The Blessed Hope
April 15th, 1984 @ 8:15 AM
THE BLESSED HOPE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-15-84 8:15 a.m.
This is the highest week in all the year in Christendom. This is the pre-Easter week that climaxes in the glorious celebration of the victory over death and the grave, this coming Lord’s Day. This will be the sixty-eighth year that our church has conducted noonday services, pre-Easter, and we shall assemble here in this sanctuary at high noon each day this week. And the services usually last around twenty-five to thirty minutes, from 12:00 o’clock until 12:25 or 12:30.
Because we have been giving out thousands and thousands of copies of the Gospel of John, the theme for this year is taken from the twentieth chapter, “My Lord and My God” [John 20:28]. And each day will follow that theme: tomorrow at high noon, How Can God Become a Man, then each day thereafter. You are welcome, and if you want to come early and break bread with us, or stay after the service and eat a lunch with us, it will be our joy to welcome you.
In these days and now years, at these morning hours on Sunday, I have been preaching on the great doctrines of the Bible. And we are coming to the climactic section of it entitled The Second Coming of Christ. This will be the fifth in that section. It is entitled The Blessed Hope. And we can turn in our Bibles to the Book of Titus, Titus, the Book of Titus, chapter 2. And in this little letter that Paul wrote to his son in the ministry, Titus, we have one of the finest passages in all the Word of God. Titus chapter 2, beginning at verse 11:
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—
the title of the message this morning—
looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.
And the text: “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” [Titus 2:13].
The grace of God that brought to us our salvation, and that teaches us how to live, is also the grace that brings to us our living hope that Christ is coming again [Titus 2:11-13]. And without that hope we have no gospel to preach. Sin and death and Satan reign forever. Without that hope of the coming again of our Lord, the hands of the Christian hang limp at his side. His feet are laggard, and he loses the fight of faith before he even begins. If all there is in this life is what we now experience, we have a miserable world in which to live, and we have a miserable faith.
The apostle Paul described it like this in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If in this world [only] we have hope, we are of all men most miserable.” If all there is in this world is just the prospect of facing age and death and the grave, if all there is in this world is to look upon the triumph of evil and tyranny and violence and wrong, Herod on the throne and the headless body of John the Baptist lying in his own blood in the prison [Mark 6:14-28], if this is all, and history and leaves it that way, we are as Paul says, “of all men most miserable.” If all we face is the triumph of the grave, if that is all that awaits us, if our hope is defined in the darkness of the midnight that overwhelms us in death, then there is no light or brightness or glory for any tomorrow.
The pale horseman that rides in the sixth chapter of the Apocalypse [Revelation 6:8] always wins the race.
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,
All that beauty, all that wealth e’re gave,
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour:
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
[from “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” Thomas Gray]
If this is all, we are “of all men most miserable” [1 Corinthians 15:19]. But now do the Scriptures reveal to us that every horizon broadens to a more glorious tomorrow. Jesus is coming again [Acts 1:11], and He brings with Him victory to His people, to His church, and to all who look in faith and trust to Him [Ephesians 2:8]. Our text calls it the makarios elpizō, the beautiful, happy, glorious hope [Titus 2:13]. And our text calls it the dōxa appearing, the appearing in glory. We have the most marvelous promise and the most glorious prospect of any people who ever lived: Jesus is coming again. He calls it “the blessed hope” [Titus 2:13]
And I have three reasons, taken out of the Bible, why the apostle Paul should have so described this glorious coming of our Lord. Number one: it is called the “blessed hope,” the “glorious hope,” because it spells the end and final defeat of all that is evil. It is our triumph over wrong, over oppression, over war, over sorrow, over bloodshed, over grief and disappointment. It spells the end of all that is evil.
In the eighth chapter of the Book of the Romans, Paul describes here the deliverance of the whole creation from the bondage of corruption [Romans 8:22-23], and he ends it with a marvelous paean of praise to the hope:
For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?
But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.
The whole creation, God says, all of it—all of this fallen world, the heavens above with its burned out stars, this planet with its vast deserts, and our own fallen natures and lives that finally are buried in the dust of the ground—all of it is to be delivered from the bondage of corruption and death. The whole history of the world, all of it, is the story of the struggle against sin and wrong and unrighteousness. On the other page in this eighth chapter of the Book of Romans, the seventh chapter closes with a cry from all of us, “O wretched man that I am! who can deliver me from this body of death?” [Romans 7:24] The story of all mankind is the story of an unwearying, unending struggle against the corruption in this world, both in ourselves, in society, and in all of the culture through which humanity has ever lived.
There have been many highways and many approaches for the amelioration of society, but all of them have ended in despair. The beautiful, ancient philosophies of the Greeks and of the Romans struggled toward a more beautiful humanity, but they ended in sterility. They were unable to change the complexion or the course of culture or society. And whether it was the vestal virgins or the sordid masses, the people remain just the same.
The story of humanity has been a struggle to lift itself up by religion; the worship of Baal, or Astarte, or Ra, or Osiris, or Krishna, or Confucius, or Buddha, and the depravity of humanity has remained just the same. Even the state church, when it ruled Western civilization, we call in history the Dark Ages.
We see the same helplessness and hopelessness in the tremendous social movements of our modern day, the purpose of which is to ameliorate society and deliver the masses from the injustices that are thrust upon them. One of them is the fierce face of communism. The countenance of communism is menacing indeed; it proposes to deliver nations and the people from all of the injustices that they live under oppressive governments and oppressive societies, but it itself is more oppressive than all of the social ills it seeks to remedy. It’s godless and it crushes the human spirit.
The same thing is true in the philosophy that is sweeping the educational system of modern America. Humanism is no less sterile in its ableness to deliver mankind than all of the other philosophies that have ever been taught in the history of the world. Humanism, with its doctrine of situation ethics, with its secular values, with its denial of moral absolutes and its persuasion of the inevitable progress of the human life; it is denied by history itself. There is no such thing as the evolution of a species out of its wrong and its sin and its death. We will not ripen, according to history, into a perfect society. Somehow it is impossible for evolution to take out of us the ape and the tiger, the claw and the fang.
There are those who point out great progress in human life, and they illustrate it with the automobile, and the airplane, and the radio, and the TV. It is true that there is great progress in the discoveries and the developments of human genius; but there is also, and no less, progress in violence, and blood, and war, and death.
The old Stone Age creature killed with a rock and with a stone ax. Then he progressed, and he learned to kill with a bow and an arrow. Then he progressed, and he learned to kill with a bullet and a rifle. Then he progressed, and he learned to kill with a cannon. Then he progressed, and now he’s learned to kill with atomic bombs. But there is no evidence that we ever progress from wrong to right, from sin to sinlessness. We just learn better how to saturate and drown the world in blood and in violence.
I see the same in our development of the radio and of the television. You would think in the progress of mankind these glorious instruments that come from God Himself—God invented those ether waves; God gave us all the things that made possible the discovery of modern communication—you would think that these marvelous instruments can be used of the Lord to bring the millennium to the earth, the preaching of the gospel, the declaration of the hope that we have in Christ. Instead, instead, what I see on the television screen is violence and murder and promiscuity beyond description and beyond compare.
There is no such thing in human history as the evolving of our people out of sin and depravity, and certainly not age and death. If we were to progress out of our fallen nature, what would we do with our beloved dead who have fallen in the grave? And can progress every wipe the tears from our eyes? My first avowal, if there is to be a deliverance from evil in this world, it lies in the blessed hope: Jesus is coming again, and with Him the kingdom of righteousness; our hope is in Him [Titus 2:13].
Number two: it is called the blessed hope [Titus 2:13] because it brings to us the triumph over death and the grave. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death [1 Corinthians 15:26]. Three times in the Gospels are we told the story of the Lord Jesus raising someone from the dead. One was a young woman, one was a young man, and the other was a beloved brother. And in each instance, the dead was raised in the coming of Christ, all three of them. When the Lord came to the household of Jairus, He raised that daughter from the dead [Mark 5:41-42]. When the Lord came to Nain, He raised the son of the widow from the dead [Luke 7:11-15]. And though He tarried long, when the Lord came to Bethany He raised Lazarus from the dead [John 11:1-44].
It is thus with us who fall into the grave. Our hope of resurrection lies in the coming of Jesus Christ [1 Corinthians 15:20-23]. And if He does not come to raise us from the dead, His redemption is but partial. The victory is divided with Satan who holds us in his grasp in the grave. It is unthinkable that our Lord should be triumphant over death [Matthew 28:5-9], and we should be left corrupting in the grave. It is unthinkable that our spirits should be with Christ in heaven where He reigns in a triumphant and a glorified body [Philippians 3:21], and we lie corrupting in the dust of the ground.
If there is no coming of Christ to raise us from the dead, every grave in this world cries aloud, “He is unable! He has lost the victory! Sin and death are forever triumphant! The grave holds us in its arms forever. He is unable!” And it is all the more emphasized by the very resurrection of Christ Himself [Matthew 28:5-7]. He is a risen and glorified man, but in heaven He is surrounded by disembodied spirits.
The fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians called us in heaven “disembodied, naked and unclothed” [2 Corinthians 5:2-4]. And His very resurrection is a rebuke, for He is unable to save these from the grave for whom He died on the cross, and they lie forgotten, passed by, corrupting in the ground. Satan is supreme if Jesus does not come back to raise us from the dead. That’s why the text speaks of the blessed hope [Titus 2:13]. It is in the return of our Lord that we are raised from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:22-23]. The same triumph that glorified Him in Easter resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7], is the same triumph that shall glorify us when Jesus comes again [Philippians 3:21].
Tell me, is it not true in the fourth chapter of the first Thessalonian epistle and in the fifteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, when it speaks of the return of our Lord, does it not say, “and the dead in Christ shall rise first”? First: “And the dead in Christ shall rise first” [1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16]. This is the first great, tremendous, triumphant assignment of our Lord when He comes back from glory—to raise us who have fallen in the grave, to raise us from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16].
Number three: it’s called the blessed hope because it speaks of the appearing—visible, personal—the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ [Titus 2:13]. I want you to look at the theology of that for just a moment. “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and Savior, our Jesus Christ.” The article is singular, “the great God and Savior.” He says this Jesus who is coming again is “the great God and Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ” [Titus 2:13]. Often will you see that in the Bible, such as Isaiah 9:6, “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given. . .and His name shall be called Counselor, Wonderful, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father.” Or as the theme of our services from the twentieth chapter of the Book of John: the exclamation of Thomas, “My Lord and my God” [John 20:28]. He who is coming is God made visible in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16].
Lo He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand, thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train,
God appears on earth to reign.
[from “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending,” John Cennick and Charles Wesley]
It is our great God and Savior who is coming [Titus 2:13].
There are three words here in the Bible to describe the coming of our Lord. The first one is epiphaneia, when you spell it out in English, “the epiphany.” The epiphany is the appearance of God. In Colossians it says, “When He. . .shall appear, we shall appear with Him in glory” [Colossians 3:4]. Everything of the oak is in a little acorn, all of it. The great spreading branches, the mighty boughs, the whole oak is in that acorn. All the glory of God is in us. “When He shall appear—Epiphany, epiphaneia—when He shall appear, we shall appear with Him in glory” [Colossians 3:4].
A second word that is used to describe the coming of our Lord is apokalupsis. That’s the beginning word in the Revelation; when you look at the Revelation, that’s the first word in it, apokalupsis, the unveiling, the uncovering [Revelation 1:1]. When He was in the days of His flesh [John 1:14; 1 Timothy 3:16], His humanity covered His deity; just once in a while did His deity shine through, such as at the transfiguration [Matthew 17:1-8]. But when He comes again, He lays aside the robes of shame and of scorn and of humility, and we shall see our Lord in the glory of His deity. Apokalupsis, “He comes” [Revelation 1:1].
The third word is parousia. Para means “alongside,” and ousia is a form of the verb “to be.” So parousia is “the being alongside, the being present.” And that’s the word translated in the English, “coming, coming.” Well, how could you translate parousia coming, coming, when it means “present”? We use that, “We are happy for the coming of our pastor.” Well, he’s already here. But we say that, “He’s coming; he’s present here in our home, and we’re delighted to have him.” That’s the way the Bible speaks of the coming of the Lord. Never in the Bible, never in the Bible will you ever hear the phrase “the second coming,” never. It’s always the parousia, the coming. That is, it so filled the horizon of hope and life of the early Christian that to him there was just the coming, the parousia, the presence of the Lord. And that’s our hope in Jesus; that He is coming, that He is going to be here, and that we see Him [Titus 2:13]. One of the beautiful verses in the Bible closes the third chapter of 1 Thessalonians, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all the saints. When He comes, we will come with Him [1 Thessalonians 3:13].
I sometimes think of us as I think of an eagle chained to a rock. And the great bird looks up to the sun, and he lifts up his head to the blue of the sky. But when he spreads his wings to rise, he is remorselessly and cruelly brought down by that terrible chain. We’re like that. We lift up our hearts to heaven; we lift up our heads to God, and we would soar, but we’re fastened to this earth in a body of corruption, and age, and death, and sin, weakness, frailty, but not forever. Someday, parousia, Jesus will come, and having loosed us, having caught us up to Him, to heaven [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], we shall be with Him when He comes in His glory [1 Thessalonians 3:13]. That’s called the blessed hope [Titus 2:13]. And it’s ours; it’s His promise to His people.
We’re going to stand now and sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, to give your heart to Jesus [Ephesians 2:8], or to come into the fellowship of the church, or to regive your life to our wonderful Lord; in the balcony round, there’s time and to spare, on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, make the decision in your heart, do it now, and when we stand, that first step you take will be the most meaningful in your life. Welcome. May angels attend you while you come, as we stand and as we sing our hymn of appeal.