Michael Youssef - End of History and You - Part 1
In July of 1919, Henry Ford took the witness stand in a court in Chicago in a libel suit against the "Chicago Tribune". And in his testimony, as he was testifying, he burst with a loud voice and said, "History is bunk"! Well, a lot of people believe that history is bunk. Others have said that history is a cycle, that it keeps on going and going and going. It's in cycle, keeps going, a circle. But the Word of God declares that history not only is his story, but God himself is the God of history. He calls himself, "The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob," history. He deliberately chooses Israel out of all the nations of the earth to be his covenant people, history. It took 2,000 years, roughly, from the time he made the promise to Abraham to the time it was fulfilled by sending Jesus, history. Above all, Jesus Christ came at a moment in history. He came at the time when Augustus was emperor of Rome, history.
The Bible said that "he suffer under Pontius Pilate," who was, for a period of history, the governor of Judea, history. That he was crucified, buried, and on the third day, he rose again, history. Then, at an appointed time in history, he sent his Holy Spirit in order to dwell in the believers so that he may push the believers to the ends of the earth to take the gospel, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth in order that when that is accomplished, history will end. For it is the words of Jesus in Matthew 24 that: "'This gospel of the kingdom must be proclaimed to the ends of the earth as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come,'" history.
The Bible is very clear that history is not only his story, but that he, and he alone, is gonna bring history to an end. History will end when he, and he alone, appears in majesty and splendor and glory and power. The Christian view of history is far from being a circle, far from being cyclical. It is linear, that is what the Bible teaches, when it will all come to a planned, and foreknowledge of God, end. It will come to a grinding halt. The history will come to a grand finale. History will come to a screeching end. History will come as a day of reckoning for those who have rejected Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Lord. History will come to an end with a glorious end for those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ, in his alone. History will come to an end, to a dreadful end, for those who refuse to believe him to be the King of history, and that's the message of the Bible. And it is the message of the Apostle Paul's two epistles to the Thessalonians, the first and the second.
Today, I'll begin with you to look at this second epistle to the Thessalonians about the signs of the end of history. And what does God say through the Apostle Paul will happen? What are the signs of the history coming to an end? But the amazing thing is that the Apostle Paul does not begin by talking about these signs, he does not begin by talking about the antichrist, but he begins by being ecstatic about the faith of the Thessalonians. He is ecstatic about the fact that these beleaguered believers who lived in that coastal, bustling coastal town, were growing in their faith. They have grown so much in their faith, even between the time of sending his first epistle and the second one. And no, it is not the kind of humanistic faith that you hear some people proclaim of, "Naming it and claiming it," or, "Blabbing it and grabbing it," or, "Pick it up and then hold tight".
It is not the so-called faith of getting it all here and now. That is not the kind of faith he's talking about. These believers in Thessalonica had nothing to boast about that most Christians in America boast about. They did not have a boast about their magnificent building, church building in which they worshiped. They did not boast about the great music program they have. They did not boast about the television radio ministries. They did not boast about comfortable air conditioning comfort in which we worship Sunday after Sunday. They did not boast about having a user-friendly church. These folks were going through the most unbelievable and most intense persecution. And yet, their incredible faith, this faith of this remarkable group of people caused the Apostle Paul to use a word that he has never used anywhere else in all of his epistles. He uses a word he never used before or since, and that word is "bound" or "compelled" or "obligated" or "in debt" to give thanks to God for them.
The Apostle Paul was saying that is he standing in awe of the strength in the midst of the tough times. He said, "I cannot help but give thanks to God. In fact, I feel that my gratitude to God on your behalf is like a debt. It is an incredible faith in the times of crushing circumstances". We talk about thankfulness as an expression of relief that we are not as badly off as we could be. That's how we think. Oh, but when James the brother of Jesus said, he said, "Every good and perfect gift comes from above, coming down from the Father". He is saying that sometimes God's greatest gifts are experienced in the toughest of circumstances in life, in the crushing circumstances of life.
Turn to 2 Thessalonians, verse 3 of chapter 1. Here's what the apostle said: "We are bound," here's that word I told you never mentioned before and since. "We are obligated, I am almost in a debt to do this, to give thanks to God always for you," and rightly so. You say, "How come"? Oh, because he said, "Your faith that is growing like Topsy in the toughest of times". I know this is a rough translation, but you get the meaning. Somebody said, "I pity the atheists, for when they feel grateful, there's no one to thank". And I know that in our normal, everyday language, sometimes we confuse kids and we confuse people when we say, "Thank you," and gratitude, and we even, you know, talk in general, "Respond to thanksgiving," and all that.
And read about the little boy whose mother said, "Did you thank Mrs. Jones for the lovely party"? He said, "No, Mommy, I didn't". She said, "Why"? "Because the girls in front of me thanked her, and she said, 'Don't mention it,' so I didn't". I tell you, we confuse people with sometimes the way we use language about thankfulness. And here's the Apostle Paul, who was offering thanks to God for their incredible faith, for these believers. He feels that he's in debt. It is a debt due to God. You say, "Why is it due to God? Why didn't give them all the praise"? Because it is God who gives us the unbelievable strength in rough times. Because it is God who gives us this inexplicable power to not just survive in the crushing of circumstances, but to thrive. It is God who gives us the supernatural ability, not just to persevere, but to progress.
Someone said, "The power of gratitude is a real test of character". And certainly, the Apostle Paul was filled with gratitude and thanksgiving to the Lord on behalf of the believers in Thessalonica. Three reasons for that that he mentions here. First, he said he's filled with thanksgiving for their ever-increasing faith. Secondly, he gives thanks to God for their ever-growing love. Thirdly, he says he give thanks to God for their ever, ever-intensifying hope. He gives thanks to God for their ever-increasing faith. Listen, you and I would agree that if their faith was increasing because of their prosperity, we understand that. Man, we experience that, "Well, praise God, man, it's wonderful". Then we rejoice and we're all on cloud nine.
See, we get that. We understand that. If their faith was increasing because they have been blessed financially, they have been getting favor, they've been accepted in society, things are really happening, ooh, man, we certainly know that. We understand that. We get it. If their faith was increasing because they were healthy and they were growing in power, they had no problem, everything is hunky dory, we can identify with that, right? Oh, but that would not have compelled the Apostle Paul to express this incredible deep, deep gratitude to God as a debt on their behalf. Listen to me, their faith was growing in the midst of the toughest and the roughest and the most crushing of circumstances. Their faith is not the kind that says, "Why me, Lord"? but the faith that says, "Why not me, Lord"? Their faith was the kind of faith that did not say, "Why God is doing this"?
And truth in advertising, I have said that, just so you understand. But it was the kind of faith that says, "Thank God that I am not alone, that I'm seeing God walking with me and talking to me in the midst of the tough times". There's some preachers and teachers are saying that these Christian folks around the world who are suffering persecution, that they aren't really suffering persecution because they don't have enough faith. Now, I wanna meet them a few years from now when persecution becomes full-flung here in the United States. Beloved, any strength any of us have is because we have an Advocate in heaven who is interceding for us right now, who is in the right hand of the Father, interceding for you and you and you and you and you by name. He's praying for you. And that is why the Apostle Paul thanks God for the Thessalonian strength.
And you have to ask, "How can persecution, crushing times, crushing trials, difficult circumstances, suffering, strengthen them instead of cause them to fail"? Ah, because these circumstances presses you and press me, press every true believer, every faithful believer, every genuine believer. They press us, every faithful believer. They press us closer to the heart of Jesus. These trials drive us and drive every faithful believer to greater dependence on God. These afflictions increase a true believer's genuine ability to trust God, regardless of the circumstances. That is why James the brother of Jesus said, "Consider it all," how many of it? "Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And endurance will make you lack in nothing".
See, today, we tend to speak about faith as something you have or something you don't have. And we say, "Well, he has faith, she has faith. Well, he doesn't have faith". And we talk about faith in such a way that's really not biblical. We have a definition of faith as it is static, but biblical definition of faith is dynamic, not static. So, I hear people sometimes say, "Well, I wish I have your faith". And like my wife sometimes, occasionally would say to me, "I wish I had your complexion so I can stay in the sun a little longer". No, that's not the faith of the Scripture. Like somebody says, "I wish I have your genes". Or, "I wish I have your height". No, no, no, no, no, that is not the Scriptural faith. That's not the biblical faith. Others talk about losing their faith. It's like you're losing your glasses or you're losing your keys, and you lose... it's like a commodity that you can, you know, you leave it there and you lose it, and then you come back, you need it, you pick it up.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, faith in the Bible is not static, it's dynamic. It's like a tree that grows both deeper and higher. It's like a muscle that when you work it out again and again and again and exercise it in training, you, all of a sudden, after 10 years, you realize, "Oh, boy, I got some biceps". It's like a healthy plant that is forever branching out. And I pray that everyone at the sound of my voice would have an ever-increasing faith. And that's what Paul thanks the Lord for, it's their ever-increasing faith. Secondly, he thanks the Lord for their ever-growing love. I know those who are biblically sound understand that love, in the Scripture, is not that mushy sentimentality, this emotional thing that Hollywood produces.
You know that, that biblical love is that love that is always willing to sacrifice. While faith has organic growth, love is like a flood that overflows the fields of your heart and your life. While faith grows like a tree, love flows like a river. The problem is, there are so many people who think that the Christian life is that you grit your teeth and you try to love people, especially the unlovable. Come on now, I understand. I got flesh and blood. "I'm gonna love them. I'm gonna try to love them". But the Christian love floods your life, floods your heart, and then allows Jesus to love them through you. You know, when a husband and wife love each other, and love is overflowing in both of them, man, they're tripping over each other in serving and giving and forgiving. I mean, they can't do enough. Oh, but when the love of Christ dries up in one or both, all of a sudden, they're counting every little mistake, every little fault, every little failure.
Some actually might actually keep a ledger. Happen in relationships, believers in the church, among each other, not just in the home. When a person begins to nitpick every little mistake you make, every little fault, every little failure, you know that person's, the love of Christ in that person began to dry up. This is really important because these folks' critical attitude, when it becomes so permeating in their heart and love because of the dryness of the love of Christ, they cannot see any good. All they see is the negative. All they see is the failure. All they see is the mistake. But listen, Paul was not unaware of the failures and the shortcoming of the Thessalonians. In fact, he mentions them, and we're gonna see them. He was not glossing over. He's not ignoring. But he did not allow their shortcomings to be his focus.
Paul was aware of their weaknesses, but the overwhelming love of Christ filled his heart so that he can focus on that transforming power that is taking place in their lives that brought their lives into ever-growing love, not the shortcomings, and not the weakness. Paul was thankful for their ever-increasing faith. He was thankful for their ever-growing love. Thirdly, Paul was thankful for their ever-intensifying hope. Look at verse 4. See, Paul's primary concern was the affliction, the problems, the trials, the tough circumstances is gonna make them lose hope in Christ. And so, Timothy comes back to him after he visits with them and he said, "Paul, far from these things destroying their hope in Christ, it's making them stand tall for Christ. Far from losing hope, they're standing firm in their hope".
The storms of life were just like water hitting a mighty rock of their hope in Christ. So much so that the Apostle Paul becomes so filled with pride, good pride, I'm gonna explain that in a minute, on their behalf. He was proud of them. I know when we talk about pride, or, "I'm proud of you," a lot of people kind of have a hesitation. And it's natural, by the way. Most folks, if they're spiritually sensitive, they have problems reconciling Christian pride with humility. They have a problem reconciling thanksgiving with boasting. As I said, rightly so. Why? Since thanksgiving gives the credit to whom? Hello? Boasting gives credit to whom? The self. And therefore, they have conflict. There is a kind of boasting that is perfectly compatible with thanksgiving. If you got that, say, "Amen".
Boasting in the Lord and thanksgiving to the Lord are two sides of the same coin. You know, having lived in Australia and America, having lived in those two different cultures, two Western cultures, I had to struggle with this question. In Australia, for example, I ministered for 5 years in a variety of churches and variety of different capacities, and I can tell you that I can count on one hand, this is being generous, on one hand the number of times that somebody came to me and said, "Thank you for preaching the Word of God". Well, it's a cultural thing, not biblical thing, and the cultural thing is, they say, "Well, they're afraid that they may give me a swollen head". Not just talking about me, but anybody in that situation. They worry about that. "We don't want to puff you up". "We don't wanna give you a swollen head".
As I said, this is more cultural than biblical. On the other hand, Americans tend to be more effusive, and that effusiveness sometimes gives itself to flattery. And I thank God for discernment, I see it right away, and I see the difference between an encouragement and a flattery because flattery leads to unhealthy pride. So, that, what does the Bible teach? Listen carefully, neither flattery nor silence is biblical. One produces unhealthy pride and being puffed up, and the other one produces discouragement.
And Paul here shows us that we can affirm people without leading them into being puffed up. How? By saying, "I thank God for you. I thank God for giving you his gifts. I thank God for giving you his strength. I thank God for giving you such faith. I thank God for working in you". Why is this so important that Paul starts with it before he gets in to talk about the signs of the end times, and the sign of the end of history? Because the more and closer we get to that moment of the end of history and the return of Christ, we need to know how to encourage one another, how to bless one another, how to love one another, how to walk in faith with one another.