How Long, How Long, O Lord? :: By Gene Lawley

That question reaches back to the time of the Apostle Peter’s second epistle when, in a negative sense, the hopeless outlook was voiced in 2 Peter 3:3-4, ”Knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts,  and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.’”

(This article has a two-fold intention of directing the reader’s understanding that Jesus will come at His Appointed Time, whether long-time or short-time for the individual, and that every person should remain ready for His coming. Being ready means to be faithful to our calling, for it is written that “our gifts and calling are without repentance” (Romans 11:29).

Notice that Peter is prophesying that “in the last days” there will be scoffers who decry that promise of the Lord’s return. Some have observed that perhaps those people are believers, for non-believers would likely not be aware of any such promise. At least, they will have some insight about the promises of God that redemption is forthcoming. Nevertheless, Peter’s response sets them straight, that God is patient, giving plenty of time for mankind to respond in repentance. What is one day compared to a thousand years when eternal destiny is facing them? The context goes on to say, in verse 9, “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

We cannot fail to notice that those early apostles and disciples were very expectant that Jesus would return in a short time. Their last question to Jesus was “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) But answering back, Jesus pointed them back to Jerusalem, saying, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

We find later that the Jews do not respond to that witness of Jesus as the Redeemer, thus Peter, Paul and the other disciples turn to the Gentiles. Paul wrote of this in Romans 11:25, saying, “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” The apostles confirmed this at the Jerusalem Conference recorded in Acts 15, concluding that God had, indeed, planned from former days that He would “take out of the Gentiles a people for His name.” Thus, we see the birth of the true church, the body of Christ, as Matthew 16:16-18 declares and Acts 1:8 announces.

Then follows centuries of time when God “is not willing that any should perish, but all should come to repentance,” as 2 Peter 3:9 informs us. Often, it seems, Jesus is saying to His followers, “Watch, for you do not know the day nor the hour when your Lord shall return” We tend to toy with the question, “Why watch if we do not know when He will come?” That is linked with the question in 2 Peter 3:4 mentioned above.

Typical of those warnings Jesus relates are the three parables together in Matthew 24:45 through 25:1-30. He tells of the faithful servant parable, then the one of the ten bridesmaids, then that of the ten talents.

The middle one uses the traditional Jewish wedding as the setting where ten bridesmaids are caught with the knowledge of the groom’s imminent return for his bride (after being away for a year to prepare a place for his bride). The duty of the bridesmaids was to protect the bride during the pending time, to keep her pure, well-adorned for the groom when he comes. The picture is that of the church, the bride of Christ, being made ready for the Groomsman to come for her. It is the scenario of the Rapture, but Jesus does not come for the bridesmaids, the virgins, but for the bride. The fact that the bridesmaids, those who have been assigned or called to care for the body of Christ, are not totally ready for His return is the challenge of today. Five of them—one-half—were without oil for their lamps, signifying a lack of spirituality.

 How many church leaders no longer keep their members ready for the return of the Lord, or even that moment when any one of us may breathe his last breath? “Watch, for you do not know what day or hour He is coming!”

 However, we have the disclosure in Matthew 7:13-14 that many will not turn to the Lord in repentance: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” It seems uncanny that many would place such little value on their eternal destiny, but that is, and has been, the way of mankind since Cain killed his brother, Abel.

Think about those two criminals who were crucified on either side of Jesus Christ. The one railed on the Savior for not saving Himself and them if He was, indeed, the Christ. He wanted immediate satisfaction without regard to his deserved (apparently) punishment. The other thief, however, faced the truth of his situation; and recognizing the One hanging between them, he asked for remembrance as he entered his eternal destiny. Notice that this second man did not need to do much to effect repentance of his evil deeds—just to admit that he deserved his punishment and ask for favorable attention.

The Scriptures hold all mankind accountable before God by their knowledge of right and wrong which is embedded in their consciences from their creation. Romans 2:15-16 speaks of those who have never heard, even, of Jesus Christ in this way: “…who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.” It reminds one of that passage that says, “Two will be working in a field—one will be taken, the other left.” Side by side, believers and nonbelievers together, yet….

Reading about Esau and Jacob, sons of Isaac, and the son of Abraham, we can see a difference in Esau that Jacob did not portray, even though the latter was a man of cunning and deceit (with the help of his mother). Read of Esau’s problem in Hebrews 12:16-17 which describes his core character: “…a profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.”

Eternal destiny is forfeited for momentary satisfaction, thus exposing the one likeness of the human species to the animal kingdom—satisfaction right now!

One of my early mentors told of an experience he had as a young Christian serving in a rescue mission. He was talking with a man who had come in for a free meal. As Roy told him of the salvation Jesus offers, the man responded with a desire to receive Christ as his Savior. Roy suggested that he pray to ask God’s forgiveness and invite Jesus into his life. The man began praying, “Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep…” and Roy interrupted him to ask, “What is the meaning of this?” The man replied, “Roy, I have accepted Christ all across this nation for a bowl of soup!”

Somewhere along the way that man had lost the consciousness of right and wrong and had become an empty vessel. “The road to destruction is broad and many there be upon it.”

Thus, we see the extended mercy of God, that He would delay that day of reckoning, that He “desires none should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” The Scripture seems to put it so simply: “For whosoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). A flippant, insincere call will not be answered, but one that is filled with a repentant attitude is the kind that is God’s desire. He says in Jeremiah 29:13, “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”

When Jesus came on the scene some two thousand years ago, the Jews were looking for a king who would take them out of the control of the Romans. They did not think they needed a savior for their eternal destiny. Mankind does not realize that it has been more likely that one of them would use up his allotted seventy or eighty years (Psalm 90:10), or even fewer than that, before Jesus comes back. As the rich man, who was going to build bigger barns to hold his abundance of grain, was told, “You fool; this night your soul will be required of you” (Luke 12:20).

It would be hard to find any outlook of eternal significance than that of Jim Elliot, one of the five martyrs who were killed by Auca natives in Ecuador that Sunday, January 8, 1956, who had said, “He is no fool who gives that which he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose!”

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