Waiting for Jesus to return can be painful. For those who are being persecuted around the world for their faith the pain can be physical and mental. For those who are spiritually lost the waiting can be excruciating because they don't know what they are looking for or it doesn't seem like Jesus is answering their prayers. But I wanted to write today about another kind of painful waiting. That's the waiting of expectancy.
The minister at my church recently talked about the waiting that Mary did after Gabriel informed her of the Immaculate Conception but before Jesus was born.
Do you remember what happened at the end of Gabriel's visit?
35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
That's right, the angel departed. Nowhere in the Bible does it suggest that Gabriel or any other angel visited Mary again. I guess that means one visit from an angel is good enough to deliver and raise the Son of God. Think about that. If I were speculating without reading I would surely surmise that Gabriel or other angels visited Mary on a regular basis while Jesus was growing up to make sure that he was raised the right way. But they didn't. Mary was left on her own to wait and do the work she was called to do.
Now I don't think God left Mary without some divine protection and guidance she received through her own personal worship. But it's not like she had Gabriel as a divine helper to get her through the pregnancy. Surely this was a great and wonderful thing that God was doing for the world through Mary. At the same time I can imagine the waiting Mary experienced musts have been agonizing in some ways. You have been given the job of carrying the Son of God in your womb. No pressure...your job is to carry and deliver the Son of God. That will take about nine months of waiting plus 18 years of parenthood until you are done.
Plus, think about what Joseph added to the story.
20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
So Mary and Joseph together knew that Jesus would be the Son of God and that he would save his people from their sins. Not only does Mary have to carry her son for nine months but together they must raise Jesus. They must care for him and keep him safe until he can save his people from their sins. No pressure!
Mary and Joseph were waiting with expectation. They were waiting for many things. First they were waiting for the birth of a child; always an amazing event. Next they were waiting through the time of Jesus' childhood and adolescence until he because an adult. Finally they were waiting for Jesus to save people from their sins.
Isn't that what we are doing now? Waiting for Jesus' return? Waiting for the Rapture of the Church? Waiting for the Tribulation to begin?
There are so many prophetic events happening in the world right now that it seems certain that the Rapture and the beginning of the Tribulation are immanent. All the pieces and players are in place. From our human perspective, the Rapture and the beginning of the Tribulation could literally happen any day.
But, one thing we know for sure about God is that his timeline is never the same as our timeline. We also know that waiting is a critical part of our spiritual life. Scripture, Bible Study and experience tell us God's answers to our prayerful petitions are Yes, No or Wait. If you are like most people I know, Wait is the most common answer.
Back to the title of the post "Painful Waiting", do you think it is fair to say that there are some elements of waiting for the Rapture that are painful? As we watch the events happening around the world, especially in Israel and Jerusalem we know that the worldly issues there will never be resolved. The won't be resolved until after the Second Coming of Jesus.
So until the Rapture, Tribulation and Second Coming occur we wait. Our faith says we should wait patiently, but our humanity says waiting for the second most remarkable event in the history of the world (after the crucifixion and resurrection) is painful. Painful because we can almost see, smell and touch it but we can't. Not yet.
One of the downsides to technology is the way it has dramatically eroded our patience. Our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. Short attention spans have the effect of making the process of waiting even harder. These days we expect updates and answers in hours if not minutes. The idea of waiting weeks, months or years is foreign to our current thinking in Western society. How does that compare to Paul's experience traveling to Rome in the book of Acts?
9 Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast was already over, Paul advised them, 10 saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” 11 But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. 12 And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing both southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there.
Imaging "hanging out" for a few months on an island in the Mediterranean until the weather gets better so you can finish your trip to your destination? Do you know anyone with that much vacation time? Life was certainly very different in Biblical times.
Maybe in some ways waiting then wasn't quite as hard as it is today. People were accustom to waiting because they did not know any different. Life moved at a fraction of the speed that it does today.
Maybe if I focus on living a full Christian life today and not waiting for the ultimate Christmas present (the Rapture) coming sometime in the future the waiting won't be quite so hard. The Lord knows there are many people waiting on much harder things (death, sickness, persecution) than I am.
What do you think? Is waiting for the Rapture exhilarating, painful, ho-hum, something else or all of the above?