ackson Snyder, M. Div.
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  In the last two installments we have climbed the highest mountain of our faith and we have considered the deadly caves below, so deep, so dark.  And now we are going to attempt the pinnacle of  another famous mountain, Mt. Zion -- the height to which Jesus is to descend -- the holy place where we will meet him "in the air."  Friends, Jesus is coming again!  And he is coming soon!  When he arrives, his purpose will be two-fold -- first to reveal the elect children of God to the world then to judge all unrighteousness and put an end to evil.  When he is publicly revealed to the world, it will be a day of the gnashing of teeth of the wicked, for their day of condemnation has come.  But for the righteous, the poor, the common, the perplexed, the downtrodden, the martyr, the faithful witness, His day of appearance will be the greatest and most joyous of their eternal lives.  For he will take over the reigns of government, ruling the nations with dual power -- first with the rod of iron for the chastisement of the nations.  But also with the staff of the kind shepherd, leading these same nations into truth, equality and justice under God.
  Such news should be wonderful in the ears of the church, but it is not; for it seems to the objective observer that the second coming, mentioned so frequently in the liturgy, is merely given lip service.  For the hearts of "God's people" seem so far, far from this most unlikely happening, and grave doubts have found their way into the minds of believers over the course of centuries of waiting.  These doubts of his appearance have manifested themselves in the lifestyles of believers, who have, by and large, abandoned Christ and the holiness he demands in favor of "a legalistic form of religion, but a denial of power."  Note the observation of American novelist John Updike from his autobiography; he writes: "During my adolescence, I reluctantly perceived of the Christian religion I had been born into that almost no one believed it, believed it really -- not its ministers, nor its pillars like my father and his father before him."  Such perception of hypocrisy is even more common in the youth of these latter generations.
  Yes, while we are supposed to be watching and waiting, and living as though Christ were to appear today, significant others are watching us -- and waiting for us to show some kind of evidence of our faith in his coming.  For witnessing to Christ's return into the world is not just a matter of doing; it is more a matter of being.  Who are you in Christ?  Are you indeed a child of FATHER, or merely a child of church?  You know, these are two distinctions are not the same thing.  Are you really one of the elect that Christ is coming to reveal?  If you are, how then does the world know that you are His?  What sign do you show?
  Some have asked me why I wear sometimes where a clerical collar.  The truth is, I used to think wearing the collar was superfluous and even prideful; that is, until a few years ago, when I heard the testimony of one worldly young seminarian who wore the collar almost everywhere he went, whether it be the altar or the bar.  He was  accused about this by hostile, collarless ministers: "You aren't even an ordained minister yet; why do you want to put on a show for others wearing that collar?  Show-off!  You just want to draw attention to yourself."  Well, the young man was after all quite flamboyant.  And, at 25 years of age, he was very worldly.  But he was very serious in his reply to this criticism.  He said, "I wear this collar for my own benefit, because wherever I go, be it to the hospital room or the bar room, I see this collar that I'm wearing reflected in the mirror -- or in the mirror of another's eyes -- and I'm forced to remember who I am supposed to be in Christ."  
  If we dare mark ourselves out as believers by wearing a clerical collar or a big cross or any other kind of outward sign, we tend to, of necessity, remember who we are in Christ, thus displaying our foolishness for him to the world, and proclaiming to that world the ridiculous doctrine that he who was quite dead is now alive and returning soon to judge.  So world, "Repent! and believe the gospel."
  And this is exactly what Peter is talking about when he commands us to "stir up our pure minds by way of remembrance"  (2 Peter 3:1,2).  That we are to be living "with collars on," climbing the holy mountain of his coming continually, knowing that at the pinnacle of Mount Zion, Christ, in all his glory, awaits us just as the holy apostles and prophets have promised.  For Peter speaks of something we know to be true today: that in these "last days" there will be scoffers -- those tired of waiting and watching for a promise that seems long overdue and physically impossible.  "Where is the promise of his coming?"  Even in Peter's day, they were saying that, and that was 1,935 years ago -- and we're still waiting!
  And if we were young when we first believed he would come back -- do you recall? -- we lived every day of our youth wondering if this would be the day.  And now 30, 40 or fifty years later, we are full-fledged in our wondering if it could possibly even be true, and if it will happen in our lifetime, and if it will happen at all.  Or have we, as Peter mentioned, been following "cleverly devised myths" all along.  
  My friends, I hope, in the course of this message,  to assure you that Christ's public appearance will not only happen very soon, but I want to open your minds to the possibility that he has already returned to our Earth to prepare it for the glorious day of his public appearance.  Although there are many convincing proofs and signs of his coming, time is short -- we'll explore just one indelible, indisputable sign.  For we're not on Yahweh's time so much now, whereas a day is as a thousand years.  We're more like on "preaching time," where a half hour seems like a thousand years.  So we'll make this proving short -- if I furnish you with one undeniable proof, will your faith be renewed?
  Look -- Peter assures us in 2 Peter 3:10 that "the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night."  The "day" signifies an era when Jesus returns to earth to prepare it for its judgment, renewal and remaking.  That day will be like a thief coming into a house in the dead blackness of  night.  Few catch the thief when he comes in, because he is skillful and stealthy and quiet and hidden in the darkness.  The thief doesn't sneak in then wake everyone up and announce, "Hey, y'all; I'm here!"  No, the thief is invisible.  He is only acknowledged the next day, when one becomes aware of  his business the night before.
  The Bible indicates that, like a thief in the night, Jesus initially returns to earth in secret.  It is not only Peter that attests to this secret arrival.  The same metaphor, "thief in the night," is used by Matthew (24:43), Luke (12:39), Mark (13:35,36), Paul (1 Thes 5:2-6) and John (Rev 3:3, 16:15).  Only those who know the sign of the thief's coming will perceive his presence in that day.  And that's why Jesus and the Bible reiterate this over and over and over -- "He's coming as a thief in the night."  If you don't believe it, you'll not be able to perceive it until he makes his appearance public.
  Let's consider the words of Jesus himself concerning his "coming" in Matthew 24:3.  Note: His disciples come privately to the top of the Mount of Olives, like thieves in the night, and they ask him, "What shall be the sign of thy coming (parousia), and of the end of the age?"  Three things are very important in this passage in order for us to "catch the thief."  First, the word translated "coming" (parousia) does not mean "coming" at all.  It means, literally, being present.  To my knowledge, this word parousia is translated "presence" everywhere else in the Bible but here.  So the correct translation of Matthew 24:3 is, "What shall be the sign of your presence and the end of the age?"  thus signifying two separate events -- "presence" and "end."
Secondly, Matthew tells us the disciples climb privately to the top of the mountain.  As usual, Matthew uses the disciples to play out the sayings of Jesus.  As they come privately, secretly, so shall he, before he makes his presence generally known to the world.  And finally and most importantly, the disciples expect there to be a unmistakable sign so that disciples of all nations and times will know when he is present and his public appearance is imminent.
  To summarize, parousia literally means "presence," not "coming."  Before he comes visibly, the Bible indicates that he will "sneak" back on the world scene invisibly, but in such a way that those who are "in the know" will realize he is here.  And he gives us several signs that tell us of his presence, and one of those signs of his presence and consequent appearance is absolutely unmistakably for our day.  That sign is found in Luke 21:24b (KJV):  that, in Jesus' own words, "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled."  This prophecy of Jesus' presence, my friends, came to pass in a miraculous fashion  10 June   of 1967, when Jerusalem was liberated from Jordan in the Six-Day War.  But before we go on, let's elucidate the fulfillment of this incredible prophecy, this sign, with a little history lesson.
  When Jesus went to Jerusalem, the holy city of the Jews, for the last time, Jerusalem was ruled by a Roman governor, a Gentile,named Pilate and the tenth legion of Rome.  Jerusalem thus was "trodden down" by the armies of the Gentiles, and (with one short exception) had been thus undertrodden for the last 500 years before Jesus' birth.  When Jesus was about 32, he prophesied that Jerusalem's great temple would be destroyed by Rome, and that some to whom he was speaking would be alive to see it.  We find this prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in Mark 13.  Forty years later, in 70 AD, it happened just as he predicted -- the Romans Legions left not one stone upon another, burnt the city, and killed and enslaved thousands ofthe inhabitants.  But history informs us that the followers of Jesus escaped before Jerusalem's devastation.  "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies," Jesus prophesied, "escape to the mountains!"  And historian Eusebius tells us that the Christians made their escape, and just in the nick of time.  Then, seventy years later (about 136 AD), the Roman Emperor Hadrian expelled any Jews left in Jerusalem, and forbid them forever after to even live there.  And thus the "children of Israel" were dispersed all over the world.
  And since that time, Israelites have had little opportunity to live in their holy city much less rule it.  Realize that Jerusalem has been trodden down by Gentile armies for 2,114 years (since 167 BC).  But Jesus also prophesied that Gentile rule would one day end.  The unlikely fulfillment of this prophecy began May 14, 1948 when, against all odds and world-wide armed enemies, a rag-tag Israeli militia defeated the combined armies of all it's ancient enemies to take back Palestine, which means "the land of the Philistines," and rename it "Israel."  And this May 14th, Israelites all over the world will be celebrating "jubilee" -- the fiftieth anniversary of  the rebirth of Israel.  And we are living to see it all come to pass.  It is a sign of God for Israel, but also for us.
  Yet still Jesus' prophecy was not completely fulfilled, for though Israel became independent in 1948, Jerusalem was still in the hands of Gentiles, trodden down by the armies of the Jordanians (biblical Ammonites).  It wasn't until June 10th, 1967, that the holy city of Jerusalem was finally taken back by the Jews -- and it was June 28, 1967, when Jerusalem was declared an united city, and Jesus' prophecy of the end of the rule of Gentiles in Jerusalem was completely fulfilled.
  "What is the sign of your presence and the end of the age?"  the disciples asked?  Jesus answered, "until the times of the Gentiles are completed."  And now, dear faithful, it has been 33 years since this unmistakable, impossible sign of his presence came to pass.  It was in 1967 that I wondered when Jesus was returning; yet I didn't see the sign until decades later.  How many here were born before 1967?  Do you see the sign now?  Do you see the significance of the fading age we are living in?  Do you see why the world has become so foreign to our sensibilities?  Do you understand the significance of this sign for the immediate future?
  The significance is that, if Jesus' fulfilled prophecy means anything, it means that he has come as a thief in the night, and few have caught the thief.  It means he is here now, just as he was when he returned from death and taught his disciples for 40 days before he ascended.  Now it may only be a matter of a few final circumstances being right before his public appearance to the world and all that it entails -- judgment, election, resurrection, renewal of creation, eternal life -- and all this very soon.  40 years went by before Jesus'  prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem came to pass.  And now 33 years have come and gone since the unmistakable sign of his coming, the liberation of Jerusalem.  2007 will mark the end of the biblical generation after the liberatioon of Jerusalem!
  Friends, let us understand that Jesus' public appearance and his Millennial reign on earth is nigh, even right upon us, even NOW.  It has come as a thief in the night.  But I declare to you now, that his Kingdom Come is that place to which our souls have longed since the beginning of our existence.  Yes, that is the place where our faith shall be sight -- up on the holy Mount Zion; to where our hearts  have been drawn since the foundation of the world.  Yes, friends -- that land of righteousness is just over the horizon.  Listen to how Peter's climbing partner, John, describes this wonderful land, high on the top of that holy mountain.  John writes:  
"I look, and, ohh -- a Lamb stands on Mount Zion, and with him stand a hundred forty-four thousand others.  And they sing a new song which no one else can learn. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes, for they've been redeemed out from all the others, the first fruits of God.   And I see a new sky and a new land: for the first has passed away.  And I see the holy city, new Jerusalem, descending from the sky, adorned as a bride. And I hear a loud voice saying,'Behold, Yahweh is living among his people, and he is wiping away all the tears from their eyes; for there is no more death, nor sorrow, nor weeping, nor pain: for those things have passed away.' And then Yahweh, upon the throne, said, 'Behold, I've remade everything brand new.'"  (Rev 14:1-4, 21:1-5 JHS)  
  How glorious it is to behold such a vision, and one that is very soon to come to pass.  And is it really so hard now to believe that it is about to become reality?  Is it all that difficult to follow it to its fulfillment?  For this is the real Vision 2000, when the Lamb of God, who has come as a thief in the night, shall make his presence known to all, and with Yahweh's help and ours, make all things new for us.  "Therefore, beloved," Peter finishes,  "since you now know these things before they actually happen -- beware!  Beware in case you are led away by the wicked or fall from Steadfastness. But look ever forward to these things so that when they come to pass you may be found by Jesus not to be anxious, but to be without a spot -- perfect.  To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen" (vv. 16-18 JHS).
  Yes, Peter knew all about his coming.  But his concern was not for the world, but for believers in these -- the last days; His concern is for us!  You and me.  Right here in the middle of the world.  He speaks to us when he says (vv. 11,12): "Seeing how that everything you've known will be dissolved away, what kind of people ought you be, you who are so near to the day of Yahweh?"  Yes, that word is certainly for us.  What type of people ought we to be now that we've seen the sign and experienced the presence?  What ethic of waiting for his public appearance shall we adopt?  How is it that we should live in such a time of imminent upheaval and change "in which the elements shall melt with fervent heat (v. 12)?"  What shall we look forward to now?  Peter tells us that "we, according to his promise, look for new skies and a new land, in which righteousness will be found" (v.13).  And isn't that the attitude our joyous hearts force us to take?
  Yes, for we love him.  We love him.  We love him.  And in our love, we pledge our hearts again to follow close behind him, and meet him up there, at the very pinnacle of  Mount Zion, to cast our crowns before him, and worship the Logos of Yahweh, now totally fulfilled and alive and present and able to be seen -- the One who has been promised, and who has been with us from the very start, and who now makes all past promises and hopes into reality.  For even now,
That word: above all earthly powers, no thanks to powers, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours, through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill; God's truth abideth still;
His Kingdom is forever.  (Luther)

Mammoth Caves

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