We Have a Promise
David Peterson / General
Hope; Second Coming / 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18
Sermon Type: Textual-Topical
Proposition: Because of the reality revealed in Christ’s death and resurrection we have hope in a world that is often dark and without hope.
1. The truth about our world and why we honor our Veterans
There are two things, it has often been said, that human beings cannot gaze at directly without going mad – the glory of God and the darkness of human evil. After years of studying human cruelty, Philip Hallie, professor of philosophy at Wesleyan University and a veteran of World War II, must have felt close to madness.
“Across all these studies,” Hallie wrote later, “the pattern of the strong crushing the weak kept repeating itself and repeating itself, so that when I was not bitterly angry, I was bored at the repetitions of the patterns of persecution…. My study of evil incarnate had become a prison whose bars were my bitterness toward the violent, and whose walls were my horrified indifference to slow murder. Between the bars and the walls I revolved like a madman … over the years I had dug myself into Hell.”
Source: Os Guinness. The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Kindle edition. Locations 1092-1095).
I. Christians have Hope (1 Thess. 4:13)
a. Paul is applying to death
b. By extension it applies to all that’s wrong with this world
“Hope does not just motivate people to positive action. It actually has healing power.”
So says John Ortberg in his book If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.
Ortberg sites a medical study in which 122 men who had suffered their first heart attack were evaluated on their degree of hopefulness and pessimism: “Of the 25 most pessimistic men, 21 had died eight years later. Of the 25 most optimistic, only 6 had died! Loss of hope increased the odds of death more than 300 percent; it predicted death more accurately than any medical risk factor, including blood pressure, amount of damage to the heart, or cholesterol level.”
Ortberg adds his own humorous interpretation to the study: “Better to eat Twinkies in hope than to eat broccoli in despair.”
Source: John Ortberg, If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat (Zondervan, 2001), p. 159. Source: Chris Peterson, “Optimism and By-pass Surgery,” in Learned Helplessness: A Theory for the Age of Personal Control. (Oxford University Press, 1993)
It is said that George Frederick Handel composed his amazing musical The Messiah in approximately three weeks. It was apparently done at a time when his eyesight was failing and when he was facing the possibility of being imprisoned because of outstanding bills. Handel however kept writing in the midst of these challenges till the masterpiece, which included the majestic, “Hallelujah Chorus,” was completed.
Handel later credited the completion of his work to one ingredient: Joy. He was quoted as saying that he felt as if his heart would burst with joy at what he was hearing in his mind. Sure enough, listening either to the entire work of The Messiah, or to the “Hallelujah Chorus” brings great joy to one’s heart.
Similarly, in the midst of the many challenges he faced, including chains, imprisonment, and slander, the Apostle Paul, filled with the joy that Christ gives, could say, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). May the joy of the Lord fill your heart today!
What oxygen is to the lungs, such is hope to the meaning of life.
—Emil Brunner, Swiss theologian (1889–1966)
II. Why We Believe it (1 Thess. 4:16)
Early in 1980 Jean-Paul Sartre: “They (world problems and a sense of personal purposelessness) tempt you incessantly, especially if you’re old and can think, ‘Oh, well, anyway, I shall die in five years at the most.’ In fact I think ten, but it might well be five. In any case the world seems ugly, bad and without hope. There, that’s the cry of despair of an old man who’ll die in despair. But that’s exactly what I resist, and I know I shall die in hope. But that hope needs a foundation.”
Within a month he was dead, apparently without having found the foundation for which he searched.
SOURCE: Steven Travis, The Second Coming of Jesus (Hodder and Stoughton, 1982), 226–27.
During the Second World War the US Army was forced to retreat from the Philippines. Some of their soldiers were left behind, and became prisoners of the Japanese. The men called themselves “ghosts”, souls unseen by their nation, and on the infamous Bataan Death March were forced to walk over 70 miles, knowing that those who were slow or weak would be bayoneted by their captors or die from dysentery and lack of water. Those who made it through the march spent the next three years in a hellish prisoner-of-war camp. By early 1945, 513 men were still alive at the Cabanatuan prison camp, but they were giving up hope. The US Army was on its way back, but the POW’s had heard the frightening news that prisoners were being executed as the Japanese retreated from the advancing U.S. Army.
Their wavering hope was however met by one of the most magnificent rescues of wartime history. In an astonishing feat 120 US Army soldiers and 200 Filipino guerrillas outflanked 8000 Japanese soldiers to rescue the POW’s.
Alvie Robbins was one of the rescuers. He describes how he found a prisoner muttering in a darkened corner of his barracks, tears coursing down his face.
“I thought we’d been forgotten,” the prisoner said.
“No, you’re not forgotten,” Robbins said softly. “You’re heroes. We’ve come for you.”
Often in life we can start to give up hope, to feel that God has forgotten us, abandoned us to dark and hurtful experiences, but the cross of Christ reminds us, “No, you’re not forgotten” and the resurrection gives us the assurance that some day we too will see our rescuer face to face and be liberated from the distresses of this life. When he returns we too will hear him say, “I’ve come for you.”
Source: The story of the Death March and Alvie Robbins is found in Hampton Sides, Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II’s Most Dramatic Mission
III. What We’re to Do With It (1 Thess. 4:18)
a. We’re to be a community of hope and encouragement
b. Yes, about the future but hope is also for the present
When he was a kid, Kevin Boyer’s parents left him special notes in his lunch box. Now he’s keeping that tradition alive with his own students. Boyer is the family and student support coordinator at Gorsuch West Elementary in Lancaster, Ohio.
Last year, he wrote a personalized letter to every student in the school, and he’s doing it again this year. Every day, he pens six notes, so that by the last day of school, he will have written a letter to all 600 students. Boyer makes it a point to learn the name of every kid in the school. He also finds out their interests and hobbies so when it’s time to write their letters, they are one-of-a-kind. Boyer told local reporters that some students tape their letters to their desks, while others have told him they proudly display the notes on their refrigerators at home.
Source: Catherine Garcia, “School social worker writes notes of encouragement to all 600 of his students,” The Week (11-11-18)