The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving God, speak to us and bless the words we hear, the thoughts we accept, and the meditations of our hearts that we receive. Let them be of value to us and be acceptable to You. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, Amen.
One day late in the afternoon a missionary in Africa had a surprise visit. When he entered his small hut he discovered a very large python on the floor. He left the hut and went to his truck and returned with his pistol.
Even though he had his gun, he still had one important problem. He only had one bullet left in the gun. He could not afford to miss. All of his skill would be required in order to rid his hut of this deadly creature. If he missed, there was no telling what would happen next. He took careful aim and pulled the trigger ever so gently. He shot the python in the head. The python, which would soon die, was at this point only wounded. It still had some life and some fight within itself. The python began to throw itself violently about. The missionary left the hut and listened for some time as the python broke furniture and destroyed lamps and other personal items as it unleashed one last burst of energy. After some time, things got quiet and the missionary assumed that the snake was dead. When he went back into his hut he found the snake was indeed dead, but his home was in shambles. (Source: Dr. James Dobson, When God Doesn’t Make Sense (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.), p. 194. Used by permission.”)
I suspect this is a reminder of our spiritual battles with the enemies of God. The victory has been won in Jesus Christ. But until his return, the battle continues, making a mess in our ordered Christian lives. So, let’s rejoice in the knowledge that Christ has won the battle, and keep our brooms and mops of prayer and fellowship and Scripture handy to face the mess of living in our broken world.
Even in the freedom we enjoy in Australia, we face the mess of living in a society which, for the most part, fails to recognise the Lord of all life. Paul faced an even more severe mess in Thessalonica. He had shared encouragement with them in his first letter. That although they faced the persecution of unbelievers around them, they would be blessed when Christ returns.
He wrote to them that, ‘you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.’ (1 Th 1:9–10 NIV)
It appears this letter so impressed them, that many simply gave up the fight against their mess, and just decided to wait for Christ’s return. In his first letter, Paul wrote, ‘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. Therefore encourage each other with these words.’ (1 Th 4:16–18 NIV)
We know the devil works to turn every encouragement into discouragement. Like the python, writhing and pulsing with dying energy. Rumours started flying among the believers from false teachers. Rumours that Christ had already come. That these believers in Thessalonica were the ones left behind for judgement. That they missed out on being with Christ Jesus forever.And so, Paul writes this second letter to the Thessalonians, trying to straighten some of the mess left behind by these rumours.
He now writes, ‘Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way.’
And then Paul reminds them of some very specific and frightening events that will precede the end times. Things he had shared with them when he visited Thessalonica. He isn’t trying to give any indication about the timing of the end, but only to relieve their fears, that it had already happened. Those events surely have not even happened yet today.
And even when they do happen, they will only be the markers of God’s plan for the transition of the world’s time into God’s eternity. God is in control. And, as Jesus himself said, ‘God is God of the living’. God cares about us and moves us ever closer to the time when we will be with him in perfect eternity. Every day that I wake up in the morning, I give thanks to God that I am one day closer to eternal life with him. And then I get out of bed and begin to live the day with all the energy, faith, and caring that I can muster. As I live out the day, I make my mistakes and then turn to God’s Holy Spirit to guide me in my attitudes, actions, and the words I use.
As we approach the end of the Church year, and enter Advent, we will be sharing a number of readings proclaiming the end of times, and the beginning of God’s eternity. But as Paul shares, we shouldn’t get too upset and disturbed by these readings. They are a reminder that this age will not last forever, and God has the final victory over even time itself.
Even so, unlike the Sadducees who discounted any kind of life after death, we wonder what eternity will be like. It’s hard for us to imagine what heaven will be like. What an eternal future in the presence of God will be. It’s a human trait to be curious about the future. A popular song recently captured our imagination, in words directed toward Christ Jesus.
I can only imagine what it will be like when I walk by Your side. I can only imagine what my eyes will see when Your face is before me. Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel. Will I dance for You Jesus, or in awe of You be still. Will I stand in Your presence, or to my knees will I fall. Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all – I can only imagine. As human beings, we are not yet able to grasp the complexities or the pleasures of the resurrection and the life beyond. Sometimes all we can do is recognize the mystery of the unknown and the limitations of our own understandings.
The apostle Paul writes “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I reasoned as a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully”. God of the living created human life, complete, with a future in mind.
God has provided life after death for those who respond to his love. Until that time is fulfilled, we will just have to accept the promises of God with faith. Let’s hold onto the hope, that the heart and soul of the relationships we hold sacred in this life will be affirmed in eternity. I can only imagine that the love that we hold for each other as family, friends and neighbours will surely accompany us into eternity. In any case, we can take comfort that Jesus has already made the way for us to be included in the resurrection. By His sacrifice on the cross, He gives us forgiveness for our sins and a renewed relationship with God. And as Jesus said in the reading, Our God “is the God of the living, not the dead.”
May God the creator of time and controller of destiny give each one of us today unfaltering trust in our living Lord and Saviour. Trust to allow Jesus to help us hold in our hearts the faith that He gives to us as a gift. Trust to allow the Holy Spirit guide us in our challenge of Christian Living, even in the mess of our broken world. Trust also to help us yield our lives to God with Joy in our hearts. Trust to follow our God of the living into eternal life with Him.
May the grace and peace of God, which passes all our human understanding, keep our hearts and minds in the calm assurance of eternal salvation in our living Lord, Christ Jesus. Amen.