Title: Christ, our Blessed Hope
Text: 1 Thessalonians 4.1-5.1
Introduction: This morning we reach the conclusion of this Summer’s Sermon Series: HiStory. Last week we ended the 9th sermon in this series with an empty tomb. The tomb is empty because Jesus is risen. And what’s more… we have this hope that we will rise again in like manner, should we face death before he returns.
Our text for this morning’s sermon is found in 1 Thessalonians 4. We’ll be there this morning, so go ahead and turn there: 1 Thessalonians 4.1. A 2nd place we’ll be is in Titus 2. So, if you’d like to put a bookmark there…
This sermon is the last sermon in a series entitled: HiStory. The premise behind the series is that the whole of the Bible is one story. From beginning to end, the story is all about Jesus. God’s intention from before the foundation of the world was to save his people and to send his son, Jesus, to be the savior of his people.
We opened this series with a look at the perfection of creation and how it was ruined in Adam and Eve’s rebellion. As they were banished from the garden, God gave them a promise of someone who would come and restore things. Gen. 3.15 was the 1st indication that Jesus would someday come. In the future, somehow, someway, the snake crusher would come and restore what was damaged.
We saw how life in the fall was a continual downward spiral, until God destroyed it all in the flood, but saved 8 people and a bunch of animals through the Ark. Creation was destroyed and God started all over.
This 1st section of the series was my favorite. I loved how our Community Group spent extra time in this section observing a film entitled: Genesis: is it history? Del Tackett was our guide and narrator. I highly recommend this documentary if you’re looking for help in strengthening your biblical worldview.
In Genesis 12, God picked a man from whom he would build a nation and from whom the Promised One would come. This nation would be his people (Israel) and he would be their God. The problem was that they, too, rebelled, like Adam and Eve. Instead of serving and following God, they chose to worship and serve idols.
God sent them Prophets, Priests and Kings, but somehow, someway, they still rejected the God who loved them. Their priests didn’t intercede like they should have. Many of these priests were worried more about themselves than teaching the people and interceding for the people. Their Kings never lived up to the role. One came pretty close – his name was David. He set an example of what the true King would one day look like. But he wasn’t the promised King. No, these Kings led the people astray. God sent them prophets to tell the people His words. But the people rejected the prophets. They beat them, shamefully mistreated them and in some cases, killed them.
In so many ways, many of these prophets pointed to the Promised One, but none of them were him. After many years of being caught up in a cycle of following God, not following God – God grew silent. There were no prophets to tell them God’s Word. No kings either. The people entered a time of darkness and silence for 400 years.
Then one day, after those 400 years of silence from God, the Promised One finally came. God’s voice broke the silence. God’s son lit up the darkness. He came and lived a perfect and sinless life. Then, he died on the cross of Calvary to pay the penalty for the sins of the world – to restore that which had been damaged. And, after three days of laying lifeless in a tomb, he rose again.
Many of his followers thought that the Kingdom would be restored when he rose from the dead, but instead, he delayed the coming Kingdom. Instead, he commissioned his followers to share this good news of redemption with the world until he does return for his people.
Titus 2.11-13: 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
There is so much to unpack in these three verses, and that isn’t even our task today! It is an outline for our lives in this era: God’s grace Saved us, God’s grace is Sanctifying us, preparing us for glory. For now, what I really want to focus on is what Paul calls our Our Blessed Hope, which is Christ’s Glorious Appearing.
- The hope you and I have as believers, as we live out our lives in this present age, isn’t the rapture to escape the tribulation.
- The hope you and I share as believers as we live in this present age isn’t perfect health and untold riches of materialism.
- The hope you and I share as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ as we live godly lives in this present age is Christ and his glorious appearing!
Let’s break down Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica:
- 1st, he tells the Thessalonians how to live while we wait for his appearing (4.1-12).
- 2nd, he tells them what to expect when Christ returns, especially for those who already died (4.13-18).
- 3rd, he tells them of the Great Day of the Lord (5.1-11). He’ll finish his comments on this in his next letter, 2nd Thessalonians when he teaches them about the lawless one, the antichrist.
Transition: let’s look at this 1st section, which outlines for us how then we shall live…
How then shall we live?
I. We Walk with our Lord (4.1-12)
exp.: rd v 1-3a; Sanctification is often seen in two phases. There is the immediate phase and the process phase. In a very real sense, we are sanctified at our conversion. And, in a very real sense, we struggle with sin throughout our lives – not experiencing total sanctification in this body until this life is through. Our statement of faith teaches this better than any other document. Let me quote from the BF&M 2000:
Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification.
There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.
- Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace. Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Savior
- Justification is God’s gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God.
- Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God’s purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person’s life.
- Glorification is the culmination of salvation and is the final blessed and abiding state of the redeemed.
Glorification is what we’ll experience at his glorious appearing. For now, though, how then shall we live?
I think it helps to understand that there is in one very real sense the sanctifying process that God is at work in us and on the other hand, there is a very real sense that there is our responsibility to be at work in the sanctifying process. Many Christians call this ‘the walk’. In Philippians Paul told the Christians at Philippi that they were to be “working out” their salvation with fear and trembling as God was “working within” them to will and to act according to His good purpose. Look what Paul says to Thessalonians here:
- Be holy: rd v 3-7; avoid immorality, impurity;
- Brotherly Love: rd v9-10; and then he gives them some instruction on neighborly affairs: rd v 11-12
- Walk properly before outsiders: live quietly, mind your own affairs, work with your hands, and be dependent on no one.
- Being Holy is how you live within yourself – it manifests itself externally, but it is an internal quality. Brother Love is the display of your holiness within the church. But there is contact with the real world, too. That is your … as he calls it …‘walk’ as seen by outsiders.
app.: We walk with the Lord and our work is a witness to those who are lost. Not that our walk saves us, but that rather our walk is a demonstration of what we believe to a lost and dying world.
t.s.: How then shall we live? 1st, we walk with the Lord. 2ndly,
II. We Wait for His Glorious Appearing (4.13-18)
exp.: waiting means that life goes on – day after day, month after month, year after year as we walk with the Lord; And, a big part of life is death; this was a concern for the Corinthian church we looked at last week – and, it is a concern for these folks in Thessalonica, too. They didn’t have a lot of doctrine to go with their newfound faith. Remember, the Jews had a foundation for their faith. The Gentiles, not so much! So, they had a lot of questions. For them, they wondered what would happen when their loved ones died. Would those who passed on miss out on Christ’s return?
Let’s read what he tells them; rd v 13-14; Paul told the Corinthians in his final letter to them that to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord; Paul tells the Thessalonians here something very similar: that as their loved one’s body lay in the grave, their spirit was with the Lord; Then, when Christ returns, they will accompany Him.
ill.: As I quoted from Joni Eareckson Tada last week: One day actual spirits will return to their actual graves and reunite with stone-cold dead forms and – in the twinkling of an eye – we shall be changed. Paul says, that those of us who are still alive will certainly not precede those believers who’ve gone before us.
app.: Rd v 15-16; And so, while we continue in this body, we wait. As our loved ones die and are buried, we wait. We wait for his glorious appearing where we will … rd v 17-18: 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
t.s.: We have this hope – not a hope like it is going to rain, but a certain knowledge and faith that communicates: at his glorious appearing we shall be with him.
So, How then shall we live? we walk with the Lord, we wait for his return, and..
III. We Watch for The Great Day of the Lord (5.1-11)
exp.: why do we watch? Well, read with me v1-2; we watch because it is unexpected and we don’t want to be caught off guard. Rd v 3-4; look at these three phrases that describe the suddenness of Christ return:
- Like a thief in v2
- Sudden destruction in v3
- To surprise you in v4
Exhortations: (in v6-11)
- Stay sober and awake! Because, it will come suddenly and without expectation!
Transition: there are many terms and teachings on this doctrine called eschatology. And, in preaching a message like the sermon this morning, I’m ever aware of the differences of opinion when it comes to End Times. That’s right, I said opinion. There are those who would disagree with me: they are so dogmatic, that they think they’re the only one’s who are right!
Let me take some time to lay out four truths that we should all agree on and avoid the hot topic areas of disagreement. This Wednesday night, our Community Group will be discussing these different views and I’ll lay out for you there what I see in these passages and in Revelation. In that meeting we will look at the areas of disagreement. For this morning, I arrange these doctrinal truths on which we should all agree from the book on systematic theology by Wayne Grudem. Bruce Demarest, a mentor of mine at Denver Seminary, also has a wonderful systematic theology in 3 volumes. It doesn’t read as easy as Grudem’s, but it is a wonderful indepth look at the end times. I’ve chosen to use Grudem’s outline because it was handy.
- There will be a sudden, personal, visible, and bodily return of Christ. like a thief in the night… Note all four aspects of his return:
- Sudden and unexpected
- Personal: he is coming with his army of angels
- Visible: this isn’t some spiritual type of return, we’ll see it.
- Bodily: Christ Body isn’t in the grave and he didn’t have just a spiritual resurrection after his death. He was raised physically, and he’ll return physically.
- We have no idea when Christ will return. The Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Mt 24.44); for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Mt. 25.13); Jesus said that no one knows the day, not the angels, nor even the Son – only the Father knows the day he has chosen. (Mk 13.32-33). You and I can know the season – we can see the time for his return, and I believe that it will be soon and very soon. But as for that day… no on knows.
- We should eagerly long for Christ’s return. Maranatha, Even so, Come Lord Jesus. And as Titus records: 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, Christians should be eagerly and expectantly longing for Christ’s return. For someone to hope for his delay because he loves this world and his life in this world demonstrates a tremendous misunderstanding of what this life is to be. If this is all you hope for, you’re missing something very important. You’re not understanding sin and its effects.
- No matter how you get there eschatalogically, Evangelicals pretty much all agree on the final results: we will all stand before the Son of God – unbelievers to judgment and believers to their reward. Believers will live forever with Christ in a new heaven and a new earth. In this place – this new heaven and earth – believers will worship God in a never-ending kingdom where there is no more sin, no more sorrow and no more suffering.
Dr. Harry Pritchett, Jr. tells the story of a friend he had, who taught 8 year olds in Sunday School. In a Sunday school class of 8-year olds Philip stuck out because of his Down’s syndrom. Eight-year-olds can be cruel. The third-graders did not welcome Phillip to their group. Not just because he was older. He was “different.” And because he suffered from Down’s Syndrome, he had many difference that were quite obvious: facial characteristics, slow responses, symptoms of what we used to call ‘mental retardation’.
One Sunday after Easter, the Sunday school teacher gathered some of those plastic eggs that pull apart in the middle — the kind in which some ladies’ pantyhose used to be packaged. The Sunday school teacher gave one of these plastic eggs to each child. On that beautiful spring day each child was to go outdoors and discover for himself some symbol of “new life” and place that symbolic seed or leaf or whatever inside his egg. They would then open their eggs one by one, and each youngster would explain how his find was a symbol of “new life.” So … The youngsters gathered ’round and put their eggs on a table, and one by one, the teacher began to open them.
One child had found a flower. All the children “oohed” and “aahed” at the lovely symbol of new life. In another was a butterfly. “Beautiful,” the girls said. Another egg opened to reveal a rock. Some of the children laughed. “That’s crazy!” one said. “How’s a rock supposed to be like a new life?'” Immediately a little boy spoke up and said, “That’s mine. I knew everybody would get flowers and leaves and butterflies and all that stuff, so I got a rock to be different.” Everyone laughed. The teacher opened the last one, and there was nothing in it. “That’s not fair,” someone said. “That’s stupid,” said another. The teacher felt a tug on his shirt. It was Phillip. Looking up he said, “It’s mine. I did it. It’s empty. I have new life because the tomb is empty.” The class fell silent. From that day on Phillip became part of the group. They welcomed him. Whatever had made him different was never mentioned again.
Phillip’s family had known he would not live a long life; just too many things wrong with the tiny body. That summer, overcome with infection, Phillip died. On the day of his funeral nine 8-year-old boys and girls, confronted the reality of death, marched up to the altar–not with flowers. Nine children with their Sunday school teacher placed on the casket of their friend their gift of love – an empty egg …
You see, believers get it. They know the meaning of the empty egg story. Like Philip, they say I have life because the tomb is empty; they know the hope of life after death because Christ is risen. And, they know the hope of His Glorious Appearing –
- And so, they walk with God every single day of their lives;
- They wait patiently, knowing that one day he will return and
- They keep a watchful eye out, because it will happen when this world least expects it.