1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:2 (NIV)
13 Brothers and sisters, 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. 14 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. 15 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. 16 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. 17 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. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
5 Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
As we come to the end of the Church Year our weekly Bible Readings bring us into the more apocalyptic prophesies as we heard earlier from 1 Thessalonians 5:1–2 (NIV): Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
We have images of accountability with the parable of the talents from Matthew 25 and then we listen to the news on the radio, the television and on the internet – we hear about he signs foretold in the Scriptures which will precede the return of Jesus in glory to claim those who have been baptised and believe.
When we reflect on what we hear and see it’s not surprising that in the last 100 odd years there has been a significant change in the tone or mood of the world. There have been hugely significant changes in technology which have revolutionised the way much of the world lives and thinks which have changed the way people relate to one another.
Humanity’s potential to kill and destroy one another has increased beyond the imagination of 19th century thinking.
We still eat basically the same kind of foods, thanks to God’s good provision, that our ancestors ate – it may be more processed now but it still usually comes from the paddock or the ocean. Most people still eat fruit and vegetables, eggs, meat and dairy products.
We still wear the same basic clothing as our ancestors, just styled differently. We still have buttons on the sleeves of shirts and jackets – originally put there to keep English soldiers from wiping their noses on their sleeves.
Our dwellings, too, have not really changed that much with walls, roof, floor, doors and windows – we’ve made changes of convenience bringing inside the cooking and personal hygiene facilities.
What has really changed is the way we relate to one another and the world we live in. George Forrel commenting on ‘The Return of Christ in Judgement’ in Article XVII of the Augsburg Confession says,
“Our ancestors believed that the world was not subject to human control, that whatever men might do, their physical environment and they themselves would not substantially change. We are convinced today that for good or ill we have the power to change our environment, ourselves, and the shape of future generations.”
This new thinking about what we can change is true in the areas of “global warming”, “genetics” and “social engineering.”
The philosophies of the past were designed to teach us how to cope with life. The way we lived life itself would not change much - we would retain our community’s character, learning how to live with our community’s changes in fortune or misfortune. In effect we learned how to cope with our environment, each other and future generations.
There have always been various tools to help us cope with change – religion is one of these tools to help us move with the times – to accept, adapt or reject change.
In all of this, the biggest change in humanity’s thinking is that we can change our environment and even ourselves.
As a result of this thinking a growing number of people now think that we have moved beyond religion and no longer need it as a crutch to support us in coping with change and the unknown’s in life.
The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche in the late 19th century made popular the idea that “God is dead” which leads us to the idea that mankind can fend for itself because we have no choice but to do so.
As an aside, a popular piece of graffiti in the early 20th Century said “’Nietzsche is dead.’ – God.”
It’s obvious, even to the casual observer, that some changes humanity have made to the environment and social structures of society are not necessarily for the better – “change can be good but not all change is good”.
For example in the debacle of the Armistice which changed boarders and the economic climate of Europe at the end of the 1st World War brought about the rise of fascism and the atrocities of Nazi philosophy.
The technological change in weapons in the atomic age brought about “the mass murder of tens of thousands of defenseless men, women, and children at Hiroshima. The on-going result is the current posturing and posing of North Korea and the United States with the possibility of all out nuclear war.
The image of a city engulfed in flames as described in Revelation chapter 20 and became very real with the advent of atomic bombs. The potential for the annihilation of the world’s population was calculated frequently at the height of the Cold War – and probably is still today.
We frequently hear in the media that we can change and control our environment and we can manipulate people to think in new and often contradictory ways. Many of the books forecasting the future of the world spelt doom and gloom – Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock is just one example from last century.
A search of the internet is full of gloomy predictions for the future. George Dvorsky on the GIZMODO website has the headline: “10 Predictions About The Future That Should Scare The Hell Out Of You” which includes such things as: being able to create your own pandemic, the return of authoritarianism, the impending dominance of artificial intelligence, the effects of climate change, the post antibiotic medical chaos, and contact with extra-terrestrial intelligence.
The media tell us through books, magazines and movies about the danger of the self-destructive nature of mankind. As Forrel comments:
“The future looks menacing precisely because man has so much power to influence it; it is man who represents the greatest danger to man. The increase of human power has been accompanied by the fear for his survival as a human being. That seems to be the message of the more sophisticated science fiction. Not the super-man but the inferior-man stares up at us from the pages of these books. (I would add films and internet) Big Brother is watching you!”
Now, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with our text and Article XVII of the Augsburg Confession which states:
Our churches teach that at the end of the world Christ will appear for judgment and will raise all the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:2]. 2 He will give the godly and elect eternal life and everlasting joys, 3 but He will condemn ungodly people and the devils to be tormented without end [Matthew 25:31–46].
God has given us a message of hope to share with the world to counter and overcome, to lift up and restore damaged souls. God has identified with us, becoming like us in the person of Jesus Christ, going through death with us and bringing us to new life beyond death. This message gives us hope, an eternal future and peace.
Doom and gloom is overcome. We Christians believe that history is moving towards the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Revelation 1:8 (NIV) God says, 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, … “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Our conviction of the truth of the Lord’s Word, His judgment and resurrection of the dead so clearly expressed in Article XVII of the Augsburg Confession assures us that we need have no fear at all of the doom and gloom spelled out in the media, in commentary and news items and the immanent end of history.
Remember what many of you learned in your Sunday School and Confirmation lessons with the explanation of the 3rd Article of the Apostles Creed in Luther’s Small Catechism:
“On the Last Day He will raise up me and all the dead and will give eternal life to me and to all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”
Why is this true? Because God has come to us, as we teach and believe:
“I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.”
Wow! Thank You God!
We Christians have the clear knowledge of how to improve the world we live in – to forgive as we have been forgiven. And, we have the Holy Spirit’s power to make the necessary changes in our lives which affect the lives of those around us. We can share this power – it means being bold in sharing the work and person of Jesus Christ who is:
“…true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, … He has redeemed you, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. He did this not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, so that you may be His own, live under Him in His Kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”
When you believe this good news you need have no fear of anything which mankind or devil can do to you because God has promised, and sealed that promise with your Baptism and the gifts of Jesus “in with and under the forms of bread and wine” in Holy Communion.
God’s promise is real, has been experienced by countless people just like you throughout history.
We have an amazing role to play in helping countless more to participate in the change God is working in the hearts and minds of people on the road to Salvation with Jesus.
Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are the means and pattern for change in the world. As you grow in your understanding of this you become world changers with one person at a time – a neighbour God has given you to pray for, share the Gospel with and encourage.
The Reformation continues and grows with our sharing the faith given to you by God’s Holy Spirit. Forrel says,
“The task to which the Augsburg Confession calls us in our time is to proclaim Christ to the world as the man who came that we might live and who is still coming toward us that we may live more abundantly. The future is His …”