Here's both the video of yesterday's online worship from Living Water Lutheran Church and the full transcript of the message, The Only Hope. God bless you this week with faith in Jesus.
First, Christians in North America have largely forgotten how to hope.
It seems that many of our fellow Christians have fallen into a kind of despondency, something that Martin Luther scorns when he talks about Christians descending into “despair and other great and shameful sins.”
“The world is such a terrible place,” these hopeless Christians tell each other over private conversations and on social media. They then catalog all the ways in which “the world,” (not them, by the way) has gone wrong.
Folks, the world went wrong a long time ago, back in a garden where Adam and Eve, fell into sin.
Moral decay and death have been the way of the world ever since.
It existed when, disgusted with the human race, God told Noah to build an ark in which He would save Noah’s family and the animal species of the world but destroy everyone else.
It existed when Jesus, God the Son, perfect and sinless, was rejected by the world for which He came to die and rise.
But the reality of sin, death, and evil, in us and around us, should never cause Christians to forget to hope.
We have hope: Jesus, Who tore open the wall between God and the human race with His sacrificial death, then blazed the trail into eternal life with God for all who both acknowledge that they are “in bondage to sin” and incapable of freeing ourselves, and live and die in the faith in Jesus that God the Holy Spirit builds in those who stand under God’s promises made and kept in Christ.
But the sorrow of that African Christian for we believers in North America probably has a second reason: We too often put our hope in the wrong things.
Those of our congregation who go to Haiti to serve alongside the Church there always return with tales of the joy in Christ and the joy in worship that they see in our Haitian sisters and brothers in Christ. They live in Christian hope despite living in the most poverty-stricken country in the Western Hemisphere. At a rational level, the prospects of their ever living in a country with the kinds of freedoms or opportunities most of us enjoy here are nonexistent to minimal. And from the perspective of this same rationality, the likelihood that they will ever have the kinds of health or life expectancies that we take for granted in North America and Europe is minuscule.
But the Haitian Christians have hope.
And it isn’t rooted in things, or stuff, or presidents, or politics.
In today’s second Bible lesson, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, the apostle Paul writes to the Christian churces in Thessalonica.
Thessalonica, to this day, is a port city of Greece that sets on the Aegean Sea.
Paul had once preached to the Christians there. But, by the time he writes this letter in about 55 AD, some time has passed.
Paul has received word through the young pastor Timothy, who is visiting him, how things are going with the Thessalonian Christians. He’s overjoyed with their faithfulness to Christ.
But Timothy also apparently brought Paul some disturbing news. Some of their number had died and the surviving members were overtaken with despondent grief.
Some scholars believe that this hopelessness was born of their belief that, since the world was so rotten with sin, Jesus’ return was imminent. But, they were sure that since Jesus hadn’t returned before their Christian friends and loved ones died, those friends and loved ones were lost for all eternity.
They’d been putting their hope in how they thought Jesus would do things, replacing the real hope that Jesus gives to those who believe in Him--life with Him by our sides in this world and perfect life with Him beyond the grave--with a false hope: the fantasy that Jesus would come back before being His disciple got harder, the fake hope that Jesus would make the world go the way they wanted it to go right now.
This is why--both compassionately and forcefully--Paul addresses the Thessalonians (and you and me) as he does in our lesson. “Brothers and sisters,” Paul says, “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.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)
Like others, Christians mourn the loss of friends and loved ones. Death is an offense to every human being. We know that God made us to live, not to die.
Yet the wages of sin is still death and all human beings born into the condition of sin remain susceptible to death and all the suffering that goes with it.
But, Paul says, we need not grieve the way those who have no hope grieve.
He then says why: “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. 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. 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.” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-16)
When Jesus Christ returns to this world, on a timetable established by God the Father, it won’t be a secret. Heaven is going to throw a party on the earth the likes of which we can’t even imagine.
Then, Christ will raise from their graves all who have died believing in Him.
Jesus’ victory over death will belong to all who, by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, have confessed their faith in Jesus Christ: both the living and the formerly dead.
That’s a hope that is ours no matter what!
Then Paul says, “After that, we who are still alive and are left 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.” (1 Thessalonians 4:17)
Some people read these words too metaphorically, others too literally.
This verse doesn’t mean that Christians are going to fly off to heaven when Jesus comes back. That’s a false teaching that nobody in the history of Christianity ever thought or believed until the nineteenth century when a misinformed Bible teacher named C.I. Scofield propounded the theory.
Here’s what Paul means.
When God met Moses on Mount Sinai, God descended in a bright cloud that surrounded Moses in God’s glory.
When the people of Israel went through the wilderness, they were led by God Who came to them in the pillar of a cloud.
When Jesus was transfigured on the mountaintop, He, Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, and John were enveloped in a cloud of God’s glory as God told the three disciples, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him!”
And so, when Jesus returns, He will envelop His people in His glorious kingdom and they will live in the sinless atmosphere--the air--of His presence.
Our hope as disciples of Jesus Christ is that we who already belong to Him, will one day be enveloped by His perfect, glorious embrace.
Jesus will descend as He once ascended and finally and fully establish His kingdom of which all who confess His name are citizens.
We belong to Jesus forever, whether we live or die, and whatever is happening in this world.
So, when you hear your sisters and brothers in Christ caving into despair or putting their hope in the wrong gods--from politics to possessions, from being healthy to being wealthy, Saint Paul exhorts us, in verse 18, “encourage one another with these words.”
Friends, if you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior and God, you have hope, whether you’re rejoicing or you’re grieving.
In Jesus, you have hope.
The only hope.