November 17, 2013
Third Sunday of End Time—Saints Triumphant
2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5
Called through the Gospel
Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ, Dear brothers and sisters,
The apostle Paul, who wrote this letter to the Thessalonians, loved the people that he was able to interact with and to preach the gospel to. And the Thessalonians were no exception. In fact, at the beginning of the book, Paul says, “We must always thank God for you, brothers. This is right, since your faith is flourishing and the love each one of you has for one another is increasing. Therefore, we ourselves boast about you among God’s churches—about your endurance and faith in all the persecutions and afflictions you endure.” Paul wasn’t bragging about what he had done. He was just excited that that these new Christians were still Christians. However, as with everyone, the Devil found ways to trip them up and to confuse them. The Thessalonians were worried and confused over the idea of Christ’s second coming. Some were scared that they had maybe missed it! So Paul wrote two very similar letters to the confused Thessalonians. He assured them that if the end ever would come in their life time, they would not miss it! In the mean time, there was plenty to do while they waited.
The signs are all around us though, aren’t they? Being in the church season called the “end times” right now, we are especially reminded that we are living in the end times of the world. Wars, rumors of wars, society falling apart, and the list continues. As Paul so aptly describes in Romans, the earth is groaning for Christ’s return! And many times, we, like the Thessalonians, get all caught up in worrying about the Last Day. Will we be ready? Will we be caught off guard? Will we be getting some canned olives from the basement and accidentally miss the last day? Or just like all Christians throughout all history, we always wonder, will it ever come?
Paul reminds us that it is a good thing our salvation rest’s in God’s hands, and in his wisdom and his power, rather than in our weak, emotional, and misguided minds. And Paul says something interesting here to encourage us. He says, we have been chosen and that we have been called from the beginning! Isn’t that crazy! Since before you were even you, God knew you and loved you and wanted you to be with Him forever! Isn’t that mind blowing!
Paul reminds his people how they were brought into this standing before God. They were called through the gospel. As the Thessalonians heard the word of God, the Holy spirit worked in their heart and led them to believe it as true. They didn’t make themselves believe. They couldn’t believe because they were dead in their sin and because the grace of God is foolishness to our human logic. People can choose to reject the truth, but they cannot choose to believe in Christ as their only savior. It is truly a miracle and a gift of God that we have faith. That’s why Paul simply gives thanks to God for the Thessalonians. Yes, they were often misguided. But they were still sheep, loved by the Lord, chosen from the beginning, and so loved by Paul.
“Therefore!” That one word in verse 15! “Therefore!” Paul goes on to emphasize our responsibility. He’s basically saying, “You have been called through the gospel, and brought to faith through the Holy Spirit. Now what? And now, in response to that information that has already blown your minds, stand firm!” Stand firm! The world is full of false teachers. Hundreds, even thousands, will try to move you from your confidence in the Word of God. Take your stand and hold onto the Word! God had called the Thessalonians to follow Christ and not the teachers of the day, nor the antichrist that Paul warns them about before our text. (Side note, You should take the time to investigate what Paul says about the antichrist before our text!) Satan is always hard at work on Christians. Therefore, Paul encouraged them to stand firm against every attack on their faith.
Imagine an offensive lineman. He is told to stand his ground and not let anybody past him to get to the quarterback. It’s a serious job because the defense is looking to smash the quarterback. He’s told to hold his ground and he knows it’s dangerous being out there. But that’s how serious our condition is! We are in a spiritual war! How do we stand firm? We can only do that by holding tightly to those teachings Paul and the other apostles had passed on to the Thessalonians and to us, which is the Word of God. We can grab on to it and never let it go because God’s Word will never fail us. Only by constant reading and hearing of the word will we be able to stand firm.
It is dangerous out there! But Paul gives us some wonderful words of encouragement. God had assured them that all things would work for their eternal good as long as they remained in him. We have a God who cares for us! However, our God doesn’t necessarily comfort us by providing relief or by taking away all of our troubles. He comforts us rather by providing hope. Paul reminds us of the eternal encouragement. We have that hope, the sure knowledge, of eternal life!
So, Paul looks right into our eyes and says, Stand firm! But Paul also knows that standing firm includes more than clinging to God’s pure Word. But, what does that faith do in response? Paul asks for this prayer, “Finally, brothers, pray for us that the Lord’s message may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.”We see here that we should pray that the message be heard by more people and that it be honored when it is heard. It is honored when it is embraced and it’s not attacked. It is honored when it is held up as truth and not criticized or brought down to the level of mere stories. Most importantly, it is honored when it is believed and supported.
Sadly, we don’t always do that! We do not always honor God with our whole heart. Far too often, we take it for granted. We consider going to church just something you do on Sunday. Or we begin to think that reading the bible is kind of a lot of work. Besides, I know the basics of the bible. Why do I need to do all this extra “bible stuff.” When we begin to turn away from that which makes us strong, we begin to rely on our own strength. Imagine that same lineman looking across at his competition and thinking, “This guy looks angry, I think someone needs a hug!” He would be absolutely demolished. If we don’t stand firm, we are practically welcoming the problems, the sin, and the philosophies of the world into our lives, just like that lineman looking for a hug and welcoming impending injury. We begin to rely on the very ideas and principles of the world, the very ones Paul is warning us to stand firm against.
It is so easy to dishonor God’s word by listening to our own thoughts or the thoughts of the world. Our old adam, that sinful nature of ours, will work hard to keep us from listening to God’s word. That sinful nature keeps pecking and pecking away at us, trying to trip us up, trying to make us doubt in our God. And, the more we give in to those words that Satan whispers in our ears, the more we agree with our sinful nature that God really isn’t watching out for us, the more we agree with the ever changing and sinful principles of the world around us, then we begin to turn our backs on the fact that God has chosen us to be his. And Satan just eats that up because misery loves company. Satan desperately tries to bring us all down with him. That is why Paul reminds us to stand firm!
So we desperately go to God and we cling to Him, because even in our unfaithfulness, our Lord is still faithful! Paul knew that God would remain faithful to His promises. Where evil people exist to stand against the gospel and work to bring it down, the Lord stands constantly at our side to strengthen and protect us. He is faithful and trustworthy, reliable, and He will never fail us. Therefore, we have nothing to fear.
Paul uses some awesome words in the final verse. “May the Lord direct your hearts to God’s love and Christ’s endurance.” What Paul was literally saying there was, “May he take your inner beings and aim them like an arrow, straight toward God’s love!” When the love which God had for the Thessalonians becomes the motivating force in their lives, then they would continue to do whatever God demanded of them. The lord is the one who directs our hearts! We can try our best on our own to love God, or demonstrate our love to others. But when we do it on our own, we don’t do it out of love for God, but we do it for selfish reasons. Rather, when we stay in the gospel, God is actually the one who directs our hearts to love him more! I guess you could say the Christian is kind of like the moon. The more directly you face the source of the light, the more you shine.
This “Lavished with Love” Sunday gives us a wonderful time to step back and see how we can reflect that love and honor God and his word. It is a good time to respond with prayers. We can pray for those in the mission field. We can pray for our own mission to our neighborhood. It’s a great reminder to pray for our congregation members and also our pastors, just as Paul was asking his congregation to pray for him!
And it is a wonderful time to respond with thanks and with supporting the Gospel we all desperately need to hear every day. We bring our offerings because, in doing so, we are honoring God. We bring our offerings because, we love that gospel message that the Holy spirit worked in our hearts. We bring our offerings because we want that same gospel message to be shared with our congregation, our community, and the whole world.
The idea of the Last Day may cause us to worry, such as Will it ever come? But we don’t need to worry because we are called by the gospel. That means, we have the most precious treasure that is already ours. It means standing firm in God’s truths. It means putting our faith into action. And finally, it means supporting the gospel and sharing it! Out of love and thanks, we do all these things while we wait for Christ’s return. This was Paul's hope and prayer for the Thessalonians as well as for us!
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.