Monday, 11 December 2017
Sunday, 11 December 2016
Today, special occasion celebrating baptism of Logan & Summer.
We are entrusting them to God’s care, and praying that as they grow up they will come to know and love God.
Famous Chinese proverb states “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
Today marks the first step for Logan & Summer on the journey of faith. Our hope & prayer is that as they grow up, they will discover for themselves the love God has for them, and the plans and purposes He has for their lives.
But what is a Christian?
Many people have the wrong idea about what it means to be a Christian, and how you become a Christian. Being born in Britain doesn’t make you a Christian, anymore than being born in a MacDonalds restaurant would make you a hamburger.
Some people think a Christian is a good person, you might hear them say “I try to live a Christian life” – but what they really mean is “I try to be a good person.” But that doesn’t make you a Christian.
Some people say a Christian is someone who goes to church, which although vitally important, doesn’t make you a Christian. You can come to church & still not be a Christian.
Others would say if you’ve been baptised you’re a Christian, but although baptism is essential for Christians, baptism itself doesn’t make you a Christian.
No, a Christian is someone who has a relationship with God the Father, through Jesus Christ his son. It is someone who has put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and who has made an active decision to follow Jesus. If we’re serious about following Jesus, it will affect every aspect of our lives, our relationships, what we do with our time and money, our priorities in life, and so forth.
And if we want Logan & Summer to grow in their relationship with God, then they’re going to need support and encouragement in this. That is why in the baptism service, the parents and godparents were asked will you pray for Logan & Summer, and draw them by your example into the community of faith, and walk with them in the way of Christ, and help them to take their place within the life and worship of Christ’s Church?
Thinking back to the idea of faith as a journey, if you’re visiting relatives with your child, you don’t just put the baby on a bus or train by itself, and send them on their way, hoping they arrive safely at their destination, you travel with them. The same is true in the journey of faith.
Not Alone – the Church
But we’re not alone on this journey.
We have God’s family, the church, which is why Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 talks about the church being one body made up of many different parts. We each have a part to play in God’s family, and every single member is important, from the youngest to the oldest.
The point about a family is it’s a place where you belong, a place where you are known, loved, and supported. That’s why the church exists, so that we can encourage and support one another on this journey of faith. Because like any journey, there will be good times, when the going is easy, but there will also be times when the going tough, and that’s why don’t live our Christian lives in isolation, we are called to love, support and encourage one another. That is why the author of the letter of Hebrews writes ‘do not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another.’ (Hebrews 10:25)
We also have God.
Not Alone – God
We have the gift of the Holy Spirit, dwelling with us. This is the presence of Jesus himself.
There is an old children’s song which goes ‘Jesus loves me! This I know, For the Bible tells me so.’
But as Christians the knowledge that Jesus loves us, comes not just from the Bible, but from the reality of God’s presence in our lives.
In Revelation 3:20 Jesus says “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”
When we open our hearts to Jesus, he comes and fills us with the presence of his Holy Spirit. And with this comes the knowledge that we are loved, and forgiven, and the Holy Spirit helps us to know God personally.
And as we experience the presence of God in our lives, there comes the reassurance that God is at work in our lives, and that NOTHING can ever separate us His love.
In All Things
Paul in our reading from Romans writes “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
God is concerned with your life and mine. He's not a distant remote God, who stands from afar watching us as we struggle our way through life. But he is active in the affairs of our lives. In all things God works for the good of those who love him.
God loves us, and cares for us, and wants what is best for us. This doesn’t mean however, that we always get what we want. As a parent, I don’t always give my children what they want, because it is not always in their best interest, but I always try to do what is best for them.
Nor is Paul saying that if you’re a Christian you’ll be free from troubles, and that life will be easy, and that things will always work out the way you want. Life doesn’t work like that. We will still face disappointment, rejection, tiredness, sickness, loss, and death just like everyone else. In fact Jesus warned those that would wish to follow him to expect opposition. ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.’ (John 15:20)
But what Paul writes, is that all situations and circumstances of our lives, both the good and the bad, God is not working to make us happy, but fulfilling his divine purposes for us & his world.
Life is like a jigsaw puzzle, we often only see a small part of it, and the bit we do see doesn’t always make much sense. But God sees the big picture, He has an eternal master plan which he is working towards, which includes us.
God can even use the bad and difficult situations we face for good. For example, in the OT we read about Joseph. Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, then rises to a position of responsibility, only to be falsely accused of something he hadn’t done, and thrown back into prison and forgotten about by everyone but God. But even in this difficult and dark times, God was at work, and put him in a place where he was able to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, which resulted in Joseph being given a position of responsibility that made him the most important person in Egypt after Pharaoh, so that ultimately God could use Joseph to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, including his own brothers. Although Joseph experienced kidnapping, slavery, false accusations, wrongful imprisonment, rejection & famine, God was at work in his life.
And because God works in all things, he is able to take and redeem our mistakes, the things we regret, the things we're ashamed of, and use them for good.
Yvonne Garbett - experience of alcoholism, now helping others with alcoholism.
Justyn Rees Larcomb - seemed to have everything, a great job in the city with a big salary, a lovely home, wife and children. But he got sucked into gambling, it started with a simple £5 online bet, but quickly got out of control, becoming a £10,000 a day addiction. He hid his problem from his family and his colleagues, but in the end lost his dream house, his job, his family & his reputation. He’d been a Christian for much of his life, but realized he'd neglected God, and turned back to God, and started to get help for his gambling addiction. Slowly, with help and support from other Christians and charities that support people with gambling, he has turned his life around, and now helps others who struggle with addiction problems, including Gambling.
Gill Beasley - death of daughter Rachel 20 years ago, led her to found the Walsall MacMillan Cancer Group.
The promise that God works for the good of those who love him, doesn't mean that all that happens to us is good, but it means God is able to turn it around for good.
Nothing Can Separate Us From God’s Love
Paul goes on to write that for those who put their trust & faith in God, nothing at all will be able to separate us from God’s love.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[b]
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[b]
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[c] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Some years ago on a hot summer day in south Florida, a little boy decided to go for a swim in the old swimming hole behind his house. He dived into the cool water, not realising that as he swam towards the middle of the lake, an alligator was swimming toward the shore.
His mother in the house was looking out of the window and saw the alligator bearing down on her son. In utter fear, she ran toward the water yelling to her son as loudly as she could.
Hearing her voice, the little boy became alarmed and started swimming toward his mother. But it was too late. Just as he reached her, the alligator reached him. From the dock the mother grabbed her little boy by the arms just as the alligator snatched his legs. That began an incredible tug of war between the two.
The alligator was much stronger than the mother, but the mother was much to passionate to let go.
A farmer happened to drive by, and hearing her screams raced from his truck with his shot gun, and shot the alligator.
Remarkably the little boy survived, but his legs were extremely scarred by the vicious attack of the alligator, and on his arms, were deep scratches where his mother's fingernails dug into his flesh in her effort to hang on to the son she loved.
A local newspaper reporter came to interview the boy and asked if he could show him his scars. The boy lifted up his trousers, and then with obvious pride, he said to the reporters. "But look at my arms. I have great scars on my arms too. I have them because my mum wouldn't let go."
You and I can identify with that little boy. We have scars too, not from an alligator, or anything quite so dramatic. But the scars we have picked up through life, the hurts, disappointments, rejections, failures,. Some of those scars are unsightly and have caused us deep regret. But some wounds, my friends, are because God has refused to let go. In the midst of your struggle, He's been there holding on to you.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Tonight I want to focus on the topic of dealing with opposition & criticism.
There will be times in our lives when we face opposition and criticism.
In fact Jesus promised those that follow him they’d face opposition.
“Remember what I told you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:20)
There is a right way and a wrong way to deal with opposition & criticism. So tonight I want us to explore how to handle opposition & criticism by looking at the example of Jesus.
Jesus faces opposition
As Jesus’ ministry grew & developed, so did the opposition he faced. By the time we reach the beginning of chapter 3 of Mark’s Gospel, the religious leaders were ‘looking for a reason to accuse Jesus.’ (Mark 3:2). So when Jesus heals a man in the Synagogue on the Sabbath, “the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” (Mark 3:6)
The Pharisees & the Herodians were not natural allies, it was an unlikely alliance. The Herodians were a Jewish political party that supported King Herod, who was the King put in place by the Roman Empire, to rule over Israel. The Herodians, by supporting King Herod, were supporting Roman rule of Israel, which brought them into conflict with the Pharisees who were opposed to Roman rule. This made it difficult for the Herodians and Pharisees to unite and agree on anything, but one thing did unite them—opposing Jesus. Because King Herod himself wanted Jesus dead (), as did the Pharisees.
The reason Jesus faced so much opposition & hostility in his ministry, is because he challenged the authority of the ruling religious and political elite, and exposed their proud attitudes and dishonourable motives.
Why we face opposition
There are many reasons why we might face opposition & criticism. Jesus faced it for doing what was right, even when that meant making himself unpopular amongst certain sections of society.
If we’re going to face opposition and criticism, let’s make sure it’s for doing the right thing, not the wrong thing.
Mark 3 – Family Conflict
In our reading tonight we see that Jesus faced opposition not only from the teachers of the law, but from his very own family.
‘Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”’ (Mk 3:20-21)
Mark doesn’t tell us where this event takes place, but it is likely to be Capernaum, and possibly Peter’s house. Jesus gets falsely accused of being “out of his mind” by his own family, in other words they accuse him of being deluded, crazy, mentally unstable. Even Jesus’ own family were slow to understand who he was and what he had come to do.
Criticism & opposition from family in my experience always hurts the most, because they are the ones we are closest to, the ones whose opinions usually matter the most, and therefore their criticism always cuts the deepest.
And one of the most difficult places to be a Christian witness, is amongst our family, because they know us the best, and because they know what areas of our lives fall short of Christ’s ideal, and get to see us at our worst when our guard is down. And for those with husbands, wives or children who are not Christians, it is challenging, especially if they are actively hostile or opposed to your Christian faith. Family members require the most patience.
This is something Jesus had to face. In the Gospel of John, we read that at the start of Jesus’ ‘even his own brothers did not believe in him.’ (John 7:5).
When faced by hostility or opposition from your family members towards your Christian faith, it’s important to stay true to your faith, and don’t respond negatively to the attacks that may come.
As Christians we are being changed to become more and more like Jesus every day. In Col 3 Paul talks about taking off the old sinful self and putting on the new godly self. This new godly self is characterised by patience, love, kindness and so on. So pray that they will see something of Christ in you, particularly as you become more like him. The hardest thing to argue against is a changed life!
Show them what it means to be a follower of Christ by the way you live, through the love and care you show them, in the way you treat others, and your attitude to work and recreation, and especially in the way you handle conflict within your family. Families do fall out from time to time, and have their disagreements. Learn to handle disagreement well. Take time to listen, Paul in Ephesians writes “In your anger do not sin” Ephesians 4:26. Seek to be a peace maker. Listen to your family, discuss things reasonably, try where possible to come to agreement, and above all demonstrate God’s love and compassion, and when you get it wrong be prepared to say sorry and to seek forgiveness.
And when you do have an opportunity to speak about Christianity be gentle and gracious rather than confrontational. Ask God to give you the right words. It is far better for you talk about your own experiences and understanding of Christianity than to challenge them about their understanding of Christianity. Remember - you are not the one whose responsibility it is to convince them of the gospel - that’s God’s. Your responsibility is to present Christianity in the most compelling way you can.
Although Jesus faced problems with his family, they did eventually come to recognise him for who he truly was. In Acts 1:14 that the followers of Jesus joined together ‘constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers’, and James the brother of Jesus would go onto become one of the leaders in the church in Jerusalem. So if you face conflict or misunderstanding from your own family, don’t despair & don’t give up.
As well as difficulties with his family, Jesus was also accused by the teachers of the law of being possessed by Beelzebub. “By the prince of demons he is driving out demons” they claimed (Mark 3:22). They couldn’t deny his miracles, they were evident for everyone to see, so they tried to attack him personally by discrediting.
How we respond to criticism
How do we respond when face opposition or criticism, or are accused of something we haven’t done?
- Angry “How dare you say that…”
- Defensive “That’s not true…”
- Go on the attack “That’s rich coming from you….”
- Winston Churchill was attending a state dinner with Lady Astor, who was compelled to listen to Churchill talk on a great number of subjects, all of them at variance with her own strongly held views. Finally, no longer able to hold her tongue, she said, “Winston, if you were my husband, I would poison your coffee.” To which Churchill immediately replied, “Madam, if I were your husband, I would drink it.”
- Withdraw into self/get depressed – people who seem to accept criticism rather well on the surface while internally beating themselves to a pulp – putting yourself down & being overly hard on yourself.
- Quit “Why bother…?”
- Revenge – looking for an opportunity to get your own back on the person who has upset you
- Acceptance “That’s fair…” – you might feel put down by the remarks, but you accept them, and may want to seek further clarification.
How does Jesus respond?
Learning how to handle criticism well is very important.
- Be open
- No one likes to be criticised, but sometimes we need to listen to what is being said.Even if it hurts, we need to ask ourselves is there any truth, or justification in what is being said about me or to me? Constructive criticism intended to help & encourage is important and necessary. It gives us the opportunity to learn something about ourselves and to grow. Imagine what would have happened if when learning to drive I never listened to the instruction that my driving instructor gave because I felt I didn’t need to listen to him. I wouldn’t have passed my test & would be a danger to myself & others on the road. I am grateful for those who have taken me to one side, and out of love (VERY IMPORTANT) have told me things that at the time might have been hard to listen to, but helped me to grow.
- Try to understand
- Sometimes we can be attacked or criticised for no apparent reason, or it comes out of nowhere – someone suddenly snaps at you, and when that happens it hurts. But it helps to try & understand the other person. For example I’ve come to realise that when I am tired or stressed, I get very irritable & impatient, and I tend to take this out on my family. When others criticize us, think about what they’ve gone or are going through right now, because they might be anxious or hurting. For example when Jesus’ family accused him of being “out of his mind” – this might have been an expression of their concern for Jesus. Maybe they feared that as his fame and popularity grew it was bringing him into conflict with powerful and influential people and they were worried about the situation getting out of hand, so they wanted to try and protect him. Or maybe they were concerned that with the pressures ministry was placing on Jesus, he wasn’t taking care of himself, not finding time to eat and this was affecting his mental stability. Sometimes the criticism we receive, says more about the person doing the criticising than the one being criticised. For example, it might be that the person criticising you is worried and anxious about something, they are fearful about loss or failure, or feel insecure, or feel threatened in some way.
- Focus on facts, not personalities
- Doen’t denigrate those who attack him - Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2When Jesus was being accused of being “out of his mind” by his family, and when he was told they had come for him, his response is to redefine what it means to be part of his family. “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mk 3:34) Jesus is not excluding or rejecting his earthly family, or saying they are not important, but teaching that a relationship with him is open to all people. And that when we become followers of Jesus, we are given another family, a spiritual family, and the relationships are ultimately more important and longer lasting in this family than those formed in a physical family. And when Jesus is accused of being possessed by “Beelzebul” by the religious leaders – Jesus’ doesn’t get drawn into a personal slanging match, but focuses on the heart of the issue, exposing their faulty logic and the truth of his own source of power. “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.” (Mark 3:23-26)
- Keep to the issue, don’t get side tracked.
- Think Before You React
- “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19-20)
- Doesn’t get pulled into unnecessary arguments – sometimes the best response is no response. When Jesus was on trial before Pilate he made no reply (Mark 15)
- Respond Gently
- A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Prov. 15:1)
- Put your life and reputation in God’s hands.
- It’s easier to do this when life is going well and you have no problems, no worries, and everything is right in your world. It’s a lot harder to put your life in God’s hands when you feel the pressure of constant criticism. But that’s when we most need God’s help. “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21-23).
- Jesus when unfairly accused:
- didn’t hurl insults.
- didn’t retaliate.
- didn’t curse and swear.
- made no threats.
- What was his secret? The answer lies in the final phrase of verse 23-“He entrusted himself to him who judges justly."
- F. B. Meyer wrote: “We make a mistake in trying always to clear ourselves. We should be wiser to go straight on, humbly doing the next thing, and leaving God to vindicate us…. There may come hours in our lives when we shall be misunderstood, slandered, falsely accused. At such times it is very difficult not to act on the policy of the men around us in the world. They at once appeal to law and force and public opinion. But the believer takes his case into a higher court and lays it before his God.”
- Think to a time when you have faced opposition, criticism or been falsely accused. How did it make you feel?
- Why do you think Jesus faced so much opposition to his ministry?
- How you normally respond to criticism & opposition?
- Ways that we can better respond to criticism & opposition:
- Be open
- Try to understand
- Focus on facts, not personalities
- Be completely humble and gentle;
- be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2
- Think Before You React
- “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19-20)
- Don’t get pulled into unnecessary arguments
- Respond Gently
- A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Prov. 15:1)Put your life and reputation in God’s hands.“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:21-23)
Thursday, 24 November 2016
The four weeks running up to Christmas are known as Advent, starting on Advent Sunday, which this year was November 27th and which officially marks the start of the new church year.
Traditionally in the church the season of Advent is set aside as a time for reflection and prayer as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, and as we look forward to the day when Jesus will come again.
However, the weeks leading up to Christmas happen to be amongst the busiest and most hectic time of the year for many of us, and we don’t benefit as much from the season of Advent as we could. If used properly, Advent gives us an opportunity to create space in our busy lives to focus again on the important things in life, especially upon Jesus.
Here, in no particular order are some things you can do to make the most of the weeks leading up to Christmas.
1. Be careful not to treat Advent as just another busy time of the year:
During Advent life is supposed to be different, find time every day to relax, pray and reflect on the wonder that is Jesus, God’s gift to us all.
2. Avoid the frenzy:
Try not to add to the craziness of this season by being frantic yourself about last minute shopping, entertaining or decorating.
3. Make time to read the Bible & pray every day:
Hopefully this is something as Christian’s we’re already doing, but Advent is an excellent time of the year to familiarise yourself again with the Bible’s stories that lead up to the birth of Jesus. Use Bible reading notes, which give you a short passage to read each day, with a commentary (you may find some of the suggestions in the article ‘Apps for smart phones & tablets’ in this magazine helpful).
4. Make time for regular exercise:
Avoid the temptation to over eat, and watch lots of TV, instead make time for regular exercise because this is good for body, mind and spirit.
5. Do not over do your schedule:
Learn to say “no” to some of the demands or events that may beg for your presence, however enjoyable or good they may be. Know your limits. As the saying goes, “Too much of a good thing is still too much.”
6. Do not overdo gifts:
In Britain we spend more than £20bn a year on credit and debit cards in the run up to Christmas, and many people find they get themselves into debt. This year consider giving smaller, more thoughtful items. It is important to remember that the gift-giving of Christmas is supposed to spring from and be a sign of our gratitude to God for giving us the gift of his son Jesus.
7. Do not expect the culture to follow your lead:
A truly Christian approach to Advent will inevitably be counter-cultural. Our spiritual health depends on our resisting the cultural message that we need to get out and “shop till we drop.”
8. Help those less fortunate than yourself:
Remember that the real Christmas story is not set in a warm and cosy house, tastefully decorated and filled with more gifts than can fit under the tree, however wonderful that all may be. The real Christmas story is set amidst those who know enduring poverty and danger. What more loving witness could you offer than to seek out some opportunity to identify with the poor and downtrodden as God does?
For example you could make a reverse advent calendar. Reverse advent calendars work by taking a box and filling it every day with an item of food that can then be taken to a food bank (such as the one we run at St James) or clothing that can be donated to charity in order to help those less fortunate that are struggling at Christmas time.
If you have children, it is a good way of involving them in preparing for Christmas, and teaching them about the importance of helping others and seeing the bigger picture at Christmas.
Things that could go in your reverse advent calendar include:
- Tinned tomatoes
- Tinned potatoes / dried mash
- Tinned vegetables
- Tinned spaghetti
- Baked beans
- UHT / Long life milk
- Tinned fruit
- Tinned meats (chilli, pie, curry, chicken, hot dogs)
- Breakfast cereals
- Soap/shower gel
- Washing up liquid
- Loo rolls
- Sanitary items
- Nappies, powdered milk, wipes etc
Let’s try and reclaim Advent and make the most of this time of expectant waiting and preparation, so that we can prepare for the coming of God into our world and in our lives once more this Christmas.
Experience of having to wait for something.
Advent Sunday - marks start of the new church year.
The word Advent means "coming" or "arrival."
Season of Advent is a time of eager anticipation and preparation to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, but also a time of looking ahead to the day when Jesus will return in power and glory to
But unlike his first coming, born as a tiny infant to a young teenage mother into poverty in an obscure little town in Israel, an event that went largely unnoticed by most people, when Jesus comes again it will be an event that the whole world will notice.
Mark 13:26 At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.
And when he comes again it will be to judge the world.
In Matthew 25 Jesus said “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." Mt 25:31-32
The coming of God to judge the world is something to be eagerly looked forward to. Tom Wright former bishop of Durham, writing in Surprised by Hope says:
“. . . God’s coming judgment is a good thing, something to be celebrated, longed for, yearned over. It causes people to shout for joy, and indeed the trees of the field to clap their hands. In a world of systematic injustice, violence, bullying, arrogance and oppression, the thought that there might be a coming day when the wicked are finally put in their place and the poor and weak are given their due is the best news there can be. Faced with a world in rebellion, a world full of exploitation and wickedness, a good God must be a God of judgment.” (p. 137)
People have tried throughout history to predict when Jesus may return - most notably the Jehovah Witnesses, who predicted his return in 1878, 1881, 1914, 1918, 1925 & 1975.
And more recently Ronald Weinland gained a lot of attention when predicted the end of the world on Pentecost Sunday, May 27th 2012. But don’t worry you didn’t miss it, he has now changed this date to Pentecost 2019.
Scripture & the Second Coming
Scripture is clear however that no one ones when Jesus' return will take place - all we do know is that it will happen one day.
Matthew 24:36-44 - Jesus talking about his return said:
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come… because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
The first Christians clearly expected the return of Jesus to be within their own lifetime, and so when fellow believers started to die, it caused worry and concern. What would happen to these believers? Will they miss out on the resurrection? What about those of us who are alive when Christ returns?
That is why Paul writes Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.1 Thess 4:13-14
Paul wants the Thessalonians to understand that death is not the end. When Christ returns, all believers, dead and alive, will be reunited, never to suffer or die again. Therefore he says 'do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.' Notice that he doesn't forbid us to grieve. Mourning over the death of a loved one is natural and healthy, even Jesus wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus.
When those we love die, it can often feel as though part of us has died with them. And working through the grief can take a very long time.
BUT as followers of Jesus, when we grieve, especially for fellow Christians who have died, there is a difference. Our grief is not a hopeless one.
A Real Hope Not Wishful Thinking
When we use the word ‘hope’ it’s often without any sense of assurance. It’s more like saying ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen, but this is what I hope for.’ For example, I might say 'I hope it's sunny tomorrow', or 'I hope my football team does well in the match next week', but it’s more wishful thinking, it is hope without any guarantee of certainty.
Whereas the hope that Paul writes about is a real, cast iron, solid assurance. It's a hope based not on what WE DO, but on what has been DONE FOR US by Jesus on the cross.
That is why Paul writes 'We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep.' (4:14)
Our hope is based on the Resurrection. Because Jesus came back to life, so will all believers. All Christians, including those who have already died when Christ returns, will live with Christ forever. This is the great assurance, all believers throughout history will stand reunited in God's very presence, safe and secure.
So therefore when a loved one dies, or when world events take a tragic turn, or the future seems all uncertain, we should not despair as those who have no hope. God will turn tragedy to triumph, poverty to riches, pain to glory, and defeat to victory.
The question we need to ask ourselves is where do we place our hope? Because there is no hope apart from Christ. If you put your hope in your church, you will be disappointed. If you put your hope in your family or friends, they will fail you. If you place your hope in your money you will be disillusioned. Only Christ can provide hope in a hopeless world.
Notice how Paul describes those Christians who have died, as having ‘fallen asleep’ in verses 13, 14, 15, Sleep has often been used as a euphemism for death, but in a Christian context it takes on a different meaning. Namely that death is only temporary. As sleep is followed by an awakening, so death will be followed by resurrection. That is why when Lazarus died, Jesus said 'Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up' (John 11:11)
On the cross, Jesus took upon himself the full horror of death so that he could transform it into no more than 'sleep' for his followers – which is why the Bible only uses the term ‘asleep’ or ‘sleep’ in reference to believers. We still face physical death, but the moment we die, we go to be with Christ. That is why Jesus was able to promise the thief on the cross that ‘today you will be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:42) And why Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:8 wrote ‘to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.’ That’s the wonderful thing, as Christians the very moment we die, we go to be in the Lord’s presence.
Coming of the Lord
As Christians our hope is founded on the knowledge that Jesus will one day return to earth, and when he does His reign of Justice and Peace, will be fully established on earth.
In the mean time we live in the tension of now and not yet. The Kingdom of God has broken out in the world, that is why Jesus declared 'The Kingdom of God is near' (Mark 1:15) but it is yet to be fully established.
It's like seeing the first snow drops in winter, it's a sign that spring is on its way. So when Jesus restored the sight of the blind, made the deaf hear, and the lame walk, and cast out demons, restored relationships it was a sign of God's kingdom breaking out in the world. But when Jesus returns in glory, the waiting will be over, all creation will be transformed.
And when Jesus returns to earth, it will be heralded by a shout from heaven, the voice of an archangel and the trumpet of God (4:16) Christ's return will be unmistakable. No one will miss it, neither the living nor the dead.
So what does all of this mean for us?
A friend of mine was had a cup which had on it Jesus is coming, quick look busy.
In Church we often use this great acclamation of faith:
Christ has died
Christ is risen
Christ WILL come again
If you had a call to say the Queen was going to visit you, you would make sure everything was ready in time.
The Scouts have a slogan, ‘Be Prepared’. We need to live in readiness for the return of Jesus. A question to consider is, if you knew without a shadow of doubt that you were going to see Christ face to face in a month’s time, would you change anything about the way you live now?
If the answer is yes, what are you going to do about it?
Jesus could return at any moment, or we could be called home to him, what might need to change in our lives to prepare to welcome Jesus?
Secondly we need to pray.
With the birth of Jesus, God stepped into the world, and became one of us. He came to bring hope, and light, and peace, to a dark and fragmented world. And the Spirit of God continues to do this through the lives of God’s people.
The world today desperately needs Christ. And so we need to pray for Jesus to come and fill our lives with his presence, fill the church with his presence, fill nation and our world with his presence.
Finally we need to partner with God in bringing the reality of his reign into our world. That is why we pray ‘Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, ON EARTH, as in heaven’.
Each one of us is called to play our part in shaping the world around us for the good of all.
As the quote attributed to John Wesley says: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
So let’s use this Advent season to look ahead with expectation & anticipation at the return of Jesus who will bring peace, justice and righteousness to the world, and let’s welcome his presence afresh into our lives.