Thursday, 24 November 2016

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 The Coming King

Intro

Experience of having to wait for something.

Advent

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 
the earth.

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.

Death

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.

Prepare

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?

Pray

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.

Partner

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.