The Return of the King by Rick Burdette
1 Thessalonians 4:13-4:18
FOLLOW THE LEADER – The Return of the King
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (pg. 825) September 6, 2015
I think it’s important that we remember that when Paul originally wrote his letters to the churches…including the Thessalonian churches, there were no chapters and verses…These early believers would have no idea what it meant to turn to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18…The archbishop of Canterbury named Stephen Langton developed the chapter and verse system in 1227 to make it easier to find scripture…and the Wycliffe English Bible of 1382 was the first to publish the Bible in chapter and verse form. Now almost all Bible translations follow Langton’s chapter divisions.
I share that only because it’s important we realize that what we’re studying is a letter. Its God inspired. But, it’s different reading a letter than a text book. When we write a letter to people we love, the ideas tend to flow. We don’t stop after 13 verses and say…New Chapter. Paul, Silas, and Timothy were in the midst of persecution. They’d been jailed right before they came to the Thessalonians…and that persecution followed them to Thessalonica…and these new believers found themselves under the same attack as the churches in Judea, and the same attacks that would kill all the Apostles, except for John.
So when the Apostle Paul writes this letter while facing severe persecution to people who are facing severe persecution…love, compassion and encouragement flow from the ink…it’s not only a book to be studied, but this is a love letter to be felt.
Just a recap of some of the statements Paul made earlier in this letter help us understand. He says, “you became imitators of us and Jesus in spite of severe suffering (1 Thess. 1:6). “We dared to tell you the gospel in spite of strong opposition. (1 Thess. 2:2) Paul knows “that the Thessalonians suffered from their own people.”
(1 Thess. 2:14) but he also knew “in all his distress and persecution he was encouraged because of this churches faith.” (1 Thess. 3:7)
I’m not sure any of us can truly understand “severe persecution, strong opposition.” Real “suffering and distress” in reaction to our faith…but I believe it’s coming.
This Follow the Leader letter to the Church is a “Hang in there” letter. In the midst of difficulty and in the middle of a sexually immoral society…stay on course, keep the faith, trust Jesus. Because the King will return…it’s why we should understand.
I. IGNORANCE ISN’T BLISS
“Brothers and sisters (Paul writes) we don’t want you to be unimformed about those who sleep in death.”
In other words…we don’t want you to be ignorant.
[I remember in a class at Johnson one of my profs. Brad Burnett while teaching on restoration history got frustrated with a student named Dwight…and he said “Dwight, you are one of the most ignorant people I’ve ever met. And Dwight seemed shocked…and replied “I don’t feel ignorant!”]
I think Dwight thought Prof. Burnett was calling him “stupid.” But ignorance isn’t stupidity…Ignorance means “uninformed.” “It means you don’t have the information you need to make the wise decision.”
Here’s an example of my ignorance…I did not know that UK, Duke, North Carolina and almost every other school received 3 to 4 times the money from the football program than it’s basketball program. Mark Nagel, Prof. of Sports and Entertainment Management Program as the University of South Carolina said, “Certainly the fans identify with what sport wins the most but football just has the potential to make so much more money with attendance and TV contracts.” I was ignorant of this truth.
The Apostle Paul doesn’t want us…or the church in Thessalonica to be uninformed, ignorant about what happens to believers when they die…this information is especially pertinent when persecution and death have affected those you love and is a real possibility for you as well.
He starts with a very real truth – Death means there will be grief. Whether you are a believer or not…death is painful…death equals separation from those who are “alive still.” Important people in our lives are now absent…and we have to keep living here…and it’s not as good without them.
It’s the struggle for all “mankind” according to Paul…“The writer of Hebrews says, “People are destined to die once, and after that to face the judgment.” (Heb. 9:27)
I shared at Judy’s funeral the other day “we’re all in the same boat…If you are human…part of mankind…life here is temporary…70, 80, 90 years at best and whether you are a believer or not, Jesus says “God causes His sun to shine on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.” (Matt. 5:45)
This life will sometimes have calm seas…sometimes storms will blow so severely you think it’s going to capsize the boat…It will be that way for every single one of us in this life.
Paul says the difference is “hope.” The question is “Have you invited Jesus in the boat with you? To hold the tiller through cancer or persecution…to control the ship until we reach safe harbor and He says “Peace be still!”
Death is strong stuff…Scripture calls it the last and greatest enemy to be defeated. It’s a shadowy valley that causes every heart to grieve. What makes the difference? What we believe is on the other side of the valley…or better yet, who we believe walks through that valley with us…and what’s on the other side. The real question:
II. DO WE BELIEVE THAT JESUS DIED, ROSE AGAIN, AND IS COMING BACK?
Paul says that “We believe that Jesus died, rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (1 Thess. 4:14)
Now that’s information that removes ignorance! And replaces it with hope. In fact Paul gives us some specifics about Jesus’ promise! There will be some of us alive when it happens…but something beautiful will happen involving believers who have died…The dead in Christ will rise, first. We know it’s a resurrection of their bodies…because Jesus is bringing “their spirits with Him…they’re already in His presence and will accompany Him when He comes back. The Arch Angel will announce “It’s time.” The trumpet will blow in celebration and whether we’ve died or are still alive, we head towards home…we meet the Lord in the clouds…perishable bodies have become imperishable. The temporary tent has been replaced with an eternal mansion. Death is swallowed up in victory. The sting of sin has been overwhelmed with the healing of forever life…with the Lord!
You see, it’s life changing…not just to believe Jesus died and rose again….BUT THAT HE’S COMING BACK!
It’s the whole point of this letter…It’s why the central core of this love letter is the two words “and so” in verse 14.
For we believe that Jesus died and rose again. “and so” we believe death doesn’t win…death isn’t the end…for those who have fallen asleep in Him or us who are still alive here!
How can you tell if someone really believes? How can you tell if faith goes beyond that of the demons who know that Jesus is the Son of God? It’s whether you live in expectation of eternity. It’s whether you long for His return…with an urgency to see Him and your loved ones again…and maybe an even greater urgency to share your hope with those who aren’t ready.
Because this hope is for believers…this is the promise for God’s children…it’s not the reality for everyone. It’s why Paul writes almost immediately in 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3 (remember, it’s a letter) “For you know very well that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night, while people are saying “peace and safety” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”
The same word that’s used to describe “eternal life” for those of us who believe in Jesus is used to describe “eternal destruction” for those who don’t.
There are 162 references in scripture to “Hell” over 70 of those references are attributed to Jesus Himself. According to the gospel, Jesus spoke more about Hell than any other subject. Matthew 25 starts out “when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him. (sounds like what 1 Thess. 4 describes, huh?) He will judge like a shepherd separating sheep from goats. Sheep on the right…goats on the left…and the characteristic that identifies the difference between the two…is “did your belief translate to your life?” Did you love and care for “the least of these?” Did you see in people who were sick, in prison, hurting and lost, the face of Jesus himself?” To those who died…the King upon his return says “come, you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” (Matt. 25:34)
But for those who did not…The King upon His return says “Depart from me, you who are cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.” (Matt. 25:41) The end of this story concludes, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matt. 25:46)
The same word for eternal is used in both instances! And the differences in destinations are determined by our life changing relationships with the King…He reveals that truth WHEN HE RETURNS, not “if” He returns.
Scripture continually cautions us to “say peace and safety.” God’s Word constantly encourages us to not become apathetic and complacent about the day of Jesus’ return…it will happen suddenly…like “a thief breaking into our house in the middle of the night.”
“But you brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.” (1 Thess. 5:40)
After this letter…and Paul’s teaching the Thessalonians ignorance has been replaced with information…so has ours…what we do with it is the difference between knowledge and wisdom.
Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a “fruit.” Wisdom is not putting it in a “fruit salad.”
Knowledge is knowing that Jesus is going to return…wisdom is living in expectation of it.
[I’ve carried a letter in my wallet since August 10, 2007…I’d like to read it to you in conclusion of this message.
For the past week I’ve had this weight bearing down on my heart and I don’t know what it is or where and why I feel this. It’s like I feel how you feel….I can’t help but worry and have a sense that you need some words from someone that knows you because they are lucky enough to be exactly like you. God has been calling me and I feel that you need to know some things that I can’t ever tell you in words. Either because we are just a bunch of babies and I could never get them out or they just don’t have any words that can explain it. But I’m gonna try.
My whole life from the time I was born there has never been a time when I could say that you were anything less than an amazing father. I don’t know what it is but there has always been something there between you and I. Even as a child I couldn’t help but idolize you and truly see God in every work of your life. I was laying in my bed about 10 minutes ago and all I could think about was how much I miss my father…and it’s not that you’re just my father. It’s way more than that. I don’t exactly know the point in which it changed but it was close to the same time that the house you raised me in was no longer the home that I lived in, but you became my best friend. You’ve always been my dad but I see it so much different…it’s like a student and his favorite teacher. You can’t help but hang on to every word they say because you know that whatever it is will be the truth and that they have so much to teach you. You are the reason I am the way I am today and will continue to be the reason I grow into an amazingly Godly man. I’ve wanted nothing more than to make you proud…and in the process became quite proud of myself and the man you molded me into.
I’ve never told anyone this but I think that I need to tell you. I know you worry about me over here and you don’t have to. We both have the best guy for the job looking out for us. When daddy Jack died, I saw true strength. I learned on that day that my father is the strongest man alive and men like you are not made by chance or luck…they are made by amazing fathers. It’s funny how life shows you things and God works…God has shown me everything I need to know through you and my grandfather. I really want you to know that my strength and courage in life and over here comes from you. I’m sorry for things that I have done to make you look anything less than honorable but I promise that the man I have become will be a direct reflection of the man that raised me. I will go out into the world and tell everyone the good news, and with the help of God all things are possible. I love you from the deepest part of my heart and just like the Lord tells us…everything you do and say reflect on him. I will make you proud. I will continue to serve the Lord and be a direct reflection of you. Through you God has changed a lot of people’s lives and if anything…you’ve changed mine. Try to wake up with a smile because when I come home…we will be a team for the Lord. Completely unstoppable. He has been molding me through you for this purpose.
You are my hero…You always have been and what I’m doing over here is not even a portion of important compared to what you did for me.
I’m not sure how many times I took that letter out and read it…maybe hundreds of times. It made my heart feel better, it gave me hope, it made me long for when my son came home…and I’ll never forget that day in Killeen Texas when he did.
God’s Word is a love letter…every word is meant to show us His plan…His purpose of sending His Son into a “War Zone” of sin…He won the victory. He fought my fight. He died for my sin…He rose for my eternal life.
And I can’t wait until He comes back…and takes us home.