Be Encouraged By His Return
“God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food.” Have you ever heard a child pray that simple prayer? At first it sounds a little bit redundant. Isn’t that about the same thing—God is great and God is good? Well not exactly. When we think about the greatness of God we think about His awesome power, His boundless strength, His omnipotence, His majesty, His authority. God is indeed great. We have seen that over the past several weeks as we’ve talked about His coming judgment, the return of Christ in blazing fire, the reality of Hell and God’s ultimate victory over the man of lawlessness. Our God is a great God.
But the goodness of God is something different. It’s softer. It’s gentler. It’s kinder. It’s not about lightning and thunder and thrones and cataclysmic events. It calls to mind more of a spring day than a thunderstorm, more of an easy chair than a throne, more of the gentle whisper of God than the roar of His wrath. You see, God’s goodness suggests compassion and mercy, assurance and confidence. That’s why the Christian can be encouraged by the second coming of Jesus Christ. And in today’s text we will be reminded that God is great, but also that God is good.
You see, Paul realized that his readers needed some reassurance. So in the middle of a very forceful and intense letter he paused to offer some encouragement. Now back in his first epistle to the Thessalonians Paul said that the coming of the Lord would be like a thief in the night. However, he was quick to assure the Christians that Jesus’ return should not surprise them like a thief. His primary purpose in saying that was to suggest that if we are alert our expectancy will keep us from being caught off guard by His arrival. Because, you see, when Christ returns for the Christian it won’t be terrifying like the appearance of a thief. It will be an exciting experience for the Christian, like the arrival of a long-awaited friend. And while the fact that Jesus is coming again will be cause for alarm for many in the world, for those who are in Christ it is the greatest source of encouragement known to man.
So what I would like to do this morning is remind you of three reasons why the believer can be encouraged by the return of Jesus Christ.
I. REASON #1: WE HAVE THE PROMISE.
The first reason is that we have the promise
What’s the promise? Well look with me at our text in 2 Thessalonians 2, particularly verses 13 and 14. Follow along with me in your Bibles and we’ll find out just exactly what the promise is.
Paul says, “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
We are chosen to be saved.
It’s a great feeling to be chosen.
In Bob Benson’s book, See You At the House, he tells of how he hated recess as a boy, because the two best athletes always chose up the teams to play softball. And Benson said, “I really wasn’t very athletic, so I was always chosen last. In fact, I wasn’t so much chosen last as I was just kind of taken.” And the teacher would insist that the game couldn’t start until someone took Bobby. Whoever got him always stuck him out in right field. And Benson said, “I didn’t get up to bat until the 8th grade!”
But Bob Benson goes on to talk about how thrilling it is to understand that God selected him to be privileged to hear the gospel. He said, “I wasn’t chosen as a replacement for someone who didn’t want to serve. I wasn’t asked to play in the field that someone was already covering.” Benson said, “God saw me. He called me. He selected me. He picked me. He singled me out. He preferred me. He opted for me. He decided for me. He chose me. And that has made all the difference in my life.”
What a promise to hold on to. In John chapter 15, verse 16, Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you…”
When I was growing up, periodically my parents would tell my brothers and sister and me, “If we could have chosen any four children in the entire world, we would have chosen you four.” And that is a great assurance. And over the years, I have enjoyed saying that to my two children. I’d say, “If we could have chosen any boy and girl in the entire world, you know what? We would have picked you!” And it made them feel good, and it made them feel secure.
In our text Paul says that from the beginning “God chose you to be saved.” Now that sounds like God decided who would be saved before we decided whether we wanted to be saved. However, we can’t just stop reading in the middle of this verse, for it says, “…from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
You see, God chose those to be saved who would believe the truth. Faith is foundational to salvation.
God did decide who would be saved and who would be lost. He decided that those who would have faith would be saved, and that those who didn’t have faith would be lost. However, God did not decide which of us would have faith. That’s our choice.
In Romans 10:17 Paul says, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”
God did not predestine those who would have faith. Instead, He predestined His plan. He decided in advance that faith would be a prerequisite to salvation. You see, you have been chosen. Salvation is a free gift. And the choice is ours as to whether or not we choose to receive that gift and accept that gift.
We can reject it, or we can accept it.
There’s the spread of the gospel through the whole world by radio and television.
It was William Barclay who summarized it by saying, “Faith’s appeal is not selective. It goes out to every man. But the heart of man can refuse to respond if he so chooses.”
You see, we have been chosen to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. Not by our good works, not because of what we’ve done, but because of what Christ did at Calvary. For you see, without the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we would have no hope. We would have no eternal encouragement. There’s a popular poster out which shows Jesus hanging on a cross. And the caption says, “If I’m okay, and you’re okay, then why is He up there?”
Well, the truth is, we need a Savior. Jesus came to the earth the first time to prepare us for His second coming. Thomas Watkins, in his book The Ten Commandments, wrote, “It cost God more to redeem us than it did to create us. In creation it was speaking a word. In redemption it was the shedding of blood. By creation we have life in Adam. But by redemption we have eternal life through Jesus Christ.”
So Paul says, “Have a belief in the truth.” Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). And Paul says to have a belief in the truth means that we need to have an understanding of what the gospel is all about. The gospel isn’t merely that Jesus came to earth and that He ascended to Heaven. It also entails that He is coming again.
Do you remember back in the Book of Acts where Jesus ascends into Heaven? The disciples are kind of just standing there and gawking up into Heaven. And suddenly two angels come on the scene and they say to the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
That’s the promise. The promise of Christ’s return does the same thing for Christians in 2021 as it did for Christians in the early first century church. The promise is there that God has chosen us and that we can be saved, that we can be glorified and share in His glory on the day of His return.
So, we have that promise.
II. WE HAVE HIS PRESENCE.
But secondly, let’s notice that we have His presence.
We have the presence of God.
Look at verses 15 through 17 of our text. Paul says, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”
Jesus Christ has given us encouragement and hope.
He has even made provision for believers to experience His presence and companionship, even after He ascended into heaven.
In John chapter 14, Jesus promised His followers that He would not leave us comfortless, but that He would send the Holy Spirit to be an eternal comforter. In Acts 1:8, after Jesus ascends into heaven, what’s the next thing that takes place? Several weeks later the day of Pentecost occurs, and Christ’s promise comes true, where He says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Jesus promised a comforter in the person of the Holy Spirit.
We have His presence right here with us today.
When a person surrenders their life to Jesus Christ they receive the Holy Spirit, the personal indwelling, which empowers you to resist temptation. And also, after you do sin, the Holy Spirit convicts you of that sin. He is the stabilizing force which provides power through His presence. That’s how we recognize when we have sinned. And then we ask for God to forgive and forget those transgressions.
Paul says, “Hold on to the teachings we passed on to you. Whether it was something that you heard us say, or whether it was something that you read in one of the previous letters to the church at Thessalonica,” he says, “you hold on. Don’t give in to Satan’s attacks. Don’t throw in the towel. Don’t let go. You be different and you hang on.”
In 1990 a pop group comprised of three young ladies called Wilson Philips released a song that was entitled “Hold On.” “Hold On” instantly became a hit song, topping the music charts for weeks. It’s a great song. But what they found was that several weeks after it became a hit, they started receiving fan mail from teenagers who really liked that song. And Wilson Philips said that a number of those letters came from dozens of teenagers who said that that song had dissuaded them from committing suicide. Letters that came from teens that didn’t know each other, that were spread out all around the nation. The words to the song say: “Things will change, they might go your way, if you will hold on for one more day. Just hold on.”
Now the reason that I bring that out is that if a song has that power to save lives, can you imagine the hope and encouragement that Christians can experience for all eternity?! A hope that comes from knowing that Christ will take us to be with Him for eternity if we put our trust in Him. And the way we share in His glory is by being united with Him, and by being clothed with Jesus Christ. By yourself you can’t get to heaven. It’s impossible. And neither can I. Because imperfection cannot reside where perfection is. That’s why Christ came to earth.
Maybe you heard about the guy that went up to heaven and met St. Peter at the pearly gates. St. Peter said, “Hey, before I can let you come into heaven, I need to ask you some questions. Can you tell me some of the good Christian deeds that you did in life?”
The man said, “Well, I’ve done several things.” He said, “I attended church pretty regularly.”
St. Peter said, “Well that’s good. What else?”
He said, “Well, I even volunteered to do janitorial work at the church. That’s not the most glamorous job, but I did it anyway.”
St. Peter said, “That’s great. Anything else?”
The man said, “Well, I was a scout master for several years.” He said, “I also gave one of my ministers ten brand new suits.”
St. Peter said, “That’s real good. Anything else?”
He said, “Yeah. One day I saw this big burly motorcycle gang member making fun of an elderly woman.”
And St. Peter said, “Wow. What did you do?”
He said, “Well, it made me so mad that I decided to cause a diversion. So I went over and I pushed his Harley Davidson over.”
St. Peter said, “Really?! What happened then?”
He said, “That big guy came running over toward me. And as soon as he started running toward me, I took my fist back and I popped him one in his big nose!”
St. Peter said, “Man alive, what courage! When did this happen?”
The guy said, “Oh, about two minutes ago!”
Now we, in and of ourselves, cannot earn our salvation through our good deeds.
Regardless of what you have done, it is not possible. You cannot earn your salvation through your prayers or through your performance. If that were the case, then God made a tragic mistake when he allowed His Son to die on a cross for our sins. That would mean that it was done for no reason.
But the truth of the matter is, I’m not okay, and you’re not okay.
We all need Jesus.
And that’s why, as these days are becoming increasingly more wicked, we must rely upon the presence of the Lord. That’s why Paul says, “You stand firm and hold on to the teachings and the truth.”
One summer when my kids were little, they took swimming lessons at a local park in the town where we lived in Oklahoma. Joshua, who already had a grasp on the basics, improved his skills. Bethany, who hadn’t yet learned to swim without those little orange floaties you put on kids, learned to doggy paddle without them.
One day, after lessons, the kids and I stayed to swim some more. I was in the deep end of the pool and Bethany was jumping off the side and swimming out to me. And with every jump she would say, “Move back, Daddy.” Finally, when I was back to almost halfway across the width of the pool, Bethany jumped in, and she began to paddle for all her might. But she had been doing it for so long that she was starting to wear down, and the closer she got to me the more she began to submerge under the water. And when she finally made it to where I was, she grabbed a hold of my neck, and in an instant her look of panic gave way to a look of relief. Do you know why? Because she felt secure next to her father. And it made very little difference how deep or how dangerous the water was as long as she could be close to her dad.
You see, spiritual warfare is not something that is coming, it’s already here. Life in these United States is difficult. There are more risks, more dangers, and Satan and his society keep trying to pull us under. The water keeps getting deeper and deeper. And that’s why it’s absolutely imperative that we stay close to the Father, so that we might experience His presence and stay right there beside Him.
III. WE HAVE A PURPOSE.
But there’s one more area that Paul points out to the Christians at Thessalonica, and that is that we have a purpose.
He enumerates several of those purposes in the first few verses from chapter 3 of 2 Thessalonians.
He begins by talking about praying for protection.
That’s one of our purposes – to pray for protection.
Paul says in 3:1, “Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one” (vv. 1-3).
So pray for protection.
There is a common theme that’s found in a number of books that the apostle Paul wrote. His concluding remarks in Philemon, in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and also in Romans asks the exact same thing. Paul says, “Pray for me.” Now why is that so important? Well, that is significant because here is Paul, this spiritual giant, and yet he is humbly requesting others to pray for him to stand firm. You talk about transparency and vulnerability. He says, “Pray for me. Pray that God can use me to accomplish the task, and keep the faith, and spread the gospel.”
Felix of Nola was a great man of God. One day he and his troops were fleeing during a battle and Felix prayed to God for a place of safety. And so he ran into a small opening that went into a cave. And no sooner had he gone into that cave then immediately there were a couple of spiders which began to spin a web over the entrance. And when the pursuing troops came by soon after that, they didn’t check inside that cave because they knew that it was not possible for someone to be in there with the web across the entrance. And Felix of Nola later said, “Where God is, a web is like a wall. And where God is not, a wall is but a web.” Pray for protection.
A second purpose that Paul talks about is evangelism. Evangelize. That should be the first prong of the mission statement for any church.
We exist to evangelize the lost.
The church is the only organization that exists for those people who are not yet members. We have a goal to reach out to other folks. That means we can’t be comfortable in just remaining with the folks we have here. We have to continue to try to spread the gospel. And the only way that this church will ever grow dramatically and explosively is if people like you not only talk the talk, but you walk the walk – and if you are willing to share with others the incredible difference that Jesus Christ has made in your life.
Paul says, “Pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly” (3:1).
That’s evangelism. And when evangelism takes place, lives are changed. And when unbelievers see changed lives the result is that they want their life changed, too. That’s evangelism. That’s the power of a changed life.
The poet said, “When I get to that wonderful city, and the saints all around me appear, I want to have somebody tell me, ‘It was you that invited me here.'”
Then the third purpose that we see is perseverance.
Listen to verses 4 and 5. Paul says, “We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.”
We are not to grow weary in doing well. Don’t get tired. Don’t give up. You see, when a Christian can truly shine is not when things are going great, but when we face adversity. It’s when the circumstances are ones that are out of our control, when we are at the mercy of someone else, or the mercy of God. How do you face that adversity? How do you handle those struggles?
Some of you can recall butter churns, or large bowls, that were used to stir cream and turn it into butter. I’m sure you’ve heard this poem that one man wrote:
Two frogs fell into a deep cream bowl.
One was an optimistic soul.
The other took the gloomy view:
“We’ll drown,” he cried, without more ado;
So, with a last despairing cry
He flung up his legs and said “Good-bye.”
Said the other frog with a plucky grin,
“I can’t get out, but I won’t give in;
I’ll just swim around ’til my strength is spent,
Then I can die with more content.”
Bravely he swam till it would seem
His struggles began to church the cream.
At last on top of the butter he stopped
And out of the bowl he gladly hopped.
What of the moral? ‘Tis easily found—
If you can’t hop out keep swimming around!
That’s perseverance. Keep the faith when the pressure is on. Don’t crack. You see, God can take our struggles and He can make something good come out of them.
So we look forward to Christ’s return. We place our trust in Him, realizing that there is a payday. There is a time of eternal accounting for the lives that we have lived. God stands waiting and willing to forgive. He has patiently postponed His judgment to enable us more chances to come to repentance. But eventually that tolerance of evil will be replaced by a judgment of justice, and evil will be punished.
For you see, the second coming of Christ will be one of two things for you. Either it will be a glorious joyful long-awaited victory and reward, or it will be an agonizing terror-filled realization of truth without provision for another chance. Our relationship to the Lord determines how we will react on that day.
A television reporter asked a prominent preacher, “How can you tell a Christian from someone who isn’t a Christian?” And the preacher kind of got the impression that she was meaning in a physical sense. So he said, “Well, you can’t tell from the outside if a person is a Christian. Besides, we all put up some type of false veneer to some extent to hide our weaknesses—even Christians.” But then he said, “The Christian has a peace that passes understanding, because they have placed their hope in that which is eternal, not that which is temporary.”
But do you know what else he could have said? He could have said, “I believe that there will be a time when it will be pretty obvious on a physical level whether a person is a true believer, and that’s when Jesus Christ returns. For in that split second it will become quite evident those who are encouraged by their Savior and Lord and those who are terrified at the mistake that they have made.”
What about you? Are you looking forward to the day of Christ’s return with fear or with hope? The New Testament talks about Christ’s return 300 different times. And let me tell you, Jesus has kept every other promise, and He looks forward to keeping this one at His return.
That’s why Jesus said in John chapter 14, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (vv. 1-3).
Someday Jesus is going to come. And when He does, do you have that assurance that He is going to take you home to the place that He has prepared for you?