READ : Titus 2:14
Awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Titus 2:13 rsv
We’ve been thinking together about the gospel, the message of God’s great love in the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. We’ve been seeing how the good news that broke upon the world in the first century teaches us how to live in the here and now. Here’s one more great thing we learn from it. We’re not only to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, not only to live sober, upright and godly lives in this world, but we are to await “our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” That’s from the letter to Titus, chapter 2, verse 13. Did you get that? All our living in this world is to be shot through with expectancy. We are to spend our days as those who eagerly wait for something.
WHY WE NEED HOPE
Why is it important to live in that way? There are some who tell us it’s not. To the famous skeptic Bertrand Russell, humankind has no long future. According to him, “no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling can preserve an individual life beyond the grave.” And further, “All the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noon-day brightness of human genius are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system.” And since Russell believed that, he urged people to build their lives on the firm foundation of what he called “unyielding despair.” In the final analysis, this man insisted, there’s nothing to hope for, so we’d better face it. Albert Camus wrote that a man who is in this way devoid of hope and conscious of being so, has “ceased to belong to the future.” In other words, he can really live in the now. But can he? Can any of us?
Can people live without hope? Psychologist Edward Stafford describes hope as “an expectation greater than zero of achieving a goal.” He argues that if there’s no expectation at all of reaching an objective, people won’t even strive for it. Hopefulness, he said, is a necessary condition for action. In therapy, it’s essential for helping the emotionally impaired. Hopefulness on the part of a therapist and to some degree on the part of the patient is essential for the care to be effective. I have a surgeon friend who won’t even operate on someone, even if it’s a routine procedure, if that person doesn’t expect to survive the operation. That’s how important expectation is in the common stuff of everyday life.
For most people, some kind of expectation seems vital even for a desire to go on living. Persons who decide to commit suicide are usually those who have been reduced to a state of near hopelessness. But those contemplating suicide who have something to expect are often held back from the act. If they have a date with a friend or an appointment at the doctor’s office or a holiday plan, that is a real safeguard against ending their lives. How desperately we all need to expect something, to have fuel for the fire of anticipation, a future – however slight and inconsequential – to look forward to. Most human beings can’t launch action, can’t be truly healthy, can’t even live without hope.
Sometimes mockers make fun of the Christian hope, jeer about it as “pie in the sky by and by.” They act as though Christians are “so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good”; they’re so focused on the future that’s coming that they don’t deal responsibly with life on this earth. Well, that may be a charge made against believers, but it’s almost a total falsehood. I say almost because it’s possible that individuals now and then may become so fixated on the approaching end of the world that they are immobilized from responsible living. But the general caricature is a big lie, because people generally do better in everything when they have a future to anticipate.
Here are two students in college, for example. One doesn’t think he’ll ever amount to anything. He fears that if and when he graduates there will be no job opportunities available. He has no marketable skills and fears that the whole world is about to sink into a depression from which there’s no recovery.
The other student has quite a different outlook. He anticipates a bright future in his chosen profession. He’s expecting to be able to make a significant contribution to society. Even in the darkest times he sees some hopeful signs. He can hardly wait to get out into the world and make use of his training.
Which of those two will get the most out of his college education? Which will be most strongly motivated to study, to learn, to grow? No need to belabor the obvious. The answer is clear. And that’s why those people in history who have had the most healing, redemptive, transforming effect upon the world have most often been those who expected a bright future beyond their life here. Never let anyone confuse you on this point. It’s vital for you, for me, for all of us, to live in a spirit of expectation.
WHAT WE ARE WAITING FOR
Well, what do Christians await? What are they expecting with such eagerness and joy? It’s the appearing, Paul writes, of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. They are looking forward to Jesus’ return. It’s interesting that this word appear occurs here again. Earlier in the same passage, the apostle has written: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (v. 11). He’s talking there about the Incarnation, about God’s entry into history in the life, death, and rising of Jesus. In those tremendous events, grace appeared on the world’s horizon. God appeared in space and time, here on our planet. Now Christians wait for another appearing, another coming of the Lord. They are expecting the same Jesus who lived, loved, and labored here, who died and defeated death here, to make a second appearance.
And what a re-entry that will be! When He came first, it was in the most humble surroundings, a stable in Bethlehem, with a feeding trough as a cradle, His raiment the rough rags used to keep animals warm. To most observers He was only the child of poor parents among a small, despised, subject people. That first advent was hardly auspicious. And when you consider how His career ended – rejected by His people, executed by Rome, dying in agony as an object of scorn, the impression deepens. To the world’s eye, His was not a very grand appearing.
This next one, the apostles tell us, will be different. The One who comes will be seen by every eye, as the lightning shines from the east to the west. He will come not as a tiny babe but as the great God, not as One who ends His life in suffering but as the triumphant Savior of His people. What we are expecting is the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
We can scarcely imagine what that will be like. When Saul of Tarsus saw the splendor of the risen Lord on the road to Damascus, he was leveled in the dust by a light brighter, he says, than the noonday sun. The apostle John on the island of Patmos also caught a glimpse of the exalted Jesus. He writes, “His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters; in his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth issued a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength” (Rev. 1:14-16). No wonder John fell at Jesus’ feet as though dead.
That’s the One who is coming back. That’s the One who will appear on that last great day. He comes as Lord of all, to whom every knee will bow, to whom every tongue will give answer. It will be the windup of all things. It will bring down the curtain on the drama of history. That will be the day for which all creation now groans. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
THE HOPE THAT BRINGS JOY
What I especially want to think about with you today is how the apostle describes this as “our blessed hope.” Or perhaps better, “our happy hope,” our joy-filled expectation. What does he mean by that? Why will the second appearing of Jesus be cause for jubilation?
For one thing, it means the end of sin, suffering and sadness. Believers in Christ will be cleansed from all their stains and freed from all that threatens to enslave them. No more wrestlings with temptation, no more God-grieving defeats. All the manifold anguish of earth will be over then, all the sorrows gone. Listen to this vision, cheering beyond words: “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat, for the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:16-17). All that, when Jesus comes.
The Lord’s return will mean also a fullness of that life eternal which we have begun to taste here and now. I was reading just this morning the promise of the risen Lord to His people in the Church at Smyrna, “Be faithful to death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). Life indeed, life abundant, life eternal. In that our hearts will rejoice exceedingly when Jesus comes. We will feed forever on the Bread of Life, drink at the living fountain, live as we were meant to live.
But for Christians, that personal blessedness, even their hoped-for reunion with loved ones and friends will not be the best part. When Jesus returns, they will behold Him in His glory.
One of my favorite hymns for many years has been “The Sands of Time Are Sinking.” What I celebrate especially is this last verse: “The bride eyes not her garment, but her dear bridegroom’s face. I will not gaze at glory but on my King of grace, Not on the crown he giveth but on his pierced hand. The Lamb is all the glory in Emmanuel’s land.”
When the Lord returns will be fulfilled this vision of which the apostle John sings, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Think of that. To see the king in His beauty and to be made like Him. John goes on to say, “Every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (v. 3). This happy hope leads us, says John, to holy living.
But there’s something more that makes the return of Jesus Christ supremely attractive, intensely to be longed for. This will be the time of His vindication. Jesus will be exalted.
Remember those grand visions of the Old Testament, the prayers of God’s fervent saints? “Let the peoples praise thee, O God; let all the peoples praise thee!…Let the earth be filled with the knowledge of your glory as the waters cover the sea! Let all nations whom you have made come and worship before you and glorify your name!” Yes, and that’s what will happen at Jesus’ appearing. Every knee will bow before Him, every tongue confess that He is Lord. Then will come that tremendous scene of which we get a glimpse in the Revelation. “Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, `Worthy is the lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.’ And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea and all therein, saying, `To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever. Amen’” (Rev. 5:11-14).
What a prospect, friends! This is the hope of all who trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. May it be today your hope – and a fountain for you of great joy!
Prayer: O God, we rejoice today that the Savior who conquered death on Easter will come again in great glory and power. May every person who shares this program so trust in this Jesus that they may rejoice in that wonderful hope. For His sake. Amen.