Michael Youssef - Look Up When Others Are Looking Down - Part 1
I think from just general observation, there are people who are forward-looking and visually always looking forward, and there are others who are always backward-looking. They're living in the past. Just from general observation. Very few who look up. A lot of people look down. We have turmoil on every side, economically, politically, morally, and even spiritually, and therefore it is of absolute necessity for us to learn how, no matter how dark the days to come, that we need to understand how to always, always, not on occasions, not when the time we need something from God, but always to look up. These horrific events that we are going through right now have caused some people to ask the question, "Is this the end of history? Is this the end of time"?
You and I know that real history began the moment of creation and that scroll of history from that moment of creation will come to an end. One day, it will come to an end. It will come to an end with the establishment of the New Jerusalem, where the Lord Jesus said in Revelation 22:13, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, I'm the first and the last, I'm the beginning and the end. I started it all and I'm gonna end it all". Because history is no other than breaking down "his story". And therefore when the Great Commission is fulfilled, and I'm not talking about Matthew 28, but I'm talking about Matthew 24 where Jesus gave us very clear indication. He said, "When this gospel of the kingdom is preached throughout the world as a testimony to all nations," "ta ethne" in Greek, "to all ethnic groups, history will come to an end". That's his promise in Matthew 24.
Now, with these thoughts, I want you to turn with me please in your Bibles to 2 Thessalonians chapter 1. 2 Thessalonians chapter 1. The apostle Paul was absolutely thrilled at the spiritual and biblical progress of a group of believers in Thessalonica. He was delighted of their understanding of faith, not like our false understanding of faith among so many in the church of "get all you can, can all you get, and sit on the lid". He was elated that their faith is not like many of us, many in our day where they make it to be like a big ATM machine in the sky, when you insert your faith, push the prayer, withdraw whatever they want. These are the false teaching going around about faith. No, no, no, you have to understand, to the Thessalonians believers, persecution is not something that is happening to some people out there in the foreign land, in faraway land, some people who has been persecuted for their faith.
Persecution was their daily reality. Persecution was their daily experience. Persecution was more than just verbal attack or just calling us names or just falsely accuse us of being unloving. Their faith was so real that they endured physical attack and losing of their jobs and destruction of their properties and experiencing imprisonment and even worse. And that is why, after the familiar introduction of all his letters, the apostle Paul immediately goes on to say, "We ought to thank God for you," why? Verse 4: "Because of your perseverance and faith in the middle of your trial". And Paul is saying, "I'm bound to thank God. I am compelled to thank God. I'm obligated to thank God for you". In fact, the word is much, even stronger than that in the original. Paul is saying that I'm standing in awe, I'm standing in awe of the fact that you are always looking up when everybody else is looking down, even in the midst of your troubles, even in the midst of your difficulties.
Paul knew exactly who to thank for the steadfast faith and love of the believers in Thessalonica. That gratitude that burnt in his heart is like a debt owed to God. Why God? Why God? Why not to them? Ah, because listen to me. God is the one who gives us the strength to trust him when all of hell breaks loose. God is the one who gives us the power, not just to survive but to thrive when our world is closing in. It is God who gives us the supernatural ability to persevere, even soar, when it appears that we have no strength and all hope is gone. Question: How can persecution and suffering actually increase their faith instead of destroying it? Answer: because they allowed their suffering to drive them closer to the heart of God. Because their afflictions drove them closer and closer to the God who saved them instead be driven away from him.
Here's the core of our problem. We tend to speak about faith as if it's a tangible commodity. They talk about it as if it's something that they can measure or something that can weigh in the scale. When someone says, "Ooh, I wish I have your faith," it'd be like somebody said, "Ooh, I wish I have your blue eyes," or "I wish I was tall as you are". No, no, faith is not something that you can weigh by the ounce. Faith is not something you inherit like your DNA. Faith is not something that you can lose the way an absent-minded professor losing his glasses all the time. But rather, faith is growing trust in the living God. Faith is like a tree whose roots grow deeper into the soil, whose branches go higher into the sky, and oh, but it would shrivel without water. Faith is like the athlete's muscles: they grow strong by exercise. Ah, but they will atrophy for inactivities.
Yes, Paul is affirming the Thessalonians without tempting them to pride. Why? He goes on to tell us why. Because history is coming to an end, and we need to be filled of faith. We need to love one another more. We need to hold fast into the hope that we have. We need to lift up one another. Look at verses 5 to 10, please. I want you to hear me right. One thing we know about the Word of God, and Paul exhibits it here, actually. But it's every, the whole Word of God. I mean, I can absolutely unabashedly tell you this. The Word of God is realistic. The Word of God is true, and Paul is showing us here. See, he's not looking through reality with rose-colored glasses. No, he's very realistic. Sure, life is unfair, but God's justice is coming. Sure, our critics and false accusers try to destroy us, but what they don't know is that they're making us stronger.
Back in 1977, '78, it's around those two years, I lived in California, and I was befriended by a well-known pastor in Southern California, and he used to say to me, "Brother, when they kick you in the rear, rejoice, because that means you're ahead of them". So I've been rejoicing ever since. Another benefit when you are being harassed and attacked and even alienated by your friends, by your neighbors, even by some family members, it keeps you on your knees at prayer. Not just for yourself, but for those who are causing you trouble, those who are attacking you. Above all, these believers were looking forward to the day when Christ will appear and bring history to conclusion. Paul is not suggesting that those who persecuted the believers should not be held accountable. I'm not saying that at all. And he's not saying that.
In fact, when he was arrested in Philippi and they tried to get him out of jail, you know, at night and quietly, he said, "No, no, no, no. Let the governor come here and get us out. They put us there publicly, they get us out publicly". So he's not suggesting that at all. We need to go through every legal means. We need to appeal to them in every way we can. We need to warn them as to the consequences of their actions; why? Verse 5: "All this evidence that God's judgment is right". In other words, even if they think they got away with it, the day is coming when God will severely judge them. Paul is saying, "God is just and he's gonna repay. He's gonna repay them for their action. God will judge them for calling evil good and good evil. They will pay a severe penalty for that".
The Bible never pretends that evil is not real, never. The Bible never minimizes pain, suffering, and sin. The Bible calls evil by its name, but don't ever forget also that he's telling us that whenever the believer suffers, especially suffer unjustly for the sake of Christ, God is with us in those times in a very special way. But God's with us all the time, right? God is present everywhere, God is with us every moment of every day. But in those times when we're suffering unjustly, God's presence revealed to us in a way it could never be revealed any other way. God will sustain us uniquely in times of unjust suffering. Verse 9: "They will be punished". Not just a slap in the back, "Oh, you naughty little boy". No, no, no, no. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. Okay, I'm getting ahead of myself here. The introduction took too long. I need to come to my message. I wouldn't be a preacher worth my salt if I didn't give you three points. This time, three questions.
Number one: When will God vindicate the believer and judge the non-believer? Second question: Who will be punished? Three: What form this punishment is gonna take place? Let me answer those very quickly. First question, when will God vindicate and revenge the suffering of his servants? Sometimes God does it right away, and believe me, I saw that with my own eyes, that instant, but not very often. I wish it's always, every time, but it's rare. But I've seen it. Other times, it takes time. But mostly, it's gonna be at the climax of history. His appearance will spell the end of all opportunities for repentance and salvation. That will be it. No more hope, no more opportunity, no more chances. His return will be a moment in which the world is gonna be divided only in two camps: the saved and the unsaved, the just and the unjust, those whose names are written in the book of life and those who mocked the Lord Jesus Christ and mocked his Word. When Jesus return, he will turn the world upside down, upside down.
Listen to me, please. Everything that is today being lifted up in pride, remember that word, "pride," arrogance, smugness, by lying and cheating, is gonna be cast down. And everything that's held down and oppressed for Christ's sake is gonna be lifted up. Here and now, Christ's glory is hidden. Here and now, his children falsely accused. Here and now, they call good evil and evil good. Here and now, the righteous power of Jesus is hidden from the world. But on that day, it will be fully revealed. Two thousand years ago, when Jesus came into the world, he came in humility and he came alone, but in the Second Coming, he will come as the King of glory. Oh, by the way, he will not return alone, not like his First Coming. Verse 7: "He will return with his powerful angels," all of them, think about this, "and blazing fire, blazing fire". What is that blazing fire? What is Paul referring to? This is the fire of judgment. This is the intense inferno of justice. This is the white hot furnace that will engulf his enemies. Ah, but also that same blazing fire will avenge his faithful children. So look up, look up, when others are looking down.
Second question: Who will be punished? Those who have denied Jesus as the only Savior and Lord for everyone. Look at verses 8 and 9: "He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ". The whole gospel, not the bits and pieces they choose, not the bits and pieces that they like. The whole gospel of Jesus Christ. This judgment of God will be so flawless that no one, no one, will protest. "Ah, this is unjust. This is unfair. I'm innocent. His sentence is too harsh". No, it's not gonna happen. Do you know why? Because they will see with clarity then. They will see with clarity that they deserve this punishment. They will remember with clarity that they falsified the truth. They will remember with clarity that they have exercised injustice. Romans 12:19, Paul wrote: "'Do not take revenge. I will repay,' says the Lord". Beloved, human justice at its best is flawed, really is, even the best, because it's based on limited knowledge and limited understanding. But heavenly justice is flawless. It's flawless because it's based on limitless wisdom and knowledge.
Third question: What form will this punishment take? At verse 9 and 10, the word "destruction" here, by the way, listen carefully. The word "destruction" here doesn't mean annihilation. Some people say, "Oh, destroy mean it's just gonna be destroyed, they're gonna..." It doesn't mean that they're gonna vaporize, because the Word of God says that they will wish that they could simply disappear and the rocks would cover them from the face of Jesus. But that's not gonna be an option. Destruction here means the loss of everything that makes existence worthwhile. He described this destruction as they're gonna be shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.
Look with me, please, at incredible contrast. Look at the promise of Jesus to his faithful children on that day, and then contrast it with that punishment for those who have rejected him and rejected the truth of his Word, verses 11 and 12. The believers who face persecution, unjust suffering for Christ's sake, he's saying, "Don't spend your time being filled with fear and terror, because the great things are awaiting the believer. Don't spend your days complaining on how evil the government is. Don't wallow in bitterness at the corruption that is surrounding us and it's everywhere you turn. Don't let that impact your life. Instead, you should pray for one another. You should be loving one another. You should be encouraging one another. You should be ministering to each other. You should be reminding each other of the day that is coming, and the nearness of Christ's return".
What he's preparing for the believers cannot be compared, cannot be compared with any pain and suffering that we may go through right now. Cannot be compared. I know some of you are saying, "But, Michael, shouldn't be wanting to destroy our enemies now"? Yes. Are you surprised? Do you want to destroy enemies right now? Start praying for them. Start reaching out to them. In our faith, our God takes revenge for his children. Leave the real vengeance to God. You pray, you praise, you glory in his Coming, and it may be sooner than we think.