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How to Give Hope to the Fearful and Help to the Fearless, Part 1

From the series Lift

In this message, Chip gives us a snapshot of what the future holds - and the picture is sobering. But what’s coming and how we can prepare for it, is of great encouragement!

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Message Transcript

1 Thessalonians 4:13 through 17, you may want to open up your Bibles and follow along.

And really, as you analyze and study this passage there are three major questions that come up. And he’s going to ask and answer them in this passage. The first question they have is, “What happens to a believer when he or she dies?”

The answer is going to be out of verses 13 and 14 that the certainty of a believer’s resurrection is based on the fact of Christ’s resurrection. See, they got some bad information and they’re getting a little fearful and they’re saying, “Now, what happens when someone actually dies?”

Beginning at verse 13, please take a pen if you have it and jot down if you will, “but,” before the word “brothers.” The NIV doesn’t have it but it’s important because he’s giving a contrast.

He says, “But, brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who have fallen asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope.” And then add the little phrase, “For if,” because it’s a conditional. It’s called, “A first class condition: assumed to be true.”

“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, then,” is the idea, “we believe that God will bring, with Jesus,” or through Jesus, “those who have fallen asleep in Him.”

Now, let’s analyze these two verses just for a minute. He says, “Okay, brothers, in contrast, I just talked to those people with the unhealthy preoccupation. I told them to get a job. But, brothers, with regard to the Lord’s return, I don’t want you to be ignorant or uninformed about those who are asleep.”

You might circle the word, “Who have fallen asleep,” it’s a technical term in the New Testament. It is one hundred percent of the time referenced to a Christian who has died. So he says, “I don’t want you to not know about brothers and sisters or when you die, what’s going to happen.”

Second reasoning he says, “I don’t want you to hurt and I don’t want you to grieve like those that don’t have any hope.” And he was writing in a day very much like ours where people basically said, “Hey, you die, you’re dead. Dust, dust. There’s nothing after this. You lose a close friend, you lose a close friend. You lose a mom, you lose a dad, you lose a spouse… they’re gone.”

And the pagan world had no hope. And he says, “That’s not true.” And then notice why, verse 14. He says, “Here’s the basis of teaching about those who die. If, in fact, or since we believe that Jesus died and He rose again,” do you get his logic? “So then we believe that God will bring through Christ or with Christ those who have,” same word, “fallen asleep in Him.”

And so he has answered the first question, and basically it’s just to arrest their fears. He said, “You can know with one hundred percent, bank on it accuracy that we know Jesus rose from the dead. We have eyewitnesses, over five hundred of them. The fact that He rose from the dead you can know that when a believer dies that believer, man or woman, will be raised also.”

Second question that pops up, “Okay, Paul, we got it for us. But what about our loved ones? What about the mom, the dad, the child that died before us?” His answer is going to be that the Christian dead will rise first and share in the kingdom.

And, again, there must be, there must have been some teaching floating around, like they were fearful that, “What about… I lost my brother, I lost my mom, I lost a close friend and this general teaching about resurrection, the return of Christ, what happens to them? Are they going to get to be in on this?”

And there must have been some teaching floating around that was casting doubt on that because he is very strong in his response. Look at verse 15. And, by the way, if you want to keep adding and I don’t mean this negatively. Don’t take this negatively at all. The NIV is written to be smoothly read. It’s not quite as literal or wooden a translation as some others.

And so, what they do is sometimes they take the “for” or the “but” and you get the clear sense of the passage but I think it’s very important when you’re trying to do real analysis that when there is a “for” or a “but” or a “therefore,” those things tell us the relationship of what’s going on.

And so, before verse 15 there’s the word “for.” “For,” in other words, “the reason I can say this,” “for according to the Lord’s own Word, we tell you that we, who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, when He comes, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.”

And so his teaching is going to be, “Hey, you have a mom, dad, brother, sister, friend who has died already? You don’t have to be uptight and think that they’re not going to get in on the resurrection.”

In fact, notice, who does he appeal to? He says, “According to the Lord’s own Word.” Either Paul got this directly, by way of revelation, as we know in other places he did from the Lord. Or possibly, this is something that Jesus taught during those forty days in the book of Acts, when He was in a resurrected body teaching and he got it from the other apostles.

But this is a verbatim quote – this isn’t theory, this isn’t passed on – from our Lord’s own mouth, he says, “We can tell you that we,” notice he includes himself because he doesn’t know when He’s going to come back, “that we who happen to be alive will certainly not precede,” or be resurrected, “before those who have died before us.”

In fact, he says, “It will certainly not,” it’s the strongest negative in the New Testament. It’s a double negative. It’s impossible. Ain’t no way it’s going to happen. That’s a very loose translation but you get the idea. He says, “They will not precede those who have fallen asleep.”

Well, then the third question pops up. He has clarified the fate of those who have died, he has clarified the order of those who have died. But the real basic question then pops up: When and how will these end time events occur?

You know, they’re trying to, “Okay, wait a second. Paul, okay, I’ve got it. I feel better about the fact that if I’m a believer and I’ve known Christ, I’ve accepted Him as my Savior that, okay, Christ is resurrected, I’ll be resurrected. I got that.

Now, I’ve been worried about uncle Bob, and he died before me, and I’ve heard some stuff       that I don’t understand. Now I’ve got, okay, if uncle Bob died, he goes first, and then us. Time out, hey, Paul? How does all this work? I mean, how does it all fit together?”

That’s the next question. Notice now, in verses 16 and 17, the answer is going to be the Rapture of the Church. He’s going to teach more clearly here, than anywhere in the New Testament, about the Rapture of the Church.

And in about five minutes you’ll understand, if you’re thinking, “The Rapture of the Church, what’s that mean?” You’ll find out. Verse 16, “For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven.” It’s the return of Christ.

Notice, He doesn’t send a messenger boy. “The Lord Himself will come down from heaven.” Now notice how He does it. There are three characteristics of His return. First, with a loud command. Second, with the voice of the archangel. And third, with the trumpet call of God. And then what will happen? And the dead in Christ will rise first.

Who is going to be resurrected? Anyone who has ever believed in God? Does it say that? No. Who is going to be resurrected? The dead in Christ, those people who have trusted in Christ, from the birth of the Church, Acts chapter 2, to the present, when he is speaking, he says, “Something is going to happen. The Lord is going to come back. Okay, you got that?” “Got that.”

How is it going to happen? It’s going to start out with a shout or a loud command. The word, in classical Greek, gave reference to an authority or a general giving a command that must be carried out. God is commanding, okay, now it’s time.

This command is going to be announced. Literally, it’s an archangel. We know that Michael is an archangel. We know there are other archangels. So we don’t know exactly which archangel it is but it’s going to be announced by an archangel.

Then, after the announcement, there’s going to be a “[trumpet sound.]” Kind of that shofar horn. And it’s not going to sound anything like that. But there’s going to be the blowing of a trumpet, and when there’s this blowing of the trumpet, then the action is going to take place and those who died in Christ are going to be resurrected.

Now, jot down 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verse 51 through 54. Because we’re going to pick up right there the commentary on this event.

Listen carefully. The apostle Paul writes about this event: “Listen. I tell you a mystery.” And, by the way, anytime the apostle Paul uses the word “mystery,” it’s not a “secret” but he uses the word “mystery” to say, “I’m giving you information that hasn’t been revealed before.”

God has revealed it; it’s a mystery. In other words, other people in times past don’t know about this. This is a new teaching from God. What’s he say? “Listen. I tell you a mystery,” and here’s the mystery. Not the resurrection, we all knew about that. Here’s the mystery, “We will not all sleep,” or die, “but we will all be changed.” Ooh. “Paul, could you run that by us again?” “Yeah, yeah.”

“We will not all sleep,” everyone in the world won’t necessarily die. It’s the same word for “sleep,” a Christian who has died. “But we will all be changed,” or transformed. Now listen, and he gives it to us. How? “In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” Now listen to this, “For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed,” or transformed.

The moment a believer dies, their spirit or the immaterial part, spirit and soul, is immediately with God. That comes with Christ, those believers in Christ are resurrected, and then after that, it means immediately – following.

It’s kind of like a race and those of us who may happen to be alive at the Rapture, will lose by a hair. It’ll go, “Zoop, zoop.” Okay? Those people who have died? Zoop. Those who haven’t, zoop, we’re right behind them.

“After that we who are still alive and who are left will be caught up together with them,” who is them? Those resurrected saints. “…in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” Where are we going to go and what are we going to do? Well, next line. “And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

Now, the little word “caught up,” circle in your notes, will you? It literally means “to seize, to carry off, or to snatch away suddenly.” It’s reference to the transport of a person from one place to another. It’s used twelve times in the New Testament. Let me give you two other examples, so you get the idea that this rapture…

Now, you’re thinking to yourself, “Now wait, it says ‘caught up.’ Where do people get this rapture stuff?” It means, “Caught up, seized, or snatched.” When it was translated in Latin, the Latin word for this word here is “rapturo.” And so, as you know, Latin was a very common language and so the word “rapturo” came into being and people called it, “The Rapture.”

Acts 8. Here’s Philip. Use of the word “rapture.” Philip is minding his own business and here is the Ethiopian eunuch, right? Guy is in his chariot, he’s reading out of Isaiah. And he says to himself, “You know, I don’t have any idea what this means.”

So Philip was moved by the Holy Spirit, he said, “Hey, would you like to understand what you’re reading?” The guy says, “I’d love to, I just don’t know who it’s talking about.” He gets up in the chariot, remember that? And he explains about the Messiah, the person of Christ. About how you could have your sins forgiven, about how He came and the Messiah has come and about the resurrection.

And so they’re riding in this chariot together. They’re going along for a while and then the eunuch has got it! This Ethiopian says, “I got it! It’s faith in Christ! It’s grace! This is fantastic!” And he sees a pool of water. He says, “Hey, you think I could get baptized right now?” And Philip says, “Sure, man!” Loose translation again. You know, “Why not?”
And so he baptizes this guy, this African fellow, and they go down into the water and they come up but when they come up it says that Philip was snatched, raptured, seized – same word – and he lands in Gaza.

Now, can you, boy, would that be an experience for both of them? You know? You know, you’re riding in your chariot, you just trusted Christ, you get baptized, and woo!

You know, it makes Star Trek look so old fashioned, doesn’t it? But, see, that’s the meaning of that word. It’s the transporting of a body from one location to another. The apostle Paul says the same thing, 2 Corinthians 12, remember?

He’s describing this great experience with God. He says, “I was caught up,” raptured, snatched, “to the third heaven.” He says, “Now, whether I was in the body or out of the body I don’t know.” But, see, what the Bible clearly teaches is that those of us who may be alive, at the time of the Rapture, will not precede those who have died in Christ but they will be resurrected and then, whoo, after that we will be right behind them.

And then, we’ll have a reunion. And notice, the reunion is we’ll see and recognize one another, and we’ll be with the Lord and then we’ll all head out to heaven.

Charles Ryrie gives a very brief, succinct overview of the Rapture that I have found very helpful. And under “Five aspects of the Rapture,” let me just highlight what he’s put there and also a chart because some of you are just about at the point where, you know, “I think I got an idea of what this passage is talking about but what about the Tribulation and what about the Second Coming and how does all this fit together?”

So let me do a brief review that I think will put the pieces of the puzzle in place. First, The Five Aspects of the Rapture: One, you have the return of Jesus for His Church. That was in verse 16, the first portion.

The key word to write under that is the word, “Imminent.” Imminent. The word imminent literally means, “Something hanging over your head that could fall at any time.”

The Rapture requires no other prophetic event to occur, on the calendar of God’s timetable. It could happen today at 12:05, it could happen tomorrow at 11:57, it could happen next week, next month. Nothing has to happen in Israel, nothing has to happen anywhere. The Rapture can occur anytime.

And when you understand that, it will change how you live, how you believe, and how you behave. In fact, I was with a missionary in South America, in Chile. His name was Brahms. Great, big guy. Really neat, funny guy.

And I got elected to go with his truck to unload some stuff during one of the teams I played on. And so we’re unloading stuff and I know very little Spanish, I can talk a little bit about food and I can share a little bit about the Lord. Very little.

But there was an engraved plate on his door. And it said, “Tal vez hoy.” And I knew that “hoy” meant “today” but I didn’t know what the other word meant. So, you know, you’re loading boxes in and out, in and out. Every time you go in, “Tal vez hoy,” every time you go out, “Tal vez hoy.”

So, finally, I said, “Hey, Brahms, what’s on your door?” He said, “Oh, it means, ‘Perhaps today.” I said, “Perhaps today, what?” He said, “Chip, perhaps today!” I said, “Hey, Brahms! Perhaps today, what?” He said, “Chip! Perhaps today the Lord will return!”

And then he gave me a little, five-minute sermon that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. He said, “You know, Chip? Prophecy and doctrine aren’t for people to make charts about and argue over.” He said, “Properly understood, when you understand what God has said in His Word about His return,” He said, “when you think, as you walk in the door at night and before you put your head on the pillow, and you ask yourself the question, ‘Perhaps today, even before I awake,’ you ask yourself, ‘did I live the kind of day that would be pleasing, if the Lord took us home tonight?’”

And he said, “Then when you walk out the door and just before you leave the house you say, ‘Perhaps today,’ and if you really believe that maybe at six tonight, maybe at noon, maybe at 9:30, if you believed and thought, as the Scripture teaches, His return in imminent, that perhaps today,” he said, “Chip, do you think that would affect your priorities for the day if you knew that He was coming, like, at 6:30 tonight?”

I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Do you think it would affect how you treat people?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Do you think it would affect the focus of your life and the intentionality of what you do and why you do it?” I said, “Hey, I got the message.” Perhaps today. It’s the teaching of Scripture.

1 John tells us that a proper study of prophecy causes us to fix our eyes on the person of Christ and as we do, it is the hope of His return, and the lack of awareness of when it exactly will be, that purifies us because we live thinking, moment by moment, “Maybe today.”

Ryrie goes on to say that not only, then, is it the return that is imminent, there’s the resurrection of the dead. This is the first resurrection. It’s of the Church and we’ll talk later and I’ll give you some information about how you can discover the resurrection of Jewish believers and Gentile believers.

Third, there’s the actual Rapture of the Church where we meet Jesus in the air and meet our loved ones who have died. Then there is the reunion of believers with Christ and with each other. What a great thought.

People that you love, the people that are in Christ. You know, death isn’t forever, for believers. That’s why He said, “I don’t want you to be ignorant, brethren. I don’t want you to grieve like those who don’t have hope. You grieve but not like those who don’t have hope.” In fact, notice he says there’s reassurance. The reassurance of hope in the face of death.

Can you say that? Can you say that for you, and can you say that for the people you care most about?

Finally, at the bottom, you see a brief picture that I’m just going to allude to because many of you are going to get excited and I’m glad. And you’re going to think, “You know what? I’ve going to start reading about prophecy and I want to learn about this,” and what you’re going to do is you’re going to go home and you’re thinking, “Prophecy, let’s see, Revelation. I’m going to read Revelation.”

And you’re going to get to about chapter 8 and then you’re going to say, “Man, this is nuts, I don’t understand any of this.” So let me give you the CliffsNotes. Let me just give you the CliffsNotes of the book of Revelation and prophecy.

And there’s much, much more. But here’s the CliffsNotes. You have Christ’s death and resurrection. That was prophesied. And then we have the Church time where we are here. And then what we’ve just talked about. Jesus will come, there will be the Rapture. Notice, He doesn’t come to the earth. We meet Him in the clouds. And then immediately after the Rapture a series of events will happen very quickly.

There will be a peace accord signed in the Middle East that will blow people’s mind. The emergence of the Antichrist will come and there will be such chaos, he’ll promise hope and peace and people will say, “Hey, you know, let’s give this guy the ball.”

He’ll have supernatural powers. And for the first three and half years of the Tribulation it’ll be like, “Hey, this is great.” The Church will have been raptured out and that won’t be done in a secret or in a corner. People will make up all kind of bizarre stories to talk about what happened to those people and why.

Many people will be, like, people  maybe even some of you in this room, who understand the story, who said, “I’ll wait until later,” and the Rapture will occur and they will go through the Tribulation and they will trust in Christ during that time.

God says He will send one hundred and forty-four thousand evangelists, Jewish evangelists, because He’s going to go after His people and love them and draw them back.

And then the second half of this three and a half years will be chaos, judgment, wrath like you cannot imagine. So, in that little section where there is the Tribulation between the Rapture and Christ’s return write, “Revelation, R-E-V, period, 6 through 18.” And as you read through that you’ll know, “Oh, that’s what’s occurring here.”

Then Christ’s return, that’s chapter 19. That’s the battle; literally, it’s a war of Armageddon. And then, chapter 20 will talk about the literal thousand-year reign, when Christ is coming back, and He will fulfill every promise that He made to the nation of Israel.

And at the end of that time, there will be one last, sort of, hoopla and you can read about that. And there will be final judgment. And then there will be a new heaven and a new earth.

Revelation 20 tells you about that thousand-year reign and then eternity – the new heaven,   new earth – is described in chapter 21 and 22.

So, you’ve got the CliffsNotes and so as you read through that will give you some understanding. Now, you’ll still find significant confusion. But this little book, one, I like it because it’s thin. There’s a high correlation between thin books and what gets read. Second, it’s very brief and clear. It’s called, “Come Quickly, Lord Jesus: What You Should Know About the Rapture,” by Dr. Charles Ryrie.

Now, those of you that have been around the block, questions have popped up in your mind, “Don’t some people believe differently about the Rapture and mid and post…?”

Absolutely. All those are covered here. I can’t cover all that. They’re covered clearly, fairly. “Well, what about the Millennial Kingdom and how is that populated?” Covered here. “What about that passage in Revelation 3?” Covered here.

So, that’s the overview. Now, fasten your safety belt and let’s turn the page and we want to look at the final portion of Paul’s teaching. Notice, very importantly, that in the NIV the first verse says, “Now.” That’s okay. Good translation. It’s not quite as hard. The word there is, “But.” He’s making a contrast.

He says, “Now,” you know, if you hear it as, “Now,” it’s a great word. If it’s, “But,” see, he’s talked about the Church, he’s talked about the Rapture, he’s talked about the Coming. “But,” now he’s going to shift gears and he says, “I want to talk about the end times in general.”

And in verses 1 through 3 he’s going to teach us, as believers, “We need to warn, we need to warn the people in our relational network and we need to do it by speaking the truth in love.”

And then, in verses 4 through 11, he’s going to come back and say, “We need to not just warn them, we need to win them by, literally, living the truth out in everyday life.”

So, let’s look at these three verses and see what he says about not just the Rapture. What he’s going to do is talk about the day of the Lord. And the day of the Lord was prophesied in the Old Testament, so they should know about it.

Isaiah 2, Isaiah 4, Isaiah 12, Joel 1, Amos 5, Zephaniah 1 and 3. The day of the Lord was, I mean, they knew about the day of the Lord. And the day of the Lord, then, was also taught by who? Christ. His disciples asked Him about it, you know, Mark 13, Matthew 24, Matthew 25.

He clearly, they knew. And the apostle Paul taught them when he was with them about the day of the Lord. And the day of the Lord is this time where, historically, there is going to be great judgment followed by great blessing and the day of the Lord, in the New Testament, is always used in reference to, not the Church, but the judgment of the nations.

So, with that, sort of plant it in the back of your mind. Let’s look at the first three verses where we need to warn others. It says, “But,” or, “Now, brethren, about times and dates,” literally about the durations and the characteristics of this whole end time scenario. “About the times and the dates, we don’t need to write you.” Why?

“For you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” They know very well, why? Old Testament teaching, teaching of Paul, teaching of Christ.

So, what he’s talking about now is not any mystery, not any new information. He is giving them the big picture. “You know the day of the Lord, when Jesus comes in final judgment, He’s going to come like a thief in the night.”

Verse 3, “While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly.” And then notice the simile. “As labor pains on a pregnant woman and they will not escape.” That same little double negative, strongest in the New Testament, it’s here. “They, in no way ever, will escape.” It’s very strong.

Now, let’s make three quick observations about those verses. Observation number one: Jesus’ return is certain. He’s saying, “You know, Old Testament, I don’t have to warn you, I don’t have to tell you. It’s going to be like a thief in the night but it is absolutely certain.”

The little picture he gives, a woman who is five, six months pregnant. She may not know the day the baby is coming but she’s real sure something is coming. Right? What she doesn’t know, she’s always semi-unexpected about the specific day. And so that’s how the picture  plays out. He says, “Guys, we need to warn people.” Jesus is coming back.

Secondly, Jesus’ return will be unexpected. People will be saying things like “Oh, yeah, I know there’s a crisis in the Middle East but they’ve always had problems. Oh, I know there’s this devastating disease called AIDS but people have always had that. Oh, sure, there’s a few wars and lots more earthquakes and I know there are three or four major, Third World countries that their economy could sink everything and I understand that, you know, Iraq may have nuclear arms and North Korea and whole world could go up in smoke but, see, I try not to think of those things. And besides, the stock market is going up. And my own personal, private, little world seems to be okay.”

Peace, peace, safety. A thinking person, who would study world history, would find the level of devastation, earthquakes, wars, rumors of wars, plagues in our day are at an unparalleled level. And only a person in denial, only a person who sticks their head in the sand, only a person who is so defensive about reality that they want to keep God at a distance, can push all that information and all that truth away. A thinking person says, “The world’s got major problems and it could go up in smoke.”

There are idiots and terrorists stealing plutonium, there are countries now with atomic power that we wouldn’t let our children play with, let alone let run a country. And he is saying, “Jesus is coming back. It’s not peace and safety. And when He comes back He is going to surprise a lot of people.” And some of those people are your friends. Some of those people are your family members. And, dare I say, probably in a group this size some of those people are you.

God brought some of you, today, to have a divine appointment. You don’t know Christ as your Savior. You might be a great person, a moral person, a great worker, a good mom, a good dad, a great single person. I’m not saying you’re a bad person. I mean, you’re just one of us. But you don’t know Christ. You haven’t accepted the Lord Jesus, as His sacrificial payment for your sin, and when the Rapture occurs, those who know Him go and those who don’t, don’t. And it is unkind, unloving, and cruel to keep that to yourself. And the warning is, “Would you please tell people that?”

‘These are the claims of Christ. I’m going to be your friend whether you accept them, I’m going to be your friend whether you reject them, but I have a moral responsibility to tell you He’s coming. It’s certain. He’s coming unexpectedly. And, finally, when He comes, it will not be to bless, it will be to judge. And you can either allow Him to be your judge now and let Him judge your sin and place it all on Christ so you come as a son or a daughter. Or you can wait and stiff-arm God and He will be your judge later and every knee will bow, every tongue will confess, and you’ll suffer irreparable damage.’” We are told, by our Lord, to warn those in this situation.

We’re not only to warn them but we’re to win them. And there’s one major point I want you to get from verse 4 through 11. Simply put, you win them by living a significantly pure life where you live out what you say you believe.

Notice verse 4, “But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.” In other words, “Hey, there’s going to be no surprise for you.”

“You are sons of light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” Now, listen to this, here’s the application, “So then, let us not be like others who are asleep,” this is a different word for, “asleep.” This means moral and spiritual lethargy. It means indifference to spiritual things.

He said, “Let’s not be like them who are asleep but let us be alert and self-controlled.” Alert means to be mentally sharp, spiritually alert, calm, sober-minded. It gives multiple references to an attitude of prayer. So be alert and self-controlled. That Word means, “moral purity.” Be stable. Live a life of holiness in view of the Lord’s return.

“For those who sleep,” verse 7, “sleep at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night.” Contrast. “But since we belong to the day, let us be,” notice the repetition, “self-controlled,” live out this life. This time, it’s in the present tense. Continually be self-controlled. At home, be self-controlled. How? By the grace of God. At work, be self-controlled.

Specifically, how do you do it? He tells us: “Putting on faith and love as a breastplate and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” That’s in a tense of the verb that means, “Do it once and for all!” Put on a breastplate of faith, trust God, accept His love, and be loving toward others and have the security of your life, the helmet, your thinking, by the hope of salvation.

 

And it’s of a soldier. It means be not like a soldier asleep. Be alert. Be strong. Be ready. Go into your world and to your relational network and exhibit faith and love and hope in such a way where people say, “Hey, man, how in the world do you do it? You got three kids; you’re under such pressure. How does your life work? Your wife walked out on you, your husband walked out on you, that boss treats you terrible. I don’t know how you make it on what you live on. There’s something different about you.” “Yeah, it’s Christ.”

See, we’re to win the world by living a winsome, God-empowered, grace-oriented life. He gives the reason: “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath.” God’s will isn’t that we’re involved when the wrath occurs. “But to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And then, notice verse 10, what a line: “He died for us.” The little word, “for” means, “on our behalf and in our place.” He died for us. Just let it sink in, okay? He died for, you put your name it. He died for you. He died for me.

And this idea isn’t just some man, fully God, fully man died somewhere historically. The idea is every sin, every shameful thing, everything in your closet and mine, He died in your place. God judged that sin, when Jesus died on the cross, and all that you’ve done, all that I’ve done, all that anyone has done was poured out on Christ and He is our sin substitute.

He died for us, in our place. He’s the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world. You know what your responsibility is? To receive Him. To turn to Him. To lift the empty hands of faith and say, “God, I need You.”

Now notice why He died for you. This is so great. “So that whether we are awake,” alive, “or asleep,” dead, “we may live together with Him.” I don’t know your background, my background in church was so terrible. I never had any idea that God wanted a relationship with me.

Jesus died on the cross isn’t some little thing to sing. He died on the cross because you matter. He loves you! He understands your hurt, He understands your pain, He understands where you’ve been, He understands your baggage and you know what He’s saying? “Come to me. Come to Me today. Let Me love you. Let Me forgive you. Join My family. Let Me cleanse you. Let Me take the deepest wounds and hurts. I’ll be the dad you never had. I’ll be the mom you never had. I’ll be the mate that left you. I’ll be the person you’ve been searching for. But whatever you think success or money or anything is going to get you, I’ll be that. I am God and you matter to Me. I died for you because I want a relationship.”

He doesn’t want to give you a list of dos and don’ts and duties and how many things you’re supposed to go to. He wants to bring you into a loving relationship with Him, and your service to Him will flow out of gratitude and life and love. And then He tells us, “Therefore, encourage one another and build up each other, just as in fact you are.”

I’d like to ask you a couple questions before we go home. The first being: Would you characterize your response to Christ’s return as, A) A fearless skeptic; B) Fearfully confused; or C) Joyfully anticipating?

What would you mark down if you had to? Are you certain that you are ready for the Lord’s return? If Jesus… if you knew 1:55 today the Lord was coming back, are you, with absolute confidence, sure that you would be a part of that event called, “The Caught Up,” or, “The Rapture?” Not because you’re a good person, not because you go to church, not because you give to the United Way, not because you read the Bible now and then but solely because you are related rightly to God, through the person of Christ, in His work on the cross and, by faith, you have accepted that free gift. Are you ready?

The [second] question I would ask is: Is there someone you need to warn and to win, before Christ returns? Did some names come to your mind as I was talking? Aunt, uncle, friend, coworker, family member, an ex, a child, a mom, a dad? Who is it and when will you start that game plan? And the first place is to pray. As we close today, I want to tell you, very upfront, that today is the day of salvation. God brought some of you here today and you’ll never hear the gospel as clearly, not because of the guy who was preaching but because of the Spirit that’s working. You may never hear it as clearly, as you have it right now.

And that your response today is not, “I’ll think about it.” Your response today is, “Lord Jesus, I get it. Yes, I’m a strong-willed person. Yes, I want my own way. But I’ve been stiff-arming You long enough and I want to put down the hands of resistance and I want to ask You today to forgive me, to cleanse me, to come into my life and make me a new person.” It’s called, “being born again,” or “born from above.” I want to pray a prayer and not by some rote but if it really reflects where you’re at and you want to respond to Christ, do it today, will you? You may never hear His voice as clearly as you hear it today.

Lord Jesus, You said that no one comes to You unless they are drawn by the Father. And that’s not mystical. It means they hear the gospel, it means that they’re at a place like today and they hear it clearly that You love them, that they can, in no way, by any works or effort of their own, get good enough but they need to humble themselves and they need to trust that Jesus died in their place to pay for their sin and that You rose again to give them new life.

If you’re in that boat today I encourage you to take a courageous step of faith and entrust yourself to the Savior. And if you don’t know how, just follow along. You can pray in your mind. But pray along with me: Dear Jesus, please forgive me. I’m sorry for the things that I’ve done that I know were wrong. I’m sorry for the people that I’ve hurt and the promises I’ve broken. I can’t do it anymore. Please forgive me and come into my life right now. I trust that Your death paid for my sin and Your resurrection will give me new life. Make me the man, the woman, or the student that You want me to be.