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First Midweek in Advent

1 Thessalonians 1:1–10

James T. Batchelor

Advent 1, series B
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Wed, Dec 3, 2014 

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Much of this sermon comes from the sermon series:

LO! HE COMES WITH CLOUDS DESCENDING

An Advent Sermon Series on 1 Thessalonians

by R. Reed Lessing

Copyright 2014, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, and R. Reed Lessing.

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Our midweek services this year will focus on a few passages that the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write to the church in Thessalonica.  The church in Thessalonica was struggling with some teachings about the coming of Jesus on the Last Day.  Paul wrote a letter to them in order to help them come to the proper understanding concerning the end of time.

Dr. Reed Lessing, a former member of the faculty at the seminary in St. Louis said that Pauls letter to the Thessalonians reminded him of the two minute warning in the NFL.  Teams change their strategy when they know there is not much time left in the game.  The clock becomes the friend of the team that is in the lead and the enemy of the team that trails.  While scoring points is always the ultimate goal of every play, part of the strategy includes the manipulation of the clock.  Every NFL team has what they call a two-minute drill.  Its a bold, accelerated series of plays that are designed for those urgent moments when there is not much time left in the game.

1 Thessalonians is a book that has a lot in common with the two-minute warning.  The Apostle Paul warns the Thessalonians that world history is almost over (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:1318; 5:110).  The time is short.  The church has always lived in eager readiness for that day when the Lord will reveal His presence to all people as He executes final judgment on the earth.  Pauls first epistle to the Thessalonians is one of those places where the Lord informs us about His coming on the Last Day.

You recently heard Pauls greeting to the church in Thessalonica:

Paul begins by wishing grace and peace to His fellow Christians.  Yes, we are to live as though Jesus could return at any moment to judge the living and the dead.  Yes, we all will appear before Gods judgment throne.  But this does not mean that we need to panic.  It is not time to freak out.

The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to remind the Thessalonians and us that we are in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  That means that we have the Holy Spirits gifts of faith, hope, and love.  The Holy Spirits gift of faith receives the gifts of God especially the gift of forgiveness earned by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirits gift of love that comes along with faith reaches out to serve one another.  The Holy Spirits gifts produce hope that looks forward to the day when the Lord returns to raise the dead and give eternal life to all who believe in Him.

After his greeting, Paul continued to write: You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.  For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.

The time is short so we cant waste it on unimportant stuff.  We dont know when the Lord will return.  We also dont know when the end of our time on this earth will come.  The Lord could return while I am preaching this sermon.  You could go home tonight and the Lord could call you home in your sleep.

The time is short and Paul says that the Thessalonians are an example of how to use the time.  They are making the most of every opportunity. What are they doing?  Paul says that the word of the Lord sounded forth from them.  This means that they were confessing their faith, not only to each other, but their confession sounded forth from them into the world around them.

What is that confession?  Paul calls it The Gospel. In Pauls day, this Gospel turned the world upside down!  Paul came to Thessalonica and told how he had seen the risen Lord.  He told how the blood of Jesus shed on the cross had paid the debt of our sin and not only our sin, but the sin of the entire world.  He told how he had seen the risen Lord and received the gift of forgiveness that Jesus has earned for all people.  He brought this Gospel to the people in Thessalonica and now they also confessed that they believed in the Jesus proclaimed by this Gospel.  They mimicked Paul and they even mimicked the Lord Jesus as they confessed the Gospel to the people around them.

When Paul says that the word of the Lord sounded forth from you, he used the Greek word from which we get the English word echo. An echo simply bounces back the original sound.  Our confession echoes Gods word.  We dont need to create our own confession.  God wants us to echo what he has said.

The echo is actually quite simple: the Word of God teaches that I was conceived and born sinful and under the power of the devil until Christ claimed me as His own.  I would have been lost forever unless delivered from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation.  But the Father of all mercy and grace has sent His Son Jesus Christ, who atoned for my sin, and the Holy Spirit has given me faith so that I trust Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of my sin.  Therefore, I have the clear promise of God that I shall not perish but I already have eternal life.  The promise of eternal life is not just for me, but it is for all people.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!

Paul noted that part of their confession was that they 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.  Thessalonica was only fifty miles from Mount Olympusthe supposed residence of the Greek gods.  If you lived, then, in Thessalonica and were going to plant crops you would pray to the god of the harvest, the god of soil, and the god who brought rain or sun-shine.  If you were going on a business trip you would pray to the god who provided safe travel and the god who offered favor in business dealings.

But when the Holy Spirit opened the Thessalonians hearts to the gospel, they realized that all their idols could not offer a real solution to their greatest problem.  They discovered that their greatest problem wasnt their harvest and it wasnt their business dealings.  Their greatest problem was that they had offended a holy and just God.  But Paul told them that Jesus poured out his blood to forgive them.  He rose on the third day to embrace them.  And He is coming again to restore them.

Our idols become quite manifest when we look at the culture around us at this time of year.  How early in the morning did people line up for sales on Black Friday? Every year, people are willing to experience the inconvenience of camping out at the store at insane hours in the morning.  In some cases people are willing to risk their lives.  All this, just so that they can get a deal on something that is popular now, but will eventually end up in the trash.

Unfortunately, we have way more than three idols in our culture. It may be a lover, a Lexus, our labor, or our leisure time.  The Lord may return at any time.  We dont have time for competing gods.  Paul admonishes us to follow the example of the Thessalonians and turn from our idols.  He admonishes us to turn to the Living God instead, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. 

There is an old saying about sports: On any given day, any team can beat any other team. A football game or any other sporting event for that matter can have any kind of an outcome.  The promise of God is not like that.  We know the outcome. There is no doubt about it!  Jesus rescues us from the coming wrath.

People who have survived fires in the wild have a small idea what the coming wrath might be like.  Sometimes you hear of someone who survived because they started a backfire.  They saw the smoke on the horizon and realized that the fire was coming faster than even a horse could run.  The only choice was to start a small, controlled fire that would use up the fuel around them before the big fire came.  They stood in an ever widening circle of blackened earth and waited for the fire to come.  The fire was terrifying as it drew near, but it bypassed the people who stood where the fuel had already been burned.

When Christ returns the judgment of God will be like that fire.  It will be powerful and destructive.  But if we stand in the burned over place we will be saved.  And where, you ask, is the burned over place?  The burned over place is the foot of the cross.  There Jesus has already endured the fire of Gods wrath.  He has used up the fuel of our sin.  So it is at the cross we stand.

The time is always short, for no one knows when his time will be over.  The proclamation is what it has always been.  Jesus Himself proclaimed [Mark 1:14b15] the gospel of God saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. Amen



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