Matthew Henry once wrote that “…Those that sow and those that reap shall rejoice together, in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming”.
That is what the following Scripture, 1 Thessalonians 2.17-20, teaches us. This passage became my own personal pastoral vision many years ago. I used to share it with every new member class in our church, so they would know the heart of their pastor. I want to now share it with you. I believe this it is more than my vision, it is, more importantly, and primarily, God’s vision. It is thus our seminary’s vision. Give heed to the inerrant and infallible Word of the living God.
But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy (1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 ESV).
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all (1 Corinthians 15.20-22, 226-28 ESV)
The grass withers and the flower fades, the Word of the Lord will stand forever.
Today I want to bring a message from God’s Word I am calling, “A Vision that is Out of this World.”
You have all heard the warning, “Beware lest you become so heavenly minded that you’re of no earthly good.” I don’t know who made that up, but I think I understand what they were after. They didn’t want Christians being so caught up with heavenly thoughts that they had no practical effect in this present life. But I prefer the statement of C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. He contradicted that quote when he wrote:
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”; aim at earth and you will get neither.
I know of churches with great programs, but they are essentially earth-bound. I know of sermons that are homiletically well crafted and even motivating, but they are fundamentally of this world only. Indeed, many in our generation, in seeking to reach out to others with the gospel, feel that a more earthly message would be more appealing to the unchurched person. It is likely that a great many of us have been living out our faith with our eyes to the ground, rather than looking up. I pray to God that our new pastorate together will never be guilty of being too earthly minded to be of any heavenly good.
Today we are going to see how the Apostle Paul would have agreed with C.S. Lewis. Paul’s heavenly mindedness influenced everything he did. And in particular, Paul’s vision of a heavenly future caused him to be the kind of pastor he was and the kind of person he was. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul’s words show that his present ministry is directly influenced by what he expects in the future.
As we make our way into our future ministry together, God has provided the truths in this passage to keep our vision in line with His vision, to make sure that we have a heavenly vision that will influence the way we conduct our ministry here and now.
Under the weight of difficulty, Paul’s vision always came through. As he recounted both the persecution of the Thessalonians (“For you also suffered…”) and his own suffering “who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets and have persecuted us…”), the Apostle Paul burst forth into one of the most passionate expressions in Scripture. The whole of it contains Paul’s vision of his own ministry. It is as if God has provided both pastor and people a glimpse of what a truly great biblical vision should look like.
Here we see:
A Vision That Is Out of this World
As we approach Paul’s vision, we come face to face with God’s vision for our churches, our ministries, our seminaries, our lives as believers, and our families. This vision that is out of this world is a divine vision with four great features.
The first great feature of this vision that is out of this world is this:
1. This is a Pastoral Vision
Paul was a pastor. This is evident in this passage in such a compelling and even moving way.
Note the language of Paul’s vision. In 1 Thessalonians 2:17, we observe that he “endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire.” And in 1 Thessalonians 2:19, the heart of the great apostle pulsates with love for God and love for his people as he poses a question, “For what is our hope, our joy, or crown rejoicing? Is it not even you…”.
When the great Scottish medical missionary, David Livingston, died in the heart of the Congo, his body was removed by his countrymen and laid to rest in Westminster Abby. But the natives there removed David Livingston’s heart and buried it in Africa, for they said, “You can have his body. But his heart has always been in Africa.”
He loved them. They knew it. He risked all, gave up all, sacrificed his life to bring the Gospel to the remotest, unexplored regions of Africa so that there would be Africans at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb on the day when Christ came again. He was a missionary. But he was a pastor.
Jesus came from heaven to earth to shepherd us. He came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. He is our pastor, the Chief Shepherd of our souls.
We exist to imitate the ministry of Jesus, who shepherded shepherds-to-be. That is our work. We seek, by God’s grace and through your help, to produce pastors here at RTS. We produce missionaries, counselors, and educators and equip lay people with a Biblical and Reformed worldview. But our official mission statement says that we aim to produce pastors. We must open up the Word to see what it meant to our Biblical fathers to pastor. Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep.” And this is the vision of our school: that God will raise up an army of faithful, godly pastors who will shepherd the flock of Jesus and love them and desire to be with them in the same way Paul did.
The second great feature of this vision that is out of this world is this:
2. This is a worshipful vision
I have heard it said that the greatest sin of a preacher is to make the Bible boring. If a man will simply unleash the truth of the Word of God, his listeners will come face-to-face with the most passionate people who have ever lived. Paul must rank at the top of those men with great vision, for he was possessed with a vision of the risen Christ. Paul was possessed with a vision of the growing kingdom of God, and he knew that his every step was moving onward toward the realization of this great vision. He was indeed a part of something greater than himself. And much of his ministry was spent in explaining that vision of the grace of God in Christ and calling people into that vision. In this passage, Paul also speaks of joy and a crown of boasting. He is speaking of an ethereal, heavenly time of worship.
The reason that I read 1 Corinthians 15 as the “resurrection chapter” was because I wanted you to see that for Paul the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the centering event in all of redemptive history. Paul draws our attention to the past, as he looks back at Adam’s sin and the fall of Man. But he pulls back the divine curtain of history, as it were, as he peers, with us, into a worshipful future when the Son hands over the kingdom to the Father that God might become “all in all.” What does that glorious vision really mean? Does anyone truly know? Can any of us possibly fathom the full meaning of that statement?. What glory! What worship! What a vision!
A truly great vision must be a vision that is out of this world because only a vision that is greater than ourselves can occupy our thoughts and dreams for a lifetime of ministry.
One of the greatest transformations in the life of a church occurs when the pastor and people begin to see a common vision. It is my work, as I follow Paul, to cast God’s out-of-this-world vision. In church planting, I had to do that sort of vision casting regularly. For example, when I came into a new place, as I did in Overland Park, Kansas, and in Savannah, Georgia, I had to cast a vision of the church.
People would ask me, “How many members do you have?”
I would say, “Millions! We are a part of the glorious kingdom of God which includes Christians from all ages!”
The concrete thinkers would then respond with something like, “But how many people in that million-member kingdom do you pastor?”
Of course, I would have to say, “None!”
But I wanted to cast a vision of the glorious kingdom of God. I wanted to lift the eyes of our people to the reality of the church of Jesus Christ. In the beginning, church plants have to meet in places slightly less glorious than our setting today. In Overland Park, we began in an elementary school gymnasium. I actually preached under the basketball hoop. It was difficult for some people to capture what was happening on Sunday mornings, that we were gathered before the King of kings and Lord of lords in an act of public worship. I will never forget one lady in particular. She was a very notable and influential professional woman in the Kansas City community. But her vision was impaired. She thought we were just a gathering of people meeting in a gym. But God reached down and, through His Word and Spirit, awakened her to a new reality. After a service she told me, “When I came in here today, I wasn’t thrilled about having church in a gym. My little boy even wondered if you were ever going to try a slam-dunk at the end of your sermon! But, as I heard the call to worship, as I joined in affirming an ancient faith, as we sang hymns being sung by believers all over the world, as I listened to the Scripture read and preached, I was changed. What I really want to say is that I came into a gym, but now I think this place rivals the grandest cathedrals of Europe. God was here, wasn’t He?”
My dear friend, I will commit a grave error in my ministry if I do not ask you to join with me to see this vision that is out of this world. Indeed, some of you may even be thinking that you came in here this morning just to sing and say a few words and listen to a preacher. But I tell you that you are sitting among angels. According to Paul, we are on a grand journey through time that will one day bring us face to face with the King of kings and Lord of lords. If you begin to see that vision, your heart will surely beat with the passion of Paul. Your life will share in this great desire.
The vision of this seminary is to lift up our eyes to heaven in our classrooms. The vision of this seminary is to entrust to you a theology of the Bible, a theology given to us from Genesis to Revelation of a New Heavens and a New Earth, of the total redemption of all things, from mankind to plant life to the universe itself: a vision that is God’s vision in which His Creation is worshipping Him.
Thirdly, we can see from the larger context of this passage, another important feature of this vision that we must grasp:
3. This is an Opposed Vision
We must be careful. There was satanic opposition to Paul’s vision. In 1 Thessalonians 2:18 Paul wrote, “Therefore we wanted to come to you—even I, Paul, time and again—but Satan hindered us.” Satan is not interested in preachers who are playing ecclesiastical politics. Satan will not muster the minions of hell against congregations who are playing church. But, for a congregation—a seminary—whose ministry is about the coming kingdom of God in Christ, who is preaching and teaching that Jesus Christ is Lord, who is calling men and women and children to turn from their sins, to be free of the bondage of sin, and to yield their lives to this reigning Christ, there will come opposition. But “greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world.” Satan might have hindered Paul, but the presence of the church today is a testimony to the fact that Paul and believers then were more than conquerors. The presence of RTS today in spite of every hindrance to get the Gospel to people in need all over the world and through the generations is a testimony that Satan shall not succeed. We will only be victorious if our vision is God’s vision.
But you say, “The devil goes about like a roaring lion.” How can we speak of victory now? The victory of Jesus over the devil at the cross is like unto Operation Overlord. When the greatest invading forces ever assembled hit Normandy beaches and overcame the enemy in “the longest day,” as the classic movie title put it, we were successful at D-Day. It could be said that World War Two was essentially over with that successful invasion. But there was serious mop up work to be done. Well, at Calvary there was victory when Jesus cried, “Paid in Full!” It was over when the sky went black and the earth shook, and the man-made symbol division between human beings and God was rent in twain in the Temple at the tearing of the veil. There was victory in the grave when Jesus loved us to death and back again in the glorious resurrection. There was victory when He gave our Great Commission to finish the work. There was victory when He ascended and was crowned King of Kings, awaiting now His final return. But there remains mop up work that He calls us to do in the presence of this Evil One who is released for a season. There are souls to be saved, lives to be transformed, reconciliation to be won between people, and nations still to come to know Christ and an old Christendom to be revived. We are in a spiritual battle.
I am thankful that this is not just a theological idea, but a theological reality that is practical in our seminary. I recently observed Dr. Ric Cannada at a Management Team meeting. Many voices were heard regarding budgets, programs, initiatives, and other major issues related to the seminary. Voices were sometimes even in conflict among our staff. Ric listened. And he obviously prayed. The next day he overturned a number of decisions, blocked some programs and unleashed others and made bold, faithful decisions related to the seminary. Why? He said that he was up at 4:30 to pray. In such times a war is raging. I went to him then as I commend him now for realizing that RTS is under satanic attack. The Bible says that the devil goes about roaring like a lion seeking whom he may devour, and therefore RTS is red meat. With 50 professors, five campuses, 3,000 students, ministries that are now on the precipice of becoming the front line leader in the revival in the East and the South, souls being saved, lives being transformed, you need to know that we are under attack.
What a call for prayer! Satan may hinder us for a season, but like Paul, because of Jesus, that old Slew Foot cannot keep us from reaching the people Jesus wants us to reach.
But let us see finally that, fourthly:
4. This is a Redemptive Vision
Now, I return to C.S. Lewis’ thought. I believe from this passage in 1 Thessalonians that such an out-of-this-world vision is not too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good, but rather that such a vision always results in blessing. As I examine this passage, I see a second great feature: This is a vision that is a blessing to people today.
I return to Paul’s summary of the vision in 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20. The New King James translates it “crown of rejoicing” as we read again:
For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).
There is a hymn that the great Methodist hymn writer, Fanny Crosby, composed called “Safe in the Arms of Jesus.” And I have never found a title that better describes this passage. Paul’s vision for these people was a heavenly vision. We might even call it an eschatological vision—a vision of what was on its way when the Kingdom came in its fullest.
I have heard some say that every great man has one consuming vision in his life. This certainly was true of Paul. His life vision may be summarized in this passage. He is saying that the vision of his life is wrapped up in God’s vision of His great plan for the ages, and that vision has an earthly feature—he wants his people to be there when Christ comes again. Paul wants his people safe in the arms of Jesus.
My dear friends in Christ, this is my personal vision for my ministry. I want to be about the work of the gospel in my own life so that when Christ comes again, my family is safe in the arms of Jesus. I know of no greater vision for the ones I love. I will thus work and plan and give my life to this great vision. I will pray for them and witness to them and seek to live a life of faith so that, as far as it is possible with me, my family will be there. Like Paul, as a pastor, I want to see souls safe in the arms of Jesus from the churches we have planted and the church where I was pastor. As the president of RTS Charlotte and RTS Orlando, I want to see our faculty and their families safe in the arms of Jesus. And their students. And the people who will come to know Christ and follow Him, and their generations as well. But we pray that through the teaching of the Gospel at RTS, this vision will impact eternity. We minister in light of total redemption, which is the story of the Bible: A Paradise Regained.
That is our redemptive vision at RTS. We exist because from our founders, our board, the Chancellor, other pastors here, and our students who come to us, we long to see that last RTS campus extension: Graduation into the arms of Christ when He comes again, and that a New Heavens and a New Earth will come.
What a day. What a vision. What a future.
For what is our hope, or joy, or crown rejoicing? Is it not even you? (1 Thessalonians 2:19).
This is a pastoral vision, a worshipful vision, an opposed vision, but it is a redemptive vision that cannot be stopped.
One of the greatest privileges in my life is being at the bedside of dying Christians. There is a difference between the passing away of an unbeliever and the falling asleep in Jesus of a believer. Once I was called upon for one of the most unusual bedside visits in my life. I was called upon to visit a half-breed Choctaw Indian woman in Mississippi: my biological mother. I have never called any woman “momma” except my wife, for our son’s sake. What momma means to you, when you say it, Aunt Eva means to me when I say it. But Mae and I will never forget that telephone call that came to us at dinnertime when we lived in Kansas. This poor woman, an alcoholic, clinically insane woman, was dying, but she had heard that I was a minister. And so she had hoped that I could visit before she left this world. Maybe she had something important to say to me. We decided that, while awkward in a way that only other adopted children will understand, it was the right thing to do to show honor. So I went. I was hindered by late flights, bad weather, and bad connections. By the time I got there she had slipped into a comma. All I could do was look down upon her. I thought, “I will read out loud the words of Romans 8 which speaks of redemption and new life through our adoption in Christ. I will speak of that victory which overcomes death.” So I read the entire “Great Eighth”—the 8th chapter of Romans—audibly—and I laid hands on her, prayed, and left. Within a month, we received another call. She had died. But before she died she had revived for a bit. And she asked if her family would call on me to fly down to do the funeral in Tylertown, Mississippi. I went. Again too late, hindered as it were by time and distance. At the little funeral home there in South central Mississippi, one of her family members told me and asked, “When she came to, she kept saying over and over again, ‘Michael…Romans 8…Michael…Romans 8…’—does that mean anything to you?” I was gripped with the paralysis that happens when you sense that God has touched you physically. “Yes,” I replied. And I told them the story. A man who appeared to be a very poor, uneducated chap, who was standing nearby then quietly broke in, “I am her son. I am a Christian, a Pentecostal. I led her to Christ through the truths of Romans 8 that you had read to her.” God turned a story of pain into a story of redemption.
That is the glory of the Gospel and that is the vision that is embedded into the passages we read and ought to be embedded in our hearts and minds as the children of God. Because of Christ everything has changed. Because of Christ we have a vision of redemption.
Our ministries must possess this vision and live out of its glorious center: it is a pastoral vision, a worshipping vision, an opposed vision, but ultimately it is going to be a redemptive vision, for it is Jesus’ vision. Let us be so faithful in our labors now, that through the grace of God, generations will rise to call upon the name of Jesus, and there will one day be a multitude of human beings caught up to be with Jesus Christ is the air when He comes again—souls safe in the arms of Jesus.
“Those that sow and those that reap shall rejoice together, in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming.”
This is our glory, our joy, and our crown of boasting. This is God’s vision.
I am so thankful that it is, through His grace in our lives, our vision together.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible (http://bible.wiktel.com/mhc/1_thessalonians/2.html).
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Co. Inc., 1943) 118.
 1 Thessalonians 2:14b
 1 Thessalonians 2:15
 1 John 4:4
 Romans 8:37
 The New King James Version of the Holy Bible.