Sermon 12/14/14 Advent 3

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Advent 3

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 Rejoice always! 17 Pray constantly. 18 Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Don’t stifle the Spirit. 20 Don’t despise prophecies, 21 but test all things. Hold on to what is good. 22 Stay away from every kind of evil. 23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely. And may your spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.

Respice Finem
1. God’s promise for Christ’s return
2. God’s will while you await Christ’s return

 

How’s your Latin? Do you know any Latin phrases? I bet you know more than you think. We use some in worship like, “Agnus Dei, Lamb of God,” or “Nunc Dimittis, Dismiss us now.” Unfortunately, the only Latin phrase that most people know is, “Carpe Diem.” Do you know what that means? “Seize the day.” Well, today I am going to teach you another Latin phrase: Respice Finem.

We often say, “All’s well that ends well.” Peyton Manning threw two interceptions last week but the Broncos still won. All’s well that ends well. Experience teaches us that we need to keep focused on the final outcome of what we want to achieve. Even if we hit some glitches along the way, if we keep heading toward the goal, it will turn out in the end. All’s well that ends well. So we want to keep our eyes on the goal. Respice Finem. That means, Focus on the goal; keep your eyes on the end.

For many of us that end is December 25th. We are focused on all the things that need to be done in the next ten days, baking, shopping, wrapping. That deadline is looming and we have to get everything done. Our eyes are focused on that goal. But Advent is a season that reminds us what our goal really is. Our goal is heaven. Our goal is being prepared for Jesus’ return. We need to keep our eyes on that goal, even in these hectic days before Christmas. Respice Finem.

Paul keeps us focused on the goal in this lesson from his first letter to the Thessalonians. He wrote, Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely. And may your spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it. In this verse, “spirit” means “person”. God will sanctify your whole person, soul and body. God does that because we can’t. We can maybe give ourselves a buff and a shine but to sanctify, that is, make ourselves completely holy, isn’t something we can do.

If someone came to your house with a white glove and started checking for dust, could your house pass the white glove test? Of if they brought a microscope to your bathroom, could you be sure that your bathroom is completely sterile? You can clean all you want, but you probably aren’t going to get your house perfectly clean. So neither can we get our lives to be sterile of sin. We can’t sanctify ourselves completely.

And that’s why Jesus was born. As we celebrate Christmas, we see how Jesus got down in the trenches – he put on his working gloves, and started his work when he took on flesh and blood in the manger. He got out his hammer and saw, and started building a stairway to heaven, as he obeyed every law for us. Every time that Jesus avoided evil, another step was built. Every time that Jesus learned God’s Word, another step was built. And then at the height of his work, he slaughtered himself and gave us his perfect covering for our sins, so that we could stand before God blameless. (Adopted from Joel Pankow) Jesus completed his work and now Paul’s prayer is that the Holy Spirit would do his job of beginning, building, sustaining and growing our spiritual lives.

In answer to that prayer, Paul states a promise. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it. If the cross couldn’t stop God, nothing will. He is faithful to his word and he will do what he promised. Are you ready for the promised Savior? The good news is that it doesn’t depend on you. God himself, the God of peace, is at work sanctifying you and making your ready through Word and sacrament. From eternity God has Respic Finem, kept his eye on the goal for you. He has promised to present you blameless and beautiful for that day when Jesus comes. Trust his work. Don’t worry about how much you must do, but trust his work in you through Word and sacrament.

God has you ready. Now we also need to Respice Finem, that is, we need to keep our eyes on the goal and when we do that, we remember what’s important. There are times believers would like to know God’s will for their lives. Should they sell their house and move to an apartment? Should they try another round of chemo? There are many things about which God has not told us his will. It’s far better to focus on those that that God has told us are his will for us.

12/14/14

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Here are God’s priorities for our lives as we await the coming of Jesus: Rejoice always! 17 Pray constantly. 18 Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Always? In everything? Even when the doctor says, “I’m sorry to tell you. . . .”? When a loved one calls and says, “I have some bad news.” When something else needs fixing around the house? How are you to give thanks when the doctors can’t figure out why you keep getting headaches? How are you to be joyful when you have to work on Christmas? Or when the flu hits?

Does Paul mean that you should pray while you are running the machine at work? When you are eating or sleeping? Are you to pray in the middle of a pass play while you are playing football? Can we not weep at the grave of a loved one, as Jesus did at the grave of Lazarus? How are we to understand these commands? The best answer is to look at the life of Jesus in the gospels. He wept, yes, but he was thankful and he prayed. Remember the promise that Paul gave in Romans 8, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Remembering that promise in Christ, we can rejoice and thank God for whatever comes into our lives.

That’s not necessarily my nature. When my alarm goes off at 4:30 am, I don’t feel very thankful. My mind begins to think about all the things that need to be done that day and whether I am going to be able to get to it all. But having studied this text, I have been trying to remind myself when I wake up to thank God for the new day. It gives you a completely different outlook on the day when you can begin with thanksgiving.

Maybe you find that hard to do. That’s why it is so important for us to be students of God’s Word. Paul said, Don’t stifle the Spirit. 20 Don’t despise prophecies. There are two ways to put out a fire. One is to quench it; the other is to starve it. Certainly, we can quench the Spirit through unbelief and rebellious sin. Such lifestyles put a wet blanket on the fire of faith. We can also starve a fire of fuel. If you don’t put any more wood on a dying fire, it will go out. Starving our faith by despising prophecy, that is, the preaching of God’s Word, will put out the Spirit’s fire also.

So often we treat our Christian faith like the person who drives his car on empty. The gas gauge is hovering on the “E” but they think that they can get just a little further, a couple more miles before refilling. But what happens when you run out of gas? What do you do when the fire of your faith goes out? You can’t jump start it. If the Spirit is quenched because you have not made use of God’s Word, how else will you get the Spirit’s fire?

And let’s not think that watching a religious show on TV or listening to Christian radio will do the trick. We need to be discriminating about what we hear. Test all things. Hold on to what is good. 22 Stay away from every kind of evil. A girl once wanted a pony for Christmas. Despite her parents trying to convince her otherwise, the only thing she wanted for Christmas was pony. So, in order to help her understand what it would mean to have an animal like that around the house, they wrapped up a present in beautiful paper, but inside it was full of horse apples.

Satan is good at wrapping up false messages in beautiful paper. That’s why it is so important to test everything. I talked to someone recently who is going to a non-denominational church. They said that church teaches the same thing we do. Clearly, they didn’t do their research. They saw the beautiful wrapping of a certain worship style without paying attention to what is really inside the package. Paul warns us to test everything and to avoid every form of evil.

On the other hand, we are to hold to what is good. When I played high school football, our coach would spray our arms and chest with “stickem” to help us not drop the ball. I remember getting tackled once and as I went to put the ball on the ground, it just stuck to my arm. That’s what we are to do with the correct teaching of God’s Word. We are to stick to it.

So this is God’s to do list before Christmas and every day while we wait for Jesus to come: Rejoice, pray, be thankful. Study God’s Word and test everything by that Word. Respice Finem. Keep your eye on the goal. Christ came to bring you to that goal. With faith that God will bring us to that heavenly goal, may we live God’s priorities in our lives every day.