Pastor Walther / Last Judgment / 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 / November 12, 2017 / Encouragement for the End
The Bible is a beautiful account of God’s love for us. In fact, it is God’s love story with us. Throughout the Bible we see how God was faithful to his people in spite us being unfaithful. We see how God sent his Son to be our substitute and to take away our sin. But one of the most important things that God emphasizes to us, besides Jesus dying and rising from the dead, is this thing called Judgment Day. The reason why it is so important and why we look forward to this second coming of Jesus is because it is the most fitting conclusion to the love story that God brings us into, the day that we spend eternity in bliss and happiness with our Savior in heaven.
The apostle Paul was privileged to be able to share this wonderful message of Christ’s second return with the Thessalonians. In spite of Paul’s short time in Thessalonica, the church grew, leaders were developed, and the good news about Jesus rang out from that city with such passion that people from all over the world knew about the Thessalonians and their faith. But as with any church, that didn’t mean that their work and Paul’s work was done. In fact, Paul had a lot of encouraging to do with the Thessalonians. Paul’s idea of encouragement is really something we are going to focus on today. You’ll see that word “encouragement” in our lesson today when you look at verse 11. The beauty of this word “encouragement” is that in the Greek it has the picture of calling someone off to the side and talking things over, arm in arm, one on one.
Paul reminds us of several different ways that we are encouraged or “called over to the side of someone.” And as you know, sometimes encouragement can take on different tones. As kid growing up, you can never forget the “encouragement” or “calling over” of a parent who is upset with you doing something wrong. Oh I’ll never forget, “Peter, get your butt over here, now!” I was always happier with the approach of some of my teachers that were a little nicer when they would take a student off to the side, away from everyone else, and encourage them in the correct and proper behavior for a class room. Paul metaphorically calls the Thessalonians over to his side and he walks with them, arm in arm, encouraging them in God’s Word, specifically, to be ready and prepared for Judgment Day. Even though they already knew many of these teachings because Paul had already shared it with them, he never wanted them to forget what their lives were to be focused on, focused on that last day.
That’s so polar opposite to how our world views life, isn’t it? The world looks at the last day in unbelief. With that mentality, if there is no possibility of a last day and being held accountable for all our sins, well then this life is the only thing that we have. This life becomes everything. In other words, the mentality becomes “life isn’t about the destination, but it’s about the journey, man.” So, we spend our time concentrating on the journey more than on the journey’s goal. Life’s problems and pleasures, trials and treasures, sorrows and joys consume our attention. For the Thessalonians in particular, they needed encouragement to live sexually pure lives. This was not surprising since many in this congregation were converts from a pagan Greek background. For them, sex with anyone outside of marriage was the norm, which is beginning to sound familiar to our society. I think of Hollywood, who glamorizes sex in tv and movies, we the foolish consumers support it, and then we all seem to ironically not understand how and why there are sex scandals in society or why women are degraded.
We become “now” minded, fixed on immediate gratification, caring less about the consequences, rather than heaven minded. Not to say that we can’t enjoy the blessings that God has given to us of sex within marriage, or sports or music, or tv. But when the soul becomes wrapped up in them, so that they become the focus of our lives, and so that our spiritual needs are neglected like church or bible class or personal devotions, then those things become a curse and no longer a blessing.
That is what Paul was concerned about for the Thessalonians and really for all Christians, because we all face the same issues. Paul reminds the Thessalonians what a waste it would be if they were found asleep or drunk, in other words, unprepared for the Lord’s coming. Then they would lose all that Christ had won for them. Paul doesn’t want us to be lumped together with unbelievers who are not prepared for the last day. As Paul says, they are in darkness of sin and unbelief, surrounded by it and fixed in it. For those who are “now” minded, for those who reject Jesus as their savior, for those who are not prepared, they lose out on that fitting conclusion to God’s love story. They lose out on being brought to our Savior’s side and they won’t be able to escape God’s wrath and punishment.
And we can get caught up in the “now minded” thinking, figuring that life and this world will continue to go on as it always does. After all, it’s been several thousand years since Jesus and the Bible first told us about the last day. Satan is constantly attacking our faith with all his might, trying to make us more sluggish, doing anything to draw our minds completely away from Christ’s return and make us focus on the “journey” rather than the goal. What a waste it would be if we would lose out on the gift of life because we weren’t prepared, because we were “now” minded, focused on the pleasures or even the problems of this world, rather than heaven minded, where God ultimately wants us to be!
God does not want us to suffer wrath. God did not create Adam and Eve just so he could damn them. No, God set out to rescue us from the terrible situation that we brought on ourselves by our selfishness. Jesus did what we could not. In spite of being spit on, beaten, nailed to a cross, all the while bearing all of our sin, he was not “now” minded, but he was heaven minded. He was bringing life to people like you and me, the very ones who nailed him to the cross because of our sin. God doesn’t want us stuck in this sinful and distracting world, but he wants us by his side in heaven. That’s why God promises us this joy filled Judgment Day, and he shares that message with us in His Word, in the Bible.
That leads us to the big question in the Bible: why doesn’t God tell us when the last day will be? Imagine, Judgment Day sort of like a cable guy. When your cable needs to be fixed, the cable guy tells you that he will be to your house somewhere between 1sh and 4sh in the afternoon. That’s a big gap in time! You need to be ready before 1pm in case he’s early or after 4pm in case he’s late. Even though you don’t know exactly when he’s coming, you know he’s coming because he told you, so you need to be ready at any time. You prep your house so that he can easily access the cable box. And even though you are doing other things in your house, you wait, periodically looking out the window. We see the warning signs that God has given to us about the End times. It’s that reminder that He is coming soon, like the cable guy texting you ahead to say he’s in the neighborhood and will be coming soon. It’s really a blessing that God doesn’t tell us the exact time because by not knowing God’s exact timetable for the Last day, we are moved by a sense of constant readiness and a sense of urgency to share the warning of the Last day with unbelievers and the encouragement to believers. It’s a battle that we face every day to be prepared.
As we celebrated Veterans Day this weekend, I wonder if I could ask our veterans if it would be wise to go into a battle or combat situation without a helmet or a bullet proof vest. It’s common knowledge that your chances of survival go down without protection from some kind of armor. Roman soldiers of Paul’s day were well protected from the enemy’s arrows, spears, and swords, but only if they put on the armor. Paul calls us over to his side and says, “We've been given an effective armor to prepare for the Last Day.” Here in Thessalonians, we have two important parts of our God given armor, faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
Love is faith in action, living each day as an expression of thanks to God for all he has done for us. That makes us different. The world around us talks a lot about love, which is merely a shell of what love really is. The world knows that there are issues with how it defines love. The world knows that there are issues with how love seems broken. But the world cannot understand why its love is broken. God’s love is different. It isn’t selfish but it is selfless, always putting you first. Our love is fueled by God’s love. Every time we read more of God’s Word, we are filled with more of that love, and it motivates us to show love, even to our unbelieving neighbors so that they might understand what true love really is. Like a breastplate, it surrounds us with the Lord’s strength, so we can take our “stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11).
Christians are dramatically different because of our lifestyle and our outlook. God wants us to live each day as if it was our last day. That doesn’t mean that we give up all our responsibilities, but while the world is blinded by earthly concerns and plans, we as Christian look ahead to the day of glory. The hope of heaven is like a solid helmet, protecting our mind from being swamped by worldly troubles or day to day affairs.
You know that in this world, it is hard enough to be a Christian, let alone, a Christian on our own. Remember that the word “encouragement” that Paul uses here in verse 11 means “to call over to someone’s side.” Paul encourages us to call our Christian brothers and sisters over to our sides or to stand by their side and encourage each other. Sometimes that might be physically coming to the side of someone, like sitting by the side of a friend as they are dying and sharing a devotion with them. Maybe it’s the encouragement of a Christian by your side when you have sinned again and again, and they remind you of the forgiveness that can only come from God. What about simply gathering for worship and hearing the message of God’s love story? Side by side we sing the words of the liturgy and hymns. We pray for one another. We encourage one another. Maybe it’s the text message to a friend with the encouragement in godly living because we are not earthly minded but heavenly minded.
Ultimately, that’s where God wants us, not stuck here with the pain and sadness and sin but that God has called us to his side in heaven. That is the greatest encouragement that God saw fit to bring us to his side in heaven! Lord, keep us prepared and mindful of the Judgment, encouraged and prepared through God’s word, encouraged by each other, and encouraged with the hope that we will one day be at our Savior’s side in heaven. Amen.