“Christ’s Advent—Our Encouragement”                             December 10, 2006

1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11

 

SCRIPTURE INTRO:  We’re spending these four Sundays of Advent

   looking at four great New Testament passages on Christ’s Second Coming.

 

It’s been the practice of the church through the centuries

   to prepare for our celebration of Christ’s first coming to Bethlehem,

   by studying and reflecting on his second coming in glory at end of age.

Just as the Old Testament believers were made holy and happy

   by looking forward to Christ’s coming,

   so we are made holy and happy as we look forward to him.

 

 


INTRO:  A Baptist, a Pentecostal, and a Presbyterian were arguing

   about who would be raised first on the Last Day.

Baptist:  It’s bound to be the Baptists who will be raised first.

   Just look at how lively we are in our worship—we’re always shouting, “Amen!”

 

Pentecostal:  If liveliness in worship is the standard, then Pentecostals

   are going to be raised first.  Not only do we shout “Amen”—

   we speak in tongues and dance in the aisles.

 

Presbyterian:  You’re both wrong, Bible says that Presbyterians will be raised first.

   It’s right here in 1 Thessalonians 4.  “The dead in Christ will rise first!”

 

Christians have lots of disagreements about the Second Coming and end times.

   Many, many books have been written defending this or that view

What it often comes down to is a chronology of how things

   are going to work out in the last days, exactly what certain details mean.

This passage itself is often pulled out and used to argue for particular views.

   I’ve used this passage before to support my particular end times views.

 

Those kinds of debates have their place.

   Important for a number of reasons. 

But need to step back from them at times and ask—

   Why does the Bible tell us that Jesus is coming again?

 

Reason is clear:  So that Christians will have a lively hope in Jesus’ second coming.

   Because a lively hope in his return is good for you.

   It has a number of positive spiritual effects in your life.

   It changes and matures you in a number of ways.

What we are going to see in this passage, is that it changes your view of death.

   The way you view death in general.

   The way you approach people who are facing death or grieving.

   The way you yourself deal with death when it strikes someone you love.

   And ultimately, the way you think of your own death.

 

We’re a young congregation. 

   In my years here I have only done two funerals for church members.

But as a body, we have many appointments with death in our future.

   There will be funerals in this congregation.

   Death will strike us more as the years go by.

This passage shows us that in the face of death,

   firm belief in Jesus’ Second Coming will give you three things:

1.  Permission to grieve

2.  Reason to hope

3.  A way to live

 

Want to give credit where credit is due. 

Sermon by Dr. Tim Keller on this passage a great help to me.

   I’ll be mentioning some of his insights as we go along.

 


MP#1  In the face of death, a firm belief in Jesus’ Second Coming gives you

   permission to grieve.

 

Paul was writing to Christians who were grieving the loss of loved ones.

   The Thessalonians were former pagans, not converted Jews.

   So coming from a pagan outlook about death into Christian faith.

Death of fellow believers troubled them, didn’t know how to handle it.

   How did this fit with this new teaching about Jesus Christ?

   Particularly the promise of his coming.  Were the dead going to miss out?

 

Paul writes to them:

   “We do not want you to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope.”

Paul doesn’t say:  Since you have hope , don’t grieve.

   Don’t grieve without hope.  Grieve hopefully.

   Right to grieve.  Christians grieve, but they grieve with hope.

 

The Bible doesn’t teach us to keep a stiff upper lip.

The best example of all is Jesus himself in John 11 at the grave of Lazarus.

   Martha seems to have been the more analytical sister.

   To her Jesus spoke theological truth.  “I am the resurrection and the life.”

 

But when he came to Mary, who was clearly the more emotional of the two.

   She was weeping.  And when he saw her weeping, Jesus wept.

And then there is an amazing statement, covered up in most translations,

   Says that when Jesus came to Lazarus’ tomb he was “deeply moved.”

   That word literally means “shaking with rage.”     embrimaomai

 

Why was Jesus weeping and shaking with rage.

   Only one answer.  Death is wrong.  It’s an abnormality. 

The Fall of Adam and Eve into sin brought death to the human race.

   That’s part of the brokenness.  That’s part of the curse.

   Jesus was grieved when Lazarus died—grief expressed with tears and anger.

 

This is so different from the ways people often face death in our day.

   There seems to be, in both Christian and non-Christian circles,

   an embarrassment over grief.  Shouldn’t go on for too long, too intense.

You need to get over it and move ahead with your life.

  

In some Christian circles it’s treated like a lack of faith if you grieve too much.

Death should only be a celebration.

   There shouldn’t be much crying out and certainly not any anger. 

   And you shouldn’t grieve for too long.  You should move on.  

After all your loved one is with the Lord. 

   Don’t you believe that?  He’s in a better place, you know.

Once years ago, not in this church, heard someone criticize a widow,

   who they thought was grieving too long and too much. 

 

But look at Jesus, even knowing Lazarus about to be raised—

   weeping and shaking with rage.

And Job, when his children killed, crying out, tearing clothes,

   putting dust on his head, and sitting in the dirt for days.

But the Bible says that in all this Job did not sin.

   We see other believers in deep grief over death Joseph, David, Hezekiah.

It is no sin for Christians to grieve at death.  It’s not a lack of faith. 

   It’s an affirmation that death is not good. 

   That it’s an enemy and abnormality.

Coming of Christ necessary to deal with death. 

 

How do unbelievers in our culture face death?

Americans more and more embracing views of eastern religions for comfort.

   Death is natural.  Death is a part of life.

   Nothing to be afraid of.  Embrace death.  It’s just the circle of life. 

 

I like the Lion King.  I liked the movie. 

   Saw the Broadway version, wonderful.

   But you know that one of the messages about death is that it’s natural.

Simba, when we die, become fertilizer for grass that the antelopes eat.

   Certainly true of animals, but also applied to people.  Supposed to comfort.

 

There’s no comfort in the circle of life. 

   Means you are no different from a bug.  Not destined for eternity.

Jesus didn’t say, “Mary and Martha, Lazarus is just part of the circle of life.”

   Instead he wept and shook with rage in his deep grief at the tomb.

 

But not bare grief.  It was hopeful grief.  That’s the extreme balance.

Even though grief recognizes rightly that death is not normal,

   grief alone leads to despair.  As Paul says, you have to grieve with hope.

Have to take hope, unique Christian hope, and rub it deep into your grief.

MP#2  A firm belief in Jesus’ Second Coming gives you reason to hope.

Paul says do not grieve like the rest of men who have no hope.

Other religions have hope in death.

   Make claims about what will happen to you.

But the Christian hope is a unique hope.

   The hope that Christ gives us by his coming is so much greater than

   the hopes that all the other religions of the world—

   that Paul can sat that these are not hope at all.

Three things about Christ’s coming in this passage that gives reason to hope.

   You need to take these and rub them into your grief.

 

1.  Christ’s coming will bring a world of love.

Did you notice how much of Paul’s emphasis in the passage

   is on being with people.  Talks about being together, with one another.

All of this comes to its fulfillment in the Second Coming.

   Jesus comes and he brings with him those who have fallen asleep.

And we who are alive at his coming are caught up together and meet the Lord—

   and so we are with the Lord forever.

 

That is what we have to look forward to—

   a world in which we are together and know and love and are known and loved.

No weirdness.  No awkwardness.  No manipulation and agendas.

   No need to hid yourself or be guarded in any way.

 

Think of being in the company of your absolutely best friends—

   who know you and love you, and who you know and love.

And you have had a meal and a glass of wine together

   and you are unguarded and free, and conversation is flowing,

   and you know their love and they know yours.

Take all sin out of the picture.  Multiply that to perfection, for all eternity.

   That’s what our hope is.  Together.  With Christ.  Forever.

What a hope that is to rub into your grief.

 

2.  Christ’s coming will bring a glorious life.

We covered this last Sunday in Titus 2.

   But you see it from a different angle in this passage.

Paul says that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

   So the souls of believers who are now in heaven

   will accompany Jesus as he returns. 

And the dead in Christ will rise—their bodies will be raised in glory.

   And these believers, now risen and glorious, souls and bodies reunited,

   will ascend with believers who are still alive and glorified to meet Lord in air.

 

And then what?  Paul sort of leaves you hanging.

   Do we then go on up into heaven.  Living in the clouds ?  Some have thought that.

But the key is the word “meet” which was used in a particular way.

   It was used for people who went out of a city to meet a conquering king,

   who was coming into the city.  apanthsiõ

To meet him meant to get into his entourage and accompany him,

   to participate in his victory parade, to share in his glory.

 

We’re not going to be caught up and taken out of this world,

   but caught up and taken back in.

Back to this world but with Jesus, glorified and into a world made glorious.

   Remember Jesus after he rose.  He wasn’t a spirit.

   He ate fish with his disciples, said touch me.

Our future is not to float in the clouds.

   It’s to walk and hug and eat and sing.

   But in realms and to degrees of such deep satisfaction cannot imagine.

What a hope that is to rub into your grief.

 

3.  Christ’s coming is our certain future.

Hope in the Bible is not a fond wish.  It’s a certain future.

   It’s the school boy waiting for summer vacation.  It is coming.

But many Christians have this struggle.

   They believe Jesus is coming, believe in all these great things—

   but they wonder if they are going to make it—if going to be good enough.

 

Ironically, sometimes unbelievers are happier than Christians in face of death.

   Because they say:  Don’t know what is going to happen, eat, drink, be merry.

Christian is tormenting himself—will I make it? 

   All the insecurity that self-righteousness brings robs of hope.  Verse 9:

God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

What a great assurance.  Is your trust in Jesus Christ?

   Then the certainly of your future does not depend on your performance—

   but on Christ.  God has not appointed you to suffer wrath. 

What a hope that is to rub into your grief.  Assurance of the future.

MP#3  A firm belief in Jesus’ Second Coming gives you a way to live.

We live in a world shadowed by death, but we keep an eye on the Second Coming.

   As we do, two qualities that develop in believers, should cultivate.

   Should be self-controlled people and encouraging people.

 

Paul says that for some people, coming of Christ like a thief in the night.

   Unexpected, nasty surprise.  A time of great loss.

But Paul says, you brothers are not in darkness,

   so that this day should surprise you like a thief.

 

In other words, even before the light of Jesus’ second coming shines like day—

   you ought to live as a daylight person. 

You ought to live right now as if the daylight of Jesus’ coming

   has already started to shine into this dark world.

You ought to live as if He has already appeared in clouds

   and you have been raised and are going out to meet Him. 

 

Paul says that a person who lives like that will be alert and self-controlled.

   The opposite is a person who is asleep and drunk. 

Self-controlled person is putting on faith and love as a breastplate,

   and the hope of salvation as a helmet.

Shows us what this self-control means—

   deliberately taking Gospel truths and promises, applying them to your life. 

Thinking through the faith, and living it out, growing as a believer.

   Fighting against sin and fighting to do good.

 

What Paul seems to be saying is that the key to self-control for Christian,

   is to develop a vivid expectation of Christ’s coming—

   and the glory that will be ours.  Live as if that day has dawned.

Will give you strength in fight of Christian life.

 

Read once about family always wanted to go to Grand Canyon, hike it.

   Read all they could about the canyon, hiking it.

   Then they started training.  Months before, hiked hills, carried backpacks.

What was it that kept them focused? 

   Hiked the hills of neighborhood, imagined, hiking beautiful Grand Canyon.

   More they trained, the more enjoyable their real hike would be.

Has to be an eye to that future hope—helps us to be self controlled and alert.

   not sleepy and drunk, when Jesus comes.

Self-controlled people can become grim people.

   But did you notice that twice, in this passage—be encouraging people.

   “Therefore, encourage each other with these words.”

   “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.”

 

Our dealings with each other as Christians should be to encourage each other.

   We have this weekly rhythm of church life that God has ordained.

   We have this community of believers.

Our dealings with each other should be to encourage.

   Paul says that the context of that should be our vivid expectation

   of Christ’s return. 

 

Go back to the family getting ready for Grand Canyon trip.

   Can imagine that while they are training, up and down same hills.

   One might say—this is getting so old, this is so hard, I feel so dumb.

Someone else says—Yes, but the Grand Canyon is going to be a blast.

   Remember those beautiful picture, sense of accomplishment—

   who cares what neighbors think—it’s going to be worth it.

 

It puts encouragement in a different light.

   We’re all going somewhere together.  Going to meet Lord in the air.

   Join his victory procession back into this world. 

Great things, glorious things—let’s get ready together. 

   If we could only see that, so many of little, petty things that bother wouldn’t.

 

But remember the context of the passage—need for particular encouragement.

   Believers losing loves ones.  This is about dealing with death.

Christ’s second coming ought to make us people who can encourage

   each other in the face of deep grief, grief that makes most speechless.

We will have something to say—true and comforting.

 

Donald Barnhouse’s wife died in her 30s, leaving three young children.

   On way to funeral, truck passed, cast shadow over car.

Asked:  Children, would you rather be hit by truck or by shadow of truck.

   Shadow.  Why?  Because it can’t hurt you.

   Your mother was only struck by the shadow of death.  Can’t hurt her.

She is with the Lord, and we will see her again. 

   Only believers can say those sorts of things.

   May our hope in his coming be just as deep, that we may comfort one another.

CONC:   Jesus came once and he is coming again—

   this time to destroy the last enemy—death.

 

So let us grieve with hope—

   and be self-controlled, encouraging people,

   as we await his coming.