So, I made a mistake this morning. I wasn’t even thinking when I got ready this morning. I wore an orange tie. Considering the introduction to today’s sermon, I should have worn a red one. Or maybe even my IU tie.
Oh well. Not much I can do about it now.
We finished 1 Thessalonians on Sunday and were reminded that as we live in expectation of Christ’s return, we cannot merely sit back and become complacent, fiddling like Nero while the world continues to burn. We have to wake up, clean up, dress up, and get to work during the meantime.
On a side note, this passage is a particularly memorable one for me. When I went to Milligan College on my first prospective student visit, I sat in on a New Testament Survey class led by Dr. Roberts. The class was discussing this text that day. The most memorable part of my experience in that class was Dr. Roberts’s emphasis that Paul makes it clear that the Second Coming will not be a secret. The world will know what is happening. As you can see, that understanding continues to influence my thinking – more than 15 years later.
The manuscript is behind the jump, and I’ll add the audio later (it hasn’t been converted to digital yet).
**EDIT** The audio has been uploaded. Click here to hear it. Sorry the sound quality is a little fuzzy. Not sure what happened with that.
I want you to know that I have a pretty amazing wife. Of course, every guy should say that, right? But I’ve got proof.
It was April 1, 2002 and after an improbable run in the national men’s basketball tournament (also known as March Madness), including the thrilling upset of #1-seeded Duke BlueDevils and defeating the #1-seeded Oklahoma Sooners, the 5th-seeded Indiana Hoosiers, led by Dane Fife, Tom Coverdale, Jared Jeffries, Jarrad Odle, Jeff Newton, and A.J. Moye, found themselves in the Championship Game against another #1 seed: the Maryland Terrapins. Now, if you’ve been paying any attention at all in the two years I’ve been here, or even if you haven’t but have stepped foot in my office, I’m pretty sure you can figure out that this was a very big deal to me. And everyone knew it.
Christy was pregnant with Alyson at the time. And she was very pregnant. Like, past-due pregnant. In fact, she was scheduled to go in the very next morning to have labor induced. Because we knew labor could happen at any time, my Mom was staying with us so she could watch Aiden while we were at the hospital. Christy’s suitcase was packed and we were ready to go first-thing in the morning. But first was the important matter of the Hoosiers beating those pesky Terrapins and winning their 6th national championship.
A few minutes into the game, I noticed that Christy had a particular look of discomfort on her face. I was pretty sure it didn’t have anything to do with the way the Hoosiers were playing that night. Something else was definitely going on. But she didn’t say anything. I think I mentioned something about going to the hospital a couple of times during that first half, but Christy just brushed off the suggestion.
As the game progressed, I could tell something was going on. Being the well-prepared Dad that I was, having gone through all the birthing classes, it was pretty easy for me to think to myself, “Oh. She’s in labor.” I asked her again several times if we needed to get going to the hospital. I mean, the possibility of IU winning another national championship was something I really wanted to see, but…you know…the hospital was at least a half an hour away. And we really didn’t want to be one of those news stories where the baby is born in the back of the car on the highway.
Besides, the Hoosiers were getting beat anyway.
But Christy said we didn’t need to go yet. She was fine. Just finish watching the game. So I did.
With the win over Duke earlier in the tournament, Dad and I began this tradition of talking to each other about the game on the phone. The essence of the phone call was usually me jumping up and down shouting “They won! They won! They won! They won!” And Dad chuckling, saying, “Yep.” Well, this time, Dad called just before the game ended. I don’t remember anything he said because Christy was lying on the couch showing even more signs of labor. I do remember saying the occasional “uh huh” and “yeah,” but I was pretty focused by this point on the fact that yes, it really was time to get Christy to the hospital. Eventually, I rather curtly said, “I’ve gotta go” and handed the phone to my Mom. She explained the situation to Dad while I checked on Aiden one last time, grabbed the car keys and Christy’s suitcase, and escorted her to the car. And just a few hours later, Alyson was born.
See? Christy’s a pretty amazing wife! She even waited for the game to be over before agreeing to go to the hospital. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.
We had prepared for this day. We had the childcare taken care of for Aiden. We had packed a suitcase. We had gone through the birthing classes. We’d even timed the drive to the hospital so we would know how long it would take to get to the Birthing Center. The doctors had taken regular measurements and we knew how Alyson’s development was progressing. We were prepared and we were ready. But even with all of this analysis and preparation, none of us had any idea when our daughter was going to come.
Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul use the coming birth of a baby as an illustration of our anticipation of the return of Jesus Christ. In the first chapter of Acts, the Apostles had just witnessed the return of the resurrected Jesus to the Father. As they stood in amazement as he disappeared in the clouds, two men (whom we assume were angels) appeared before them and said, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). And since that time, we have been watching the signs and preparing for his eventual return. But even with all our preparation, analysis, and speculation, we do not have any idea about the time of his return – much like we do not have any idea about the exact timing of the coming of a baby. Although we have no idea about timing, we need to live our lives in anticipation of his return.
If you have your Bibles with you, please turn with me to 1 Thessalonians 4:13. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 is found on page 1030.
The Thessalonian Christians were concerned. The trials and persecution they were experiencing had led some of them to begin to wonder if Jesus Christ had already returned and they had somehow missed the second coming; that he had come back and no one knew about it. So they were concerned. They were concerned about their own future. And they were also concerned about the future of their friends who had already died – would they be participants in the Second Coming, or had they already missed the boat? Paul reminds them (and us) that when Jesus returns, there will be no doubt about it. While it will be a surprise, it won’t be a secret.
That’s some pretty vivid language, isn’t it? There will be a loud trumpet and a call from the archangel. Graves will burst open and give up their dead. Then the believers who are still alive will be caught up in the air. The announcement of his return will leave little doubt about what’s going on. It won’t be a secret. The world will know without a doubt what is going on.
There is a temptation to take this knowledge and sit around and wait. Some think it means putting on a white sheet and sitting atop a mountain in isolation. It means we live expectantly, with eternity’s values in view.
So how do we do that? How do we live expectantly in anticipation of Christ’s return? Paul reminds us of the answer in the conclusion to this letter to the Thessalonian Christians.
Because the Day is approaching, it is time for us to wake up, clean up, dress up, and get to work.
We need to wake up to the times. In the earlier passage, Paul refers to those Christians who had died as “asleep” in Christ. Although the body was dead, the spirit continues to live.
In this section, however, when he uses the word “sleep,” Paul’s not talking about believers who have already died. He’s talking about moral indifference and carelessness about spiritual things.
Some would say that prior to September 11, 2001, our nation had fallen asleep. There was a growing group of people who hated us simply because we were Americans and wanted to see us dead. On that day, we were awakened to the fact that they had been at war with us for a very long time. We just weren’t at war with them.
Looking back, people have argued that the United States intelligence agencies and leadership should have been able to connect the dots and known that something was coming. But, too many people had become complacent and fallen asleep.
Growing up, I was a morning person. At the first sign of sunlight, I was up out of bed, ready to take on the day. My parents weren’t too happy about that on Saturday mornings when I was up at 6 in the morning. But there wasn’t anything they could do. I was a morning person. Believe me, they tried! They even managed to find these panels that fit inside my windows, blocking out any hint of sunlight in the morning. But that didn’t stop me. At 7:00 in the morning, I was always up and ready to go.
Of course, that has changed over the years and I doubt “morning person” is a title anyone would give me now. But when it comes to the return of Christ, we must be morning people – awake and ready for the dawning of a wonderful new day. And with our eyes open in anticipation of his return, we’ll see where God is working in the world today. Now is not the time to get complacent or to hole ourselves up in isolation. It’s not the time for spiritual apathy or dullness. We worship and follow the Living God and He has given us life. It’s the time to wake up and start looking at the world the way God is looking at it. Our future is secure in God’s hand, so we can live our lives creatively, calmly, and obediently.
Living expectantly in anticipation of Christ’s return also means we clean up our lives. In spite of what some may believe or argue, life without Christ is an empty life. These are the people Paul says are living in the night. In John 8:12, Jesus tells us that he is “the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Life outside of Christ is darkness. All of us have sinned. We have fallen short of God’s perfection. And that sin stains every aspect of our lives. But because of the love of God who doesn’t want to leave us there in darkness, He sent His son who willingly gave up His own life and had His own blood poured out to wash away our sins. That saves us from the punishment of our sins and makes us clean. The hope we have because of our salvation takes place in all tenses of our lives. In the past, we have been saved from the guilt and penalty of sin. In the present, we continue to be saved and cleansed from the guilt and penalty of sin. And in the future, we shall be saved from the very presence of sin when Christ returns. And God wants us to remain clean – even though we live in a world darkened by sin. When we allow the light of God’s love to shine from within us, it pushes away the darkness around us. Living expectantly means we allow God to continue to work on us, cleansing us from impurities and shaping us into the people He wants us to be. We are not the ones who can make ourselves clean. That’s something only God can do. Turning to Him and relying on Him for our righteousness will result in clean and holy living. And when people look at the changes in your life, they will notice something different, which will “draw attention and glory to God. Your life will be so attractive to others that they will be bubbling over with curiosity: when they don’t overhear you talking badly about your supervisor at work, when you don’t seek out the juiciest gossip…circling around the office (or the community), when you suggest they consider letting you pray with them about some difficult circumstances they’re facing – our lives will stick out! Not because we go around tooting our own horns, but because people see Jesus coming out of us in the way we live our lives” and the way God has cleaned us up and changed us, drawing attention to Him and giving Him glory.
While living expectantly means we continue to live in this darkened world. We may want to go off and live in a commune somewhere, but God has called us to be lights to a darkened world from within the world. As we live our lives in this fallen world, God hasn’t left us here alone to fend for ourselves without the right equipment. He has given us an armor of light that will adequately protect us in these last days before Christ returns: the breastplate of faith and love and a helmet, the hope of salvation. We have to dress up and put them on for protection.
A Roman breastplate covered a soldier from his neck to his waist and protected most of his vital organs. It protected him from an enemy’s attacks. Much like the Roman breastplate, faith and love guard a believer’s heart against the assaults of the Enemy. Faith draws our hearts towards God. And love draws us towards God’s people. These two cannot be separated. If you love God, you also love others.
Hope is a sturdy helmet that protects the mind. Some may fix their minds on the things of this world, while dedicated believers set their attention on things above. It guards our heads from attacks on our thinking. The hope of salvation is not a wishful longing that someday we might be saved, but a sure, confident hope in Christ during the things to come.
As we live in the times between the comings of Jesus Christ, we must continue to live with expectation of his return. We must never allow the study of prophecy to become purely academic or a source of tension or argument. The reason we even have these prophecies is to encourage us how to live right now. We cannot allow ourselves to give up meeting together to encourage and challenge one another. With the expectation of Christ’s return, we must get to work. We’re living in a world that will someday face judgment. Legend has it that while a great fire raged through the city of Rome, the emperor Nero sat in his tower and played his lyre while the city was consumed. Because of sin, the world around us is on fire. As we live our lives expectant of Christ’s return, we cannot sit around and fiddle while everything else burns. We have to wake up, clean up, dress up, and get to work.
Eli Dorman, http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon.asp?SermonID=82043&Page=5