Matthew & Luke: A Tale of Two Christmases

In most nativity sets, we blend the various Christmas stories together in one big, happy créche–shepherds, angels, wise men, Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, manger, and the rest. And rightly so. Each character adds a different flavor to the rich celebration of the coming of the Christ Child. Even the extras that crowd the scene like the ox and donkey, although not mentioned in the Christmas stories, can bring extra theological depth for those who have eyes to see.

However, sometimes in all the Advent amalgamation, we can overlook the distinct Christmas narratives that Matthew and Luke are telling. If you have read the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, then you know how much of the content overlaps in their books. However, when it comes to the first two chapters of each Gospel–when it comes to the way they narrate Christmas–they couldn’t be more different.

Has it ever struck you how different the Christmas stories are in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke?

In fact, considering how much of their stories do align, only specific intentionality can explain how differently they recount the Advent of the Christ. When you set their two accounts side by side, it becomes clear that each is making volitional, contrasting editorial choices. Consider these for a start:

  • In Luke, Caesar Augustus looms large in the background (Luke 2:1).
  • In Matthew, King Herod acts in the foreground (Matthew 2:1-ff).
  • Luke’s Gospel is told from Mary’s perspective and treats her as the main protagonist.
  • Matthews’s Gospel is told from Joseph’s perspective and treats him as the main protagonist.
  • In Luke, an angel appears to Mary before conception (Luke 1:30-31).
  • In Matthew, an angel appears to Joseph after conception (Matthew 1:20).
  • In Luke, the angel tells Mary “and you shall call his name Jesus” (Luke 1:31).
  • In Matthew, the angel tells Joseph “and you shall call his name Jesus” (Matthew 1:21,25).
  • Luke’s Gospel features “a multitude of the heavenly host” (Luke 2:13).
  • Matthew’s Gospel features a solitary star (Matthew 2:1-ff).
  • Luke’s birth announcement is brought by angels to the shepherds of the flock in Bethlehem (Luke 2:8).
  • Matthew’s birth announcement is brought by magi to the false shepherds of God’s people in Jerusalem (Matthew 2:4).
  • Luke’s birth announcement brings peace on earth (Luke 2:14).
  • Matthew’s birth announcement brings trouble to all Jerusalem (Matthew 2:3).
  • In Luke’s telling, the shepherds instruct one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem…” (Luke 2:15).
  • In Matthew’s version, King Herod sends the magi “to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child…'” (Matthew 2:8).
  • In Luke, Hebrew shepherds “in the same region…out in the field” find the child (Luke 2:8,16)
  • In Matthew, Gentile “magi from the east” find the child (Matthew 2:1,11)
  • In Luke’s account, shepherds visit baby Jesus (Luke 2:16)
  • In Matthew’s account, baby Jesus is the shepherd (Matthew 2:6)
  • At Luke’s Christmas, Bethlehem is filled with singing (Luke 2:13,20).
  • At Matthew’s Christmas, Bethlehem is filled with weeping (Matthew 2:18).
  • In Luke, we find spiritual treasures: “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).
  • In Matthew, we find earthly treasures: “Opening their treasures, [the wise men] offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).
  • In Luke’s narrative, Mary and child enter the Temple to worship the Lord (Luke 2:22,27).
  • In Matthew’s narrative, the magi enter the house, see the child and Mary, and worship him (Matthew 2:11).
  • Luke’s holy family travels to the Temple (Luke 2:22).
  • Matthew’s holy family escapes to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-14).
  • Luke recounts the circumcision and Passover redemption of the male infant Christ (Luke 2:21,23,27).
  • Matthew recounts the cutting off of all the male infants in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16).

The two Christmas narratives finally converge at the ends of their second chapters:

  • Luke 2:39, 51–“they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth…And he went down with them and came to Nazareth”
  • Matthew 2:23–“And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth…”

From this point on, Matthew and Luke largely walk hand-in-hand through the rest of the story of Christ’s baptism, ministry, teaching, miracles, arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection.

This leaves us with a question: Why? When authors take intentionally divergent paths as they recount the same historical event, they do it for a purpose. Particularly, we are talking about the opening chapters of the book. These chapters play a huge role in shaping the way we read the entire rest of the story–setting our expectations, creating categories for interpretation, introducing characters, themes, and motifs, and creating a narrative arc that will be closed in a unique way at the conclusion of each book, respectively.

It’s a tale of two Christmases. What unique perspective is Matthew seeking to communicate with his particular Christmas narrative? What stage is Luke setting with the way he relates the events of the Advent?

We could spend an entire book exploring this question. Certainly, Matthew and Luke show us that the events of Christ’s life can be read, understood, and interpreted in multiple ways. The contrast between their Christmas narratives cannot be accidental. There are marks of pointed, intentional, editorial distinctions in each. Although Matthew and Luke have a ton of overlapping content and follow a very similar timeline of events, their contrasting Advent accounts invite us to see these events through two different lenses. Matthew and Luke are seeking to provide complementary readings, not contradictory–much like the creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2.

The purposes for Matthew’s version of Christmas vs. Luke’s version come to light only as we continue to read the rest of each book. Theology planted in seed form in Matthew’s Christmas and Luke’s Christmas begins to blossom and bear fruit as each gospel writer tells the rest of his tale.

Where to Turn in a World of Competing Narratives

I was reading Psalm 73 this morning, and Asaph reminded me of Reason #372 why it is so important to be in church on Sunday mornings. He begins his Psalm bewildered by the conflict of what he believes to be true in his heart and what seems to be true in the culture:

Truly God is good to Israel,

to those who are pure in heart. 

But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,

my steps had nearly slipped. 

For I was envious of the arrogant

when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

Psalm 73:1-3

While Asaph knows in the depth of his soul that God is good to the pure in heart, everything around him seems to proclaim–from the magazine racks and the news and the movies and the workplace and Netflix and Facebook and politics–a contradictory truth: “The wicked prosper.”

For they have no pangs until death;

their bodies are fat and sleek.

They are not in trouble as others are;

they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. 

Therefore pride is their necklace;

violence covers them as a garment.

Their eyes swell out through fatness;

their hearts overflow with follies.

They scoff and speak with malice;

loftily they threaten oppression. 

They set their mouths against the heavens,

and their tongue struts through the earth. 

Psalm 73:4-9

The horrifying story unfolding before Asaph’s eyes seems so true, and it threatens to dethrone the truth hidden in his own heart. What are we to do when the narratives playing out in society are a direct affront to our Christian faith? We are surrounded by conflicting stories; how do we keep our feet from stumbling into false narratives? Asaph shows us the way.

Postmodernism and False Narratives.

I remember the first time I encountered the word postmodernism. I was in high school in the early 2000s, and Christians were certain postmodernism was going to be the downfall of society. At the time, postmodern thought in my limited understanding boiled down to one basic tenet: Truth is relative. It was a dangerous truth claim to be sure.

What I realize now is how I failed to comprehend the point of a postmodern perspective. Postmodernism was descriptive before it was prescriptive. The mantra, “Truth is relative,” was not necessarily the way postmoderns wanted the world to be; it was simply the way the world already operated.

Postmodernism aimed to be apocalyptic. Much like the book of Revelation, it sought to remove the masks and reveal the power struggles beneath the surface. What was really happening when individuals, political parties, genders, races, classes, or religious organizations claimed to have the truth on their side?

From a postmodern perspective, truth is never really about truth. Truth is about power. The truth is malleable—easily refashioned to fit whatever narrative our team is pushing. And whoever controls the narrative controls the world.

Certainly, we cannot deny this often to be the case today. Everyone is pushing a narrative. Everyone is weaving a tale. Just turn on cable news. You will hear two totally different accounts of the “facts” depending on which network you choose. That is because each has a story it is telling, and that story is aimed at expanding the power of their team.

Politicians push narratives. The strange thing is that we all know this. Pundits perform fact checks after debates and town halls, and we are never surprised to find that a politician has stretched the truth—or even fabricated the truth—in order to further the story he is trying to sell to the public. And why? It’s all aimed at election. It’s a vie for power.

Social media push narratives. Instagram and Pinterest are telling tales about what the good life looks like. Twitter is weaving together stories to shape the narrative of social justice and to control whose voices deserve to be heard. Facebook—well, who knows what Facebook’s narrative is these days. But all stories being told by these platforms aim at one thing: maintaining the power, status, and importance of social media in society.

Hollywood pushes narratives. Whether through award shows, celebrity activists, or the content of its art, television and movies are weaving together narratives through the telling and retelling of stories. They are telling us something about the regal place of entertainment in society.

Religious organizations push narratives. The oldest stories in the world originated among religious peoples, and these stories held sway over societies. Even Christians must admit this to be true. Much of the Old and New Testaments narrates how people conquered and fought one another in the name of their gods.

We Need a True Story.

The point is, we live in a storytelling world. And that, brothers and sisters, is why you and I need to be in church on Sunday morning.

Asaph wandered around wearied and discouraged by the narratives of this world, until he entered a space shaped by a different narrative. A space—and a people—shaped by God’s story. He writes,

But when I thought how to understand this,

it seemed to me a wearisome task,

until I went into the sanctuary of God;

then I discerned their end. 

Psalm 73:16-17

It was when Asaph entered the sanctuary of God, when he entered the presence of God’s people, when his ears were filled with God’s Word, that the narratives of this world lost their power. He was comforted by the narrative of the unbending, unshakeable truth—God’s truth.

Friends, we spend six days wandering about in a world that seems to proclaim, “The wicked prosper! The wicked prosper! The wicked prosper!” And if we are not careful, we grow to envy the proud. We become jealous of co-workers who succeed by clawing their way to the top. Our appetites and desires are shaped by daily scrolling through social media. We begin to believe that politics will save us. And for six days, our hearts grow sick with worry and anxiety and doubts and temptation because we begin to believe the false narratives the Serpent hisses in an effort to exercise power over us…

Until.

Until we enter the sanctuary of God. Until we hear God’s people singing. Until we stand and sit and rise and kneel. Until we read aloud the truths handed down to us from the Apostles. Until we confess our sins and hear afresh the grace of God given to us in Christ. Until we lay our treasures at his feet. Until we taste and experience his presence at the Lord’s Table. Until we hear the eternal Word of God and our hearts are kindled afresh by the only true story in all of the universe.

This is why we so desperately need Sunday mornings. Sunday liturgy and worship among the gathered people of God is a rehearsing and a retelling and a reliving of God’s story—the narrative of salvation history. We live the story together of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Re-creation. It is a reminder that despite the narratives around us that proclaim, “The wicked prosper!”, Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Risen Savior is still on his throne.

When we stand in the sanctuary, the story is reset. The truth reigns, and we proclaim with Asaph:

You guide me with your counsel,

and afterward you will receive me to glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you?

And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail,

but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:24-26

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A Baptist Catechism for Kids

When I was growing up, there was this infomercial for a countertop appliance called the Showtime Rotisserie. I can remember the salesman showing the product’s many practical uses, and after putting a whole turkey or chicken or a salmon or a pineapple or whatever inside, he and the audience would repeat the catchphrase together: “Now…set it, and forget it!”

I love ministry tools that work like a Showtime Rotisserie. Just set it, and forget it. No fuss. No prep required week after week. Do the hard work of getting things set up, but once they’re set, they run pretty smoothly on their own.

That’s why I have come to love catechism. We know we are supposed to disciple our children, explain to them the basics of systematic theology, and discuss with them the truths of the faith. A catechism is like the best kind of Showtime Rotisserie. Once you choose one and make time to practice with your kids, it requires little to no maintenance or preparation. Just set it, and forget it.

At our church, we use A Catechism for Girls and Boys (1798) by Richard Cecil. We incorporate it into our midweek Bible study at church, adults pairing off with children to practice. Each adult asks the question, then the child gives the response. The kids get ice cream when they hit certain milestones. Parents review with the kids throughout the week.

Repetition is key. And we aim for the kids to memorize the answers word-perfectly. The funny thing about all of this is that although the kids are the ones being quizzed week after week, I’ve heard several adults catch themselves quoting from the catechism in adult conversations at church!

Catechize your kids, and you will catechize yourself.

Below is a free PDF of the Catechism we use. I’ve edited it only by updating a few archaisms and adding a place to keep track of when each answer was memorized. I like it because it is simple, good for preschool up through about fifth grade. I like it because it is old. I like it because it is Baptist (trigger warning for non-Baptists!).

You can print it as is, or you can do what I do: Set the PDF print menu to print it in booklet mode, fold it in half and staple it down the middle like a little book. I even put a piece of card stock in for the cover page so the whole thing feels like a nice little book for the kids. The kids love them!

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Biblical Narrative Is Ambiguous (and Why That’s a Good Thing)

This might make your toes curl up inside your shoes, but the narratives of the Bible are ambiguous. Just to be clear, I am not saying that the Bible is false, untrue, misleading, or culturally confined. But its stories are ambiguous. Perhaps you remember being introduced to literary tools in your high school English class–simile, metaphor, figurative language, rhyme, rhythm, analogy, etc. Think of ambiguity as a literary tool.

An Invitation into the Story.

Biblical authors use ambiguity as a way of inviting you to the party.  If you are reading a story that lays everything out plain and simple, with the moral overtly stated and the villains and heroes clearly labelled, there is not much work left for you, the reader, to do. However, the Bible is not interested in disinterested readers. The God of the Bible wants to suck you in.

Take Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town, for instance. The play was written to be performed with no set and minimal props. And why? Because we are meant to imagine not a particular town but rather our town. Without specific details to create distance between the events and our own experience, the narrative unfolding becomes proximate, immediate, real.

Intentional ambiguity also allows for multiple, overlapping interpretations. A good author is not content to tell you how he thinks about the characters, the plot, or the outcome. Part of the delight of reading is being able to draw your own conclusions and make your own inferences. What fun is a connect-the-dot when all the dots have been connected for you?

The Bible Is Not a 19th Century British Novel.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Frankenstein. You know the ones I’m talking about: Introspective tomes with a decidedly omniscient narrator. They’re great novels. But the Bible is not one of them. We hardly ever get to hear the inner thoughts of the characters. We hardly ever get a blunt description of a character’s motives.

This might be unsettling at first. We are so used to being made privy to a character’s intimate thoughts and motives. In contrast, the Bible can seem impersonal and the characters distant. Additionally frustrating is the fact that we know the biblical Narrator is omnipotent. God himself knows exactly why characters act the way they do. On rare occasion, the Spirit gives us a brief peek into a protagonist’s mind–take note when he does! He knows the minds of his characters. By choice, he keeps them hidden from us most of the time.

Biblical Authors Withhold.

Which brings us to our final point. The narrators of the Bible–particularly Old Testament authors–withhold. They don’t tell us everything. They don’t conclude each story with a succinct nugget of truth like one of Aesop’s fables. Often we’re left bewildered as to who the true heroes and villains actually were.

Certainly, there is a difference between intentional and unintentional ambiguity.  Unintentional ambiguity is sloppy writing and poor communication. In contrast, intentional ambiguity is an author’s prerogative. When an author intentionally withholds information, he does it because the story is actually better without it. Ambiguity is the biblical author’s way of winking at his readers. When you and I are able to read between the lines and discern motives, connections, and desires without that information being overtly stated, it’s a win-win for both the author and us.

The Bible Reads Like Real Life.

imagination_and_biblical_narrative_515455426Does any event in life have just one meaning? Can the experiences in our lives be boiled down to heroes and villains? Do we ever fully comprehend the inner desires and motives of the people we interact with? Do we even fully comprehend our own thoughts and motives?

Biblical narrative reads like real life. There are multiple correct ways to understand the story. The narratives of the Bible refuse to be boiled down to a “moral of the story”.  The line between hero and villain is often blurry. Inner desires are questionable; motives are a guessing game. Ambiguity makes all of this biblical beauty possible.

I believe this is why nearly 75% of the Bible is narrative. Do we ever fully comprehend the tapestry of God’s sovereignty that hangs behind the events of our lives or the lives of others? Biblical narratives will never be fully exhausted. There is always room for more exploration. There is always a place for another angle.  I would argue that narrative is actually more applicable to life than strict directives.

In a society increasingly divided, many want to draw God’s Word into their own interpretive universe. They will fail every time. Intentional ambiguity is a gravitational force that draws us into orbit around God’s Word, never vice-versa. 

In some sense, the ambiguity of Biblical narrative shows us who God is–a God who will never be fully comprehended. He is a God who will forever be explored, who has new mercies tucked around every corner, and who has new joys for us every morning. After all, isn’t it the chief end of man to glorify God and enjoy him forever?

The next time you get frustrated with those biblical authors for making their stories so hard to understand, remember: God did it for a reason. Who is a better author than God?  Not only is he writing history, but he wrote the most perfectly accurate–and at times beautifully ambiguous–account of that history in His Word.

For more intense study and a host of examples, see Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Narrative.  I do not endorse everything Alter espouses, but when it comes to analyzing the Biblical narrative of the OT, he is tops!

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2.7 — John G. Paton and Steeled Conviction & Courage

In the mid 1850s, a call went out to the ministers of the Scottish Reformed Presbyterian Church for a new missionary to be sent to a chain of islands off the coast of Australia. John Inglis pleaded for another to be sent to help him, claiming that on his island alone “3,500 savages [had thrown] away their idols, renouncing their heathen customs and avowing themselves to be worshippers of the true Jehovah God.” None was found to answer the call. Their hesitation was understandable. Just a few years before, John Williams and James Harris, the first two missionaries to the New Hebrides Islands, had been eaten by cannibals only minutes after coming ashore.

News of the missionary call came to a young inner city church planter in Glasgow by the name of John G. Paton…

Resources:

John G. Paton and the Death of a Young Boy

One of the great things about studying missionaries from the past is the treasury of public domain books to be had free online either at Archive.org or Google Books written by those very missionaries. Recently while reading John G. Paton’s autobiography, I was struck by an account from his years as an inner city missionary in Glasgow.

Paton left a thriving ministry to drunks, prostitutes, and the urban poor to take the gospel to the cannibals in New Hebrides. Even forty years later, his accounts of that time glow with tender-hearted fondness.

This passage about the passing of an eight-year old boy named John Sims was particularly moving. Paton writes,

In my Mission district, I was the witness of many joyful departures to be with Jesus,—I do not like to name them “deaths” at all. Even now, at the distance of nearly forty years, many instances, especially amongst the young men and women who attended my classes, rise up before my mind. They left us, rejoicing in the bright assurance that nothing present or to come “could ever separate them or us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Several of them, by their conversation even on their death-bed, were known to have done much good. Many examples might be given; but I can find room for only one. John Sim, a dear little boy, was carried away by consumption [tuberculosis]. His childish heart seemed to be filled with joy about seeing Jesus. His simple prattle, mingled with deep questionings, arrested not only his young companions, but pierced the hearts of some careless sinners who heard him, and greatly refreshed the faith of God’s dear people. It was the very pathos of song incarnated to hear the weak quaver of his dying voice sing out,—

“I lay my sins on Jesus,
The spotless Lamb of God.”

Shortly before his decease he said to his parents, “I am going soon to be with Jesus; but I some times fear that I may not see you there.”

“Why so, my child?” said his weeping mother.

“Because,” he answered, “if you were set upon going to heaven and seeing Jesus there, you would pray about it, and sing about it; you would talk about Jesus to others, and tell them of that happy meeting with Him in Glory. All this my dear Sabbath school teacher taught me, and she will meet me there. Now why did not you, my father and mother, tell me all these things about Jesus, if you are going to meet Him too?”

Their tears fell fast over their dying child; and he little knew, in his unthinking eighth year, what a message from God had pierced their souls through his innocent words. One day an aunt from the country visited his mother, and their talk had run in channels for which the child no longer felt any interest. On my sitting down beside him, he said,—

“Sit you down and talk with me about Jesus; I am tired hearing so much talk about everything else but Jesus; I am going soon to be with Him. Oh, do tell me everything you know or have ever heard about Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God!”

At last the child literally longed to be away, not for rest, or freedom from pain—for of that he had very little—but, as he himself always put it, “to see Jesus.” And, after all, that was the wisdom of the heart, however he learned it. Eternal life, here or hereafter, is just the vision of Jesus.

-pp. 75-77 John G. Paton, Missionary to the New Hebrides: An Autobiography

What If I Miss the Rapture?

So, I did a bad thing this past week.

I googled “what if I miss the rapture?”

For those who are not familiar with what I’m talking about, “the rapture” is a central piece of a dispensational reading of Revelation. The idea goes that when Jesus returns, he will come back secretly first and take all Christians up to heaven (i.e., “the rapture”). All non-Christians and Christian posers who missed the rapture would then be “left behind” to suffer through what people call “the tribulation”–a seven year period of pandemonium and earthquakes and bloodshed.

So, as I said, I made the unwise choice of googling “what if I miss the rapture?”

One of the hits was a 70 minute message by Benny Hinn by that very title, but I wasn’t worried enough to pay the $8 to find out his advice. Another top result was a 2017 article at Charisma News by Dr. Dave Williams titled: “What To Do If You Miss the Rapture.” It begins: “If you are reading this after the rapture has occurred, it’s because you weren’t ready.”

Williams then proceeds to give his best 20 pieces of advice for surviving in a left behind scenario. Here are some of the highlights: #2 Get rid of your cell phone (he recommends chucking it into a river or lake, mafia-style), #3 Do not kill yourself, #8 Don’t go to church (think about it, only false teachers will be left behind), #9 Get a small, self-powered radio, and (the obvious one) #13 Refuse to take a mark, a name, a number, or a chip in your right hand or your forehead: “Once you get it, you will belong to Satan forever.”

It was all a bit too familiar.

Left Behind.

In some ways, those two words sum up the angst of a millennial growing up in youth group around Y2K. End Times everything was so hot back then. The world was supposed to end in the year 2000–something about all the computers exploding at midnight. Nineties Christian subculture did a good job of harnessing that fear as Revelation charts fluttered in church lobbies, and the Left Behind novels flew up the New York Times Bestsellers lists.

Tribulation-themed movies, messages, and Judgment Houses were all the rage. It was the wild west of “by-any-means-necessary” evangelism. DC Talk’s rendition of “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” still haunts my youth group memories to this day.

Rather than preaching that Christ–not the sincerity of a person’s faith–was the foundation of eternal assurance, youth speakers leaned heavy on this terrifying notion: “What if you’re not ready? What if you get left behind?” In moments of emotional distress, many of us made yet another decision for Christ–just in case we weren’t sincere the first dozen times. And we all know how sincere promises in moments of emotional distress can be.

I mean, really, who wants to be left behind?

An Ancient Fear.

All of this flooded back as I was studying Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians this past week. I was surprised to find that this fear of somehow missing the return of Jesus–of being left behind–is actually a very old phobia. 1 and 2 Thessalonians are the earliest New Testament books, written only fifteen or twenty years after Jesus’s ascension. Apparently, apocalyptic hysteria was already creeping into the church: Is it possible to miss the return of Jesus? What if the day of the Lord has already happened–or what if it happens, and I get left behind?

Paul addresses this fear in no uncertain terms:

“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.”

2 Thessalonians 2:1-2

Paul does not feed fear. He confronts falsehood and flattens it. Regardless of the source, whether a popular preacher or revered set of novels or even a wrong-headed fervor passing through the churches, “…we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed” (2:2). What if I miss the rapture? Paul’s response is, “You can’t, you haven’t, and you won’t.”

Essentially, Chapter 2 begins: “…per my last email.” Paul has already explained this in his first letter. What the Thessalonians need—and what you and I need—is to stand firm in the truth he’s already taught us. Do not be easily shaken.

Just one or two pages back in your Bibles, or a few swipes up on your phone, you’ll find 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, particularly verses 16-18, where Paul explains,

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are 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. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

When fears of missing the return of Jesus creep into our minds, whatever the source, these words from 1 Thessalonians 4 are the ones we are supposed to cling to.

No, we do not know when Jesus will return, but when he returns we will all know it. The sound of Christ’s return will be like a bull in a china shop, like the blue angels at a Nascar race, like a toddler when you shush him: “…a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (4:16). No one in all of the universe will miss the return of Jesus.

When the Jesus who was hung on a cross and put in the ground, when the Jesus who was raised from the dead and exalted to the throne of the Father in Heaven returns in his glory, every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Stand in Hope and Fight for Holiness.

Friends, do not be so quickly shaken. Any sermon, any book, any preacher, any “Christian” resource that causes you to fear that maybe you could miss the return of Jesus and our gathering to be with him is false. It is an attempt of Satan to rob you of your hope. Paul warns in his next words to the Thessalonians: “Let no one deceive you in any way” (2 Thess. 2:3).

The Apostle John concurs in his first epistle:

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”

1 John 3:2-3

This is why Satan wants to shake us. If he can rob us of our hope, he can rob us of our holiness. According to John, hope for tomorrow ought to motivate us to holiness today. Our battle against sin today depends on our unshakeable faith that when Jesus returns, we know that we will behold him.

Put those fears aside about being left behind or missing the day of his return. Instead, fill your minds with the fight for purity and holiness. Do not be easily shaken about tomorrow, so that you can fight with courage and boldness today.

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