Sermon: Don’t Get Caught With Your Pants Down

Father, keep our ears sharp and our feet ready for you to come. Speak your word to us and cause us to listen. Give us the feet we need to walk in your ways. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Please turn with me to 1 Thessalonians, chapter 4. Thessalonians is in the New Testament. If you are in Philippians or Colossians you haven’t gone far enough, if you are in the letters to Timothy, you have gone too far. 1 Thessalonians 4, beginning in verse 1. Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent, the last Sunday before Christmas. This whole month we have been pondering together the return of Jesus Christ by studying 1 Thessalonians. In Advent, we ponder the first coming of Christ in the manger, but this year we have also been setting our hearts to ponder just what it means to live knowing that Jesus will come back and perhaps very soon. So listen with me to God’s word to us from 1 Thessalonians, chapter 4.

These are the words of God for the people of God. Listen well:

Finally, brothers and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that, as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, just as we have already told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. Therefore whoever rejects this rejects not human authority but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to us.

Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do some more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

This is the Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

What would you do if you knew, somehow knew for certain, that Jesus was coming back tomorrow?

I remember New Year’s Eve 1999. This was the time of the Y2K scare. If you are much younger than me, you might have difficulty imagining how scared many people were. By that point, much of our finances, utilities, and more was run on computer. However, it was believed that when these computers were put in place, they only had two digits for the year. Once the year 1999 tried to turn to the year 2000, the computers would actually go from 99 back down to zero and the whole thing would crash. If you were there, you remember how panicked people were that when the ball dropped and the millennium turned, everything would come crashing down. If you don’t remember, just trust me that I am not making this up. People tried to get prepared. Bottled water, canned food, generators, the works.

So I remember sitting in my living room with my parents watching the ball drop. I don’t know if my parents did much crazy for Y2K, but all I remember is that my step-dad had filled up the bathtub with water, in case the water shut off, I guess. The band No Doubt was playing a cover of REM’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” while the ball dropped. The clock hit zero, we all said ‘Happy New Year” and nothing happened. No lights went out, no stock market crash. Nothing. My Dad walked upstairs, unplugged the tub and went to bed.

It seems like every few years, someone gets it into their head that they know when the world is ending. Maybe it’s Haley’s comet, or the Mayan calendar in 2012, but somehow they know that this is the time. The time comes and goes and the world keeps going.

However, before we dismiss these people too easily, we need to wrestle with a question: What would you do if you knew, somehow knew for certain, that Jesus was coming back tomorrow?

Perhaps “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die”? No use saving that bottle of champagne, or putting away for retirement. Spend it all now, throw a big party, take that trip, do whatever you want. Basically, would you indulge yourself one last time, like some sort of end times bachelor or bachelorette party?

Or would you scramble to do good, frantically try to give away money, be nice to everyone, ask forgiveness of those you’ve wronged? Time is short, time to make things right, to make up for all the other stuff I’ve done. But would it even do any good to frantically try to help homeless people with only one night left anyway. You might succeed in giving stuff and money away, but it’s too late at that point to really help THEM. So you might not even consider it worth it to work to help others. It’s already too late.

What would you do if you knew, somehow knew for certain, that Jesus was coming back tomorrow? Would we do evil because, who cares now? Would we do good to make up for the bad we’ve done and frantically try to balance the scales of our lives?

What would you do?

This is the kind of question that Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians forces us to wrestle with. This whole advent as we have heard this divinely inspired letter, we have been hearing that Jesus is coming back. Jesus who died and rose again has ascended to the Father and will return from there in glory. Are we ready? The whole letter is filled with the urgency that this could happen any day, any moment, and that our lives should be lived in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ.

So the question we are faced with, the question the whole letter of First Thessalonians resonates with is ‘how should we live for God when we expect Christ’s return at any time?’ or more pointedly, “How would you live today if you knew Jesus Christ was coming back tomorrow?” What would a faithful answer to this question look like?

I believe we find a beautiful and inspiring answer here in 1 Thessalonians 4, but before we dive in, a quick aside. We do not know when Jesus will come back. It could be before this sermon is done. It could be long after we have died. We simply do not know. Jesus tells us that it is not for us to know. In fact, Jesus says, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” We do not know when Jesus Christ will come back and anyone who says they do is a liar and a deceiver. Beware. Yet we are always to live as if it is soon. If Jesus’ return is soon, how are we to live?

As we hear God’s instruction through the words of Paul, we hear that when we live every day as if Jesus could come back right now, our lives will be both radical and ordinary.

I want us to hear verses one through twelve again, but hear them as instructions for how God calls us to live as we wait for Christ to return.

Finally, brothers and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that, as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, just as we have already told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. Therefore whoever rejects this rejects not human authority but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to us.

Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do some more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one.

On the one hand, what we hear here is radical stuff. If Christ is coming back tomorrow, how should you live? Live for God. Live to please God and do so more and more. Don’t live for yourself. For this is the will of God, your sanctification. If Jesus is coming back tomorrow, be holy. Abstain from fornication: which is to say, do not have sex outside of the bonds of marriage between a husband and wife, and within the marriage, have sex in ways that honor God and honor your spouse. Each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honor – self control, not just in sexual matters, but so that our bodies and our desires are directed to where God has designed them, according to his word. Not with lustful passions, like the Gentiles who do not know God. We are not to live overcome by our desires, especially desire for another person. To live like that is to live like we do not know God. God is holy, he calls us to be holy, and reject his holy calling upon our lives is to reject the very holy God who called us.

How radical is this? The way to live when we know Jesus is coming back to live for God in holiness, honor, and self-control. In our world, the less firm people believe the future to be, the less confident they are in what is to come, the less restraint and self-control we seem to have. We live in a ‘might as well enjoy ourselves, for we are all gonna die someday’ culture. But because Christians have supreme confidence in the future, in particular in the one who holds the future, even if we do not know when that promised future will come, we can live differently now.

But Paul goes on. How do we live in light of Jesus coming back? Do not wrong or exploit one another, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things. Whether through trickery or abuse of power, whether in sexual situations or in all the relationships of life, we are not to abuse our brother or sister so that we can get what we want regardless of what is good for them or what honors God. Even if no one sees, God does.

How do we live in light of Jesus coming back? Love one another and love one another more and more. How radical is this? The more apocalyptic our politics and culture feels today, the less love that is shown. Even if love is part of the slogan, we see so little love. Again, the less confident we are in the future, in the God who holds it in his hand, the more willing we are to break and bend the rules to get what we believe we need, the more the ends will justify the means, and the less we will honor God and the less we will love our neighbors and the more we will hate and vilify our enemies, even our brothers and sisters in Christ.

How do we live in light of Jesus coming back? aspire to live quietly, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands. If Jesus was coming back tomorrow, you should still go to work. I can pick on Gord because he always sits in the front row and I know what he will be up to in the morning. But Gord, if you knew that Jesus was coming back tomorrow, somehow really knew, that Jesus would come back at around 11AM tomorrow, you should still be in the barn milking in the morning. Olga, we would still need to get up with the kids and take care fo them. If Jesus is coming back tomorrow, you should get up in the morning and love your neighbor, care for the poor, share the good news, and live for God. In short, if Jesus is coming back tomorrow, we should be caught doing what we already have been doing, what we already should be doing every day.

Which is why, on the other hand, what we hear in 1 Thessalonians 4 is very ordinary. It might be radical as far as the world is concerned, but it is basic, common teaching when it comes to the Christian life. Live for God, live holy, love one another, work for the glory of God.

The difference that the return of Christ makes in this is that there should be no delay. Saint Augustine, before he became a Christian famously prayed to God, ‘Lord, give me chastity, but not yet.’ Augustine wanted to obey God, but he wanted to wait. We can feel the same way. Lord, I know that you want to cut off this sinful pat of my life, but not today. Lord, I know you want me to love my kids, my spouse, my brother or sister, but not today. Lord, I know that I should care for the poor, that I should support the widows, that I should work to welcome the orphans, but not today. Lord, I know that you want me to share the good news with him, with her, but not today.

I am not trying to scare you, but you need to know that we might not have tomorrow. When we live waiting for Jesus to come, we live lives both radical and ordinary. Lives that set us apart from the world, but keep us committed to the daily work of living for God with the people in front of us. What would you do if you knew, somehow knew for certain, that Jesus was coming back tomorrow? What God has always called you to do, live for God, be holy, love one another, work for God’s glory. But do not delay, because we might not have tomorrow.

We might not have tomorrow not just because Jesus might return then, but we might go to him. I think it is no accident that after all this talk of how to live here and now when Jesus might return any day, Paul talks about those who have died in Christ. He tells us that just as death could not bar Jesus from his resurrection, death will not keep Jesus Christ from his own. When he returns the dead will rise, and we who are left will join them and we will be with Jesus forever.

Just over a week ago, we gathered to walk the last few steps home with our brother Dennis Greenwood. During the memorial service, Pastor Bram mentioned a conversation he had with Dennis prior to the surgery. Dennis said that it was a simple surgery, but you never know. You never know. Dennis was right – right for himself and right for us. We do not know when Jesus will come back, nor do we know when we will go to be with him. We know neither the day and hour of his return nor the day and hour of our death. But we do know Jesus. Jesus who died and rose again, Jesus who will bring all the saints with him into the presence of the Father to live with him forever.

Jesus is coming and this is good news for all who know and belong to him. If you knew, somehow knew for certain, that Jesus is coming back tomorrow, what would you do? Live every day for God. Live so that whenever Jesus returns, you will not be caught with your pants down, but caught ready and eager to see Jesus. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s