The Blessed Hope!
By Evangelist Robert L. Sumner
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,
“Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;
“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;
“Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
“These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.”
– Titus 2:11-15
Kindly notice that the Apostle Paul, talking about the second coming, said we are to “speak,” “exhort,” and “rebuke” with “all authority.” One gets the idea we certainly are not to be silent on this subject. Yet when we started our ministry preachers were talking about His return all the time; now almost no one does unless he is a “prophecy specialist.” Would you say the majority of today’s preachers are disobedient to God and His Word?
Put it down and put it down big: Jesus Christ IS coming back again!He WILL return!
Listen to what He said to His disciples late in His earthly ministry, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1-3).
And after His ministry on earth was completed, when He finished commissioning them to take the gospel as witnesses into all the world, starting where they were, He said goodbye to those disciples on the Mount of Olives and was suddenly caught up in the sky and disappeared behind the clouds. The Word explains, “And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.”
What sweet assurance the angels gave the disciples: He will come again just the way you have seen Him go! This Bible truth is a comfort to sorrowing saints, a monument of hope for believers in the midst of a man-made civilization hastening to its doom. Jesus is coming! For centuries now the thought that “Jesus is coming” has inspired downhearted, discouraged saints to continue to “fight the good fight” and “endure hardness as a good soldier” of the Master.
Let’s take a look at this good news left by the ascended Christ that we are to speak, exhort and rebuke with all authority.
First of all, we are to be
I. Looking for the Blessed Hope:
Never mind whether anyone else or everyone else is looking for His appearing. The question is, are you?
A Promise: Christ is Coming!
The idea of looking in our text means “to expect,” that is, to await with confidence and patience. It is the same as Hebrews 9:28, “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” Note carefully, for those who look, He shall appear. No doubt about it. In His first coming it was to settle the sin question for us; in His second coming it will be to receive us unto Himself.
Can we place our confidence, our patience in the Word of God?
Of course we can. His word has been tried, tested and proven.
Moses did in leading the Israelites out of the land of Egypt. God gave Him instructions as to how to get out and then what to do when they were free men marching toward the Promised Land. Everything He said worked.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did in refusing to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image. The fiery furnace was heated so hot it burned alive the soldiers who got close enough to throw the three saints into it, but they still refused to stoop to idolatry in order to save their own necks.
The trio told the wicked ruler, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (Daniel 3:17, 18). In short, their God could easily deliver them, but if He chose not to do so, they still wouldn’t obey. They refused to bow, they refused to bend, and they didn’t burn!
And after it happened, the astonished king said, “Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” (Vss. 24, 25). They tried His word … and proved it true!
Daniel did in defying the decree of King Darius not to pray. His enemies got the monarch to sign a decree forbidding any citizen of the land to “ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee,” under penalty of being “cast into the den of lions” (Daniel 6:7). Apparently His Royal Highness, who enjoyed having his ego massaged, forgot that his #1 president, Daniel, was a faithful subject of the King of Kings. Anyway, he signed the edict.
Daniel, of course, went right on as usual; “he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime” (6:10).
What happened? Did God send “Airforce One Chariot” to pick up Daniel and whisk him to Glory like He did Elijah? No, He allowed the prophet to be tossed to the lions.
But He also gave them all lockjaw and when Darius ordered Daniel taken from the pit the next morning, there wasn’t a single bite – not even a scratch mark – on him. He found, as Moses and the three Hebrew children before him, he could trust – await with confidence and patience – the promises of God.
Joseph did, too, in the mistreatment he received from his elder brothers. During all those years when he was cast into a pit, sold into slavery, thrown into prison for crimes he didn’t commit, being forgotten by those he had helped and their promise to help him, he kept his faith in God and His eyes on His promises.
Did it pay? He ended up the Number Two Man in Egypt, able to save his brothers that had sought his death.
My friends, God keeps His Word! It has been tested, tried and proved. “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all them that trust in him” (Psalm 18:30). “For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89).
Don’t ever doubt it for even a moment. Jesus is coming back, just as He said.
There is an old story that I told a few times early in my ministry. I tried to find it to use here, but couldn’t locate it anywhere. Usually when I tell an illustration I have the details before me to make sure I get it straight. I’ll try to tell this one, but admitting that it is based on my imperfect memory.
A young couple were in love and planned to marry. He was a fisherman who made his living on the sea and was forced to be gone for long periods of time. On one occasion, when it was time for his return, he didn’t come. After some weeks everyone in the little village accepted the fact that he had been lost at sea, something not highly unusual in those days − except his sweetheart, that is.
Every night about sunset she would go down to the docks and squint her eyes, looking out on the horizon in hopes of catching sight of her lover’s familiar ship. It never came.
After time something happened to her sight; whether her eyes were destroyed by disease or accident, I do not recall. Nonetheless, she continued her nightly trips to the docks, now to listen instead of gaze. The town people called her “the Blind Watcher.”
One night a ship sailed into the harbor and there was a happy reunion. It seems a storm had wrecked his vessel on an island and it had taken him months to repair it and make it seaworthy again. But her patient, believing watching had paid off, paying her big dividends for the one she loved.
Those who are looking for the rapture of the church have long been the subject of the sneers and jeers of unbelievers. We are the blind watchers of the 21st century. But one of these days the skies will be split as lightning coming out of the east and flashing to the west; the Son of God will appear. It is a promise! It is a promise of God!
But His return is not only a promise, it is also
A Warning: Christ is Coming!
Up to this point the story of the Savior’s return has been one of exciting joy and blessed happiness. But it is only fair to warn you that for those not ready for His return it will precede a time of doom, damnation and destruction. Consider a few verses, some about His rapture and some about His revelation, but the time between the two phases is so short you can think of them almost as one.
Listen to the parable Jesus told about His coming in the tale of the ten virgins. Five were ready and five were unprepared. Here is what He said about the latter:“And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” (Matthew 25:10-13). The door was shut and when God shuts a door, no man can open it.
Listen to what the Apostle Paul had to say about those who are not ready at His coming: “And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day” (II Thessalonians 1:7-10).
Even Jude, the little one-chapter book near the end of the Bible, talked about it: “And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints,
To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Vss.14, 15). Note how Jude spoke of judgment in connection with His coming.
For those who have not trusted Christ, the day of grace will be over. Hope will be gone forever and there will be no possibility of their entering the land that is fairer than day.
But wait; there is a warning to the saved as well. It is a warning that time is short for witnessing to friends and loved ones. Yes, time is short indeed. We should do everything in our power to win our friends and loved ones at once!
A Command: To LOOK for It!
Matthew 24:42 commands, “Watch therefore: fore ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.”
Matthew 25:13 commands, “Watch ye therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”
Mark 13:35-37 commands, “Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.”
We have added boldface emphasis to the above verses to call attention to the fact that the commands are not to believe Christ is coming again, which is important, but to note that the children of God are to watch for His coming!
How about you? Are you looking and watching? There are several views of the rapture today – pre-trib, post-trib, mid-trib, and even post-wrath – but we think most of the saints, at least in practice, subscribe to the post-nap theory. He will come sometime after they wake up from sleeping.
Like the ten virgins in the story Jesus told who were waiting for the bridegroom to come for his bride – five of whom were ready (had oil in their lamps) and five who were not (had no oil in their lamps) – they all slumbered and slept.
Like Peter, James and John in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before Jesus was crucified, when He begged them to “watch and pray” while He went a little deeper to pray alone – and each time He returned they were all asleep. He lamented, “What, could ye not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 20:40). And the final time He came back and they were again asleep, He said, “Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Vs. 45).
Actually, if you are in full fellowship with the Father, faithfully read your Bible, take time for regular intercession, and witness to the lost, you cannot sleep; you must watch!
Jesus said, in Luke 21:28, when certain things come to pass, “… then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.” And remember Hebrews 9:28, mentioned earlier, “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”
But we are not only to be personally looking for the blessed hope, we should be
II. Longing for the Blessed Hope:
Looking does not necessarily include longing. Certain expectation does not necessarily imply joyous anticipation!
For example, consider what the writer of Hebrews said of the unsaved sinner:“For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries” (Vss. 26, 27, emphasis added). I have talked with many an individual who knew he was going to Hell, but he was certainly not happy about the thought.
Solomon had the same reflection. He wrote in Proverbs 11:23, “The desire of the righteous is only good: but the expectation of the wicked is wrath.” Just as righteous folks want good, the wicked expect to receive wrath from God because of their sin and rebellion, but they are far from thrillingly anticipating it.
Actually, not even all professing Christians would be happy to see the Lord return. Harry Ironside tells of preaching on the rapture at a German church inStockton during the time when he was living in Northern California. Suddenly he was conscious of a lady storming out of the service. It was in the old days when ladies of that ethnic wore considerable undergarments that swished when they walked.
He thought little about it until the service was over and he went to the rear of the auditorium and found her “swishing” in the narthex. The moment he walked in and she spotted him she swished up and demanded, “How dare you, sir? How dare you?”
Since he didn’t know what he was daring he inquired, “How dare I what?”
“How dare you preach like that?”
Still in the dark he responded, “How dare I preach like what?”
She heatedly responded, “Asking Christ to come back soon! I don’t want Him to come soon. It would spoil all my plans for the immediate future.”
And the gentle Harry kindly responded, “My dear lady, when our Lord Jesus Christ determines to return He will do so whether it interrupts your plans or not.” And so He will.
But I wonder, really, who today is longing for His return? Sometimes I think the only ones are the sickly and the elderly who would gladly welcome the rapture as a substitute for death. Am I correct? Few can sing from their hearts with H. L. Turner and James McGranahan,
“O Lord Jesus, how long, how long
Ere we shout the glad song –
Christ returneth! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Amen, Hallelujah! Amen.”
Looking, Longing as Sweetheart
For Long Departed Lover
This troubled, war-torn world is full of such longings. As a kid fresh out of seminary I was called to my first church during the middle of World War II. It was a tiny, struggling work and I was the first “full-time” pastor (if you could consider my salary and still call me full time). It had been launched by a noble and godly man who came down from Chicago, where he was a student at the Moody Bible Institute. He had gathered together some saints longing for biblical teaching, first in a home and then in a real church building God miraculously provided.
There were some gems in that group and among them was a family of girls by the name of Lewis. The youngest was taking piano lessons and our congregational singing was limited to tunes she had mastered thus far in her program. A new one was always a thrill. The Lewis girls were very active in all phases of the work, but one was no longer a Lewis – she had married a young flyboy by the name of Rich.
Catherine Rich headed up one of the Sunday school departments, as I now recall, and she was a level-headed, sensible girl until the day she got a letter from husband Bob, a bomber pilot in the European Theater. It revealed he had completed a certain number of missions over Germany and was due for a furlough back in the States, although he wasn’t certain about when he would arrive.
As I joked about it later, she wasn’t fit for shooting after that. It was all she could think, all she could talk about, the new center and circumference of her life. She would walk up beaming and say, “Did I tell you Bob is coming home?”
“Yes, you mentioned that!”
And it was the same the next time you met her. That is the kind of looking and longing the child of God should have about the news in our Lord’s love letter (it is called the Bible) that He is going to return. Catherine and Bob were already married, but when our Lord returns there is going to be a big wedding and the Church will become His Bride. Shouldn’t the report of His coming excite us?
Not only did Bob return to Catherine (after I had left the church and entered evangelism), but the war soon ended and he was discharged. They went to the Moody Bible Institute and he eventually, after graduation, was put in charge of that institution’s flight school in Tennessee, training missionary pilots for service around the world.
Christ is our Lover, our beloved Bridegroom. When He comes we will beeternally wedded to Him. If you let your mind think of the longing and anticipation of a wedding of a young girl whose lover has been long absent, you will have an idea of what the Christian’s longing for Christ’s coming should be.
Looking, Longing as Traveler
To Arrive Home
This world is not our home. We are strangers, pilgrims down here. First Peter 2:11, 12 express it, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.”
I have been an evangelist most of my ministry – well over a half-century – laboring away from family. Usually I was gone from four to six weeks at a time (we didn’t conduct mini-revivals in those days), and when the last service of the last crusade sounded a benediction, I was beside myself trying to get home. If I had an automobile with me I would set out immediately and drive until I arrived (one time from Maine to Texas, straight through, stopping only for gas and snacks).
Trains couldn’t roll over the rails fast enough and planes couldn’t split the skies quickly enough to get me home to wife and children. The best I was able to do, when I was with Dr. John R. Rice and The Sword of the Lord in Wheaton, aChicago suburb, was an American Airlines flight out of Detroit. If I could make that one, I would leave Detroit at 12:30 a.m. and arrive at Midway Airport inChicago (there was no O’Hare International at that time) at 12:15 a.m., fifteen minutes before I left Detroit! (I was able to do that because Detroit was on Eastern Time and Chicago on Central!)
But I did like to get home quickly. So do servicemen and women on furlough (especially from overseas). So do students on breaks like Thanksgiving and Christmas. In fact, it is the excitement everyone who loves family feels about going home. If we don’t long to be home, it is a sign of lack of love.
The same is true spiritually. We aren’t Home yet. The reason we are away is that there is work to be done and we are trying to finish it. Like any good laborer we want our work done well and in a way that will please our Boss, but, oh, how anxious we are to have it finished and head Home.
The Apostle Paul was that way. Listen to him in Philippians 1:21-26, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again.”
Was Paul anxious to get Home? You’d better believe it! Sin, sorrow, suffering, pain, tears, anguish, disease, trials, testing, heartaches, disappointments, imprisonments and failures would be – and will be for us – gone forever! To put it in the words of the favorite song of my late friend, Dr. Lee Roberson,
“Some glorious morning,
Sorrow will cease,
Some glorious morning,
All will be peace;
Heartaches all ended,
Schooldays all done,
Heaven will open –
Jesus will come.”
Looking, Longing as a Sinner
To See His Savior
The famous ex-ballplayer evangelist Billy Sunday put it like this: when I get to Heaven I will rush right by Moses, Daniel, Isaiah, Peter, Paul, John, Wesley, Moody and all the rest. I’ll say, “Where is Jesus? I want to see him that saved me that dark and stormy night in Chicago.” All Christians feel that way, surely.
As Carrie Breck and Grant Tullar expressed it,
“Only faintly now I see Him,
With the darkling veil between
But a blessed day is coming,
When His glory shall be seen.
“Face to face I shall behold Him,
Far beyond the starry sky;
Face to face, in all His glory,
I shall see Him by and by.”
Walter B. Knight said in one area of Africa the nationals never referred to their dead as departed, but always as having arrived! Ah, that is it! And so it will be when Christ comes for His own.
But consider one final thought about this blessed hope of the Christian,
III. Living for the Blessed Hope:
Note the setting for this beautiful gem of the blessed hope, the verse just prior and the verse just following our text (2:13). The one before says, “Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Vs. 12). And the one following it says, “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Vs. 14).
Does that leave any doubt? Those looking for His coming should deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, living instead lives that are sober, righteous and godly in the present world. And the blessed hope is for people He has purified unto Himself, “a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”
The Apostle John said the same in I John 3:2, 3: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”
What does the blessed hope do for the man or woman who has it imbedded in his heart? It purifies him or her, even as the Lord Jesus Christ is pure. That is quite a statement, isn’t it?
You see, purification is the natural, logical, inevitable result when preceded by ‘looking’ and ‘longing’ for Jesus to return. The inimitable Vance Havner expressed it, “If we profess the Blessed Hope we should practice the Blessed Holiness!”
In the old days of small, one-room schoolhouses, the district superintendent came to one such school and gave an inspiring talk. In closing he said, “I’m coming back to visit your school again one of these days and when I come I’ll give a gift to the pupil who has the neatest desk.”
One little girl who had the reputation among her peers of being what would be called in the Peanuts comic strip, “Pigpen,” announced she was going to win the prize. When everyone got through laughing, one of the girls with a reputation for neatness chided her, “You’d be the last one to win. Your desk is always a mess.”
That was true and all knew it, including the girl making the boast, but she explained, “I’m going to clean it thoroughly each Friday before going home and on Monday when a new week starts, I’ll have the cleanest desk.”
“But what if he comes on Friday afternoon, after you’ve been messing in it all week?”
That was a telling point and after thinking a moment she responded, “I’ll clean it good before I go home every afternoon so it will be spotless at the start of everyday.”
Again the other girl came back, “But what if he comes late in the afternoon and you’ve been messing around with it all day?”
The first girl looked stunned and defeated. Then, suddenly, she brightened and exclaimed, “I know what I’ll do. I’ll keep it neat all the time so it will be clean no matter when he comes.”
That is the idea around the second coming. We don’t know when He will return so we need to keep our lives pure all of the time, day and night!
What will that involve?
It Will Include Separation!
That is summed up in II Corinthians 6:1-7:1, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”
This, it almost goes without saying, involves separation from worldly things.
It also involves separation from worldly people! After all, swine make poor companions for sheep. We have nothing in common with them apart from our witness.
It Will Include Evangelization!
The blessed hope of our Lord’s second coming is one of the strongest motivations, one of the most urgent incentives for reaching the lost of anything in Scripture. He will return just as soon as the last member making up His Body is added to His Church. If we are really looking, longing and living for His return,how we will work to hasten it!
Not only so, purification demands evangelization since not winning souls is wicked, sinful, rebellious disobedience to the Bible’s plain commandments to go into all the world and make disciples in all nations.
Why should we be looking for the Blessed Hope? To look for His coming is tolong for His coming and to long for His coming is to live for His coming. My dear friends – he traveled with me for a time as soloist and song leader in my crusades, R. O. & Angie Stone – wrote a beautiful song he sang often in our meetings. It went like this:
“Looking today for His glorious appearing,
When He comes from His home on high;
Living to see the Great King in His Glory,
Longing to see Him that day in the sky.
“Oh, what a meeting with loved ones
Where we’re meeting to part no more;
There with my Savior, the King of
Dwelling with Him on eternity’s shore.
“I’ve been looking today for Him,
Even if it seems dark and dim,
And I long to see His precious face,
The One who saved me by His grace.
I’m looking, longing, living, for Him.”