“Come, thou long-expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.”
The above is the first verse of the Hymn “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” written in 1744. It is one of the greatest hymns of the 18th century, let not nearly as familiar a Christmas song as say “Joy to the World”. Wesley wrote this hymn while considering the longings of the Minor Prophets for the Messiah who would deliver the people of God.
While Wesley wrote this song some 1,700 years after the birth of Christ Jesus, he echoes a heart cry that Jesus would come and make all things new and all things right. Historical and orthodox Christianity affirms that Jesus accomplished the redemption of mankind who would believe when he died on the cross and rose from the dead. We believe that we have a hope of heaven, of dwelling for eternity in the presence of God himself. Not just a restoration of Eden, paradise lost, but of something even more glorious.
This heart cry isn’t that Wesley would just die and go to heaven, like so many gospel songs written in the last 150 years. No, this is a prayer, an earnest petition, that the King of the World would be recognized, and that there would be no delay in his rule. For while we affirm that redemption has occurred and that Christ is King, we await the final effects of his rule and reign.
I’m pretty upfront about having never taught or preached much about the Second Coming of Christ. I know, some people base their entire ministry on that. I’d avoid such ministries. Jesus made it pretty clear in Acts 1:6-8 that it’s not our place to worry or focus on the particular aspects of his return.
In verse 6 the disciples, who had every doubt banished from their mind by seeing Jesus not only die but seeing him physically resurrected, asked in effect “Ok, is it time for you to rule and restore Israel?”
Jesus, in typical Jesus fashion, doesn’t give them a direct answer. Instead, he rebukes them, “It’s not for you to know the times of the seasons that the Father has fixed in his own authority.” Get that? It’s not our job to try and figure out God’s time-table. Not only do we not know, but it’s also frankly none of our business! I say this with respect to some incredible men and women of God, but they’ve been wasting decades trying to decipher clues and writing books and delivering lectures.
But in verse 8, Jesus tells us what we should be doing with our time: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” So, we are to stop focusing on “signs” and “prophecy in the news” and start preparing the way for the coming of the King. Our ministry is in effect that of John the Baptizer (Sorry Fundamentalists, he wasn’t a “Baptist”), to make straight in the wilderness a highway for our King! To preach and live out the Gospel.
And this brings me back to Charles Wesley. What got him thinking about the cry of the prophets for the coming of the Messiah was when he considered the plight of so many orphans, he and his brother John were encountering in their ministry. He wrote a prayer in his journal one day “Oh Come, thou long-expected Jesus!” His cry was that Jesus would come, either in person or in the form of others who could meet the needs of the lowly and the broken.
I don’t read books about the Second Coming. I turn off messages by other pastors about the Second Coming. Because so many of those folks aren’t nearly as right as they think they are, and many who focus on that event aren’t living out the call to make disciples here and now.
But, I DO pray that Christ would come. Come and restore. Come and rule over the nations. Come and release us from our fears and sins. And if anything, this year has taught me, it’s that we need Jesus more than ever. He is the hope of the earth. He is the desire of the nations. He is the source of joy for our longing hearts.
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