CHRIST IS COMING AGAIN
Joshua 24: 1-3a;14-25 & 1 Thess. 4:13-18
A true story is told about a distinguished man, the only white person buried in a Georgia cemetery reserved exclusively for black people. He had lost his mother when he was just a baby. His father, who never married again, hired a black woman named Mandy to help raise his son. She was a Christian, and she took her task seriously. Seldom has a motherless boy received such warmhearted attention. One of his earliest memories was of Mandy bending tenderly over him in his upstairs bedroom each day and softly saying: "Wake up, God's mornin' is come."
As the years passed, this devoted woman continued to serve as his substitute mother. The young man went away to college, but when he would come home each holiday she would climb the stairs -- more slowly now -- and call him in the same loving way.
One day after he had become a successful statesman, the sad message came: "Mandy is dead. Can you attend her funeral?" As he stood by her grave at the cemetery, he turned to his friends and said: "If I die before Jesus comes, I want to be buried here beside Mandy. I like to think that on resurrection day she'll speak to me again and say: "Wake up, my boy, God's Mornin' is come!"
The sentiment expressed by this grateful man rings true... but it will be the Lord who will say to us: "Awake my children, Morning is come!" And that's the hope of every Christian.
In the passage from 1 Thess. (that was read earlier) Paul encourages the new converts in their trials. Paul had left Thessalonica abruptly after a rather brief stay. The Church was left with very little support in a time of persecution. Many of the early believers were convinced that the Lord would return in their lifetime. Therefore, when some of them passed away the church was left confused about the future of their loved ones who had died before Christ's return. The question arose, "Will those who have died have part in the great day of the Lord?"
Paul writes this letter to comfort the Thessalonian Church about the future of their loved ones, and to encourage them to live faithfully in the hope of the resurrection.
As we look at this scripture we are aware that there is hardly anyone here today whose life has not been touched by the death of a family member or friend. For some, the separation took place a long time ago. For others, it is a recent experience that's still very fresh in our minds.
In his writing, the Apostle seems to imply that grieving the loss of our loved ones is perfectly all right. There are memories and ties of love that remain with us long after our loved ones have gone to be with the Lord. The separation and the loneliness are painful. And we must allow the natural healing process to run it's course.
However, Paul encourages us that when we grieve we ought to do so with hope in a future reunion. This is a hope that the rest of the people do not possess. For the pagans in the day of the early church, death was the ultimate separation from life. They viewed death with horror as the end of everything.
For Christians, on the other hand, death is the gateway through which we must all pass into the glory and the reward of the Lord. As Christians, we live in the hope that one day we will see Jesus face to face. We live in the hope that we will meet again with our loved ones who have gone before us. We live in the assurance that one day we will wake up, take a look around on the golden streets of the Heavenly Jerusalem and exclaim: "What a country!"
Paul uses the word "sleep" as a metaphor for death. You see, the finality and horror of death are removed by the assurance of the resurrection. Christ, indeed, bore the full horror and sting of death in order that all who believe in Him would not have to. Therefore, those who have fallen asleep in Christ will live even though we die. Believers, who have died trusting in Jesus will be raised with Him when He comes with the trumpet call of God.
I don't know about you, but I find myself thinking about my own death more than I think about the Second coming of Christ. Our culture conditions us to believe in the more immediate. You know, all it takes is an accident, or a terminal illness, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In comparison to the hazards of daily living Christ's return seems so far away. Yes, we know that He could come any minute... However, the uncertainty of knowing the time causes us to loose sight of this great promise of God.
Let me give you an example. With the Advent season approaching we talk a lot about Christ's coming. We anticipate the joy of celebrating the birth of God's son. We expect that God will come and filling our lives with His light. Christmas, Christ's Coming as a little child seems more tangible that His Second Coming. It is more reachable, as it were. It is a specific time that we can prepare for. We know the day. Our family gatherings have already been penciled into the calendar. The stores are already full of Christmas stuff. It will be here before we know it.
I wonder, how our lives would change if we knew the date and time of rapture. I wonder how we would prepare ourselves.
What we believe about Christ's second coming has a tremendous impact on how we live out our daily lives. We can be encouraged by the anticipation of a little old English lady who was well into her eighties. She had been through a lot, and she was well-versed in the adversities of life. She knew her Bible well, and she had outlived the doctor who had described her situation as terminal many years before. Her confidence in the Lord and His gracious mercies was most contagious. This lady did not approach the inevitability of death like most people would. Although she was not afraid of death, she chose rather to concentrate on the scriptural promises in regard to Jesus' return to earth. She said: "I'm not looking for the undertaker. I'm looking for the Uppertaker!"
Are we living in the same anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ? Are we waiting to meet our Savior and Lord in the sky?
Our hope and anticipation are often build on the comforts and the promises of this present world. We build our lives on the hope of a safe and secure tomorrow. Like the Israelites, we are tempted to worship the gods of the pagans. We are falling prey to the messages in our society that promise success and happiness if we only worship the gods of consumerism and self-satisfaction.
Worldly happiness is fleeting. It is here for a moment and gone the next. But, the joy of being safe in the arms of Jesus lasts for all eternity. We have His promise: 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. ... we will be caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the sky. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
Friends, Christ will come again! And when He does... what a party it will be. The reunion of a lifetime -- with our Savior and with our loved ones who have died believing in Christ. This will be the one party that we will not wanna miss.
Paul says, "Therefore -- because we have this hope -- encourage each other in your faith walk." And that is what he is in fact doing in the next chapter where we read, "5:4 But you, brothers (and sisters), are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are sons (and daughters) of light and of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. ...Putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up."
Be watchful for the day of the Lord! Know that your faith and actions will determine where you spend eternity. We are put in a similar situation as the people of Israel in the time of Joshua. We have heard God's promise that he will return and that he will take his faithful people to be with Him for all eternity. We have seen a glimpse of the promise of the resurrection morning in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
However, living with this anticipation also requires a commitment on our part. Joshua presented a choice before God's people when they entered the promised land: "Choose today whom you will serve. The gods of the worldly cultures... or the Lord who has set you free from slavery." We too are summoned to make a choice today between the gods of our culture and Jesus Christ.
When we get too absorbed in our own busy lives -- our work our school, our family lives -- let us keep the hope in Christ's return. When we are swamped with things to do, places to go, and people to see, let us not get discouraged. Rather, let us be encouraged to be faithful to God and watchful for the day in which we will meet our Uppertaker.
Let us not be in the dark about the Day of the Lord. It will be God's ultimate redeeming act for his people. But it will also be a day of judgment. Joshua said to the people of Israel, "Your own actions will be witnesses against you before God. Therefore, choose today whom you will serve."
My hope and prayer is that the assurance of Christ's Second Coming will not drive us to fear the day of judgment. But rather, that it would fill us with anticipation and an unshakable hope in the great reunion. Christ came proclaiming, that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Indeed, God lives and works among us. Let us respond to the challenges of our daily lives in a way that reflects the Reign of God within us.
God's word calls for a decision from each one of us. The Day of Christ's return is certain. May our lives reflect joy and anticipation for this great and wonderful day. May our actions affirm our faith in the victorious Second Coming of the Lord. Let us encourage one another to respond to the challenges in our daily lives with faith and hope in the salvation of the Lord. Let us live as children of light.
Jesus says: (Rev. 22:17 "The Spirit and the bride say 'Come!' And let him who hears say 'Come!' Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. 20b Yes, I am coming soon."
Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!