Sunday, November 21, 2021

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year - 1Thess 5:1-11

                                                                                       Last Sunday

                                                                                1 Thess 5:1-11



          We have entered into that time of year when darkness arrives early. At 5:00 p.m. it is already basically nighttime. It is no longer possible to do anything outside after dinner because you can’t see what you are doing – much to the chagrin of my wife who has things that she still wants to plant in her flower beds.  In general, driving is more difficult at night, and this becomes even more of an issue as we age and our eyes don’t work as well.  The darkness makes everything feel later than it really is.  The early arrival of darkness puts a damper on everything.  It is not uncommon for this to make people feel a little down.  In fact, in some people it causes a form of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.

          In our text this morning, St. Paul contrasts day and night; light and darkness.  These are metaphors he uses to describe the spiritual condition of people.  He does so in order to talk about the return of Jesus Christ.  There are those who are ready, and those who are not.  He knows the Thessalonians are ready, and so urges them to live like people who are.  The apostle’s words this morning remind us that we need to be ready – both in our expectation of the Lord’s return, and in the way we live because we are people who know the salvation Jesus Christ has won for us.

          Paul begins our text by writing, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”  The apostle has no doubt that the Thessalonians know that the risen and ascended Lord Jesus will return on the Last Day. They know that it will be sudden and unexpected.

          The Thessalonians were so aware about the Lord’s return, that Paul has just had to address a question that troubled them: What would happen to the Christians who had died before Jesus’ return?  It may seem strange that this would arise, but as the Book of Acts tells us, Paul’s time in Thessalonica had been cut short by action from Jews who opposed the Gospel.  He had not had as much opportunity t instruct them as he would have liked, and so this aspect of Christian teaching had not been fully understood by all.  And remember, the Greco-Roman world had no belief in the resurrection of the body.  Instead, they viewed the body as something that the person’s spirit needed to escape. So it’s not surprising that some Thessalonians were having trouble understanding.

          At the end of the previous chapter Paul has said, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”  The apostle assured the Thessalonians that the resurrection of Jesus had meaning for the Christians who had died.  He wrote, “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.”  Then those still living would also meet the Lord, and so Paul said, “we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

          Now, in our text, Paul continues talking about the return of the Lord as he affirms what the Thessalonians do know.  He writes, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”

          The apostle uses a metaphor that goes back to Jesus himself.  The sudden and unexpected character of the Lord’s return is compared to the thief who comes in the night.  No one expects the thief to show up during the night.  It is shocking and surprising – think about how we have felt on the occasions when our church has been broken into during the night. 

          The return of the Lord is something that will happen suddenly and irreversibly.  People will think all is well.  “Peace and security” was a phrase that was heard in the Greco-Roman world. It is no different in our own day as people are busy enjoying all the good things in life.  But just as labor pains show up unexpectedly, and when they do there is no stopping what is going to follow, so the return of Jesus will be unexpected – and Paul says that sudden destruction will come, and people will not escape.

          Now the first question our text raises for us is whether the return of Jesus Christ is in our thoughts.  It was for the Thessalonians. It was for Paul.  Do we regularly pray, “Come Lord Jesus!”?  We should, for the return of Christ will bring the final salvation that we desire.  The return of Christ will bring the consummation of his saving work, and anything less than this means that we are still in the “not yet.”

          Make no mistake, the return of Christ will be a day of wrath. But like the Thessalonians, as baptized Christians you are ready for that day.  Paul says in our text, “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.”

          You are children of the light and of the day because God has called you by the Gospel.  The apostle told the Thessalonians at the beginning of this letter, “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”  God has called you as well, and we see it in the way you have received the Gospel.  Paul says in this letter, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.”  You too have received the word as the Word of God, and it is at work in you.

          The return of Christ will be a day of God’s wrath against all who sin.  However, because of Jesus Christ, it will not be a day of wrath for you.  Paul says in the first chapter that the Thessalonians had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Or as Paul says in our text, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”

          Jesus Christ died on the cross to rescue you from the wrath of God.  He did this by receiving God’s wrath against your sin through his suffering and death. Dead and buried in a tomb, God then raised him from the dead on the third day. Forty days later, the exalted Lord ascended into heaven.  Christ’s resurrection life has defeated death. And when he returns on the Last Day, he will give your body a share in this resurrection.

          The second question our text raises is whether we are living in a way that reflects this truth.  Paul says in our text “For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”

Those around you who do not believe in Jesus Christ are asleep. They are in the dark.  Spiritually, they are “sleep walking” through life. They are not awake to the truth.  They are not aware that the day of wrath is coming – that Jesus Christ will return in glory and judgment.

You however, know all of these things.  You are children of the light, children of the day.  The apostle says that we are to be sober – or “self-controlled” as it can also be translated.  In the previous chapter Paul has just discussed an important aspect of this when he said, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”  We live in the knowledge of what God has done for us in Christ. We live in the knowledge that Christ will return unexpectedly – like a thief in the night. This must guide how we live.  After all, do you want our Lord to return, and find you looking at “that” on your phone?

Instead, we need to “put on the breastplate of faith and love.”  Faith in Christ, and love for our neighbor produced by faith provide protection against the ways the devil seeks to attack us.  Faith in Christ is sustained by receiving the Means of Grace – by reading God’s Word at home and by coming to receive the Gospel gifts present in the Divine Service.  Where this faith is nourished, Christ’s Spirit will cause us to act in love as we follow Christ’s example. This is life that is sober and self-controlled – life that does not draw us back into the darkenss.

          Finally, Paul tells us to put on “for a helmet the hope of salvation.”  Our hope is the salvation that will be ours. But remember, Paul mentions this as he speaks about the return of Christ.  Hope is one of the most powerful forces that exists. Where people have hope they can work and endure in incredible ways. 

Our hope is based on the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.  Because he has done these things, we know that he will return just as he has promised – just as his apostle declares this morning.  Just as hope of the coming Christmas break keeps a college student going at the end of the semester, so our hope of the return of Jesus Christ keeps us going with strength and perseverance.  It does because the risen Lord will return. We have the hope of salvation because as Paul says: “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”










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