HOW EVERYTHING WILL GO DOWN
Dear Friends in Christ,
God has commanded us to be good stewards of his creation. Like everything else we have fallen short here too. Drive through a parking lot at a strip mall and you see all kinds of trash intentionally thrown out the windows of cars. It is sad to see how selfish and self-centered people are when we don’t consider there are others living on this planet. This is God’s creation; to mess it up is sin.
On the other hand, there are those who go too far the other way. To some it appears that this planet has become their god. God has given us this planet to use, but they treat it like a carpet that has been cleaned but no one is allowed to walk on it. When I was growing up scientists fretted more about a return to the ice age than burning up from global warming. It’s ironic!
This week, the “forever” election came to an end. We have spent a lot of time fretting. I didn’t particularly like either of the candidates. Yet there is more to be concerned about than the next four years; we need to be concerned about forever.
We are in the time of the church year where we talk about the last things. That’s the theme for today “How All Things are Going Down.” 1) Don’t fear it; rather, 2) Cheer it.
The church in Thessalonica was evidence of the grace of God. Every church exists by God’s grace, but the church in Thessalonica has a big exclamation mark. When Paul crossed into Europe for the first time, he went to the city of Philippi. From there he went to Thessalonica. His normal method of mission work was to go to the local synagogue and preach that Jesus of Nazareth. He was the long-promised and long-awaited Messiah. His time in Thessalonica is summarized in nine verses of Acts chapter seventeen: “On three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah.’” That message won souls for Jesus. Anytime a sinner repents there is rejoicing among the angels in heaven. That happened in Thessalonica. “Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.”
But Paul also stirred up a hornet’s nest. The Devil had the city of Thessalonica firmly in his grip until Paul came to town. Satan wasn’t letting go. A riot flared up. Some bad characters came looking for Paul. Paul had to escape under the cover of darkness. Three Sabbaths – that’s all the time he had to get the message of Christ to the people. That wasn’t nearly enough time. Yet, by the grace of God a church was founded there, but they needed to be strengthened.
One area they lacked was about death and Judgment Day. So Paul wrote, “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.” The Thessalonians had concerns about those friends and relatives in Christ who had already passed on. Where were they? How would Judgment Day affect them?
When I was at the Seminary and learning how to preach, a professor said there is a desire for novice preachers to preach every teaching of the Bible every Sunday. He said you need to remember that you have next week to preach (Yet, the Lord could return in the meantime). Paul, however, didn’t have next week. He only stayed in town for three weeks. After he left, this was the letter he composed to encourage them.
“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.”
There are four points in that verse that need emphasis.
- The most important point is that Jesus died and rose again. If that didn’t happen, shut the Bible and shut the doors and go home. But he did die and he did rise. Because he did, we have hope and certainty. Jesus died to pay for sin; he arose to prove it. Our sin is gone and nothing will keep us from heaven except to reject it.
- The second point is that all who believe in him know that when they die their soul separates from their body, and their soul goes to heaven. We know this because when Judgment Day comes Jesus will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in him. Ecclesiastes states that at the death of a believer “the dust (the body) returns to the ground it came from but the spirit returns to God who gave it.”
- The third point is “so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” When the end of the world comes, as Jesus promises, the souls of all who died in Christ will return with Jesus to be reunited with their bodies. Those bodies will be restored beyond what they ever experienced before. We will be perfect and free from all the effects results of sin – death-free, cancer-free, scar-free, sin free.
- The fourth point is subtle. Notice the different words that Paul uses for Jesus’ death – “he died” – while those who are faithful to him he refers to “fall asleep.” Jesus, however, died. He died because his death was the wages of sin. The penalty of sin was exacted on him. Because the wages of sin were exacted on him, death becomes a sleep to us from which our bodies will one day be awakened. Don’t get me wrong we die all right, but it is not the worst thing that can happen. It is not permanent.
To God and to his people death is like a sleep. On Sunday afternoons I usually nap. It is the pastor’s job to nap on Sunday afternoon. A baseball game is on. The dishwasher might be running. A pastor is totally oblivious to all of it. That’s a pastor’s job. The telephone rings. It awakens me. I come to my senses. That’s the way we should look at death of the body. The Lord will bring life to our bodies as easily as waking someone from a nap on Judgment Day.
Judgment Day is a one time thing for everyone. It is the big event. Apparently there were some in Thessalonica that didn’t understand that. “According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.” Judgment Day is all-inclusive. No one will be able to skip it. It is not optional even though there will be billions who will not want to be there. No one will be left behind. All need to be prepared.
Through the apostle more details of the great and glorious day are provided. “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” While the Bible says that Judgment Day will come like a thief in the night meaning that it will come suddenly, everyone will know it and experience it. In fact, when Jesus returns the second time, it will be so unlike the first time. It will be a universe shaking event and not limited to a small town in Judea. Jesus won’t appear as a tiny flesh and blood baby dressed in swaddlings, but as the great and majestic ruler of the universe accompanied by countless holy and radiant angels.
Baloney, many say! All you Christians are doing are trying to scare people and control them. You are using the fear factor to manipulate everyone. We really shouldn’t be surprised by those charges.
Peter who spent lots of time with Jesus heard Jesus teach about the coming of the day of the Lord a lot. He writes, “Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” They said the same at Noah’s time that he was just trying to scare everyone and manipulate them. But warning is not manipulation, it is love. Noah warned the people of his day by preaching and by building that boat in the backyard. “But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the Day of Judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”
If the end of the world comes before we die, we won’t get any delight saying to people, “I told you so!” It will be more like, “Why didn’t you believe the Word of God?”
How do we prepare and lead others to prepare? Let this illustration give you help. Some pioneers were making their way across the Great Plains that had been opened for them to homestead. They traveled in covered wagons so the travel was slow. One day they were horrified as they looked to the west. They saw a long line of smoke stretching for miles across the prairie. A wild fire was rampaging toward them. There was no way to escape. One man knew what needed to be done. He gave the command to set fire to the grass behind them. When big space was burned over, the whole company moved back where it was burned.
As the flames roared toward them from the west, a little girl cried out in terror, "We are gonna be burned up!" “No,” the leader cried out, “The flames won’t reach us here. We are standing where fire has already burned. There is nothing to burn.”
Think about that picture. The fires of God’s wrath on sin have already been burned on Christ, haven’t they? He was even forsaken by God and experienced hell. He died to pay sin’s punishment. There is no punishment to endure. Stand in Christ. In other words, in Him we are safe.
A hymn writer wrote it like this:
“On Him (Jesus) Almighty vengeance fell,
Which would have sunk a world to hell.
He bore it for a chosen race,
And thus becomes our Hiding Place."
St. Paul concludes that after the judgment all believers will be “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
Thoughts of death and Judgment Day are intimidating, even scary. There are no practice runs and rehearsals. It occurs once. Remember the purpose of Jesus’ mission. Jesus came to the rescue! He came to prepare the way to heaven and to be the way to heaven. Put your trust in him. That’s the way a; will go down. You don’t have to fear his coming; rather cheer his coming.