”

Mark Wheeler

May 18, 2014

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Habakkuk 2:3; II Peter 3:8-10

Questions from the Street: “Why Does It Take So Long …?”

God our Redeemer, You greet us each morning, protect us each night, and constantly reveal Your justice and mercy. Saturate us with a desire for Your presence and then overwhelm us with assurance of Your love, so that we can say with the Apostle Paul that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” – and mean it. Hear us in Jesus’ name, Amen.

There’s a joke that preachers tell each other about how their best sermons are the sermons they preach on Monday morning – the one’s they should have preached the day before. It’s a joke, because while we put good thought and effort and prayer and time into preparing our sermons, it’s the next day that we realize what we should have said!

Well, last week was one of those weeks for me – but it didn’t take a whole day. On my way to the restaurant where I was meeting my family for Mother’s Day Brunch, I realized an important part of my sermon I shoulda said – but never did.

So, while I do still stand by last Sunday’s sermon – I want to add one more sentence.

We are in a short series where I am fielding questions that some of you, or your friends and families, are asking. Last week’s question was, “What Do I hafta Do to Be Saved?” And after a long explanation of why that’s an important question, and ultimately I answered by quoting from Romans 10:9 which clearly states, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” While all of that is true, I should also have used this line from Acts 20:21: “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.

Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus” is a quick, clear and simple answer to “What Must I Do to Be Saved?

During last Sunday’s sermon, I fear, some of you were starting to ask part of this Sunday’s question: “Why, Wheeler, Does It Take Sooo Long … ?” So I want to promise a harder, bigger, stronger, faster sermon today.

Today’s actual question is “Why did it take so long for Jesus to come to be the Savior of the world?” And it is followed by the next question, both of which have basically the same answer, “Why is it taking so long for Jesus to return?

 So, turn with me to Habakkuk 2 – and let’s listen for the Word of the Lord. Habakkuk 2:2-3…. —-

Then the Lord replied: ‘Write down the revelation       and make it plain on tablets       so that a herald may run with it.
For the revelation awaits an appointed time;     it speaks of the end     and will not prove false.                          Though it linger, wait for it;     itwill certainly come       and will not delay.’

 Habakkuk is different from every other prophet in the history of Israel. What makes him different is that he never says a word to another person. Habakkuk is somebody with questions for God, and he’s not shy about asking.

The book opens with a question of frustration. “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you ‘Violence,’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?” The situation during Habakkuk’s life was difficult. As he looks around at the way the world is, the injustice and pain that are a natural part of life, he asks God why He doesn’t do something.

Have you ever felt that way? In the wake of a personal tragedy, or when you were waiting for some good thing to happen and the only thing that keeps happening is bad stuff, have you ever just wanted to try to wake God up? “Come on God, don’t you see I’m dying here? Why don’t You do something?

The context of Habakkuk’s questions are that his people, the Israelites, have been taken captive by the evil conquering Babylonians. Other prophets had warned that this will happen as a means of God’s discipline of His own people.

So Habakkuk complains (?), “How long O Lord? C’mon! This isn’t fair!

Habakkuk lived more than 600 years bc! We have learned over the last several months that prophecies of the coming Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of the world started in Genesis 3, and then were re-articulated dozens of times throughout the Old Testament stories – Noah, Abram, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Ruth, David – in probably every book of the Old Testament we find the promise of God’s Covenant to be fulfilled stated. So, by the time we get to Habakkuk it has been at least 3,300 years of waiting for the Savior to come. No wonder Habakkuk cried out, “How much longer?!

And it took approximately 620 more years before Jesus actually came! Why did it take so long?

The New Testament book of Hebrews opens by proclaiming the fulfillment of all these Old Testament prophecies in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Look at the first three verses of this magnificent presentation of the Good News of Jesus Christ, Hebrews 1:1-3 …. —-

“Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. This shows that the Son is far greater than the angels, just as the name God gave him is greater than their names.”

Habakkuk coined the comedian’s timing-phrase, “Wait for iiiit.” “Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.” It will be right on time! It will not be a minute too early; and it will not be even a second too late. If you trust God, just patiently wait for it.

Man that is hard to do. When you’re waiting to hear the results of a test; or looking for a job; or to see your 20-year-old son who has been on the other side of the world for several months. But if we trust God, can we wait for His perfect timing?

And, in the fullness of time, Jesus was born in Bethlehem when Caesar Augustus called for a census in the provinces of the Roman Empire – fulfilling hundreds of time-connected prophecies.

Why did it take so long? Simply because that was God’s perfect timing.

Hebrews goes on, in chapter 9, and says …. —-

28 So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

Jesus is coming back – for the sole purpose of bringing salvation to those who are waiting for Him! – The author of Hebrews said this almost 2,000 years ago!

How long, O Lord, must we wait?!

And, while there are all kinds of biblical warnings about what to keep our eyes open for, for nearly 2,000 years biblical scholars have been saying we are in the last days. And it certainly feels like that could be very true today, too!

Back in my day as a young Christian, and when something called “contemporary Christian music” was just starting to be invented, one of my favorite Christian bands was Michael & Stormie Omartian; they sang a song that said:

Let us worship gold, quenching our desires,
And we will later pay the price.
The burning of our souls is quite a noble sacrifice.
Isn’t it nice to know,
Nice to know we’re always right.

We don’t look at hate.
We don’t count his offspring,
We’ll just say that they are gone.
Let’s sit inside our gates, pretend it isn’t going on.
Isn’t it good to see,
Good to see just what we want.

I believe the signs are clear – the end is near.
I believe the signs are clear – the end is near.
I can see the end is near – the signs are very clear.

Families are torn, ripped apart and broken till no shred of life remains.
Must be evolution, or it could be “growing pains.”
Isn’t it nice to know,
Nice to know it’s all O.K.

I believe the signs are clear – the end is near.
I believe the signs are clear – the end is near.
I can see the end is near.
Just like He said, He’s coming to take us home;
All who wait and believe.
He’ll make the broken whole, the blind to see,
And we’ll be completely free.

Ignore the battered child, treat the guilty well while the innocent are shot.
It could just exist in someone’s mind as well as not.
Isn’t it nice to know,
Nice to know we’re always right.

Sanctify the rape, disregard insanity and let the weak be scarred.
Surely it’s their fault, a thing they secretly desired.
Isn’t it good to see,
Good to see just what we want.

I believe the signs are clear – the end is near.
I believe the signs are clear – the end is near.
I can see the end is near – the signs are clear.
I can see the end is near – the signs are clear.
I believe the signs are clear.
Just like He said, He’s coming to take us home;
All who wait and believe.
He’ll make the broken whole, the blind to see,
And we’ll be completely free.

But, seriously? 2,000 years? How much longer? Most Christians will join this band wagon – unless of course, they’re getting married this Summer, or their baby is due next month, or they’re about to start a new job. “Hurry up and return Jesus, right after I’ve had my chance ….”

This where Peter’s words offer the reminder of our hope. II Peter 3:8-10…. —-

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.”

The Bible uses two different words for time:

Chronos time is the time we watch when the preacher is talking too long – How long, O Lord? Earlier this year, I have a good friend who had had his house on the market for over a year with very few nibbles – but he was hoping to start a new job which necessitated him downsizing. We prayed for God to act. Waiting seemed to last forever. Chronos time, chronological time, sometimes takes forever!

Kairos time is the right or opportune or perfect time, what the Bible describes as the appointed time in the purpose of God. This is when God acts. In the fulfillment of time. My friend sold his house within a month of our praying, and exactly when he needed to to start his new job. Kairos time is always exactly when it needs to be!

Can we wait for our completely trustworthy, all-loving and all-powerful God to act?

God our Redeemer, You greet us each morning, protect us each night, and constantly reveal Your justice and mercy. Saturate us with a desire for Your presence and then overwhelm us with assurance of Your love, so that we can say with the Apostle Paul that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” – and mean it. Hear us in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Resources:

Omartian, Michael & Stormie; The Builder: “The End”; Myrrh Records; 1980.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 387.

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