Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Great and Glorious Light

As Americans we often go to great lengths to make ourselves comfortable and forget the fact that, one day, we are going to face our Creator.  We hide in darkness trying our best to keep warm next to little candles that offer little heat and keep our eyes dim.  No matter how hard we try we cannot keep comfortable in the flickering glow of inadequate light. 

We can read, write, and do any number of tasks huddled by to a small flickering nub of a candle.  But now, if we were told, that in the room next door, there was a window that faced the Sun, what would we say?  We may say, “Why do I need the Sun?  The light here is more than enough for me.” 

Do you understand that in that moment we traded the brilliance of the Greater Light for a lesser glow? And sadly in the darkness we will quickly lose hope because we can watch our light diminish so quickly. 

Today I want to tell you that there is no need for tiny candles with short and temporary wicks.  As we face the edge of eternity I want you to see that there is a Greater Glorious Light.  Please do not traded the bright, glorious, life giving Light of the Sun for the dim wavering shadow of an insufficient candle. Eternity is not dark for those who give up their candles and cling to the Greatest Light. 

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul is speaking to the Christians in Thessalonica who are losing hope that they will spend eternity with Jesus. 

The Thessalonian church has seen glimpses of the Great and Glorious Son, Jesus Christ.  They want to leave the dark room, through the door of Jesus, and bask in the light of God. But they are losing hope.  They are wanting to return to the false confidence that comes from holding your own candle.  The reason they are losing hope is the Thessalonian church was in the midst of great suffering and persecution (due to their belief in Christ).  They are suffering greatly because the Roman Empire is openly killing Christians.  Because they placed their faith in Jesus Christ, they become second and third class citizens. 

When Paul writes the letter to the Thessalonians he is concerned for them.  He was worried that they would lose their faith, love, and hope (v1:2-3).  Their faith and love is intact but their hope is shaken.  They lost their hope that Jesus Christ will return for His Church.  They have lost hope that they will see the Glorious Light of eternity with God.  In this letter was written to remind those, who are in Christ Jesus, of the hope they have.  This letter was written so that those who are not in Christ would know where to find true hope. 

This is the danger of trying to hold on to our own dim light.   Our hope will quickly fade, because our light will quickly fade.  Candles have limited wick and limited burn time. But if we look to Jesus Christ, as our savior, he becomes our light, and we will have a solid hope in the Son.  The Son burns without end. The danger is this: without hope, faith and love quickly fall away.  When you lose hope, you lose faith.  When you lose faith you lose love.  And when you lose love the darkness becomes exceedingly dark.

Hope is essential to us as human beings.  Soldiers who suffered in POW camps would quickly succumb to death, in the grueling conditions when they would lose hope of rescue.  Survivors often give accounts of seeing strong prisoners losing hope. They would quickly pass away within a few weeks to days.  Hope, you cannot live without hope. 

You must have hope.  I want to give you a hope today. The great hope of the Eternal Family.  You can only have this when the creator of the world becomes your hope. 

But you may ask, “How do we live, with hope, in a dying world?”  Everything tells us that this world is temporary.  Every major religion teaches that existence, as it is now, will come to an end.  The world will end. 

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s seminal work Lord of the Rings Lady Galadriel is an elf who has lived since almost the beginning of the world know as middle earth.  She is a great queen and and she speaks to the Fellowship of journeyers who are passing through her kingdom on a doomed mission. 

When Galadriel talks to the fellowship she tells them the history of her kingdom and its future. About the time of the Elves she says this, “He has dwelt in the west since the days of dawn, and I have dwelt with him years uncounted … and together through the ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.”

We can see this in our own world evidences of never ending decay and the loss of progress. This world will eventually fail.  If this world will fail, if the land will fade, if this existence is a “long defeat” then why not give up now?  Why don’t we just make ourselves comfortable and wait for the end?  What is the point?  Does anything last? 

We can quickly become mired in the futility of this life when we realize how much of a vapor it truly is.  But, we have a hope.  Our hope is that when the dim light of this life fades it will be consumed by the Greater Light of eternity. 

Your question is a good question, “How do you live in a dying world?  Where do you place your hope?”  There is only one place to find grace filled hope when you are faced with the end. 

This is the hope of the Christian.  What we do today matters for eternity.  Do you understand that when Christ died, Jesus the anointed savior, was opening up the doors to eternity?  He was providing not just the example but the path by which we enter into the radiant Light of God’s Glory.  Because Jesus Christ died and rose from death we have hope for eternity.  We fight the long defeat of this world because we know it is not futile.  What will happen here will matters in the life after life.  Those who place their faith in Jesus as lord and savior, fight the long fight knowing that it matters.

The Thessalonians where struggling with the promised return of Christ.  “Did we miss it?” they asked.  In this letter Paul informs the Thessalonian church, “There is no way you are going to miss this.  This is going to be big.”  There is going to be trumpets; there are going to be people rising from the dead; and there is going to be an army of believers gathered to Christ.  The Thessalonians thought that they were going to miss the coming of the Greater Glory. 

Paul assures them, “There is NO way you are going to MISS this one.  It is going to be big. So keep living well according to your faith in Jesus, lived out in love.”

Make no mistake what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians still applies to us today. Jesus is coming again, and it will not be done in secret.  The celebration that will be held on that day will make the most extravagant Presidential Gala seem like a humble feeding trough.  The dim and fading light of this world will be consumed by the Glory of Christ’s eternal Kingdom. 

Revelation 7:9-10 says, 
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” 
When Christ gathers together his church we will shout in one voice a victory song. 

This is the greater glory.  For those of us who put our faith in Jesus as savior, we will live as adopted members of the Holy and Eternal family.  We will live forever doing what we were created to do: enjoying God for eternity.  We are created to be creatures of delight.  We are created to enjoy the greatest things. 

Have you ever noticed that when you enjoy something great (say a good meal or a driving a well maintained John Deere tractor) that your enjoyment eventually fades.  The reason for this, I believe, is that our enjoyment of green machinery, good food, a well told story, are all shadows of the greater enjoyment.  These shadow enjoyments are good since they point us to the Greater Glory of enjoying God. 

When the enjoyment of earthly things no longer points us to the greater enjoyment, (of knowing and delighting in Christ Jesus) those shadow enjoyments become false light.  When this happens what was once good, like a great piece of stake, becomes death.  Because we find ourselves looking at the flickering candle in our hand, while we sit in a dark room, we begin to call the candle the sun.  The candle was supposed to point you to the Son.  We have hope in this life, because Jesus came and died for you.  This was done so that you can know the greater light. 

Are you holding the nub of a candle or reaching out to the radiant Son?

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