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I Thessalonians 4:13-17

Sunrise Service


I want to begin my thoughts with a story from a book by a man named Billy Strahorn titled, “Resurrection: God’s Final Answer.”  He knew of a little boy in his church named Mark.  Mark was 3-years old when Mark got his first taste of this ting we call death.  Mark’s pet lizard passed away.  Well, grandmother saw this as teachable moment and suggested to mark and his older brother that they hold a funeral.  They asked “What’s a funeral?”  “Well, a funeral is where you bury someone you love and you say a prayer and you sing a song.”  The boys thought this was a great idea.  Grandma even provided a shoebox to put the lizard in.  They dug a hole in the backyard and they covered it with dirt.  The older brother offered a prayer and then turned this younger brother and said, “Now you’re supposed to sing a song.”  And 3-year-old Mark bowed his head and clasped his hands and sang, “Hit the road, Jack.  Don’t you come back.  No more, no more, no more, no more…”

And I wonder when Jesus was buried that Friday many years ago outside of Jerusalem if that’s what the chief priests and the Sadducees and the Pharisees, if that’s what Caiaphas the High Priest and Pilate the governor and all the other enemies of Jesus was singing?  “Well, that’s the end of him.  Hit the road Jack.  We won’t be seeing you come back no more.”  But three days later, guess what?  2,000 years later we are celebrating the fact that Jesus came back.  Not only that, Easter is also a day to celebrate the fact that He is coming back.  This is a good day for us to affirm our faith that what God did establishes our hope in what God is going to do.  What we want to do today is understand that Christians are people who go back to the future. 


Now, here’s what I mean by that.  In one sense Easter looks back to the day when our hope was inaugurated.  Over and over in the bible, the word used more than any other about Easter is the word, hope.  I would contend that the greatest tragedy of our world is not the presence of so much evil; it’s the absence of so much hope.  We live in a culture that has been deprived of hope.  Hope leaves the room unless God enters the picture.  The Bible says in Ephesians 2:12, “remember that at that time you were separated from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.”  There’s no hope if there is no God.  And when we told God to hit the road and not come back, we got a world that was hopeless. 

But our God was not content to let the world remain hopeless.  Easter is God’s declaration that he’s going to do something about that.  God’s going to give us a future after all.  But before God can give us a future, God has got to deal with our past.  And that’s what the death and resurrection of Jesus was about.  The bible says in Romans 4:25, “He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.” 


When Jesus died on the cross, right before he died, he didn’t say, “I am finished.”  He said, “It is finished.”  Everything that needed to be done to put people right with God has been done.  Everything that needed to be fulfilled to give the world hope has been fulfilled.  It’s finished, now.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ offers the hope that you and I can be right with God forever.  I Peter 1:3-4 puts it this way, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you.”  That’s who we are!  We are resurrection people.  We believe that because God dealt with the past, we have a future.  So tomorrow we’re going to go to the classroom and the garage, we’re going to go to the office and the playing field and the world is going to offer us a chance to sit down at their buffet.  They do it every week.  “Come join us!  We’ve lined out a big buffet full of cynicism and despair and despondency.  Come dig in with us.”  And we’re going to say, “No.  We’re sorry, but we are full.  We’ve been to worship and we’re full of hope.”  That’s what the resurrection is all about.  It looks back to the day when hope was inaugurated.

But let me go a step further with you this morning; it’s also a day that looks ahead to the day when hope will be consummated.  Easter is more than just a celebration of what Christ did.  Easter is also the anticipation of what Christ is going to do.  Our hope is real, but it is not yet fully realized. The empty tomb is not the end of the story; but it points to it.  The empty tomb has given us a hope.  And what is the subject of that hope?  I Peter 1:13 says, “Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.”  Titus 2:13 says, “we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”  Today, we don’t just celebrate that hope was born; today we anticipate the hope that is coming. 

How do you know it this hope is coming?  Well, you see we’ve witnessed the future.  We’ve witnessed the future through the death and the resurrection of Jesus.  God’s ultimate triumph over evil is based in events accomplished concretely already in history.  In other words, you know what we are?  We’re people that go back to the future. 

Let me show you how Paul ties all of this together in I Thessalonians 4.  How can we be so sure that Jesus Christ is coming back?  Listen to what he says in I Thessalonians 4:13-17, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again…”  That’s what we’ve been singing about all morning.  We believe that.  Now look at the next two words, “and so…”  If you believe that you need to believe this.  “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 own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till 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.  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.” 


Do you know what Paul is saying?  He’s saying “Our confidence in what comes next is grounded in what has already happened.  We go back to the cross and the tomb and what God has already done to be sure of the promise being fulfilled of what He is going to do in the future.” 

It’s the resurrection of Jesus that makes us absolutely sure that the return of Jesus is just around the corner.  We believe in linear view of history.  We’re not New-Agers.  We’re not Eastern religion people that believe in a circular view where history just repeats itself and goes around and around.  No. We believe that history had a start and we believe that history is going to have a stop. We believe that God is the Alpha and the Omega.  He’s the One that got things going and He’s the one that’s going to bring things to an end.  We believe that from the perspective of eternity, the End is very near.  All over the New Testament we are warned, “Be ready.  Jesus is coming, soon.”  It doesn’t seem “soon” to us.  But what seems like along time to us is nothing to God because we live in different time zones, don’t we? 

I’ll illustrate it this way: ladies has there ever been a Saturday afternoon in the fall when you found yourself saying to your husband, “How much longer until that game is over?”  He’s watching a football game on TV and he says, “Honey, just 2 more minutes.”  That doesn’t mean in 2 more minutes you can get in the car.  That means you may have an hour before you can get in that car.  And in the same way what sometimes seems like a long time to us is really very soon to God.  What I’m saying to you is that God is going to do it again.  Just as He entered history in a cataclysmic way through the death and resurrection Jesus, He’s going to enter history again in the person of Jesus Christ and take us to be with him forever.  And do you know why He’s going to do that?  He’s going to do that because we matter to Him. 

George Tulloch was an explorer.  In 1996 he and other men raised a bunch of money and went out to search for the Titanic.  They found it at the bottom of the ocean under two miles of water.  And he was able to retrieve some artifacts from the wreckage via robotic submarine; some dishware, a pair of eyeglasses a shoe and some other items.  Then they discovered a piece of the hull that had broken off from the ship.  I say little, but it weighed 20 tons.  But George Tulloch made plans to do something that had never been done; try to salvage an actual piece of the Titanic and raise it to the surface.  They put chains and floats around it and they began to lift that thing through 2 miles of water to the surface.  And they got it to the very surface and high winds from a passing storm whipped up and broke the chains and it sunk to the bottom.  They didn’t have the resources for another attempt and they had to leave.  But before he left, he got back in his little submarine and went back down the bottom and he placed a little strip of metal on that hull and it said, “I will come back, George Tulloch.”  Why?

Of course, maybe that’s what the angels wondered when God set in motion the plan not save us.  “Why?  Why do you want to go down into that murky, messy world?  Why do you want to get involved in all that filth?  Why do you want to spend that much of a price for a piece of junk?”  Well, you see, we’re not junk to God.  And He did come.  He did live among us.  He did die for us.  And He did leave the grave. And before he left, he said, “I will come back.”  Because we’re not junk to God.  We matter.  Two years later George Tulloch did come back and he did raise that part of the ship. And very soon, the bible says, Jesus is going to come back and He’s going to raise us to be with Him forever.  The Apostle Paul said that we ought to encourage one another with those words.  Let’s pray….

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