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Already, But Not Yet

May 17, 2020

Already, But Not Yet

Passage: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11
Service Type:

Already & Not Yet

1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11


Welcome – glad you are here with us this morning. 


I know a lot of you are missing sports this year - be it watching the Cardinals or the Cubs, or seeing an NBA champion be crowned, missing March Madness, or even just watching your kids play baseball. And I think I might have already told you this story, but a couple years ago, I was watching the US Women’s Soccer Team as they were wrapping up a World Cup victory against Japan. I had to look this up, but the score was 5-2, US was ahead, and the game got to the end of regulation play. Now soccer has a bit of a strange rule compared to other sports. Football games end when the clock hits 0. Baseball ends when the third out is recorded in the ninth inning. Basketball ends when the clock hits zero. But soccer doesn’t. 


In soccer, the clock counts up instead of down, it doesn’t stop when the ball goes out of play or someone is injured, and the game is over in 90 minutes. But soccer has something called stoppage time. A referee kind of mentally keeps track of how much time was wasted during injuries, ball out of bounds, substitutions, etc., and when the clock hits 90 min, the end of regulation time, the game isn’t over. You keep on playing until the referee determines you’ve played enough to make up for all the wasted time during the 90 minutes. It’s a little strange, but the point is to keep teams who are ahead from wasting a lot of time throughout the game. 


So I’m watching this game, USA is up 5-2, and the regulation clock hits 90 min, the game is pretty much over, and now stoppage time begins. I remember seeing the US team on the field still playing, but their teammates on the sidelines were starting to hug each other, hug the coaches, and celebrate with the fans. 


The game was already over – but not yet. 


The Story of God, as we understand from the whole Bible, can be boiled down to four steps:


  1. CREATION – God created humans in his image, with desire and potential for goodness, truth and beauty. God creates the kingdom where he rules and reigns. This is where our identity as humans is founded. 
  2. REBELLION – Adam and Eve, as humanity’s representative to God, and God’s ambassador to the world, rejected this God-given identity and chose to create their own. As a result, all human beings are essentially broken and flawed because we have rebelled against God. Sin and death and hell are unleashed into the world. The kingdom is refused. 
  3. REDEMPTION – But God wasn’t finished with his good world, or the humans he’d made to represent him. God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, was crucified and raised from the dead to conquer sin and death. Begins his ministry by saying, “The kingdom of heaven has come near!” After introducing the kingdom, Jesus ascended to heaven where he is glorified and exalted right beside God, and has empowered Believers with his Spirit to continue the work he started through redeemed rebels who are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. 
    1. If the Redemption movement is the end of the Story, it’s a little disappointing. I told you a couple weeks ago that I was watching a show called Prison Break, about a young man who masterfully breaks his brother out of prison. The last scene of the final episode is a fly by shot of the main character’s grave! He may have had a wonderful run of genius, but the one prison he couldn’t break out of is his own humanity! Even if the movie ends while they are in their prime, the greatest heroes still die! That’s really depressing – unless there is more to come.
  4. CONSUMMATION – God’s ultimate plan for the world is to set things right and to renew all things – the kingdom fully realized. All things made new. Death overturned. When you hear the word “consummation” maybe you think of consummating a marriage, and you’d be right. God has given us human marriage as a picture of the heavenly marriage that is about to take place. The idea is that you can say the vows, you can exchange rings, you can eat the cake, but the marriage isn’t complete until it reaches the marriage bed. In the Story of God, consummation refers to the complete fulfillment of God’s work, reaching its conclusion at the marriage of Jesus to his bride, the church. 


So which movement of the Story of God are we currently in? 

We’re in the Redemption phase, right? We are the Church of Christ, empowered by the Spirit, ambassadors for God, being made into the image of Christ. But we also know the story isn’t over yet. There’s more to come. Scripture is clear that this life isn’t all there is. That final chapter of the Story is the basis for the hope that we have! 


So open with me to 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, and we’ll start in verse 13. 


1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 CSB

[13] We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. 


The Thessalonian church had lost some dear friends recently to death, and they had been under some persecution. So Paul is addressing their recent losses and their grief, “concerning those who are asleep,” which is just another way to talk about people who have passed away, and his point is to give them hope so they don’t grieve as if the redemption phase is all there is.


Which is to say right away:

  1. Grief is a normal part of living. You can’t and won’t escape it. It’s part of living in a fallen world, where sin and death still exist. 
    1. Church – we need to be reminded of this again. Say whatever you want about COVID-19 and maybe you think we’re blowing it out of proportion, or maybe you think we’re not taking it seriously enough – the death rate in the United States and every single country in the world is not .003%. It’s 100%! All heroes die, even if you are your own hero! 
      1. Our lives are like vapor. Here for a second, and then gone. When you blow out a candle, you can smell the smoke for about 30 seconds, and then it’s done. That’s your life! That’s my life! 
      2. The moment I start to think that I’m in control of how long I live, I’ve entered into knowledge that is too lofty for me. I’m out of my jurisdiction. 
    2. But it’s built into us to want to live forever! It’s built into us to not want things to end. But the problem is that we think this world is our home, and it’s not! We’re just passing through. These bodies we live in are just tents in a campground. They will wear out and break down, and sometimes tragedy strikes and we’re gone overnight. Church – when we talk about consummation being the full and final step of the story, we are not united in marriage to this world! To these bodies. To this life! We are the bride of Christ himself!
    3. Because we are not home yet, because we are exiles in a foreign land waiting to go home, we will have sorrow and grief and longing in this life.
  2. Paul tells the Thessalonians, there are two ways to grieve:
    1. Without hope
    2. With hope


Now, in English, the word hope means a desire for something to happen. I hope I get the part in the play. I hope the kids come home for Christmas. I hope to meet someone this year that is marriage material. 


But here and most places in the NT, this word hope means “expectation” or “unshakeable confidence.”


So according to the apostle Paul here, when a Believer dies, you grieve as someone who has unshakeable confidence. But confidence in what? 


[14] For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  [15] For we say this to you by a word from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord's coming will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. [16] For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel's voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 


The confidence is that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep, when he comes, descending from heaven with a shout. The confidence is that the dead in Christ will rise. 


But how do we know that? What is that confidence based on? Jesus’ resurrection! When Adam sinned, he represented all of humanity and we were given a sinful nature as an inheritance. But Jesus came to be the new Adam, who obeyed God as our representative, and through Christ, we’ve been given a new inheritance – not sin and death, but our own resurrection, our own entry into the family of God!


Look at the end of verse 17 – 


[17] Then we who are still alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 


So imagine you’re the Thessalonians, and after months, maybe years of doubt, you heard those words. They probably sighed or wept tears of joy and relief, knowing that their dear loved ones are not only going to be seen again, but they won’t miss out on all they believed for. It wouldn’t take much convincing to carry out verse 18: [18] Therefore encourage one another with these words.


Now, if you know the Lord is returning, and you’ll see your loved ones again, and all things are made new, what’s your next question?


WHEN!? When does this happen? We miss them terribly! We couldn’t imagine life without them, and if we get to see them again – when does it happen!? 


[1] About the times and the seasons (time & when): brothers and sisters, you do not need anything to be written to you. 


Acts 1:7


[2] For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. [3] When they say, "Peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 


Who is the “they” in verse 3? Sudden destruction will come on them. Go back to 4:14 – it’s those who don’t believe Jesus dying and resurrection has anything to do with them.


[4] But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the dark, for this day to surprise you like a thief. 


BUT YOU (verse 4) don’t need to worry about that. You don’t need to worry about sudden destruction. Verse 5. 


[5] For you are all children of light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or the darkness. [6] So then, let us not sleep, like the rest, but let us stay awake and be self-controlled. [7] For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 


Sleeping, drunkenness – these are symbolic of those who belong to the night, belong to the darkness. So we don’t participate in the activities of darkness – spiritually sleeping, indulging ourselves as if this life is all there is. But in Christ, that’s not you! 


[8] But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled and put on the armor of faith and love, and a helmet of the hope of salvation. [9] For God did not appoint us to wrath (us paying for our own sin), but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, [10] who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 


We don’t belong to the darkness anymore. As Steve preached about two weeks ago from 1 Peter 2, in Christ, we have been called and transferred out of that darkness and brought into the light. We now belong to a new kingdom. We belong to the day. Since we belong to the day and not the night, we put on the helmet of what? 


Hope of salvation! Unshakeable confidence that when Christ returns, he’s coming for you. Unshakeable confidence that you are saved, that you are redeemed, that whether you live or die, you are united to Christ, and your eternal future is secure! We are not appointed to wrath, to pay for our own sin after they’ve been paid for by Christ, we are appointed to salvation! 


What does a helmet do? Protects your brain. Your mind! This hope of salvation, this knowing that the Story is already over but not yet, should affect the way we think about everything, from our jobs and our relationships and how we use our body, to how we grieve and experience loss. Romans 12:2 says that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds, so we can think clearly about ourselves and our world. 


What is it that gives you that confidence, that hope?


  • 1 Peter 1:3 CSB [3] Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead
  • Hebrews 6:19 CSB [19] We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.
  • 1 Timothy 4:10 CSB [10] For this reason we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.


Do you see that? Our hope is living! Our hope is working – entering the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. You should remember this from a couple weeks ago - why is Jesus’ ascension so important? Because as he ascended to heaven, he entered the most holy place, the very presence of God, the inner sanctuary, behind the curtain of his broken body, to be our high priest and our intercession! He is right now mediating for you. When it comes to Jesus, we don’t have to use past-tense verbs, like, he was interceding for us, he was for us, he was working on our behalf… NO! We have a hope that is alive! Hope is a person! And his name is Jesus! 


There in 1 Peter, he does on to say, yes in this life there is going to be grief. There will be suffering. Things will not be easy. But when those times come, we don’t grieve hopelessly – we grieve knowing with full confidence that our hope is not in ourselves, but in a currently living person! Knowing that’s coming, look what he says next:


  • 1 Peter 1:13 CSB [13] Therefore, with your minds ready for action (ready for trials, ready for persecution, ready for hard times), be sober-minded and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
    • Be sober-minded – think clearly, think rightly about God and yourself. Think rightly about your position in Christ. Think clearly about why Jesus came, and what he continues to do. 
      • This week, our daughter Stella videoed a baby robin being hatched out of an egg. I’ve seen the eggs, seen the babies, but never saw one emerging from its shell. And the most amazing part is that not two seconds after coming out, that helpless, vulnerable, dependently needy little bird points its face to the sky and opens its mouth as wide as it would go. And as I watched that video over and over again, I was overwhelmed with the picture God was giving me – I’m the baby bird. I’m weak. I’m vulnerable and helpless to save myself. I could never be good enough or strong enough to earn myself a place in heaven. And there that little bird sat, mouth wide open, waiting to be filled. 
        • And if that little bird were a human, it would start complaining after about 10 seconds that its mouth isn’t being filled. That life isn’t what she thought it would be. “I thought the mother would be here by now. I didn’t expect to be allowed to get this hungry. Where are you, God!? Why aren’t you answering me!!?”
        • But little does that bird (who is still blind, by the way) know that the Provider is just two branches away with a mouthful of goodness, waiting for the perfect moment to come near, fill her mouth, and satisfy her. That little bird has unshakeable confidence that within a few seconds, her provider will be there.
      • Scripture says at just the right time, while we were still sinners, that Jesus came to live the life of worship and perfection that I couldn’t live, that he died the death my rebellion had earned, and in return, he handed me his own relationship with his Father! All I have to do is open my mouth wide to receive it! 
    • That little bird hadn’t even met its mother yet, but in unshakeable confidence, held her little mouth wide open, knowing that it was already filled by not yet. 
  • Set your confidence on the grace of God, not your own abilities. Set your hope, that unshakeable confidence, not in your own performance as a Christian, somehow living up to God’s standards, checking all the boxes, but we are anchored, dug in hard, to the grace of God. And on the day Christ returns with all those loved ones who have fallen asleep in Christ, we will join them in the new and fully present kingdom of God, and the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God! 


[11] Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.


    1. Colossians 1:27 CSB [27] God wanted to make known among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.