“God Is a God Who Comes”

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Dr. Robert J. Anderson

November 9, 2014

 

 

The occasion of Paul’s words to the people in the Thessalonian church is to address their apprehension.  What happens with the believers who died?

 

What do we think about those who have died and what will become of them?  Early on the believers, including Paul, believed that Jesus’ return was imminent.  It would happen in their life time.  They were concerned about being too encumbered with the things of this life, that they wouldn’t be able to serve Jesus when he returned.  Some didn’t want to get married or have families for this reason.  It was like they lived each day seeing the light of Jesus’ return just over the horizon, and it would burst forth at any moment.  While they are waiting for Jesus’ return, some of their members died.  What will happen with them?  Will they miss out on the joy of Christ’s return?  They are grieving for their loved ones, and they are afraid that those who died won’t share with them, the living, in the benefits of Christ’s return.

 

Paul responds to their concerns very pastorally.  Very succinctly he tells them to encourage one another with the hope they all share.  First of all, the hope is in Jesus Christ.  Then he tells a visual story about the return of Christ.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and therefore God will bring those who believe in Jesus along with him.  He says that those who died will rise first.  Then those who are alive at the time will be caught up in the clouds together with those who died and meet Christ in the air.  Then together, those who died and those alive at the time of Christ’s return will live the Lord forever.

 

Paul comforts the grieving people with this picture story of Christ’s return.  Far from the dead missing out on the joy and benefits of Christ’s return, they will be the first to experience them!  Those that died before Christ’s return will fully enjoy everything.  There is unity between the living and the dead in Christ.

 

Paul wrestles with a concept that is beyond his and our ability to put into words.  He does the best he can in creating a word picture/story.  Paul’s concern is comforting people with the hope we have in Christ and the unity that the dead and living will share in the new realm of God.  Paul is not concerned with the details of Christ’s return.  For Paul, the focus is first, last, and always Jesus’ death and resurrection.

 

People wrestle with what we call the “end times” today just like forever.  They search the scriptures trying to find descriptions of heaven and Christ return that are clear when all that is there is hints of heaven.  It is too bad that people have taken passages like Paul’s in 1 Thessalonians that is meant to be comforting and distort it to conjure up mythical images of Christ’s return that are anything but comforting.  I tried to read the books in the series Left Behind, but I stopped before I completed the fourth book.  I just couldn’t do it anymore.

 

The book takes Paul’s words of comfort, the unity of the living and dead in Christ, and hope we have in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and makes them the image of pain and fear!  A spouse comes home and finds his wife gone, and he is left behind.  Children find their parents gone, and they are left behind.  Parents find their children gone, and they are left behind.

 

Paul’s words deal with the hope the Christians have in Christ, whether living or dead, when he returns.  And, this is a hope that the world does not share.  His words are not intended to describe in great detail what the second coming will look like, and we should not distort his words to make them.

 

The God Paul serves and the one we serve is a God who comes.  Classical Christianity asserts that the Advent of Christ happens in a three-fold Parousia(which is the Greek word for coming or arrival.

 

Shortly, we will begin the season of Advent when we prepare our hearts and minds for the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.  Together we will look at what Jesus’ birth means to us.  What impact does the incarnation have upon our daily living?  How does Jesus’ birth fill us with hope and joy?  The whole story of Jesus’ birth is about the God who comes to us.  We couldn’t bridge the gap between God and us.  God did it. The Word of God, Jesus, took on human form and came to earth that we might see and hear God.  God is a God who comes.

 

Christ will come in glory.  This is the second coming.  It was the second coming that concerned the Thessalonians and would their loved ones that died miss out on the joy.  Paul and John of Revelation and others write of Christ coming again in glory and power.  In the coming judgment there will be an accounting.  Have we lived the lives God created us to live or have we lived lives created by us?  God is a God who comes.

 

But, there is a third coming, and it is the coming of the Holy Spirit that brings us new life and new life into our world.  God is about making all things new here and now.  The Holy Spirit wants to work through us to make things new.  Personally – forgiveness, renewal, and filled with hope and peace.  Social – reconciling enemies, restoring relationships, ending prejudice, overcoming hate with love, building up rather than tearing down.  Political – creating an atmosphere where groups work together for the good of all rather than the favored few.  On Pentecost, we celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church.  God is a God who comes.

 

God is a God who comes!  Whether God descends from heaven and meets Christians in the air; Whether he comes as a child in a manger in Bethlehem; Whether God comes into this world living through the power of the Spirit; God is a God who comes!

 

God is on the move!  God is a dynamic God.  God is never static.  God is never stale.  God is always stirring, always opening up reality to God eternal promises and possibilities.

 

We live in a world that consumes us.  Fear threatens to consume us with random acts of terror? will our resources last through our retirement years?  Daily we are peppered with the bullets of consumerism.  Buy this to stay young.  Drive this car and people will be attracted to you.  Buy this produce to stay secure.  We are isolated by the very products that can bring us together.  Computers, smart phones.  Texting instead of talking.  E-mails instead of phone calls.  We live in a world with sickness and death, tragedies, and great sadness.  We struggle just to keep our head above water let alone have the energy to try to find God.

 

In the midst of all we face daily, all that tends to pull us down and apart, there is a God who comes to us.  We are not alone.  There is God who comes to us.  And, we are surrounded by a vast cloud of witnesses—living and dead!  Look around you at the people who are battling cancer, lost loved ones to death, struggling with difficult choices and ask if they haven’t seen the God who comes to them in their prayers, in their mediations, and in you!  As God’s Holy Spirit fills you, you are the vehicle of the God who comes!

 

All praise to the God who comes – lovingly, mercifully, forgiving, and giving new life!