Jun 3 - Can I Look To Jesus For Answers?

Can I Look To Jesus For Answers?

June 3, 2018

John 8: 12-59

 

CAN I LOOK TO JESUS FOR ANSWERS?

June 3, 2018

John 8:12-59

 

All of us have questions we would like answers to.  Our own knowledge, life experience, or limitations just aren’t enough to answer every question. 

 

Some of the questions we have may have to do with the present – for example, why is there so much hate and violence in the world? Or maybe, why am I so angry? Or maybe, am I doing with my life what I should be?

 

Or the questions may have to do with the future – for example, will my children live happy and fulfilled lives?  Will I regain my health?  Should I change the direction of my life?

 

Or the questions may have to do with God – for example, does he exist?  And if so, what is he really like?  Why does he allow the innocent to suffer? And what, if anything, does he want from me? 

 

Atheists might wonder why Theists at times seem so gullible and naïve.  Theists may wonder why Atheists at times are so cynical and sceptical. 

 

Everyone has questions.  Sometimes questions can lead to anxiety, to fear.  Will something bad happen?  At other times, questions can lead to courage, to stepping out, to discovery.  In fact, most of the great discoveries and breakthroughs in science or technology came about because someone had a question they wanted answered. 

 

So what are some of the questions that you have?     

 

In a similar vein, I also thought about the questions that would motivate someone to come into a church for the first time? 

 

What would they want answers to go to a place they’ve never been to, not knowing what they might encounter, or what the people there might be like?  

 

1. Is there a God? 

2. If yes, how can I better connect to him?

3. Why am I here?  What’s the meaning of my life?

4. Is what I am experiencing in my life all there is?

5. Is there something that could help me or my kids to live my life better

6. Will I find help dealing with my problems?

7. What happens after I die?

 

The common thread that likely runs through most of these kind of questions is a search for truth and meaning.

 

People who come visit the church for the first time likely are not asking whether or not the music or the speaker are great.   Of course, if the music or the speaker are lousy, they’re very unlikely to return. 

 

In fact, I heard a stat, that most people who visit a church for the first time will make up their mind about whether or not they will return within the first 7 minutes after their arrival. 

 

That’s before the service started, before they listen to the worship music, before they hear the message, before they have discovered whether or not there may be some truth there. 

 

That’s because, beside all of the truth questions they might have, they are also asking a different set of questions: 

 

1. Is this a safe place?

2. Will I feel at home?

3. Will I be welcomed?

4. Will I meet people who I can relate to? 

5. Will I fit in?

6. Will I meet people who will care for me?

7. Will I meet people who will enrich my life?

 

Think about this for a moment.  What if you visited a church for the first time and ...  

  • ...you have a hard time finding a parking spot. 

  • When you get into the foyer, you don’t recognize anyone. 

  • No one talks to you, because they’re all busy talking to people they know. 

  • You’re left to figure out where the kids should be dropped off for their program and when. 

  • You can’t find the washrooms. 

  • When you enter the sanctuary, all the seats at the back are taken.  And then you’re asked to sit in one of the front rows, where you feel completely conspicuous.   

 

Liam Neeson:  I don’t know who you are, but if you’re sitting in the foyer because you were late to church, I will find you and I will tell you there are plenty of empty seats in the front of the chapel.

 

Maybe the usher is Liam Neeson. 

 

I would venture to guess that at that point, you’ll have so many negative vibes, that you will not care to come back, regardless of the music and message.  After all, who wants to be in a place where you’re not made to feel welcome and where you end up feeling uncomfortable?    

 

This is the reason why Christians who regularly attend church need to view Sunday morning as a time of service.  If believers are only consumers, if they only attend church is because of what’s in it for them, something has gone wrong with their faith. 

 

Now there may be some exceptions.  If, for example, a person has been emotionally burned out, then there is a time to do little more than sit and soak.  But nothing should permanently side-line someone.  Christianity, after all, is not a spectator sport.

 

Do you remember what Jesus said at the Last Supper when he washed his disciples’ feet, the task of the lowest household slave? 
 

I have given you an example to follow.  Do as I have done to you.                                              John 13:15

 

People who walk into a church for the first time will know whether or not those who attend there actually take those words to heart.  When it is all about me, then I will grab the parking spot closest to the entrance, especially when it’s raining, even though I have no problems walking;

I will sit in the best possible seat.

I will not go up to people I don’t know to welcome them.  I will not teach in kidzone.

I will not serve coffee.

I will not hand out bulletins.

I will not invite someone over for lunch.  

 

On the other hand, if it is primarily about serving others, it’s a different picture, isn’t it? 

 

(Pastor Hugh’s parking only - all others will be towed; vs. First time guest parking)

 

In some churches, the pastor has a reserved parking spot closest to the entrance.  In other churches, there are designated visitor or guest spots that are closest to the entrance.  Which do you think is more welcoming?

 

So a non-churched person gets up early on a Sunday morning instead of sleeping in.  They drive themselves and maybe their kids to a church for the first time.  They enter a building where they know no one.  Why?  Because they are in search of truth.  That’s pretty impressive, if you ask me.

 

People who came to listen to Jesus also came looking for truth.  However, the truth they were looking for did not deal with the existence of God.  Most Jews in the first century took God’s existence for granted. 

 

And they were hearing Jesus through a filter, a lens, which, in part, was shaped by what they had been told about God by their religious leaders.  Keep in mind that the very large majority was illiterate.  They did not have the luxury of an education.  They could not read their Scriptures, so they had to rely on what they were told. 

And the messages from their religious leaders were, at times, contradictory.  For example, the Sadducees told them there was no afterlife, while the Pharisees told them there was.

 

One of the things that they were told by their religious leaders is that if you’re healthy or wealthy, it’s because God is really pleased with you, but if you’re sick or poor it’s because God is punishing you. 

 

If you have lots of children and if they are healthy, it’s because God is blessing you.  If you can’t have kids or your child gets sick or dies, it’s because God is cursing you.  You obviously must have done something wrong, because he’s angry with you.  

 

In other words, whatever is happening in your life, you deserve it. 

 

Jesus contradicted this teaching.  He told his followers that bad things will happen to good people, like the unfortunate Galilean Jews who Pilate had massacred at the temple, or the 18 people who had died because a tower had collapsed on them (Luke 13:2-4).  Jesus also told them that a blind person wasn’t cursed by God because of something that he or his parents had done wrong (John 9:1-3).    

 

Jesus’ followers had been told by their religious leaders that the Jewish people were God’s special people; that they were “in”, but that the non-Jews, the Samaritans and Gentiles, were “out.” 

 

Jesus contradicted their religious leaders.  God is interested in Jews and Samaritans and Gentiles.  Jesus told them that God wants everyone “in”.  That’s the whole reason Jesus came.  He didn’t come to save the Jews only.  He came to save everyone because God wants everyone in.[1]  Paul and the author of 2. Peter commented on this.

 

God wants everyone to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.                           1 Timothy 2:4

 

God is patient with you because he does not want anyone to be lost forever, but for everyone to come to the point of repentance.                       2 Peter 3:9

 

But as much as God might desire this, he will not force people to believe what they do not want to believe or to spend eternity somewhere they do not want to go. 

 

Jesus’ followers also were keenly aware that they were being oppressed and taken advantage of by the foreign power that had been occupying their land for 90 years (Pompey, 63 BC).    

 

And they had been told by their religious leaders that their subjugation was a clear sign that God was punishing the nation because he was displeased with it. 

 

They asked the question: What would it take for God to look on our nation with mercy, give us back our land under a benevolent Davidic King?   And, they had been told by the Rabbis, that the only way to reverse the fortune of the nation, was to focus on keeping the minutia of the Mosaic Law

 

Jesus disagreed.  He told the Pharisees that they had it completely wrong.  By focusing on the minutia, they were missing the bigger picture. God’s people should focus on following the two commandments that were of real importance to God, instead of figuring out what everyone had to do in every conceivable circumstance. 

 

Most importantly, they had to connect with God and living according to his will.  Period. 

 

Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul and mind.                                                       Matthew 22:37

 

This was the most important commandment in the whole of the OT. 

 

God has to become the most important concern in their lives.  He was to be more important than their careers, possessions, money, even more important than their human relationships.

 

The second biggest commandment, Jesus said, was treating other people with compassion and care.

 

Love one another as I have loved you;

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you;

Love your neighbour as yourself;

Treat others as you would want to be treated by them;

Give a cup of cold water;

Give food to the hungry;  Give the thirsty to drink ...

 

But there was something else, Jesus challenged his listeners to believe that he was the one that would make it possible for them to reconnect and be right with God. 

 

He challenged them to see that he himself - his identity - his person - and therefore his mission - was just as important as his message.

 

In fact, Christianity is not so much about a religious system, a group of people, a building, a liturgy, a dogma, as it is about a person.  Christianity begins and ends with Jesus. 

 

In John 8, we have a series of conversations between Jesus and the Pharisees (cf. 8:13).  In these conversations, Jesus claimed a number of things about himself.  

 

  • I am from above; I am not of this world (v.23)

  • You will know that I am (i.e., the one) (v.28)

  • I proceed forth and have come from God; He sent me (v.42)

  • I honour my Father (v.49)

  • I know God and keep His word (v.55)

  • Before Abraham existed, I am (v.58)

 

The first thing to notice is that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, the Saviour.  He mentions that he was sent by God and twice notes that he is “the one” (vv.24,28 - implied).[2]

 

The one” is a common way to refer to the Saviour, the Messiah, of the nation.  Jesus was pointing out that he would be the one who would be instrumental in the process of reconnecting God’s people with God and thus saving the nation of Israel. 

 

Have any of you watched the movie, The Matrix?  Hard to believe it came out 19 years ago.  In any case, the movie is filled with biblical imagery and terms. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that you watch this movie!) Throughout the movie, there is a quest to find “the one,” that is, the one of whom it had been foretold that he would free the human race from being enslaved to sentient robots. 

 

As it turns out in the movie, a man named Neo ended up being “the one.”  This was proven when he was killed by a machine called “Mr. Smith”, but then came back to life when the female protagonist, Trinity, kisses him.  Subsequently, Neo easily defeats Mr. Smith by simply being able to control the matrix, for example, by stopping bullets.     

 

So Jesus claimed to be “the one”.  The second thing to notice is that Jesus claimed to be divine.  He said that his origin is “from above”, that is, from God.   He notes that he existed even prior to Abraham.  And he notes that he is “the light”.[3]

 

But the real clincher is found in the last statement, “Before Abraham existed, I am”. In order to understand this claim, you have to keep in mind that one of the personal names of God in the OT, is “I am” (ehyeh). 

 

God actually gave himself three names in those verses, all interrelated and based on the verb “to be”:

 

HYH   SR   HYH (Read: ehyeh aser ehyeh)

I am  who  I am

 

HYH (Read: ehyeh)

I am

 

YHWH (Read: yahveh)

He is   (i.e., he is the one who exists)

 

Should the Israelites ask, Moses is to tell them that “I am” (ehveh) had sent him (Ex 3:14).  So Jesus uses one of the personal names of God to refer to himself.  And this was immediately understood by the Pharisees, because they picked up stones to kill Jesus for blasphemy.

 

In John 8, Jesus not only spoke of his identity, but he also made a number of promises.  One of them is found in v.12. 

 

I am the light; the one who follows me will have the light of [eternal] life.                                             John 8:12

 

Jesus promised that he would provide eternal life for the person who believed and trusted him enough to following him.  In other words, those who would be in relationship with him, would also be in relationship with God himself. 

 

The Pharisees who rejected Jesus’ claims about himself, also didn’t think much of Jesus’ promises.  They did not view themselves as being separated from God.  Maybe the nation of Israel was separated from God, but that was the fault of others.  

 

The metaphor of light in Jewish thinking is connected to God, to moral purity, to goodness, to spiritual truth and insight.  So a person who leaves the darkness and comes into the light, comes to God, to doing what is right and good, and to receiving insight into what is true.

 

Jesus noted at another point in the gospel of John, that his followers would not be able to continue on in the darkness. 

 

I came into the world as a light, so that those who put their trust in me will not remain in the darkness.

                                                                   John 12:46

 

The author of 1 John, who was familiar with the gospel of John, noted that this transfer from darkness to light is not something inconsequential or unnecessary.  No, it is vital because determines whether or not a person will be forgiven from their wrongs and be in relationship with God, who is light, and with other Christians, who should be the children of light.

 

This is the message we received and passed on to you:  God is light.  In Him there is no darkness of any kind.  If we claim to be in communion with him but we live in the darkness, then we are lying and are not living out the truth.  But if we live in the light as He is in the light, then we are in communion with one another and the blood of Jesus, His son, purifies us from all of our sins.

                                                          1 John 1:5-7

 

What this meant for his listeners and what it means to me, is that I have to admit to God and myself that I have thoughts, attitudes and actions, that are wrong, that are part of the darkness. 

 

I may not have killed anyone, but maybe I’ve wished someone dead. 

I may not have physically cheated on my spouse, but maybe I did so in my mind. 

I may not have paid a witchdoctor to sacrifice a child in order for my business to succeed, a practice still common in some parts of the world (i.e. Uganda),[4]  but my spouse and I may have decided on an abortion based purely on financial grounds. 

I may not have stolen money from someone else, but I may have knowingly cheated on my tax return (like claiming expenses that were never incurred), or down-loaded copyrighted material, or paid someone to write my dissertation, or omitted important details about what is wrong with a product I am selling.

 

The reality is, that human beings, by their very nature, have a bent toward doing or saying or thinking things that deep down they know to be wrong. 

 

In 1 John (1:8) we read that if we claim to be without sin we have deceived ourselves and the truth is not in us. 

 

People who have a tough time admitting fault or who think that they have absolutely no issues, often will not see the need to be rescued from themselves.  In their own eyes they would consider themselves to be already good enough for God.  They do not need to change and can make it on their own steam.  The Pharisees saw themselves in this light.

 

The second step in following the light, is admitting to God and myself that I might have beliefs and convictions, even spiritual values that may be wrong ... that are part of the darkness, even if I’m not aware of it.

 

Those who think that they are the only ones who have a corner on the truth and who are always right, will not be open to insights that might challenge their beliefs.  Again, the Pharisees were a good example of this.

 

Jesus said, “... I came into this world to bring sight to those who think they are blind and to bring blindness to those who think that they can see.”  Some of the Pharisees near Jesus heard him saying what he did, and asked him, “We are not blind as well, are we?”   Jesus said to them, “If you admitted to being blind, you would not be guilty; but since you claim to be able to see, your guilt remains.                                      John 9:39-41

 

The Pharisees thought of themselves as being spiritually astute, of being able to tell others how to live their lives, based on their knowledge and interpretation of the Law of Moses. 

 

Jesus quite often would tell them that they are out to lunch.  They don’t really understand what’s by far most important to God, they don’t get his character, and they misapply the various laws. 

 

Ultimately, the truth of Christianity has to be based on whether or not Jesus was who he claimed to be.  If he wasn’t the divine Messiah, then Christianity is false and those who call themselves followers of Jesus are deluded. 

 

When Jesus claimed to be divine, he lost a lot of his followers because it just didn’t line up with what they thought the Messiah should be. 

 

Maybe you have left or you’re thinking about leaving your faith, because what you were told as a child about God, just doesn’t line up any longer with your life experiences.   s

Maybe, as you grew up, you realized that even your parents didn’t live out that version of the faith they taught you.  If they were hypocrites, why should you believe them? 

 

Maybe, as you went to school, whether high school, or university, or college, or med school, or law school, the things you were taught simply did not line up with your childhood faith ... they put into question a lot of things that you had been told as a child.

 

Your comparative religion prof tells you that the God of the OT is an ogre.  Or you’re told that the NT documents were written decades after the fact and likely include myth and legend.  And on and on it goes. 

 

What you’re being taught might also give you the freedom to dismiss the moral teachings of Jesus. 

 

Or maybe you’ve been told that a person of faith has to jettison sound reasoning and critical thinking.

 

I have always said that God has given us a brain to use, and that is no different when it comes to spiritual truths.  Of course we can and should question what we are being told by spiritual leaders, otherwise how will we know if we’re not being led down the garden path?  Beware of anyone who tells you that you cannot ask questions.

 

Or perhaps your religious experience in a church was not the greatest.   And it jaded you.  How can people of faith act in such a mean fashion toward each other?  Why are there power struggles and splits?  People disappoint, so why not walk away from them and therefore from God.

 

Most importantly, you screwed up personally.  You have violated your own rules of right and wrong, never mind God’s.  You have done things you are ashamed of.  You have done some things that you hope and pray no one will EVER find out. And you know that your own selfishness and impatience, and anger have deeply hurt others. 

 

And so you have regrets.  You feel guilty.  You are ashamed.  But at the same time, you want to stop feeling guilty for any and all of it.  So it’s so much easier to tell yourself that good and bad are subjective and walk away from your faith.

 

And then life happens.  Your parents split up, even though they both profess to be Christian.  A spiritual leader abuses you or someone you know.  Your Christian spouse decides to leave you, or you get married to an abusive spouse who claims to be a Christian.  You get fired from a job you loved.  Your health or the health of your child is severely compromised.  You deal with depression or anxiety attacks.  There are some physical traits that make you feel terrible every time you look in the mirror and feeds a deep insecurity that keeps you from being all that you could be.

 

And then, when it comes right down to it, there is this big temptation to only focus on pleasing yourself.  You don’t want to get up early and hassle with the kids to get them ready for church.  It is so much easier to get up late, or to go fishing, or to the golf-course or to watch TV than feel compelled by your faith to go to church or to a bible study.  So much easier to just let it all ride.

 

It reminds me of a story about John being woken up by his wife.  “John, it’s time to get up so we can go to church.”  John said, “I don’t want to go to church.  I want to stay in bed.”  Crossing her arms the wife said, “Give me three good reasons why you should stay in bed and not go to church.”  “OK,” he answered.  “First, I don’t get anything out the service.  Second, no one there likes me.  And third, I want to watch the game on TV instead.  Now give me three good reasons why I SHOULD go to church.”  His wife responded, “First, you can PVR the game and watch it later.  Second, there are people there who really do like you.  And third, you’re the pastor.  So get out of bed already!

 

Now we all want to think that we are bigger than our past.  That we have grown past our experiences, that it does not impact the way that we view our money, our lives, our children, ourselves, or God. 

 

The problem is that our past has wounded, jaded and hardened us.  The things that we chose to do and the things that happened to us, through no fault of our own, have in fact impacted the lens through which we see and interpret our reality and what we believe.

 

And while we may have a hard time seeing just how much we are a product of our past, we can see it in others.

 

When I heard all about what happened to my father when he was growing up during and after WWII, physically, emotionally, and in every other way, I finally could understand why he was the way he was. 

 

When I finally got all the information about my parents’ divorce, then I understood why they split up.  It then made sense why it happened. 

 

Yet when it comes to myself, I often have massive blinders on.  I can’t see that my convictions, thinking, actions, reactions, beliefs, are to a large part a reflection of what has happened in my life. 

 

Jesus may not answer all of our questions, but he himself said that he came in order to answer one big question, “What is God really like? And what is his will, his plan, for your life?” 

 

You know the Father and have seen him.”  Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”  Jesus answered, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you for such a long time?  Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” 

John 14:7-9

 

Jesus said, “Look at me and you will know what God is like and what is most important to God”!  But the disciples just didn’t get it. 

 

By the way, one of the criterion of historicity or authenticity of any ancient documents, is the criterion of embarrassment. There are other criteria, such as the criterion of multiple attestations, the criterion of consistency, the criterion of historical plausibility, and so on.

 

In any case, the criterion of embarrassment states that it is highly unlikely that an author would include anything embarrassing about himself or his hero in a historical account. 

 

And yet, Jesus is sometimes shown in unflattering ways, for example, when it took him a couple of tries to heal a blind man (Mark 8:22-25). 

 

And the disciples, one of whom authored the gospel of John, were depicted as being pretty thick when it came to actually understanding what Jesus was telling them.

 

Particularly Peter is shown in an unflattering light, he who would become the first leader of the church and whose supposed grave is covered by one of the most famous and larges basilicas in the world. 

 

He was so insecure about Jesus’ identity, that he cussed and denied that he even knew Jesus - three times. 

 

For many Jews, the fact that Jesus was crucified, immediately disqualified him from being God’s Messiah.  How can he overthrow the Romans and usher in a new era if he was executed as a criminal?  That simply did not fit the profile. 

 

Even Jesus’ closest friends and followers were horrified when Jesus died on the cross.  Some of them had really thought that he might in fact be the Messiah.  But a Messiah wasn’t supposed to die, and on top of that in what at that time was considered to be the most shameful way possible. 

 

When that happened, they were convinced that they had spent the last 3 years following around someone who was completely self-deluded.  And they ended up in hiding, petrified that they too would be arrested.  Others left and returned to their jobs in Galilee.

 

However, these very same disciples, led by Peter, just a few weeks later went into the very streets the condemned Jesus had made his way to his execution, and proclaimed him to be the divine Messiah.  What in the world had happened? 

 

The answer is that they saw the risen Jesus.  It changed their whole perspective.  They weren’t the same people they had been.  Their faith was reborn.  They were no longer afraid.  They looked at everything through a different lens.  They looked at their reality differently. 

 

And so, Christians from the very beginning of the church believed that God sent someone from the spiritual realm into the physical, human realm, to give us a new frame of reference to answer some of our questions about himself, what he is like, about his will, and how humans should live in light of his existence.   

 

If you’re thinking about leaving or if you have left your childhood faith, have you ever asked yourself what the faith is you are contemplating on leaving?  Or why that faith has become questionable or unpalatable to you?  

 

Is it because you believe that you can no longer reconcile what you’ve been taught about God with science? 

Or is it because people of faith have disappointed you? 

Or is it because you no longer want to feel guilty? 

Or is it because you’ve been told that God is not interested in having all people be with him in eternity? 

Or is it because you’ve been told that a good God would never allow for the suffering of the innocent?   

 

I would challenge you, not to get hung up in the past, in the hurt and doubt and scepticism caused by people, by your experiences.  Instead, try looking only at Jesus. 

 

Jesus told the Pharisees, before Abraham was, I AM.  He told his disciples, if you see me then you have seen the Father. And looking to Jesus is very different from taking a class in comparative religion or philosophy at a university, or coming into a church building on a Sunday morning.   

 

So I would challenge you.  Read the gospel of Luke.  It only takes 2 ½ hours to read through it. Compared to how much TV we watch or how many games we play or how many hours we are online, it’s really not a lot of time.

 

So my challenge is for you to tune out all of the background.  And decide you won’t get hung up on your past and your experience, and hurt and doubt and scepticism and instead fix your eyes on Jesus. 

 

HAVE I SEEN GOD AND GOD’S WILL IN JESUS … IN HIS PERSON, HIS ACTIONS, HIS TEACHING, AND HIS DEATH AND RESURRECTION?

 

WILL I READ THROUGH THE GOSPEL OF LUKE TRYING TO DISCOVER WHO GOD IS AS I LOOK TO JESUS?

 

DO I NEED A SAVIOUR TO SAVE ME FROM MYSELF AND BRING ME TO GOD?

 

IF SO, WHAT WILL I DO?

 

I believe that there are those of us here this morning who need to get right with God.  We need to acknowledge that there is something within us we need saving from. 

 

 

[1] John 3:16 -  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

[2] Compare John 4:26, “I am he”; Matt 11:3/Luke 7:19, “Are you the one who is to come?”

[3] Compare 1 John 1:5, “God is light”; The OT speaks more of God’s radiance (cf.  Ezekiel 1:27-28) and the light of God’s presence (Ps 44:3) or glory (Ezekiel 43:2).

[4] Reemerged in Uganda around 2008.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-15255357; http://www.businessinsider.com/afp-child-sacrifice-for-wealth-and-power-in-uganda-2015-6

May 27 - What Do you Mean, I Have To Be Holy?

What Do You Mean, I Have To Be Holy?

May 27, 2018

1 Thessalonians 5:19-28

 

WHAT DO YOU MEAN, I HAVE TO BE HOLY?

May 27, 2018

1 Thessalonians 5:19-28

 

A three-year old boy opened the birthday gift from his grandmother and discovered a water gun.  He squealed with delight and headed for the nearest sink. 

 

The mother of the little boy was NOT pleased.  She turned to her mother and said, “I’m surprised with you.  Don’t you remember how we used to drive you crazy with water guns when we were small?”  The grandmother smiled and replied, “Oh I remember alright.” 

 

The grandmother was able to prophesy that the water pistol would aggravate her daughter.  She could predict accurately what would happen in the future, which is why she bought the thing in the first place.

 

We are finishing off our journey through Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica today.  In vv. 19-21 of chapter 5, we are getting to the tail end of the practical section on how the believers are to conduct themselves.  Here Paul deals with the use of the spiritual gift of prophecy in the church.

 

Do not extinguish the Holy Spirit.[1]  Do not despise[2] prophetic words.[3]  But examine[4] [scrutinize] everything carefully and hold on[5] to what is good.[6] 

1 Thessalonians 5:19-21

 

In a number of his letters, Paul lists prophecy as one of the spiritual gifts (Rom 12:6).[7]  In fact, he points out that prophecy is one of the most desirable gifts (1 Cor 14:1), when it comes to spiritual gifts that can be used during church services (1 Cor 12:10;[8] 13:2,8; 14:1-6,22).  However, Paul did NOT think of prophecy in terms of foretelling the future, something that OT prophets did, or that the grandmother did. 

 

Instead, Paul considered a prophet in the NT church to be someone who received a direct revelation from God and then passes it on to the rest of the congregation (1 Cor 14:26-31,37-40).  So a prophet could potentially be anyone in the church as long as they have received a message directly from God. 

 

Paul distinguished prophecy from the spiritual gifts of leading, pastoring, teaching, encouraging (exhortation), speaking a word of knowledge, and speaking a word of wisdom.[9] 

 

While all of these spiritual gifts are valuable and necessary, they usually do not pass on a divine revelation.  Pastors generally do not introduce their sermons with: “This is what the LORD is saying”, as the prophets of old would introduce their messages - at least they shouldn’t. 

 

The gift of prophecy should not be taken lightly.  Think about this for a moment!  If a prophecy is in fact received directly from God, it would mean that the prophecy would be infallible and beyond question. 

 

The prophetic word can be compared with the doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope when he speaks ex cathedra, from the chair (of the apostle Peter).  When the Pope announces that his proclamation is “from the chair,” something that has only happened once since the doctrine was introduced, then he is claiming that his message he is giving has been received directly from God.[10]

 

Paul termed the complete rejection of the gift of prophecy as putting out, or extinguishing, or quenching the HS (picture of someone dousing flames), and the reason he mentioned it here is probably because, for some reason, prophecy was forbidden in the church in Thessalonica. 

 

However, Paul makes a caveat when it comes to the use of prophecy.  Any so-called word from God needs to be closely scrutinized to see whether in fact it is from God.  Just claiming that a message is directly from God does not make it so.

 

The reality is that there is always a danger when someone claims to have a message from God or when someone claims to be the mouthpiece of God.  The message may not be from God at all, but from some tortured mind, from false motives, from human reasoning, or worse – potentially an evil and destructive spiritual force. 

 

I remember the time when someone came to me and told me that God had told him to tell me to preach from the KJV only.  Again another time, someone stood up during the sermon and told the congregation that they should be doing something I knew that he himself did not do. 

 

But, of course, these are pretty harmless examples.  A false prophecy accepted as a Word from God could cause much greater damage.  It could lead to division, church splits, and even death, as it did in Jonestown in Guyana (Nov 1978) where 918 people died, or The Mount Carmel Center in Waco (1993), where 86 people died. 

 

Because of potential false claims of having the gift of prophecy, and the damage or confusion that can result from it, Paul places limits on its use in 1 Cor:

 

  • At most two or three individuals should give a prophetic word in any given church service.

  • Only one prophet should speak at a time.

  • Most importantly, whatever is said should NOT be accepted out of hand as coming from God, but needs to be judged carefully.   1 Corinthians 14:29

     

    So in our passage, Paul says much the same by closely tying the use of prophecy to discernment.

     

    Examine carefully everything that is said, he wrote.   Accept and apply only what is genuinely good.  The implication is, that when a message is bad, if it is deemed heretical or unsound or unbalanced or weird or negative or destructive or divisive or damaging, it should be rejected. 

     

    In the book of James we are actually told what a message that is in line with God’s will and character looks like:

     

    The wisdom that is from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, accommodating, full of mercy, abounding in good results, impartial, and sincere.                                                                             James 3:17

     

    So if the so-called prophetic word is impure, confrontational, harsh, inflexible, lacking in mercy, one sided, insincere, resulting in evil, it is definitely not from God.

     

    Of course it would be difficult during a church service to confront someone and tell them their message is not from God, when they are convinced it is.  There is the potential for hurt feelings, and possibly disagreement, and conflict.

     

    In fact, who would have the authority to tell someone that their message is just not from God, particularly right during a worship service?  Would it have to be the pastors or elders or board members? 

     

    I may be wrong about this, but I personally think that in today’s church context, it would be much simpler and less painful for someone to approach the church leadership with a potential revelation from God and, if it is considered sound, the leadership can give the thumbs up for it to be shared during a service.  Mind you, it does kill the spontaneity, doesn’t it? 

     

    Interestingly, Paul also writes in 1 Cor, that the prophets have the choice to remain silent at any time (1 Cor 14:30-33).  In other words, it is OK not to give a word from God the very moment it has been received.     

     

    Paul continues with the practical section of his letter, but then adds a prayer, followed by a promise. 

     

    Abstain[11] from evil in all its forms.  And may the God of peace himself make you completely holy, keep your spirit, soul and body sound so that you will be blameless at the coming of Jesus Christ, our Lord. He who called you is faithful, and he will do it.

                                                    1 Thessalonians 5:22-24

     

    On Feb 1st, 2015, an Italian atheist and journalist[12] who frequently interviews Pope Francis, declared on Italian TV that the Pope denied the existence of hell, instead holding the view that the unrepentant will be annihilated after they are resurrected at the judgment day. 

     

    This is actually the view of the JW church, Seventh Day Adventism, and, more recently, the Church of England’s Doctrine Commission.  Famous theologians like the John Stott and Clark Pinnock hold to this view.  Even C.S. Lewis and F.F. Bruce noted that annihilationism (often shortened to annihilism) is an acceptable viewpoint for evangelical Christians (it may be, but it isn’t my view).  

     

    What caused an uproar over the journalist’s comments is that annihilism is NOT the official view of the Roman Catholic Church.

     

    Now, oddly enough, the journalist who claimed that Pope Francis holds to this view, never records his interviews nor does he take notes during the interview.  He recounts his conversations from memory.  This gives Pope Francis always a chance to claim that the journalist misunderstood or misrepresented his actual words or meaning.  However, there is no pressing reason why the journalist should lie, nor does it explain why Pope Francis continues to grant him interviews.

     

    In any case, the Pope’s alleged words points to a possible theological shift even in the RC church. 

     

    However, a much larger theological shift has taken place over the last 50 years within mainline (liturgical) churches, and it is growing in acceptance in evangelical churches:  The view termed moral relativism, the view that right and wrong are in the eye of the beholder and therefore are fluid categories.    

     

    Put another way, moral relativism among Christians focuses only on God’s mercy.  God in his mercy will forgive any and all sins at any and all times.  Therefore, personal purity and moral excellence is no longer necessary to enter God’s presence.  Repentance, forgiveness, obedience to God’s will, transformation, goodness, loving actions, none are actually required for salvation.  Therefore, in theory even an evil or unholy person will go to heaven.

     

    It reminds me of two men who met in the grocery store.  One said to the other, “Have you heard about Harry?  He embezzled the company he works for out of a million dollars.”

    That’s terrible.”

    Not only that, he skipped town.”

    “What, I always knew he was a bad apple.”

    “Not only that, when he skipped town he did so with Tom’s wife.”

    No way, what a no-good, rotten, person.”

    Not only that, he stole a car to make his getaway.”

    Wow, that’s truly unbelievable.  But what really worries me is who is going to teach his Sunday school class this coming Sunday.”

     

    In one of his homilies, Pope Francis mentioned that Satan seeks to enter the human heart through moral relativism, politely, quietly, but insidiously.  Moral relativism, once embraced, anaesthetizes the conscience, and once the conscience is anaesthetized, Satan has become the master of it.[13] 

     

    With his words, Pope Francis was alluding to a passage in 1 Timothy:

     

    The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.                               1 Timothy 4:1-2

     

    A seared conscience will no longer be able to discern right from wrong.  And the prophet Isaiah warns the nation of Israel that bad things would befall the person who proclaims evil to be good, and good evil.

     

    Woe to those who say that evil is good and good is evil.                                                                     Isaiah 5:20

     

    In verses 22-24 of our passage in 1 Thess, Paul strongly implies that personal holiness is in fact a prerequisite to salvation.  Elsewhere he states it outright, for example in Rom 6:22.

     

    Now that you have been set free from sin and have become servants of God, you have received a benefit that will lead you to holy conduct, the outcome being eternal life.                                               Romans 6:22

     

    In fact, the whole of Romans 6 is really making one point: baptized believers simply cannot live in sin as they formerly did.  In other words, being holy includes moral purity and ethical excellence. 

     

    The author of Hebrews, who was familiar with Paul’s writings, states Paul’s view about as bluntly as possible.

     

    Those who are not holy will not see the Lord.

                                                              Hebrews 12:14

     

    So Paul tells the Thessalonians to abstain from evil in any of it forms.  But then he adds a prayer - that God would make them completely holy so that they will be blameless at Jesus’ return.  This is followed by a statement that, in Paul’s opinion, God will in fact accomplish this for them. 

     

    For Paul, God’s unmerited favour or grace extends beyond forgiveness, the pardoning of bad words, thoughts and actions.  Being made just includes being given the necessary inner strength to renew oneself morally and ethically. 

     

    To put it in theological terms, justification includes sanctification.  Being made holy in standing also includes being made holy in attitudes and actions over time.

     

    Just to make it perfectly clear.  Paul is NOT speaking here about moral perfection.  That’s an impossibility in this life, no matter how long we live. There will always be times when we give in to temptation.  From time to time everyone purposefully will do or say something that they know to be wrong.  Pretending that we are perfect is nothing less than hypocritical.  If we do, others will just think of us as being self-righteous and holier than thou. 

     

    However, there is a process of sanctification, of being made holy, which speaks about the improvement of our moral standards over time ... the growing ability to live out God’s will.  

     

    It speaks of the process of being conformed into the image of Christ.[14]  It speaks of increasingly weeding out lying, stealing, and whatever else may be morally wrong in our lives. 

     

    Did you know that the whole purpose of our calling, of our salvation, is to become holy?  Holiness is the purpose and goal of God for his people

     

    There are numerous verses in the Bible to indicate this, one of which is found in 1 Thessalonians itself, another in Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians. 

     

    God did not call us to be impure, but to live holy lives.

    1 Thessalonians 4:7

     

    God chose you from the beginning to be saved by believing the truth and being made holy by the Spirit.                                                     2 Thessalonians 2:13

     

    Similar statements can also be found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

     

    God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and (therefore) blameless before him.                                                                    Ephesians 1:4

     

    Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her that he might make her holy.                        Ephesians 5:25-26

     

    So someone might ask themselves: “Where’s the tipping point?  At what point am I holy enough to go to heaven?  How much can I get away with and still be able to squeak into heaven?” 

     

    One problem lies in the question itself.  Christians should never actually ask it.  The goal should never be to skate as close to the precipice as possible without falling off.  The goal should be to stay away from the precipice altogether.

     

    A second problem is with the answer to the question.  Holiness cannot really be quantified, at least not exactly.  In fact, as the Scriptures indicate, the level of holiness necessary to enter God’s presence may be different for different people.  For example: 

     

    When someone has been given much, much will be required in return ...                           Luke 12:48

     

     

    1. In Luke 12:48, in the context of the parable of the servants, Jesus said, “to those who have been given much, much will be required in return.

     

    This verse seems to imply that people will be judged differently, depending on what they have received in this life. 

     

    Imagine a person is born in the Western world, is blessed with a loving Christian home.  He frequently hears about God’s love through Christ Jesus, has the wherewithal to attend whatever university he wants, has access to the best healthcare possible, is able to afford anything his heart desires, and experiences little suffering or pain, even in old age.  

     

    Compare him to the one who is born in the slums of Mumbai, is abandoned by his parents when very young, lives on the street, has no access to education, clean water, proper nutrition, or health care; never hears about God or Jesus; is permanently hungry and malnourished; constantly struggles with health issues; and dies a miserable premature death.

     

    Don’t you think that God may judge each person on a different scale?  To those who have received much, much will be required.

     

    2. The writer of James notes that individuals should be somewhat reticent to be spiritual teachers because these “will incur a stricter judgment” (Jam 3:1).

     

    Not many of you should become (spiritual) teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.                             James 3:1

     

    That’s a pretty scary verse for pastors and spiritual teachers, because it’s pretty blunt. 

     

    Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom!” And Jesus said to him, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:42-43                                   

    3. And do you remember the thief on the cross beside Jesus?  Jesus had promised him “today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).  There is not a lot of time for moral improvement in the few hours before the man died.  However, the man did acknowledge that he had committed crimes that deserved the death penalty, possibly murder or armed robbery (Luke 23:41), and he did voice his belief that Jesus would receive a kingdom (Luke 23:42).[15] 

     

    Wouldn’t the standard of judgment be different for individuals who had a true deathbed conversion?  And I’m not talking about an insincere last minute hail Mary, maybe I should do this just in case, thing?

     

    While the level of holiness necessary for salvation may vary from individual to individual, the goal for all Christians is the avoidance of evil in all its forms, and to allow God to make them completely holy and thus blameless.

     

    So Paul makes the point that God is committed to sanctify his people, to make them holy.    He is faithful, he will do it.

     

    However, just because God is committed to making his people holy, that does not mean that his people have nothing to do personally to become holy, no hard choices to make, no temptations to overcome. 

     

    Let’s review Paul’s admonishment with regard to how the believers in Thessalonica should live their lives in practical terms:

     

  • Treat your spiritual leaders properly.

  • Be at peace with each other.

  • Admonish those who live unruly lives.

  • Encourage those who are anxious and timid.

  • Help those who are weak.

  • Don’t retaliate.

  • Treat others in their best interest.

     

    They get the emotional and spiritual strength to treat each other that way as they ...

  • Rejoice always.

  • Pray continually.

  • Give thanks in every circumstance.

     

     Further, Paul writes,

  • Don’t extinguish the work of the Spirit.

  • Abstain from evil in all its forms.

    1 Thessalonians 5:12-22

     

    These are all things that the believers needed to do for themselves.  God wasn’t going to make the decision for them or force them into to do these things. 

     

    In his letter to the church in Philippi in Macedonia (one of the closest churches to the church in Thessalonica - 160 km away),[16] Paul points out that being made holy is really a combined effort:

     

    Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling for God is at work within you to give you the determination and the ability to live a life pleasing to him.

                                                    Philippians 2:12-13

     

    God provides the ability to lead a life pleasing to him through the indwelling HS.  But the actual decisions still needs to be made by the believers.

     

    That is why Paul tells the Thessalonians that THEY needed to decide to abstain from evil in all its forms.  The statement that God, in his faithfulness, would in fact make certain that the Thessalonian believers will be made holy, is not some kind of universal promise.

     

    It reminds me of five Germans who were crossing the border out of Germany in an Audi Quattro.  The custom agent tells them that they need to pull over because it’s illegal to put five people in a Quattro, since Quattro means four.  The Germans were flabbergasted and protested that Quattro has to do with all-wheel drive.  The vehicle legally seats five.  When they couldn’t convince the custom official they ask to see the supervisor.  He replied, “Sorry, he can’t come right now.  He’s busy with the two guys in the Fiat Uno.”

     

    I am dealing here with an issue that has been understood in two ways for hundreds of years (Calvinism vs. Arminianism).  Arminius argued that God predestined people because, as a God standing outside of time and space, he already know beforehand what would happen (Calvin argues that God chose people before any of them were born and there is really no free will when it comes to choosing for or against Christ). 

     

    Maybe you remember that Paul had sent Timothy to Thessalonica for the very reason that he was afraid that his converts in that city had abandoned their faith due to the opposition and persecution they suffered as believers.

     

    What Paul was actually saying is that, the ongoing faith of the Christians despite their difficulties, is an indication that God will in fact answer Paul’s prayers in the affirmative.

     

    In my opinion, this does NOT mean that God will override free will.  In fact, Paul just mentioned that it is possible to put out, to extinguish, to quench the work of the Spirit.  It is equally possible to resist the work of the Spirit.

     

    You stubborn people!  Your hearts and ears are like the heathens.  You are just like your ancestors, always resisting the Holy Spirit.                       Acts 7:51

     

    When Stephen spoke to a group of Jewish people in Jerusalem, he said to them that their stubborn refusal to listen to God, is really the choice to resist the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51).[17] 

     

    So God will not override the human will, he will not take away the ability to allow or disallow the Holy Spirit to do his work of sanctification. 

     

    It is very similar when it comes to the assurance of salvation.  Jesus said that those who follow him (as a sheep follows a shepherd) will have salvation and no one will be able to snatch them out of his hand or the Father’s hand (John 10:27-29).

     

    Paul affirms this in his letter to the Romans, where he writes that no external force can separate the believer from the love of God if they are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:38-39). 

     

    However, those statements do NOT negate the reality that we can chose to remove ourselves from God’s love.  While no one can pluck us out of Jesus’ hand, we can decide to crawl out of it ourselves.  We can decide to ignore the Spirit, quench him, resist him, and cauterize our conscience.  

     

    This is why Paul warns Timothy about those people in the church who have tossed aside their consciences and have thus shipwrecked their faith (1 Tim 1:18-20).[18]

     

     

    Timothy, my son, ... fight the good fight.  Hold on to your faith.  Keep a good conscience, which some have rejected and, as a result, have shipwrecked their faith.

                                                    1 Timothy 1:18-19

     

    By the way, what is the essence of human holiness?  The other day I was speaking with an atheist.  She said that her desire is to be a kind and loving person.  She got something right.  Jesus clearly said that the essence of human holiness is treating other people with love and compassion. 

     

    Holiness is first and foremost about abounding in loving action.  Loving action is the greatest of all moral virtues.   

     

    Paul then concludes his letter with two requests: for the believers in Thessalonica to pray for himself, Silas and Timothy (cf. 1:1), and that the letter would be passed around in the churches in Macedonia.

     

    Brothers, pray for us.  Greet all of the brothers with a holy kiss.  I adjure you by the Lord, have this letter read to all the brothers.  The grace of Jesus Christ, our Lord, be with you!                                      1 Thessalonians 5:25-28

     

    Paul tells the believers of different churches, the one in Rome, the one in Corinth, and the one in Thessalonica, four times to great one another with a holy kiss.[19]  They were to take a commonly used expression of endearment and use it to express their love for one another. 

     

    But he tells them to sanctify it, to make it holy.  In other words, it should not be used in some manipulative, offensive or hypocritical way.  The affection they have for one another should be real and pure.   

     

    We don’t kiss one another any longer in the church.  If all of us were from other traditions, we may give each other a kiss on the cheek, as is common among some politicians.  But it isn’t really appropriate in our North American culture. 

     

    So is there some kind of practical application for us?  Are there culturally appropriate ways of greeting others and expressing our affection for them in some way other than a kiss? 

     

    Maybe a holy handshake, a holy fist bump, a holy high five, a holy hug?

     

    Physical contact, whether a hand on the shoulder, a pat on the back, a squeeze of the hand, whatever it may be, is important, because some people never have physical contact with any other human being. 

     

    I believe that the physical demonstration of affection should be accompanied by words that indicate the unity and sense of family and community that Christians have for one another.

     

    So maybe speak words of love, compassion, comfort, and appreciation as you greet each other today after the service. 

     

    Is holiness something that I long and strive for?

     

    Am I quenching the work of the Holy Spirit?

     

    Is there something I need to change in my life?

 

[1] Gk: me sbennute.(from sbennumi) - of fire: to quench, to extinguish, to put out; metaphorically, to suppress, to stifle.

[2] Gk: me exoutheneite (from exoutheneo) - to despise, to hold in low esteem, to contemptuously dismiss, to view with contempt, to reject.

[3] Gk: propheteias (from propheteia) - the gift of prophecy, the office of prophet.

[4] Gk: dokimazete (from dokimazo) - to test, to examine, to scrutinize, to prove genuine (through examination), to approve

[5] Gk: katechete (from katecho) - to hold back from leaving, to retain, to take possession of, to hold secure, to hold fast.

[6] Implied:  Reject what isn’t.

[7] We have gifts that differ based on how we have been blessed. Let him prophesy according to his faith.  

[8] Re. Manifestations of the Spirit for the common good, distributed as the Spirit wills): To another (is given) prophecy ...

[9] For various lists of spiritual gifts see Rom 12:6-8; 1 Cor 12:8-10,28; Eph 4:11; 1 Pet 4:11.  Other gifts include serving, giving, mercy, faith, healing, miracles, tongues, interpretation of tongues, discernment, helps, administration, evangelism,

[10] The doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope was proclaimed by Pius IX in 1870.  It is exercised rarely and explicitly.  After 1870 only once, in 1950, defining the assumption of Mary.

[11] Gk. apechesthe (from apechomai) - to abstain from, to refrain from, to keep from.

[12] Eugene Scalfari, La Repubblica.  With regard to those who die in a state of mortal sin, the pope was to have said: They are not punished. Those who repent obtain God’s forgiveness and take their place among the ranks of those who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot be forgiven disappear. A hell doesn’t exist, the disappearance of sinning souls exists.

[13] https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/dont-fall-into-the-traps-of-relativism-and-rigidity-pope-says-44628

[14] Those who God foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.                                  Romans 8:29

 

[15] The other criminal rebuked the first, “Don’t you fear God, since you face the same death sentence?  We are condemned justly, receiving what we deserve for our crimes, but this man has done nothing wrong.”

[16] That’s about from here (Saanichton) to Qualicum Beach).  Imagine that there is only one church in Victoria and the next one in Qualicum Beach!

[17] This outraged them and they became extremely angry and upset.  By the way, according to Jesus, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the unpardonable sin.

[18] 18 Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, 19 holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. 20 Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

[19] Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thess 5:26.  See also 1 Peter 5:14, the audience is to greet one another with a kiss of love.

May 20 - Living Well

Living Well

May 20, 20108

1 Thessalonians 5:12-18

 

LIVING WELL

1 Thessalonians 5:12-18

May 20th, 2018

 

Continuing in our journey through Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.  Next week we’ll be wrapping it up, but for today we are dealing with verses 12-18 of chapter 5.

 

After Paul deals with the questions that the Christians in Thessalonica might have ... for example, what happens to Christians who die before Jesus returns? ..., Paul concludes with a very practical section ... about how the believers should relate to each other in the church. 

 

We ask of you, brothers:  Appreciate those who work diligently among you, who lead you in the Lord and instruct you.  Esteem them highly and love them because of their ministry.  Live in peace with one another.

                                                1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

 

Paul was the founder of the church in Thessalonica.  And he was an exceptional person in his own right.  But he was forced to leave town and so others in the church had to take on the mantle of leadership, of preaching and teaching.  And that couldn’t have been easy for them, particularly since they would have had to fill Paul’s shoes.    

 

Paul was highly educated, a learned Pharisee, intimately familiar with the OT.  He had had at least one encounter with the risen Christ, very likely more, and during those encounters he had received revelations, information that he passed on and that would impact the direction of the church in immense ways.  In fact Paul’s teaching would transform a rather obscure Jewish sect in Jerusalem into a world-encompassing movement. 

 

Today, everyone has expectations of leaders in the church as well.  Sometimes those expectations are unrealistic, especially when Christian leaders are expected to be perfect. 

 

The perfect pastor preaches exactly 20 minutes, give a message that is both scholarly and practical; one that is fresh, relevant, serious and humorous, and hits home every Sunday.

 

The perfect pastor condemns sin, but never hurts anyone’s feelings. 

 

He will lead the perfectly balanced life, be in great shape, have a fairytale marriage and near-perfect kids, all the while being involved at the church from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. every day.

 

He will always be available in the office while at the same making 5 home visits a day.

 

The perfect pastor is impeccably dressed, drives a nice car, lives in a nice house, but makes half the median wage.

 

The perfect pastor smiles all the time, is never in a bad mood, has a great sense of humour, and is happy for any criticism he might receive. 

 

The perfect pastor is 29 years old, but has 40 years experience.

 

The perfect pastor is able to relate equally well to infants, kids, teens, young adults, the middle aged and seniors.  He spends all his time with the youth, yet has time to visit all the seniors.

 

The perfect pastor will attend all church events, every committee meeting, all retreats, and be available to do every wedding, funeral, baptism, and dedication. 

 

He will be a charismatic and visionary leader, but have a servant’s heart.  He is an excellent evangelist, while spending all his time discipling.

 

The perfect pastor should be praying all the time, be a great counsellor who has the insight to fix everyone’s problems, a mediator who has the emotional fortitude to solve every conflict, a fantastic MC, a great administrator, and a computer genius.

 

What’s wrong with these expectations?  They are not realistic. 

 

Whoever holds to any or all of these expectations will be sorely disappointed and disillusioned.

 

What about when there is a change in leadership, like there was in Thessalonica?  Will the expectation be that the new leader should do everything as good or better than the previous leader? 

 

What’s wrong with this expectations?  The reality is that every person is unique.  Just like the leaders in Thessalonica couldn’t be like Paul, so I couldn’t be like Pastor Ernie, and whoever follows me can’t be like me.  Everyone is their own person, human, vulnerable, and prone to mistakes.  Everyone.

 

That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be any expectations.  In 1 Timothy and Titus, Paul writes about some of the criteria of Christian leaders.  They are not to be predatory, greedy, aggressive, pompous, proud, argumentative, rebellious, quick-tempered, inflexible, abusive, alcoholics, liars, or sexually immoral. 

They should be gentle, uncontentious, temperate, able to teach, caring, just, devout, self-controlled, and so on. 

 

It is noteworthy how Paul concludes v. 13.  Live in peace with one another.  This is still spoken in the context of appreciating, respecting and loving church leaders.  To take them for granted, or to treat them with distain, or to dislike them and always complain about them, will inevitably invite hurt, division and potentially open conflict. 

 

One of the miserable of all situations in the church is when the pastors and the laity are at odds with each other, when there is a struggle to be in charge or to only have one’s own way. 

 

Paul continues to describe how the believers in the church in Thessalonica are to behave.  In vv.14-15, he speaks of how believers are to treat others in the church. 

 

Now we appeal to you, brothers:

  • admonish those who live in an unruly manner,

  • encourage the fainthearted,

  • help the weak,

  • be patient toward all people. 

  • Make sure that no one pays back evil for evil to anyone. 

  • Instead, at all times treat each other and all people for their good.                1 Thessalonians 5:14-15

 

The people who surround us in church can be unruly, fainthearted, weak, and hurtful.  Why?  Because they, like you and I, have their own point of view, their own convictions, their own idiosyncrasies, and so, like us, they have the potential of being exasperating and draining. 

 

So doing what Paul is writing is extremely hard.  It is hard to confront someone who professes to be a Christian, but is involved in a lifestyle that flies in the face of God’s will.    

 

It can be hard to support individuals who are emotionally compromised, who are fearful, timid, shy, depressed.  It would be so much easier to be self-absorbed.

 

It can be hard to provide strength to the weak, who are either physically frail or spiritually frail or emotionally frail.  It would be so much easier to just not care.

 

It is hard to respond with kindness to those who are hurtful.  It would be so much easier to be offended, bitter, defensive, vindictive and lash out at those who have hurt us.   When hurt, it’s easy to become hurtful ourselves. 

 

According to Paul, when it comes to our relationships, we should be patient with everyone ... and we should treat others keeping in mind what is in their best interest, not our own. 

 

I don’t know if this reminds you of Jesus’ teaching. 

Treat others as you would want to be treated yourself (Matt 7:12; Luke 6:31). 

Don’t take revenge (turn the other cheek - Matt 5:39). 

Forgive everyone (Mark 11:25). 

Do good to those who hate you, curse you, mistreat you (Luke 6:27-28). 

Be like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).

 

When I thought about this, the question came to mind: Where in the world do I get the strength, the where-with-all, to be the kind of person Paul is telling his audience to be? 

 

In Psalm one, we read about a person who is like a tree planted near the water, a tree that does not wither, instead producing fruit at the proper season. 

 

And Psalm 1 was not written by someone who is familiar with a costal climate.  This author is familiar with places that are dry and arid and desolate and barren without water.   

 

What makes the tree flourish?  It is the fact that its roots are able to reach the water it needs to flourish and produce fruit.  So how do we draw the strength, the nutrients, the refreshment, that we need to be as God would have us be?  Paul goes on to tell the Christians in Thessalonica.

 

  • Rejoice at all times,

  • pray constantly,

  • give thanks in every circumstance,

for this is God’s will for you who are in Christ Jesus.                                                         1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

 

I believe that only when we build prayer, thankgiving and rejoicing into our lives that we are able to relate to others in the way that Paul tells the Christians in Thessalonica to do.  Persistent prayer that has as its major component gratitude and joy, is necessary if we are not to fall into indifference, skepticism, selfishness, impatience or vengefulness. 

 

How the way we approach God will affect our outlook on life, so that we are able to react to others in a new way – building others up, encouraging them, forgiving them and loving them.

 

Focus on God

Consistent prayer with rejoicing and thanksgiving

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Focus off self

Inner peace and strength

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Focus on others

Ability to treat others in love

 

When we are people of praise and thanksgiving, then that will change our attitude toward our own situation and toward others, so that we are able to act in loving and forgiving and caring ways.    

 

A heart filled with praise, rejoicing, thanksgiving leads to compassion and understanding, and the ability to make a difference.

 

What has to happen for us to be in consistent prayer with rejoicing and thanksgiving?  We can answer that question when we realize that this is both a personal discipline and a resulting mindset.

 

Keep in mind that prayer is nothing more than speaking to God. 

  • Some people don’t speak with God because they doubt that he exists. 

  • Others don’t speak with God because they are angry at him for something. 

  • Some people don’t speak with God because they don’t think it makes any difference.  If we knew that indeed it does make a difference, maybe we would pray more. (The point is that the greatest change that prayer brings about is within us).

  • Again others don’t speak with God because they’re just too preoccupied. 

  • Again others don’t speak with God because they find it boring. 

  • And there are those who stop speaking to God because they sense no need for God.  They can get along quite fine without him.

 

The nation of Israel was warned not to allow that to happen after they entered the Promised Land and prospered.

 

When the LORD [lit. YHWH] your God brings you into the land ... then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.   Deuteronomy 6:10-12

 

There shouldn’t be any life situation that would cause us to stop praying altogether.

 

We read in Daniel 6 how the Darius the Great (reigned 522 - 486 BCE), king over the Medes and the Persians, issued a decree that for 40 days no one was allowed to petition anyone, God or man, other than the king himself.  Disobedience to the decree was punishable by death.  This is how Daniel responded:

 

Now when Daniel knew the decree was signed, he entered his house (he had a window in his roof chamber that opened toward Jerusalem) and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously.                                       Daniel 6:10

 

Daniel lived a life that combined three disciplined times of communicating with God with spontaneous encounters with God throughout his day. 

 

If we want to communicate throughout the day with God, we should set aside specific times of prayer and rejoicing and thanksgiving.  This should include giving thanks at meal times and praying with our kids when they are in bed at night.

 

Paul is telling the Christians in Thessalonica that they should speak with God constantly or continually or all the time. 

 

In his letter to the Romans, Paul uses two of the exact same terms he does in 1 Thessalonians. 

 

For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly (constantly) I make mention of you in my prayers at all times.                                                   Romans 1:9-10

 

This did NOT mean that Paul spoke to God about the Christians in Rome every minute of every day.  What it does mean is that he prayed for them daily, and did so many times over and over again. 

 

So to pray, give thanks and rejoice always does not mean that we are praying, praising, giving thanks every minute of every day.  It does mean that we should pray as often as possible.

 

As an aside, I doubt very much that Paul is thinking of prayer as always asking God for something.  In fact, if our prayers consist only of a litany of requests, if the only time we think to speak with God is when we want something from him, that’s really not much of a relationship, is it?

 

Imagine that the only time someone contacts you is when they want something from you.  Otherwise they never, ever, bother to speak with you.  After a while, you will probably think to yourself, “forget him/her.” 

 

Maybe this message is relevant for you because you have become prayer-less.  In fact, you find yourself rarely if ever even thinking about God. 

 

Paul tells his readers that they should always pray and that they should always be thankful. 

 

Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what we have or what we have received, whether it is something tangible, like food, or something intangible, like a kind word.

 

We give thanks when we become conscious or mindful of something good in our lives, some blessing. 

 

When we are grateful, we acknowledge the goodness in our lives. In the process, we usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside of ourselves.  As a result, gratitude also helps us to connect to something larger than ourselves as individuals — either to other people or to God.

 

I have heard it said that God dwells in two places.  He dwells in heaven and in the thankful heart.  While theologically this may be a bit incorrect, practically speaking there is a ring of truth to it.

 

Unfortunately, some of us have so much, that we’ve stopped realizing when we are blessed ... we just take it for granted.  So we stop giving thanks, even at meal times. 

 

Instead of being mindful of the good in our lives, we get used to complaining about our problems. 

 

This week I met up with a friend, who told me that his wife had accidentally dropped a big jar of mustard and it had shattered on the kitchen floor and made a huge mess. It really upset him and his wife.

But the next day he said to me that the things that he complains about are really just inconveniences when compared to what others have to face.

 

So I believe it’s pretty easy for us to end up complaining and griping all the time, even if we have it really good compared to the vast majority of people on this planet. 

 

We move from thanksgiving to rejoicing when we feel happy about something that is happening and express that happiness in thought or word. 

 

We feel glad about something we purchase or possess, we are happy for the weather, or the beauty of nature, the marvel of the universe or a sunny, crisp morning.  We express joy at the birth of a newborn, or the people in our lives, or the ability to walk or sing.  We are overjoyed at receiving a smile, a compliment, a kind word.  We express happiness at some purchase or possession, or the fact that we have a roof over our heads, food in our stomachs and clothes on our back.  We might be joyful at the company of a good friend, or the taste of a good meal, or the love of a spouse, or a successful operation, or the greatness and goodness and patience of God.

 

So Paul tells his readers to rejoice at all times. 

 

Thankfulness                                      Ingratitude

      

 

Happiness                                          Unhappiness

Contentment                                       Discontentment

Joy                                                    Misery

 

Most psychologists are keenly aware that there is a direct and strong correlation between thankfulness (gratitude) and contentment or happiness (or a happier life) - and thus between ingratitude and unhappiness. 

 

A person who is thankful is also a person who is happier.  Thoughts and expression of thankfulness keeps them from focusing on worries and the negative aspects of life. As such, it creates positive emotions like joy and contentment, even love. 

 

The world’s leading expert on the effects of gratitude is Prof. Dr. Robert Emmons (University of California), conducted numerous studies on the effects of keeping a gratitude diary.

 

People who filled out gratitude diaries reported feeling more positive, being more optimistic, exercising more, doing more acts of service, feeling more satisfied with life, and sleeping better, particularly when the diaries were kept daily over a three week period or longer.

 

The more we pray, the closer we feel to God, the more we become aware of his presence, and the more conscious we become of the many ways he blesses us. 

 

When I give thanks, when I rejoice, when I worship God, it changes me inside.  I can’t but feel better about life.

 

I read somewhere,

 

 

 

Every day contains something good.  Nevertheless, the day will be bad if all we are looking for is the ugly.

 

 

If we're looking for ugliness in life, we'll have no trouble finding it. 

If we are looking for cruelty, or injustice, or violence, again, we'll find plenty of evidence for that too. 

War, death, crime, terrorism – it is there on the front page of our newspapers and the headlines of our newscasts.

 

But on the other hand, if we are looking for things to be thankful for, guess what, we'll be able to find plenty of things as well - literally a hundred blessings in life. 

 

In fact, given the very same circumstance, two individuals can look at it in two completely different ways.  For example, let's say that you were transferred to a different part of Canada because of work. 

 

One person would look at this situation as a major hassle or even a tragedy.  The kids have to attend new schools, the place they're moving to has a much harsher climate, they're moving away from friends and family. 

 

Another person will look at it as an opportunity to begin a new adventure, as a place where there is there is sunshine and snow in the winter, or where they can afford to buy a house and property, and a place where they have the opportunity to meet and make new friends. 

 

The point is, if we want to be truly thankful to God in the ordinary day-to-day experiences and the big events of life, then we need to see life and the situations it brings as a gift and a miracle - and always find reasons to thank God and be happy.

 

And when we praise and thank God, then we will constantly be reminded just how fortunate we are.

 

So let’s begin by making a sincere commitment to take the focus off all that is wrong and not working and bad, and replace it with a focus on everything that is good and right in our lives!

 

Let’s incorporate the discipline of speaking with God, always including thanksgiving and rejoicing, until it turns into a habit, a way of life. 

 

I’ve already mentioned that heartfelt gratitude and thanksgiving will drastically change the way we will view and feel about life.

 

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008), who suffered 8 years of incredible deprivation in the Gulags of Siberia (1945-1953), and subsequently almost died of cancer,[1] wrote in his book, "The Gulag Archipelago", these words:

 

If your back isn't broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms work, if both eyes can see, and if both ears can hear, then whom should you envy?  And why?  Our envy of others devours us most of all.  Rub your eyes and purify your heart and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well.

 

About 1.6 million people would starve, freeze, or be worked to death in Stalin’s Gulags between 1934 and 1953.[2] 

 

But for Solzhenitsyn, it would lead him to abandon atheistic Marxism and gradually becoming an Eastern Orthodox Christian. 

 

In Daniel Defoe’s book, Robinson Crusoe (1719), after the title character, Robinson Crusoe,[3] was wrecked on his lonely island, he took stock of his situation by drawing up two columns.  One he called evil, the other good.

 

On the one hand he noted that he was shipwrecked. 

On the other hand, he was thankful that he was still alive.

 

He noted that he was totally alone.

But he was thankful that he was not starving.

 

It was bad that he had no place to purchase new clothes.

But he was thankful that he was in a hot climate where it didn't matter all that much.

 

He noted that he had no weapons to defend himself.

But he was thankful that there were no animals on the island that would attack him.

 

By the way, the slave trader Robinson Crusoe ends up reading the Bible and becoming a Christian, thanking God for his fate in which nothing is missing except other humans. 

 

When he rescues a man from the cannibals who would visit the Island from time to time, he names him Friday and converts him to Christianity.  Now he has human companionship.

 

Eventually the Island, which he had named “Island of Despair” when he was shipwrecked, would become “my beloved Island”.

 

The point is, that no matter how bleak the picture may seem, when we are grateful for what is good, it can help us to regain a positive outlook and experience life in a positive way.     

 

When we worship God and give thanks for all the good things, it allows us to see that most of the things that cause us to worry are not huge issues and it will help us to leave them in God's hands.

 

Instead of complaining about your salary, thank God for the fact that you even have a job. 

 

Instead of yearning after a Mediterranean cruise, thank God for the fact that you are surrounded by opportunities to relax and enjoy, without having to travel far away.   

 

When I am thankful, it brings contentment and peace to my heart.

 

The more genuinely grateful I am to God for the gift of my life, for my wife, for the measure of health I have, for my home, my ministry, my freedom, for my friends, for my children, the more peaceful I feel and the more able I will be to treat others right. 

 

Think of what a genuine attitude of gratitude can do in relationships.  Instead of wishing that your spouse or your kids or your parents were different, try thanking God for their good qualities. 

 

You see, it is easy to get into the habit of taking one another for granted.  The combination of passing time, familiarity, and the hustle and bustle of life makes us forget how special and valuable our loved ones really are to us and how much they bring and add to our lives. 

 

Everyone loves to know and hear that they are appreciated and valued.  In fact, when someone feels taken for granted, or under-appreciated, resentment and apathy are usually not far away. 

 

A lack of gratitude toward others is a major factor in a relationship becoming stagnant and boring.  Couples stop caring because they don't feel acknowledged or appreciated.

 

By expressing your feelings of gratitude you are reinforcing that the relationship is appreciated as a gift - something of great value. 

 

Gratitude is a powerful force that can eliminate and overcome most problems that exist in a relationships.  In other words, you can make mistakes, as long as you remember to sincerely be thankful to the other person.

 

We should spend a moment every day thinking of someone to thank.  It can be anyone.  Someone who allowed you to merge into traffic, someone who held the door open for you, a physician who helped you get better, a kindness done by your spouse. 

 

Invariably, when I think of one person to be thankful for, the image of another person pops into my head and then another and another. 

 

When we make it a habit to be thankful to God for the people in our lives, then we will be on the look-out for what is right and beautiful in your relationships and that is what we will see and focus on.

 

So there are all kinds of benefits to being a person who is prays constantly with rejoicing and thanksgiving.  A heart filled with thankfulness to God is calmer and more accepting toward life.  It makes us more relaxed and peaceful.  It is a proven fact that there is a direct relationship between those who take time out to regularly connect with God in a positive way in prayer and those who are much less likely to describe life and relationships as stressful. 

 

So practicing the attitude of gratitude, genuinely taking time out of our every day to praise and thank God for His love, for all the good things in life, for our family or friends, for our home and the food we eat changes the focus to how blessed we are instead of all the negatives of life. 

 

When times are difficult, giving praise reminds us that, despite the difficulty, we are indeed fortunate to be alive and to have all we do. 

 

Let’s begin each day with rejoicing and thanksgiving, and end each day with rejoicing and thanksgiving.  For the privilege of being alive, for the food on our tables, the clothes on our back, for parents and kids and friends and neighbours, for all that is ours and all that we have.

 

The more accepting of life I become, the more I become open to the moments of grace and beauty in my life. 

 

The more I stop taking for granted God’s love and forgiveness, the good things in my life and my loved ones – the better my perspective on life will be and the greater my ability to actually admonish, encourage and help others. 

 

So allow that attitude of gratitude and joy to bring out the best in you, to help you maintain your emotional bearing, and to touch and transform your relationships.

 

Beginning today and for the next three weeks (21 days) will I discipline myself ...

 

... to pray a minimum of three times a day, even if it’s just giving thanks at mealtimes?

 

... to make three entries in a gratitude journal once a day?

 

... to make a point of telling one person every day why I appreciate them?

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Cancer Ward

[2] According to Russian estimates, over 1 million people died.  Non-Russian estimates range as high as 5 million to 12 million.  About 14 million people passed through the Gulags from 1929 and 1953, with another 7 to 8 million being deported and exiled in remote parts of the USSR.

[3] Crusoe is a corruption of the German name Kreutzner.

May 13 - Living In The Present While Looking To The Future.

Living In The Present While Looking To The Future

May 13, 2018

1 Thessalonians 4:13 - 5:11

 

LIVING IN THE PRESENT WHILE LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

May 13th, 2018

1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11

 

Today I am continuing in our series through Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica, a church he had started maybe 6 months prior to writing to them.  Beginning in v.13 of chapter 4, he picks up the topic of Jesus’ return.

 

Now what do you picture when you think of the judgement day, or the end of the world?  What comes to mind?

 

Do you think of a giant asteroid hitting the earth?

 

Or do you think of an all-out war that ends in a nuclear war that wipes out most if not all of life on earth?

 

Or perhaps, the so-called rapture comes to mind, the removal of all believers from the earth?

 

Or maybe, you’re thinking of natural disasters, floods, and earthquakes, and the sky turning dark.

 

Maybe a lake of fire comes to mind.

 

Where do these images come from?  You’d be right in saying that they are, at least in part, a reflection of what is found in the Bible.  The next number of slides indicate some of the main passages that speak of the end times.  The first one recounts the prophecy of 70 weeks in Daniel.

 

Daniel 7-12

Mark 13

John 6

1 Corinthians; 1&2 Thessalonians

Revelation

70 weeks for Jerusalem and nation to finish transgression

 

 

 

69 weeks from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem until the anointed one (Messiah), the prince.

 

 

 

After 62 weeks the Messiah will be cut off and the coming prince will destroy the city and temple

 

 

 

For 1 week a covenant will be made, but sacrifices will cease, the abomination that makes desolate is set up, until the one who makes desolate is destroyed

 

 

 

 

We are not going to be spending a lot of time on any of these slides.  Just note that it speaks of the coming of a Messiah, the Messiah’s death, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and the arrival of the abomination that makes desolate. The next slide contains Jesus’ prophecies as recorded in Mark 13 and John 6.

 

Daniel 7-12

Mark 13

John 6

1 Corinthians; 1&2 Thessalonians

Revelation

 

Many will come in my name and mislead you.

 

 

 

Wars, rumours of wars, earthquakes, famines, persecution

 

 

 

Good news preached to all nations.

 

 

 

Abomination of desolation stands where it shouldn’t

 

 

 

Jesus speaks of false Christs, wars, persecution, and the abomination of desolation being set up, the last being a direct reference to Daniel. 

 

But Daniel and Jesus weren’t the only ones who spoke of the end times.  The apostle Paul and the author of the book of revelation did as well.  And all of them spoke of a time of trouble or tribulation or distress.

 

Daniel 7-12

Mark 13

John 6

1 Corinthians; 1&2 Thessalonians

Revelation

Time of distress

The holy ones are given into the hands of the destroyer for a time, times and half a time before the everlasting  kingdom will be given to them.

Time of great tribulation; false Christs and false prophets.

Great falling away, the son of destruction (the man of lawlessness) will do great signs and wonders and take his seat in the temple

Great tribulation (seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls);

1/3 of mankind killed.

Persecution, plagues and war. 

 

 

Particularly in the book of Revelation, the time of tribulation is discussed in greater detail.  Both Jesus and the book of Revelation point to something that will happen with the “lights in the sky”.

 

SLIDE 10 - End time predictions cont.

 

Daniel 7-12

Mark 13

John 6

1 Corinthians; 1&2 Thessalonians

Revelation

 

 

 

 

Sun, moon no longer give light.  Stars fall to the earth

 

6th seal - Great earthquake, sun turns black, moon turns red. Stars fall to the earth.

 

So something would happen with the sun, moon and stars, a reflection also of Isaiah’s prophecy about the day of the Lord when Babylon will be destroyed (Isa 13:10-13).[1] 

 

Both OT and NT point to a more than human figure, the Son of Man.

 

Daniel 7-12

Mark 13

John 6

1 Corinthians; 1&2 Thessalonians

Revelation

The beast will be destroyed and one like a son of man will come with the clouds of heaven and present himself before God and receive an everlasting dominion.

Many of the deceased will awaken to eternal life or eternal contempt

The son of man will come in the clouds with great power.

 

I will raise them up on the last day.

At Christ’s coming the trumpet will sound, the man of lawlessness will be destroyed and believers will be raised from the dead.  The living and those resurrected will be transformed and given spiritual bodies.  They will meet Christ in the clouds and be with him forever 

One like a son of man sitting on a cloud.

 

Notice that one like a son of man arrives on or with the clouds.  This arrival is often connected with the resurrection of God’s people from the dead.  And Jesus understood himself to be this son of man. 

 

As I already mentioned, the book of Revelation goes into much greater detail when it comes to the time of tribulation.  I’ve only listed very few points, those having to do with a 1000 year reign of Jesus and those who had been martyred for their faith.

 

Daniel 7-12

Mark 13

John 6

1 Corinthians; 1&2 Thessalonians

Revelation

 

 

 

Gathering at Har-Magedon.

Lightening, thunder, earthquakes, hail

 

 

 

War against the Lamb and his army. Babylon is destroyed.

Enemies of Lamb are destroyed.

Satan bound for 1000 years.

Martyrs are resurrected and reign with Christ

 

 

 

After the 1000 years, the rest are resurrected

Satan is released, gathers a massive army, defeated and thrown into the lake of fire.

 

End time prophecies in the Bible are also connected to a day of God’s judgment. 

 

Daniel 7-12

Matthew 25

1 Corinthians; 1&2 Thessalonians

Revelation

 

When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all his angels with him, he will separate people like a shepherd separates sheep and goats

We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. 

 

Judgment takes place

 

 

 

Christ reigns until all his enemies are conquered, the last enemy being death

Death and hades thrown into the lake of fire

 

At the end of the judgement, death is done away with.  Jesus and the apostle Paul referred to what we often think of as “heaven” as the kingdom of God

 

The book of Revelation speaks of a new heaven and earth, terminology that is taken from the OT book of Isaiah (65:17; 66:22), something also reflected in the NT book of 2 Peter (3:12-13).

 

Daniel 7-12

Mark 13

John 6

1 Corinthians; 1&2 Thessalonians

Revelation

 

 

Believers are saved from God’s wrath.

The unrighteous cannot inherit the kingdom of God

There will be a new heaven, a new earth, and a new Jerusalem

Ungodly thrown into the lake of fire

 

 

 

God’s throne in the city.

No more curse or night

 

 

 

The saints reign forever

 

The difficulty is how to combine the various accounts into one coherent entity, or whether such an attempt should even be made. 

 

Now, there has always been an interest in the church about the events surrounding the end times.  Jesus’ disciples asked him about what would happen.  As we can see, it is likely that the Christians in the churches that Paul planted also wanted to know what would take place. 

 

What likely had caused consternation in the church in Thessalonica was Paul’s teaching that Jesus would return very soon.[2] 

 

Now it seems reasonable to assume that one or more believers had died in Macedonia since Paul had been there.  Since Jesus had not returned as yet, does that mean that they missed out on the Kingdom of God?  That they would not make it to heaven?

 

It is this question that Paul is dealing with.  So let’s begin reading in 1 Thess 4, beginning with v.13.

 

Brothers, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who have died, so that you won’t grieve like the rest who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who have died in Jesus.                     1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

 

At this point all that Paul points out that when Jesus comes, God will bring with him all believers who have died prior to Jesus’ return.

 

We tell you this by the word of the Lord: we who are alive and remain so until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding word, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.              1 Thessalonians 4:15-16a

 

Paul mentions that his teaching is “by the word of the Lord”.  Jesus taught explicitly about his second coming.[3]  And Paul believed that what followed accurately reflected Jesus’ teaching on the end times.[4]   

 

So Paul points out that when Jesus returns, he will come with a great noise - a great shout and a great trumpet call.  This is clearly a reflection of Jesus’ own teaching.  In Matt 24, when Jesus speaks of his coming on the clouds of the sky, he also mentions the sound of a great trumpet (Matt 24:31).

 

In the OT, the trumpet was blown to summon soldiers for battle (cf. Jud 3:27; Neh 4:18), or prior to making some great announcement (2 Sam 20:1), or in order to sound alarm should enemies approach a city (Ezek 33:2-6). 

 

The trumpet call was associated in the book of Joel with the day of God’s judgment (Joel 2:1) and in the book of Isaiah with the restoration of Israel from exile (Isa 27:13; Zech 9:14).

 

Paul refers to the trumpet in another letter as “the last trumpet that will be sounded at the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor 15:52), something he also mentions in our letter.

 

Then the dead in Christ will rise first, and we who are alive, who remain alive, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we forever will be with the Lord.  Therefore, comfort one another with these words.   1 Thessalonians 4:16b-18

 

As Paul is answering the question about what would happen to those who had died prior to the second coming of Christ, he makes one point - and states it twice. 

 

There is eternal life with Christ even for those who passed on prior to his return

 

Death is not the end for the believer’s hope in eternal life, because, at the point of Christ’s return, both those who had died prior to that time, and those who are alive at that time, will join Christ and be with him forever. 

 

Paul not only mentions this point here, but he will return to it again in chapter 5 (5:10), that’s how important it is to him. 

 

And the believers in Thessalonica are to remind themselves of this fact, the hope that they have, the hope that brings comfort to those who have lost a loved one through death.

 

If someone close to you has died, you will know the deep pain, the immense sense of loss that this will bring with it.   The believers in Thessalonica were to comfort one another with the knowledge that death is not the end.  That there will be a reunion. 

 

In chapter 5, Paul continues on this same theme, but he shifts gears because he anticipates that the topic of the timing of Jesus’ return would be important to his readers.  However, he doesn’t try to put a date on it.  Rather, he reiterates a point that Jesus made - while no-one knows the exact day and hour, not even Jesus himself (Mark 13:32; Matt 24:36), it will happen at a time when many simply will not expect it

 

But concerning the times and seasons, brothers, you have no need to be written to.  You yourselves know perfectly well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  When they are saying, "Peace and safety," it is then that destruction will come on them suddenly, like labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.            1 Thessalonians 5:1-3

 

Paul writes that he really has no need to tell them something they already know.  He had already taught them about what Jesus had said with regard to the unexpected nature of his return. 

 

“The day of the Lord” is an expression often found in the prophetic books of the OT (Isaiah 2:12; Daniel 12:12; Amos 5:18; Joel 2:31). The day is described as the time when God would judge the world, punish the wicked and save the righteous.[5] 

 

The expression “like a thief in the night” is something that Jesus himself said with regard to his return in order to tell his followers that they should be alert for and ready at all times for his return (Matt 24:44; Luke 12:40).[6] 

 

So Paul makes the point that the wicked will be blissfully unaware that something is about to happen.  They will think everything is hunky dory, and suddenly, unexpectedly, they will face God’s wrath. 

 

Many have tried to figure out when Christ would return.  Luther and many early Anabaptists were convinced it would happen in the 1500’s. Nostradamus, alive at that time, predicted the end of the world would come in 1999. 

 

In North America there was a particularly strong fascination with the return of Christ from the mid-1700’s to the mid-1800’s, probably because of the so-called Great Awakenings which were followed by the civil war. 

 

End time teachers and preachers, who made predictions about the second coming of Christ, were able to draw large followings.  Let me give you some examples.

 

The Shakers[7] under the leadership of Mother Ann Lee, predicted that the world would end in both 1792 and 1794.[8] 

 

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church, predicted that the millennium would start in 1836.

 

William Miller, whose followers were known as the Millerites, calculated from the book of Daniel that Christ would return and the world would end in October 1844. Many Christians firmly believed Miller and when nothing happened in 1844, the reaction was termed “the great disappointment.” 

 

Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, based on Miller’s calculations, also predicted that Christ would return in 1844.

 

 

John Wroe, the founder of the Christian Israelite Church, predicted that the millennium would start in 1863 and that Armageddon would begin in 1977. (Couldn’t find a picture of him).

 

Charles Taze Russell (founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses) predicted that Christ would return in 1874.  Subsequently he also predicted the world would end in 1914.

 

Joseph Smith (founder of the Mormon Church) predicted in 1835 that the end time would happen within 56 years (by 1891 at the latest).

 

Ellen White (founder of the 7th day Adventist church), taught that the 1800’s were the beginning of the great tribulation and that the day of judgment was near.  To her credit, she never set a date as far as I’m aware of.

 

And of course there were many who would follow, including Herbert W. Armstrong (1936, 1943, 1972, 1975), Pat Robertson (1982, 2007), Marshall Applewhite [Heaven’s Gate cult] (1997), Jerry Falwell and Tim LaHaye (2000), Sun Myung Moon (2000), Harold Camping (2011), John Hagee (2014/15) and many more - all of them wrong. 

 

But you, brothers, are not in darkness, so that The Day should come on you like a thief.  You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to darkness.  So then, let us not sleep [be spiritually unaware] as others do, but let us keep watch and be sober.                                       1 Thessalonians 5:4-6

 

Jesus made the point that a thief breaks into a house when people are asleep and do not expect him to show up.  If the thief was to announce his arrival to the homeowner, then the owner would have taken precautions and been prepared to defend his home (Matt 24:43; Luke 12:39).[9] 

 

Paul begins these verses with “but you”!  Things are to be different for believers because they do not belong to the night, or to darkness. They are children of light and day.  In first century Judaism, the dualism between day and night or light and darkness, was a common way of speaking about

  • God, goodness, kindness, moral purity, ethically sound behaviour on the one hand, and

  • Evil spiritual forces, sin, hate, impurity, and moral compromise, on the other.[10] 

 

Paul notes that the believers at Thessalonica are to be both sober and watchful for the very reason that they belong to the day and the light (1 Thess 5:6).

 

Being sober and watchful describes the attitude and actions of a watchman as he stands on the walls of a city and keeps a look-out. For the sake of the city, he needs to be awake, alert, and attentive.

 

The second term that Paul uses is the term translated “sober”.  The opposite of being sober is being drunk.  But here Paul uses the term figuratively. 

Being drunk points to a muddled mind and a muddled life.

Being sober denotes sound thinking and decision making.  It speaks of having good judgment, of having discernment.  More than that, being sober also speaks of a life and lifestyle that is impacted by sound decisions and good judgement. 

 

When hearts and minds are sober, they will not just focused on short term pleasure and gratification.  They will look at the long term and make good choices accordingly so that their actions reflect the moral will of God.[11] 

 

For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.  But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and the hope of salvation for a helmet, because God has not appointed us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.                                                                  1 Thessalonians 5:7-9

 

Paul uses some of the parts of the armour of a foot soldier, much like he does in Eph. 6, to describe the three most important qualities that are to characterize a believer ... the qualities that should be in the hearts and minds and lives of believers in order for them to be sober. 

 

Faith (proper belief) - particularly with regard to what is believed about Jesus,

love (proper behaviour) - what guides our actions in the present - and

hope (proper anticipation) - what we look forward to - the blessings of eternity (being with God, loved ones...). 

 

Maybe these terms bring to mind the so-called love chapter, 1 Cor 13, where Paul writes, “These three remain:  faith, hope and love ... but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). 

 

So here Paul makes the second major point:

 

Jesus will return abruptly at any time,

therefore be prepared for it at all times

 

We should be absolutely aware of the fact that every day could be our last day on earth.  The reality is that we have no guarantee that we will be around tomorrow or the next day. 

 

However, most people, especially those who are young, assume they will live for many, many years to come.  And they act accordingly. 

 

They postpone the things that deep down they know are really important – like visiting a friend, or telling the people who they love how important they are to them.

 

I’m sure that those who died so suddenly on 9/11, or those who were mowed down in the streets of Toronto last month (Apr 23rd, 2018), or the man who was hit and killed in Saanichton while walking at on the side of the Pat Bay Hwy a few weeks back (Apr 26th, 2018), none of them likely had any inkling of what would happen to them when they left home that morning. 

 

Were their last words to their loved ones harsh or loving?  Were they upset or happy?    

 

When we are consciously aware that we could meet Jesus any day, It shouldn’t make us morbid or fatalistic, nor should it move us toward abandoning our responsibilities. Instead, it should lead us to make better, kinder, more caring choices, and it should leave us without fear about meeting our maker. 

 

Paul then finishes this section, as he did chapter 4, with repeating the first main point, followed by a command.

 

He died for us, so that, whether we are still alive or have died, we might live together with him.  Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, as indeed you are doing.     1 Thessalonians 5:10-11[12]

 

Believers should encourage and uplift each other with these words.

 

Today there is much discussion as to the various events surrounding the end times and the second coming of Christ.  There are various views on whether or not the rapture is identical with the second coming of Christ, and, if not, whether or not 1 Thess. 4 and 1 Thess. 5 even speak of the same event. 

 

The various views may include a rapture prior to the tribulation (pre-trib), after the tribulation (post-trib), or during the tribulation (mid-trib).  They may include the rapture prior to the 1000 year reign of Christ (pre-mill), or after the 1000 years (post-mill).  Or they may view all of the end time comments in spiritual terms. 

 

Idealism

 

Idealism was a popular belief in the early church, beginning with the church father, Origin.  All eschatological writings, including Revelation, give a symbolic or allegorical description of a continuous conflict between good and evil.

 

Historical

 

The Historical view was very popular in evangelical church between 1300 and 1900.  Very similar to idealism, eschatological writings give a symbolic or allegorical description of a cycle of conflicts throughout history.

 

Preterist

 

This view began around 1550 but is gaining more popularity over the last 50 years.  In this view, the tribulation took place in the earliest church and ended when Christ returned in 70 AD.  Most or even all portions of Revelation are believed to have already been fulfilled, including the return of Christ. People are judged upon their death. 

 

Amillennial

 

This view also began early on in church history, was popular around the time of the Reformation, but is held by many Christians today.  In this view, the millennium kingdom and Christ’s rule are in heaven while the church on earth is experiencing the time of tribulation until Christ returns. 

 

Postmillennial

 

The Postmillennial view was the most common view held in evangelical circles for 800 years, between 1100 and 1900.  As Christianity spreads, the world will become better and end in a peaceful rule of Christ.  WW1 and 2, served as a severe blow to postmillennialism. 

 

Classic Premillennial

 

The Classic Premillennial view, while held by some early church fathers, really has come in its own in North America since the 1900’s.  The church is seen as having replaced Israel.  After the church age, the great tribulation takes place and then Christ returns and the rapture takes place.  Christ then reigns 1000 years on earth prior to the judgment.

 

Dispensational Premillennial

 

The Dispensational view was first formulated in the 1830’s, but it has become the most popular view since the 1900’s.  After the church is raptured, the time of tribulation takes place when Israel is the key player, the temple is rebuilt.  This is followed by Christ’s return and the millennium.

 

Dispensational Premillennial

 

Some Dispensationalists argue that the rapture takes place not prior to the great tribulation, but sometime during that time of trouble.  

 

Of course, my drawings are a great oversimplification of the events that are said to take place.  Here is just one example of how some people combine the various elements of the Bible. 

 

I’m not at all sure that Paul, who never read the book of Revelation, was even thinking in terms of a millenium, a tribulation, or a rapture in the way that they are held today.   

 

Paul’s main concern, as I’ve already mentioned, was to tell the believers what the eternal fate would be of those who had died prior to Jesus’ return, and to encourage them to be ready at all times for Jesus’ return. 

 

In Paul’s mind, Christ’s return and the judgment day seem to both fall on the so-called “day of the Lord.”  He definitely seems to tie the display of God’s wrath and salvation to the event of Christ’s return (1 Thess 5:9). 

 

So what should we take of our passage today?  Do you remember the two main points?

 

  1. There is eternal life with Christ even for those who have died prior to his return.

  2. Jesus will return abruptly at any time, therefore be prepared for it at all times.

     

    I thought of these points in terms of

  1. honouring or celebrating the past instead of being stuck in it,

  2. living in the present instead of wasting it, and

  3. looking forward to the future instead of dreading it or obsessing about it.

     

    So today is mother’s day.  I think we can honour the past if we look back to when we were kids and our mother cared for us.

    We can live in the present by making sure that our mother’s know we love them or, if we’re female, by trying to be the best mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters we can possibly be.

    And we can look forward to the time when gender truly becomes irrelevant (we will be like the angels), or when we see our deceased mom’s in heaven.

     

    Presently we in a season of change at the church here as well.

     

    We can celebrate the past, taking note that 42 years ago Pastor Ernie and Connie and their family started Friendship Community Church.

     

    This is the best church I have ever had the privilege to serve in and I know it is because of the wisdom, love, hard work and genuine desire to serve God by those in leadership and in the congregation who were here before me.

     

    We can celebrate our own past as well.  Not because things were easy or better.  Not because we had less aches and pains. But because there were good things that happened and good people who were part of our lives.

     

    And we should be able to celebrate the past without getting stuck in it.  Unfortunately, some people live in the past because it seemed so much better than today.  Their greatest triumphs were in the past.  And so they pine for the past.  They can’t let go of the past.  Their whole life is predicated and controlled by the past.  They have great difficulty accepting change, even though change is inevitable.

 

Other people are stuck in the past because it was bad.  Can you think of someone who can’t get over what happened to him or her?  Maybe you are that person – not able to get over how a parent treated you, or how a friend treated you, or someone at church treated you. 

 

Even though those events are long past, they become alive again as we rehearse them.  They can make us angry all over again.  It is easy to become absorbed in, or even worse, riveted to, our bad memories.  And when we do, it is as if the bad events are happening all over again.  

 

The reality is that we would be bent out of shape all the time if we focus on all the painful things that have happened to us.  Instead, here I am, here you are – in one piece. 

 

We need to learn to recognize the past for what it is – it no longer exists, it is no longer real – except in our memories, in our thoughts.  And thoughts and memories can’t hurt us, at least not without our consent. 

 

With the help of God we are able to stop them from continuing to haunt us.  With the help of God we can make a decision not to relieve past hurts over and over again, not to wallow in bitter thoughts about the past, all of which keeps us from moving forward.  

 

I need to celebrate the past – but I need to learn not to live in it.

 

 

Just as importantly, we should look forward to the future instead of dreading it.  To have hope.  We ought to be those who know that we are on the winning team.  As Paul writes, we are destined for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (5:9) so that we will be with him forever.  At that forward look will help us to keep perspective on the present.

 

The problem is that some people worry an inordinate amount about having enough in the future.  And so they obsess.  They spend their lives trying to get ahead, only to find out that they are never really happy or satisfied.  It is a chasing after the wind.  They are trying to win the rat race and find out that they turned into a rat. 

 

Nevertheless, even though our true home is with God, that should not mean that we are foolish about the future.  That is part of Paul’s admonition to work for a living and not become a burden on others (cf. 1 Thess 4:11).  However, this should not morph into greed nor should it keep us from doing what is best in God’s eyes.

 

And lastly, we should live in the present, instead of wasting it.  Irrespective of what happened yesterday or last year, and what may or may not happen tomorrow, the present moment is where we are at – always!

 

We can live in the present as we are thankful for all the good that currently is happening with our children, youth, young adults, small groups, missions’ endeavours, worship, church plants, and as we are involved serving God in whatever capacity we can. 

 

Many people allow past problems and future concerns to so dominate the present moments that they end up anxious, depressed or frustrated.  When we live in the past or the future, then often we live in a world of fear, anticipation, regret, anxiety and stress.  Whether it’s dwelling on a painful event or worrying about the future. 

 

Some people assume that, for whatever reason, tomorrow is going to be more important than today.  And that is silly.  We are here today, and today we can do something, while there are no guarantees about tomorrow. 

 

Think of it this way.  Let’s say that the place you live in burns down while you and your loved ones are traveling.  You can be consumed by grief because of all the special items you lost in the fire.  You can be consumed by anxiety because of the difficulties you will face in finding a new place and replacing furniture and the like.  Or, you could thank God that the fire is out, that no one was hurt, that you have insurance.

 

I make this point not to minimize the tragedy of a fire, nor to say that we won’t miss the special things or that we won’t care.  I’m making the point that we need to live in the present moment.

 

Jesus said as much in the Sermon on the Mount when he told his followers not to be eaten up with worry about what may be in the future, but to focus on dealing with the problems of today instead (cf. Matt 6:34).

 

We shouldn’t allow our thinking ruin our day-to-day lives.  What I mean by that is while we live in the past or the future, our children are growing up, the people we love are moving away or passing on, our bodies are getting out of shape, we miss out on opportunities to enjoy our loved ones and to enjoy life and to do the important things right now.

 

Paul did not want the believers in Thessalonica to worry about Jesus’ return.  He wanted them to be ready for it by living as if every day was their last.  Think of it in this way:

 

Starting my day with love means that when I wake up in the morning, I thank God for the day and for his love and all the good that is in my lives, and praying that He will help me to be loving in every aspect of my life.

 

Living my day in love means that throughout the day, I remind myself of the importance of living my life with love as my absolute priority. 

 

And so, I will try to be loving, kind, gentle and patient in the way I act and in the choices I make.

 

I will let go of past hurts and stop dredging up the past to throw it in someone’s face.

 

I will attempt to maintain a good perspective on life.

 

I won’t take myself too seriously, not take events so personally, and not blow things out of proportion. 

 

I will make allowances for the imperfections of others and of myself. 

 

I will make a real effort not to be judgmental but instead to be generous and complimentary.

 

Ending each day with love means kissing my loved ones goodnight and telling them how much I love them.

 

It means thanking God for the good things that did happen to me and the love shown to me by others and by God.

 

Have I lost sight of eternity?

 

Have I lost sight of the uncertainty of life?

 

Have I lost sight of being a child of the light?

 

One way to think about eternity, the uncertainty of life, and being a child of the light, is to ask the question:

 

Should I die today, where would I stand with God?” 

 

Maybe some of you haven’t as yet asked yourself that questions. 

 

If so, what needs to happen?

What decision do I need to make ... today?

 

 

 

[1] Apocalyptic exaggeration:  Stars won’t shine, sun will be dark when it rises, the moon will be dark in the day of God’s burning anger when he punishes the world for its evil.

[2] This likely was due to the fact that Jesus predicted his return within the lifetime of his listeners.  See Matt 24:34; 26:64.

[3] No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.  Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.  But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what watch (i.e. time of night) the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.  So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.  Matthew 24:36-44

 

[4] Gospel passages about Jesus’ teaching concerning the end times (Matt. 24:1-29; Mark 13:1-25; Luke 21:5-26), his return (Mark 13:25-27; Luke 21:27-28), and the unexpected nature of that return (Luke 12:39-40; 17:26-37; 21:34-36 and Mark 13:32-36).

[5] The day of the Lord is a term commonly found in the OT to refer to the judgment day of God when he would destroy the sinners and unrighteous (Isa. 13:6-9; Ezek. 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1,11,31; 3:14; Amos 5:18-20; Obad. 1:15; Zeph. 1:7,14; cf. Ezek. 7:19 – the day of the wrath of the LORD; Mal. 4:5 - the great and terrible day of the LORD; cf. 2 Pet. 3:10). 

[6] Compare Matt 25:13 - Keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

[7] Originally the United Soceity of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming. 

[8] The UK founders of the Shakers (also known as Quaker Shakers) were James and Jane Wardley.  In 1774, the Shakers arrived in North America. Mother Ann Lee was their leader.

 

[9] If the master of the house had known at what time the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake ...

[10] Believe in the light while you have the light so that you will become the children of light - John 12:36; The children of this age vs. the children of light - Luke 16:8.

[11] Jesus said, as recorded in Luke (21:34) in the context of the return of Christ, that being alert means not having ones heart weighed down with a corrupt lifestyle (lit. dissipation), with drunkenness or with the worries of life that would keep.

[12] Lit. awake or have fallen asleep.

Apr 22 - Tempted To Let God Go

Tempted To Let God Go

April 22, 2018

1 Thessalonians 3

 

TEMPTED TO LET GO OF GOD

April 22nd, 2018

1 Thessalonians 3

 

A man walked along a steep cliff one day, when he accidentally got too close to the edge and fell. On the way down he happened to grab a root sticking out of the soil.  This stopped his fall, at least temporarily.

He looked down and to his horror saw that the bottom of the cliff was hundreds of meters below.
There was no way for him to climb up by himself and he was afraid that the root wouldn’t hold much longer.  So he started to shout for help, in the hopes that someone would walk close where he had been. 

HELP! HELP! Is anyone up there? HELP!"
He yelled for a long time, but no one heard him. He was about to give up when he heard a voice.

  • Paul, Paul.  Can you hear me, Paul?

  • "Yes, yes! I can hear you. I'm down here!"

  • I know, Paul.  I am the Lord.”

  • The Lord?  You mean God?

  • Yes, Paul.  Do you have faith, Paul?

  • Um, well not really, but NOW I do.”

  • OK, Paul.  I want you to let go of the root.

  • What?

  • I said, let go of the root.”

There was a long pause.  Finally, Paul started yelling again:  “HELP! HELP! Is anyone else up there?"

 

 

When I became a Christian, in my late teens, one of the very first Bible verses I memorized was 1 Cor 10:13.

 

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.                              1 Corinthians 10:13

 

The Greek word translated as “temptation”, can equally mean test, trial or difficulty.  So it is completely legitimate to translate it accordingly.

 

No trial has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tested beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tested, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.                                                      1 Corinthians 10:13

 

Since the word can have both meanings, it sometimes has the combined meaning of, “being tempted on the basis of difficulties or trials.” 

 

In fact, in 1 Thessalonians 3, it becomes evident that Paul’s primary concern was that the believers in Thessalonica - because of the difficulties and trials that they had to face - had been tempted to give up on their faith and walk away from God.

 

Today we are continuing in our series in 1 Thessalonians and today we are looking at the whole of chapter 3. 

 

When we couldn’t stand it any longer, we decided that we should remain in Athens and send Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the good news of Christ, in order to strengthen you and encourage you in your faith, because we did not want anyone to falter[1] because of these troubles.[2]                         1 Thessalonians 3:1-3a

 

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Paul, Silas and Timothy had to flee, first Philippi (Acts 16:39-40), then Thessalonica (Acts 17:10).  Paul also had to flee from Berea (Acts 17:13-14), but left Timothy and Silas there while he travelled on to Athens. 

 

We don’t know how long Paul was in Athens, possibly a few months, but Timothy and Silas joined him there.  It was from there that Timothy was sent back by Paul to return to the churches in Macedonia.

 

I mentioned in a previous sermon, the trip between Athens and Thessalonica was about 500 km one way.  Timothy’s journey would have been much the same as walking from Sidney all the way to Pt. Hardy.

 

The reason why Timothy had to make the trip back to Thessalonica was because of Paul’s concern that the believers there were not doing well, that they were faltering or falling away because of the persecution and hardships they were enduring at the hands of others. 

 

We know from the previous chapter (1 Thess 2), that they had to endure some form of persecution by others in town.[3]   Let me continue to read from 1 Thess 3.

 

As you know, we were destined for these (troubles).  When we were still with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we had to suffer trials[4] and, as you know, that is what happened.           1 Thessalonians 3:3b-4

 

When Paul was in Thessalonica, likely also the other places that he planted churches, he must have been quite up front about the fact that Christians will, in all likelihood, face persecution. 

 

He had reminded them previously in this letter, that he and Silas had endured a severe beating when they were in Philippi.

 

At a later letter, Paul wrote that he received the dreaded 39 lashes 5 times, that he was beaten with rods 3 times, that he was shipwrecked 3 times, that his life was in danger numerous times (when he crossed rivers or when he was confronted by highway robbers, when traveling through the country side or while staying in cities, his life was in danger from Gentiles and Jews), and that he was often without food and shelter, enduring hunger and freezing due to exposure (2 Cor 11:23-27). 

 

He also mentioned, that he was stoned and left for dead.  This happened during his first missionary journey when he was in Lystra. 

 

(While in Lystra) Jews came from Antioch and Iconium.  They riled up the crowds and stoned Paul.  When they thought he was dead, they dragged his body outside of town.                                                                Acts 14:19

 

After going to Derbe and recovering physically from the stoning, Paul returned to Lystra.  But note his message:

 

They strengthened the believers and encouraged them to remain steadfast in their faith.  They said, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”[5]                                                                                     Acts 14:22

 

Again, Paul was up front, that Christians won’t have a trouble free life.  He may have been familiar with Jesus’ teaching on this matter. 

 

Remember what I told you: ... If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.            John 15:20

 

In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.                            John 16:33

 

There are three things about trouble we need to realize:

 

Either we’ve just gotten over some trials,

Or we are facing difficulties right now,

Or we are heading toward problems.

 

And I’m not being pessimistic.  Difficulties and trials are simply part of life.

 

So the reference to “we” in 1 Thessalonians 3, not only relates to the difficulties faced by Paul and his companions.  It also included the fact that the believers who were left behind in the town of Thessalonica were facing persecution of some kind.[6] 

 

It is because I couldn’t stand it any longer, that I sent (Timothy) in order to find out about your faith and whether the tempter[7] had (successfully) tempted you[8] (or: the one who produces trials has tested you) and our work among you has been in vain. 1 Thessalonians 3:5

 

Paul’s work would only have been in vain if his fear, that the tempter or tester had been successful in tempting them or testing them - that is, that as a result of the difficulties they had been facing, they had decided to abandon their faith. 

 

The tempter or tester is likely in reference to Satan, who Paul mentions later on in the chapter.  We find Satan referred to as the tempter only one other time in the NT, when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness (Matt 4:3).  In the book of Revelation, the devil is referred to as the one who tests or tempts some of the believers by having them thrown into prison (Rev 2:10).

 

The concept of Satan being the “tempter” comes from Genesis 3, the temptation of Adam and Eve.  In the Genesis account the snake is not identified with Satan or any other spiritual creature.  [In fact the curse placed upon the snake (Gen 3:14 - to move on its belly and eat dust) makes it highly unlikely that the author of Genesis thought of the snake as an evil spiritual being.[9] ]

 

However, other passages in the Bible, like Rev 12:9, make that connection.

 

... Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. ...

2 Corinthians 11:14

 

Just as an aside, when I think of Satan, I envision someone much like the Balrog in the Lord of the Ring movie.[10]  However, as Paul knows, Satan most often doesn’t appear that way.  He appears as an angel of light.  As something that appears to be innocuous, tolerant, even innocent and safe.

 

So what are some things that might tempt us to abandon our faith today? 

 

1. God didn’t come through for me (or someone I care about)

 

I’m still struggling ... emotionally, relationally, financially, morally.  Stuff happens in my life but I can’t see anything good coming from this.  Rejection is painful. Loss is devastating.  Illness and pain are bad.  There just doesn’t seem to be an upside to any of these things. 

 

If God really cared, he would not allow the kind of suffering and death that we can see every day in the news.

 

Everything should be fun and exciting when it comes to God.  So where are the bells and whistles, the wonders and miracles, the adrenalin rush, the happy, happy, joy, joy life? 

 

Things should constantly be changing for the better.  I should go from one mountain top experience to another mountain top experience.  No need to hit the valleys.  One victory after another.

 

Life should be more like a video game, where death is fake and I can level up.

 

Many people don’t mind being a Christian, but when it comes to their personal lifestyle choices, they don’t want God to telling them what to do.

 

Further, God may be asking us to give up our comfortable and cozy lives in order to make a difference in someone else’s life. 

 

But most people want to live for their own enjoyment and pleasure ... and if they do something for someone else, that surely shouldn’t result in them doing without something - it shouldn’t cost them.

 

But God not only expects us to share our time.  He also expects us to share our income.  That too will put a crimp in what we want to do and experience and enjoy.

 

Jesus said that following him is somewhat radical ... he likened it to carrying a cross.  Honestly, many of us don’t feel like carrying anything, much less a heavy burden like a cross. 

 

Supposedly hardship builds character.  But some of us would rather skip the hardships and not have as much character.

 

Suffering, pain, trials, tribulations, misfortune ... all of these can lead to discouragement.  And discouragement can be costly.  A sense of defeat and hopelessness can settle in that saps us of energy and vision.

 

Trials can consume a lot of our time - because they may keep us worried and anxious, thinking of a way out.

 

Difficulties can keep us from doing what we need to do (procrastinating) because when we try to simply avoid dealing with it.

 

Suffering can be the reason why we end up in unbelief. 

 

Paul saw in suffering as a situation out of which God can and will bring something good or beneficial, either for the person suffering or for someone else.

 

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.                       Romans 8:28

 

It seems to me as if Paul had a joyful or positive outlook because he truly believed that, God will inevitably bring something good from anything that is bad.  We just need to have the insight to recognize it.

 

For example, Paul believed that when God provides comfort for someone who is undergoing a great difficulty, he is also giving the person the ability to understand and comfort those who are going through that same thing.

 

God comforts us in all of our afflictions so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the same comfort we received from God.          2 Corinthians 1:4

 

Or then there are the verses, like those found in 1 Peter, where hardships are seen as a way of proving the genuine nature of our faith. 

 

For a little while you have been distressed by various trials. Through them your faith will be tested and will prove itself to be more precious than gold that is refined by fire yet still perishes.                         1 Peter 1:6-7[11]

 

In other words, if those various trials don’t knock us off course and cause us to abandon God, then our faith is genuine.  But what a nasty way to find that out.

 

Let’s go on in our passage in 1 Thessalonians 3.  We’re at v.6:

 

But now, Timothy has returned from you to us, and has reported the good news of your faith and love, and that you always think with fondness of us, longing to see us, just as we long to see you.      1 Thessalonians 3:6

 

It likely took Timothy a couple of months to travel to Macedonia on foot, visit the various churches, and then return to Greece.  When Timothy returned, either Paul was still in Athens, or he had moved on to Corinth by then (see Acts 18:5)[12], where he would spend the next 1 ½ years (Acts 18:11).

 

Timothy’s report was extremely positive.  He reported that the Thessalonians had not faltered in their faith nor had their affection for Paul waned. 

 

Despite our distress and afflictions, the report about you and your faith comforted us.  When you persist[13] in the Lord, we have a new lease on life.  How can we thank God enough for you because you give us such great joy with which we rejoice before God?         

1 Thessalonians 3:7-9

 

Paul was elated when he heard the news from Timothy.  He described this feeling literally as “living”.  In other words, hearing the news gave him “a new lease on life”, he was now “truly alive”.  A huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. 

 

He was filled with so much joy and happiness, that he could not help but rejoice before God for what was happening in their lives.[14]

 

Paul goes on ...

 

We earnestly pray night and day that we will see you face to face again and complete what may be lacking in your faith.      Now may our God and Father himself, and Jesus our Lord, direct our steps to you. 

1 Thessalonians 3:10-11

 

Paul was praying earnestly night and day (cf. 1 Thess 1:2-3; 2:13),[15] that he would soon visit Thessalonica again. His desire to see them is a recurring theme in this letter, as can be seen from the verses out of 1 Thess 2, which I added to the slide. 

COMPARE

 

We are so eager and desired greatly to see you face to face.  We wanted to come to you, I Paul more than once, but were hindered by Satan.                    

1 Thessalonians 2:17-18

 

How Satan hindered Paul from returning to Macedonia is unknown.  Possibly, Paul may have suffered some illness or physical disability that kept him from traveling.  It may also be that he felt that the work in Greece simply couldn’t do without him at that time.[16] 

 

With his visit, the Apostle desired to “perfect or complete” something that potentially was still be lacking in their faith. Paul had left Thessalonica in a hurry - while the Christians there were still completely new to the Christian faith (Acts 17:1; Acts 17:4-5; Acts 17:10).

 

It would make sense that they did not fully comprehend the events surrounding Jesus’ return (see 1 Thess 4:13 - 5:3) or the moral implications of their faith. Paul addresses both of these topics in the next chapter of this letter (see 1 Thess 4:2-8; 5:6-8).[17] 

 

Paul then repeats a prayer for a reunion in the near future.  Unfortunately, this never took place.  3 or 4 years would go by before Paul passed through Macedonia again, this time on his third missionary journey (Acts 20:1-2).[18] 

 

Paul then ends this section of the letter with a blessing, really a prayer for blessing. 

 

May the Lord cause you to grow and abound in love for one another and for all people, just as our (love) does toward you, in order that your hearts may be unshakable[19] and so be blameless and holy before our God and Father when our Lord Jesus returns with all his holy ones.                              1 Thessalonians 3:12-13

 

Paul already mentioned that the love of the believers in Thessalonica is exemplary.[20]  Now Paul prays that their love toward one another and toward all men would grow even more and abound, just as Paul’s love abounds toward them.[21]   

 

The reason for an increase in love, and that really refers to loving actions, and not “just” a warm and fuzzy feeling, is that it would make firm or establish or stabilize or strengthen their hearts.  And a heart that is firm, that is unshakable, in turn will be blameless and holy before God. 

 

The point is NOT that they will reach perfection in the distant future when Jesus’ returns (for one, in Paul’s mind the time is too short for that). Instead, the prayer of blessing is that the believers in Thessalonica would be blameless and holy now AND that they would continue to be so until Jesus returns. 

 

The reference here to Jesus’ holy ones (who come with him at his return), could potentially be the belief that Jesus will come with an angel army in tow.[22]   It could also reflect the belief that the righteous people who have already died will accompany Jesus at his return (cf. 4:17,18 - the dead in Christ will rise first, then those who are alive will join Jesus and the previously risen). 

 

But the important thing to keep in mind, is that the believers’ blameless and holy character is ultimately the result of their increasing love for each other and all people

 

So let me end with just a few thoughts on the trials that we face.  Plato said something very similar to what is on the next slide:

 

Be kind because everyone you meet is likely fighting some kind of battle you know nothing about[23]

 

When we are young, we may not appreciate that sentiment because life at that point may seem pretty problem free.

 

But as we get older, we realize that most people we meet are facing challenges of one kind or another.  It may be the loss of a loved one, poor health, taking care of aging parents, problems with children or grand-children, addiction, dealing with bullying, or possibly with financial problems or illness, maybe stress and anxiety is creating havoc, or they are traumatized because of something that happened in the past.  The point is that no-one escapes this life unscathed. 

 

And the same is true of Christians. “In this world you WILL have troubles” Jesus said.   And since everyone faces some kind of battle,

 

1. We should treat them with kindness, and

2. We should not be surprised when we face our own battles. 

 

Mind you, we will likely never have it as bad as the apostle Paul. He writes of himself:

 

We are greatly afflicted in every way, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. ... Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward body is passing away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. Our momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.                                                   2 Corinthians 4:8,9,16

 

Paul somehow had the ability to view all the bad and potentially discouraging events in his life from the perspective of eternity.  So the great afflictions that he faced become momentary and light afflictions

 

Paul viewed every difficulty as something that is only temporary, something that would pass.  And he felt that no matter how long it persists, it’s still a very short time when compared to eternity. 

 

There will be sunny days filled with laughter and excitement.  But there will also be stormy days, filled with conflict, tears, anxiety, uncertainty, challenge and unwanted change. 

 

Now, the storms of life will affect us in one of three ways:

 

1. Either, we will be shipwrecked by them.

 

This is when we have a nervous breakdown, when we have one anxiety attack after another, when we fall apart, when we end up in shock, unable to move or act, when we throw up our hands and give up or give in or walk away.

 

2. Or we will muddle through the storm we are facing with difficulty.

 

We struggle and struggle, it’s tough going, we are torn apart inside.  So all we can do is just hang in there, slug through until it’s over.

 

3. Or we will sail right through the storms of life. 

 

This is when we are not fazed by the difficulties.  They don’t bring us down emotionally.  We remain incurably positive

 

Which would you like to be?  I think it would be wonderful if I always felt “on top of the world”.  If I remained positive despite setbacks.  If I experienced calmness and tranquility regardless of my circumstances.

 

So Paul seemed to be able to have this, despite the fact that his life wasn’t easy.  He writes about having learned the secret of contentment, whether he has lots or nothing, whether he’s well fed or suffering hunger.

 

I have learned to be content regardless of the circumstances I find myself.             Philippians 4:11

 

How can we handle trouble, the storms of life ... without having to give up on God?  Here are some suggestions (in no particular order ... not in order of importance):

 

1. Assess - what is the cause of the storm?

 

a. Storms that I cause (hardest to spot)

 

There are problems that we bring on ourselves. Often we have blinders on and don’t recognize when we are the cause of a problem ... the natural thing is to make excuses or to blame someone else.

 

b. Storms that others cause (hardest to forgive)

 

There are trials in our lives that are caused by other people.  They are not only the hardest to forgive, but also the hardest to respond to in a positive manner.  Our natural instinct is to hit back, to hurt back.

 

c. Storms that God allows (hardest to understand)

 

When a child dies, when a tsunami kills, when pain endures, these events and others like them are hardest to come to terms with because there does not seem to be any rhyme or reason for them. 

 

So the first thing I should do is figure out where the difficulty is coming from and decide whether or not I can do something about it.

 

The second way to handle the storms of life is to ...

 

2. Gain a new perspective

 

This means that we look at life differently.  How can we gain a new perspective?[24]  Well here are some hints:

 

a. Embrace life as it is (don’t compare)

 

So many of us want to embrace life as we want it to be, not as it actually is.  And so we are never content.  Instead of realizing that the vast majority of humanity have it worse than us, we compare ourselves to those who have more than us, who we think have it so much easier and better, and as a result we lose sight of the good things in our own lives - and become discontent. 

 

b. Stay calm and rational

 

Some of us have problems keeping our emotions in check. Instead of taking 10 deep breaths and realizing that it’s not that big a deal, we get completely bent out of shape.[25] 

 

And when our emotions get out of hand then we react without thinking things through rationally, often with disastrous results.    

 

c. Evaluate (actually re-evaluate) the problem in terms of eternity.

 

This is what Paul did,

 

However, normally when we gauge an event, or a problem or a difficulty, we often see only the present or maybe the very immediate future.  We have a hard time looking at things long term.

 

When someone really ticks me off, I sometimes have to tell myself, “don’t take yourself so seriously,” and, “in 100 years, all new people.” 

 

When we actually are able to see things long term, particularly in terms of eternity, then we will not be so prone to viewing every little inconvenience or problem as an earthshattering event, as if it’s the end of the world. 

 

d. Pray / be thankful / practice gratitude

 

That is one of the best ways to gain a different perspective.  Instead of focusing and dwelling on the things that are wrong, we focus on the things that are right and good and wonderful.  And we might be surprised just how much of the good stuff is in our lives when we set out consciously to thank God and others.

 

e. Get help / support / advice

 

Sometimes our pride does not allow us to get help, especially when we have a terrible outlook on life, when we’re only focused on ourselves and our problems.  But really, that is when we should reach out to people we trust. 

 

f.  Grow in love and compassion for others

 

When we go through storms and we are still compassionate and kind to others, it does something wonderful in our hearts and our minds.  As Paul wrote in our passage, it is foundational to strengthening our hearts and our faith and making us blameless and holy before God.

 

Today is the time to “increase and abound in love” as we await the return of the Lord.

 

 (No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted - Aesop)

 

HAVE I BEEN TEMPTED BY THE TEMPTER TO LET GO OF MY FAITH?

 

IF SO, HOW WILL I RESPOND?

 

 

 

[1] Literally, “to be drawn aside” (sainesthai)

[2] Greek Thlipsis, (literally “pressure”) meaning persecution, affliction, distress, tribulation.  This also includes the internal conflict due to tribulation, especially the feeling of being constricted or hemmed in without a way out. 

[3] See 1 Thess 2:14 - You suffered at the hands of your countrymen (as the churches in Judea suffered at the hands of the Jews).

[4] Derivative of same Greek verb in v.3.

[5] See also Paul’s letter to Timothy:  All who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted ...   2 Tim 3:12.  In the Western world Christians may not face the kind of persecution that was common in Paul’s day, but there are other forms of “persecution” (ridicule, rejection, etc.).

[6] See 1 Thess 2:14 - You also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen.

[7] Derivative from the Greek “peirazo” (see comment in footnotes above) - the one who tempts (to sin) or the one who produces trials or difficulties; 

[8] Derivative from the Greek “peirazo” - to tempt or to produce trials

[9] This then poses the “difficulty” of a snake that can speak. 

[10] This Balrog was known as Durin's Bane and he resided in the Mines of Moria, where Gandalf battled him.  Both ended up falling into the abyss.

[11] The same idea is found in James 1:2-4 - Christians should be overjoyed when they face trials that test (prove) their faith and produces endurance, which can result in wholeness and completeness (lacking nothing).

[12] Acts 18:5 - When Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, ...

[13] Greek steko, meaning “to stand firm,” “to persevere”, “to persist”, “to retain one’s standing”.

[14] Given that Paul was not harmed in either Athens or Corinth, he may be referring either to previous affliction, or perhaps about simply being opposed, such as being dragged before Gallio, the new proconsul of Achaia, while in Corinth (Acts 18:12-16), or about the physical distress of Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue in Corinth, who was beaten publicly (Acts 18:17).

[15] We give thanks to God always for you ... constantly thinking of your work of faith and labour of love and steadfast hope ....

[16] In Acts 18:9-10, Jesus (i.e., the Lord) came to Paul in a vision at night and told him to keep on speaking since many people in the city were or would become believers.

[17] These verses speak of sexual immorality and drunkenness.

[18] 2nd missionary journey c. 50-52 CE.  3rd missionary journey c. 53-58 CE.  Since he stayed 2 years in Ephesus prior to traveling to Macedonia (Acts 19:10), it could have been 3 years before he saw the Christians at Thessalonica again.

[19] The infinitive of the verb sterizo, which means to make stable, to make firm, to strengthen, to make consistent or constant, etc.

[20] 1 Thess 1:3 - your labour of love; cf. 1 Thess 4:9-10 - They are taught by God himself to love one another and do so toward all Christians in Macedonia.  Even so, Paul urges them to excel even more in that love. 

[21] In the 4th chapter, Paul encourages them to excel in love even more, despite him mentioning that they had shown love to all the believers in Macedonia.

[22] Jude quotes from 1 Enoch 1:9: “Behold the Lord (in Enoch: “he”) will come with 10,000 of his holy ones to execute justice ....” 

[23] Plato wrote, “Be kind.  For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” 

[24] Joni Mitchell (1967?) Both Sides, Now.  She looked at clouds from above and below, she looked at love from gain and loss, she looked at life both as a wonderful thing and as one where friends put her down.  Her conclusion:  She doesn’t know clouds, love and live at all because they are illusionary (there is no up and down?).

[25] Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.

Apr 8 - Payback Or Passing It Forward?

Payback Or Passing It Forward?

April 8, 2018

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

 

PAYBACK OR PASSING IT FORWARD?

Impacting My World for God and for Good – Part 2

April 8th, 2018

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

 

A woman was pregnant but she did not let her ex know.  As she was commuting to work one day, she got into a car accident and ended up in an induced coma for 6 months at VGH.

When she is woken up and sees that she’s no longer pregnant, she is frantic, but the doctor in the room assures her that she had healthy twins by Caesarean, a boy and a girl. 

He also told her that her brother, who had been visiting daily, had provided names for the children for the birth certificates because her situation had been so precarious.

The woman exclaims, “Oh no, not my brother.  He comes up with the weirdest stuff.  My goodness, I’m afraid to ask, but what’s the girl’s name?” 

The doctor tells her, “Your brother named her Denise.” 

Wow, that’s not a bad name at all.  In fact I like it a lot!  So what’s the boy’s name?” 

Denephew.” 

 

There is a need within human nature for retaliation and retribution.  It offends our sense of justice if people are able to do terrible things but carry on without facing any negative consequences. 

 

Mao Zedong (1893 - 1976) whose 5 year plan called “the great leap forward” directly led to the starvation of some 30 million peasants between 1959 and 1962, did not seemed to have bothered the so-called “great helmsman” very much.  He lived to age 82, and is venerated to this day.[1] 

 

Joseph Stalin (1878 - 1953), was ruthless, brutal and sadistic by nature.  He started his political career by raised funds for the Bolsheviks through deadly robberies[2], kidnappings, counterfeiting, and running protection rackets. He also ordered the killing of suspected informants. 

 

Once he gained control as the communist dictator, he instituted a 30 year reign (1924 - 1953) of unprecedented cruelty and violence, which cost the lives of some 40 million people.  He once said that a million deaths is simply a statistic.

 

He orchestrated the so-called “Great Purge[3] where, within a few years, hundreds of thousands were killed on his order.  He died at age 74.[4] 

 

The likes of Pol Pot and Idi Amin also died at an advanced age without ever having to face justice for their murderous reigns.[5] 

 

If you are like most, it probably rankles you that those who caused the suffering and deaths of millions of human beings should die peacefully in their old age.  The reason for this is something that is found in most people:  a desire for justice.[6] 

 

Most people think that there is something inherently wrong with the innocent being punished simply because they don’t have any recourse, and the guilty going free because they have money or power or influence. 

 

But we don’t have to look back in history all that long.  Clifford Olsen, who killed at least 11 children around 1980 (died in prison in 2011). Robert Pickton who killed around 50 women between 1980 and 2002.  In the early 1990’s serial rapist and murderer Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka.  Or mass murderer Colonel David Williams who stalked, tortured and killed his victims until he was arrested in 2010. If you are anything like me, I would like them to be locked up for the rest of their lives.

 

However, it becomes even more acute when someone hurts us personally or hurts someone we care about.  Then, we want payback.  We want that person to suffer for what they did.  This is no longer simply the desire for punishment, it is the desire for revenge and retribution.[7] 

 

Some of you will remember where you were back in September 11th, 2001, known as 9/11, now already 16 ½ years ago.   But you likely will not remember the speech to the world that then-President George W. Bush gave on Sept 20th, 9 days after the attacks.[8]

 

It was s speech about his resolve to go to war, to bring justice for the 3,000 killed and the 6,000 injured, by punishing those who made it happen.  He told the terrorists that they would be brought to justice and they would not be able to escape it.[9]  Less than a month after 9/11, the US began military operations in Afghanistan,[10] which they named “Operation Enduring Freedom.”

 

It may have taken 9 years and 8 months, but eventually even Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks was killed in his hideout in Pakistan.[11]  And a lot of Americans were pretty happy about it.

 

We want justice and we want revenge.  When someone does horrible things, we want them punished.  If someone hurts us or hurts someone we care about, we want to retaliate, so that the other person is forced to suffer for their actions. 

 

That is simply part of our human nature.  It is why we strike back when someone hurts us; why we get defensive or become hurtful when we feel threatened or put down or hurt.[12] 

 

And because it is so natural to want revenge, both the OT and NT speak out against this tendency. 

 

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.        Romans 12:17

 

Do not take revenge nor bear a grudge ... instead love your neighbour as yourself.            Leviticus 19:18

 

Jesus made a point of this as well, as he told his followers to pray for those who persecute them (Matt 5:44), and Paul echoes this by writing that Christians are to bless their persecutors (Rom 12:14).

 

So while justice and anger by their very nature demand punishment and retribution, it isn’t nearly as natural to repay a kindness with another kindness, although it sometimes happens. Kind people can inspire others to be kind. 

 

While this is a wonderful sentiment, I have not found it to be commonly true.  Most people aren’t nearly as keen to show kindness because kindness was shown to them.  Some people simply take the kindness of others for granted.  Others may appreciate it, but it still doesn’t convict them that they too should act in a similar way. 

 

Some of you have watched a movie back in 2000 called “Pay It Forward”.  It is about a 12 year old boy by the name of Trevor (Haley Joel Osment) whose teacher (Kevin Spacey)[13] gives the class an assignment – they are to do something that would change the world in which they live. 

 

The boy came up with the idea of doing something for three people that they could not do for themselves.  And then he would tell these people that if they wanted to repay his kindness they should “pay it forward” by doing the same for three other people.

 

The concept behind the movie is something I read years ago in a book in my library.  This is what it said: 

 

How can I ever repay you?” asked a person of a friend who had done him a great favour.  “I will forever be indebted to you for your kindness.” 

Not necessarily,” answered the friend. “If you really want to repay me, keep your eye open for somebody who needs help as badly as you did, and help him. 

If you are willing to do this, I will be fully repaid, for I will enjoy the great feeling that someday – through you – I will have helped someone I didn’t even know.”

 

In a sense, that is what God is asking every believer to do.  He has given us good things:  Forgiveness and cleansing and wholeness and meaning in life.  He has given us His Spirit, whether we are aware of him or not.  He has given us the ability to connect with him and to worship him and talk to him.  He has given us the potential of a Christian family – of friends who are concerned about us and pray for us. 

 

We cannot repay God for any of these things.  We can’t earn them, we don’t deserve them.  However, God asks us to share with others the grace and forgiveness and love and mercy he has shown toward us.  We are to pay it forward.  And it is that very act of paying it forward that pleases God.

 

That was something ingrained into the apostle Paul. Something happened in his life he considered to be wonderful.  He had received something he considered to be incredibly valuable, in fact he called it “the good news.”  The good news contained the message that God did something for him that he simply could not do for himself - even though he tried hard.

 

Maybe when he received the “good news”, he felt like someone who had won the grand prize in the lottery. 

 

Now when we win the lottery, we might be inclined to share some of the winnings with immediate family members.  But surely we wouldn’t share them with total strangers. Yet Paul thought it was incumbent upon him to share this good news with anyone who would hear him out. 

 

As a result, Paul made a huge positive impact in the lives of so many people – he brought them meaning and joy in the present, and hope for the future. 

 

A few weeks ago, I started on a series in 1 Thessalonians and spoke on chapter 1. This morning I want us to take a look at chapter 2, in particular Paul’s motives and his methods as an example to us of what it takes to share God’s message and God’s love with others.  Let’s begin by reading 1 Thessalonians 2. 

 

You know for yourselves, brothers, that our visit to you was not futile.  You know how, after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, we still had the boldness in our God to tell you the good news of God despite much opposition.  1 Thessalonians 2:1-2

 

In chapter 2, Paul refers six (6) times to the fact that the believers in Thessalonica already know what he is now telling them.  In other words, he is simply reminding them of something they had witnessed personally when he was with them.

 

Paul is writing this letter from Greece.  When in Philippi, Paul and Silas had received a severe beating, which would have shredded their backs, then been imprisoned (likely in stocks), and then had to flee for their lives after being released.

 

In Thessalonica they also face a huge amount of opposition in Thessalonica. 

 

Now you would think that Paul would have been bitter about his treatment in Philippi and Thessalonica and wished evil and curses on his detractors.  But, instead of wanting them to pay for their actions against him, he was more focused on blessing others regardless of the danger involved.

 

So Paul reminds the believers at Thessalonica of his courage, his boldness, to continue preaching the message about Jesus, despite all that happened.

 

Most of us are so afraid of rejection or humiliation or looking stupid or being thought of as less, that the slightest opposition will cause us to cave in or give up on our principles or voice our convictions.   

 

So we can be prevented from doing what we think is right and good, simply because we are afraid that others may think less of us. 

 

If you couple that with the prevailing sentiment that religious beliefs or convictions are private and personal, something not to be discussed in public, then it results in believers who are afraid to say anything about their faith or beliefs to others.

 

It is why some believers enter eternity without ever having told anyone else about their convictions or beliefs. 

 

I am reminded of a story about a man who travelled all over the world on business.  In every major city he stopped, he would buy something for his mother and send it to her. 

On one such stop he found a parrot that spoke 13 different languages.  He paid a small fortune for it and another hefty sum to have it looked after on the trip to get it to his mother. 

A few days later he phoned his mother.  “Did you like the parrot?” he asked her. 

Oh yes, son, thank you.  It was delicious.” 

WHAT?” the man was beside himself.  “You ate it?  That parrot wasn’t for you to eat, it spoke 13 languages!” 

 

The mother paused for a moment and then said, “So why didn’t he say something?

 

My point is not that we should be beating others over the head with our faith - especially when they do not want to hear about it.  My point is that some people are desperately searching for answers and quite open to what we may have to say.

 

Now, good sense should have told Paul that he was heading for trouble and that he should give up and stop talking. 

His fear of rejection should have told him to stop doing things that would cause people to hate him.

Self-preservation should have told him to shut up instead of risking beating, imprisonment or even death.    

 

Yet something, something drove him to keep on keeping on.  Something allowed him to keep speaking the same message about Jesus’ identity and what Jesus’ had accomplished through his execution on a cross despite the consequences.  Something gave him the courage not to be afraid of what others may say or think. 

 

Paul wrote in v.2: we had boldness in our God!  Paul’s life was given over to God.  Paul trusted God implicitly.  His courage was in God, not in his own strength or in some other human protecting him.    

 

Courage comes when we overcome our addiction to the approval of others.  Paul got his approval and inner security from God. 

 

So let’s go on in 1 Thessalonians chapter 2.

 

Our message was not motivated by a desire to mislead you, to take advantage of you sexually, or to defraud you.  On the contrary, we speak as those who are approved by God and have been entrusted with the good news, not in order to please people but God, who examines our hearts.                 1 Thessalonians 2:3-4

 

As you know, we never came with flattering words, nor were we motivated by hidden greed, as God is our witness, nor did we seek the adulation of people, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of the Messiah, we could have asserted our authority. 

                                                1 Thessalonians 2:5-7a

 

There are all kind of reasons why someone will choose to be nice to another person.  Sometimes those reasons are selfish ... in order to take advantage of them or get something from them.   

 

Paul lists a number of hidden motives that people may have:

 

  • The hidden motive to take advantage of someone sexually 

  • The hidden motive to defraud someone of money;  In that context, Paul also writes about greed motivating a person

  • The hidden motive of pleasing people ... of being liked by others.

  • The hidden motive of receiving the adulation of people ... in other words, to have status.  Status gives power over others and enables a person to manipulate others.

 

Paul mentions two methods that can be used in taking advantage of others: 

 

Deceit (desire to mislead)

and flattery

 

Of course there are more:  Intimidation, for example.

So Paul reiterates that his desire was to bless other people, to be a blessing to other people.  It wasn’t to make money or gain prestige or take advantage of them. 

 

As I read these verses, I wonder if someone in the church had accused Paul of sharing the good news about Jesus for the wrong motives.  It wouldn’t be unheard of. 

 

There are some religious leaders who see in religion a way of meeting their sensual and sexual desires.  Cult leaders often have many wives.  There are others who use their position to take advantage and abuse adults and even children. 

 

There are other religious leaders who use religion as a way of making money, lots of money.  Their motivation is to get rich, to enjoy all of the things money can buy – and their way of getting it is to fleece the faithful.

 

There are some religious leaders who see in religion a way of gaining status and prestige and power.  Some can become dictatorial and harsh. 

 

Paul makes the point that he was not motivated by these things, but he was motivated by his desire to please God, the God who examines the heart and cannot be hoodwinked or deceived about the real motives (v.4). 

 

Paul also knew, that what pleases God more than anything else is sharing the love he has shown with others – to “pay it forward”.  So let’s read on:

 

To the contrary, we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.  And being so disposed[14] toward you, we were delighted to share with you not only the good news of God but also our own lives,[15] seeing that you had become very dear to us.                                                1 Thessalonians 7b-8

 

You remember, brothers, how hard we laboured and toiled, how day and night we worked in order not to be a burden to any of you while we proclaimed the good news of God to you.  You are witnesses, as is God, how devoutly, uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers.                        1 Thessalonians 2:9-10

 

Similarly, you know how, as a father does his own children, we exhorted, encouraged and urged each one of you to live[16] in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

                                                1 Thessalonians 2:11-12

 

In the last number of verses in chapter 2 of 1 Thessalonians, Paul paints two pictures: 

1. that of a nursing mother, who shares her own life with her new-born child, and

2. that of an encouraging father who urges his kids on to greater heights. 

 

And in between, he speaks of working hard in order not to be a financial burden to the people in Thessalonica, possibly as a tent maker, his trade (Acts 18:3).  He obviously was not out for their money, because he didn’t take any from them.

 

Paul uses different adjectives to describe himself, Silas and Timothy:

 

Paul’s attitude:

 

1. Gentle

2. Tender

3. Devout

4. Upright

5. Blameless

 

And he points to his devout, upright and blameless behaviour, that was everything but indicative of inner corruption, bad character, or the desire to misuse or take advantage of those who were converted. 

 

Paul makes the point that he didn’t just share information, even though he felt it was the most valuable message he could possibly give them.  He, Silas and Timothy also shared their lives with them.

 

We were delighted to share with you not only the good news of God but also our own lives, seeing that you had become very dear to us.          1 Thessalonians 2:8

 

And the reason why they did so is because they genuinely felt love and compassion for them, like parents feels love and compassion for their children.  They were like good parents who would never think of taking advantage of or abusing their kids. This is why they shared their lives with those in Thessalonica and why it wasn’t a chore but a delight for them to do so.

 

When we share our lives with others in an obvious selfless manner, we are letting them know that we genuinely care for them.   

 

When we share our lives, then

We are transparent.

We don’t hide or conceal what is important to us. 

We make time for another person. 

We listen to them. 

We give them personal attention. 

We let the other person into our lives. 

 

Now, there are limitations to the amount of people who we can get personally involved with.  Jesus had 12 disciples, but of these, he only became very close friends with 3 (Peter, James, John). 

 

I’ve read a few articles that make the point that one person can have about 5 friends or family members in their inner circle, that people can only maintain about 5 close relationships.[17]  Beyond that, there are an additional 10 (to a total of 15) where relatively close bonds can be formed.  This is why small groups are so important in any church.  Only there can closer bonds be formed, can friendships develop. 

 

There are even limits to the number of people in the outer circle that any one human being can maintain:  about 150 people.  Beyond that, people are strangers or virtual strangers.

 

However, despite these limitations, Christians are called on to share their lives with others to whatever degree possible ... first of all with their spouses and their children, should they have any.  Beyond that, they are called upon to share their lives with other family members, then with their Christian brothers and sisters, then with their friends, their fellow students, their co-workers, their neighbours, and then even with complete strangers, those who are beyond even their outer circle.

 

The question we should ask ourselves is whether or not that is actually taking place in our own lives.  If the answer is “no”, we should ask what has to happen in our hearts for that to become true. 

 

What does the Spirit of God need to work on in our hearts for us to be effective in sharing our lives with others?  What needs to happen for us to be parents who genuinely share their lives with their children?  With their spouses?  With other family members and friends?  With strangers in need?

 

When I consider the grace of God, his unmerited love and forgiveness shown toward me, despite the many times I screw up – then I will want to pass on that grace to others.

 

When I consider just how interested God is in me, as an individual, as reiterated by Jesus in story after story, illustration after illustration, parable after parable, then I want to be as lovingly concerned about others as I possibly can.

 

I think in the past there was the idea that a man’s man is the tough silent type who doesn’t share much.  True men don’t hug other men – ever.  Men don’t cry. 

 

So was Paul an emotional basket case, some namby-pamby softy?  Well, Paul never strikes me as weak or emotional – the very reverse seems to be the case.  He was, after all, the person who was instrumental in having Stephen stoned to death - and possibly many others.

 

So for Paul to say: “I feel genuine affection for you, you are so dear to me”, is a sign to me that God is in the business of softening hearts.  God the Spirit causes believers to feel affection for one another. There is an inner commitment to compassion.

 

We don’t just do something good for another person emotionally completely detached and dispassionate - as a social experiment, or so we can look good, or so we can toot our own horn by posting it on YouTube, or in order to fulfil an expectation, or because we’re getting paid to do it, or as an obligation before God, or as a necessary evil.

 

In 1 Peter 1:22 we read:

 

Love one another sincerely, from the heart.   1 Peter 1:22

 

When we become believers something happens to us. 

 

Think of it in these terms:  When a person is confronted with death, sometimes it has a great effect on the heart. 

Shortly after 9/11, calloused New Yorkers showed love and compassion. 

 

Things that were taken for granted, all of a sudden become extraordinarily precious.  In the face of death, the annoying imperfections and character traits of others become unimportant.    

 

When we become believers, when we belong to Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of God comes to live within us, then our minds are no longer focused only on ourselves.  We ponder instead on the wonderful realities of life and death. 

 

In a sense we come to realize that we live on the brink of eternity.  And it should give us a kind of wistful fondness and compassion for others.

 

AM I SHARING MY LIFE AND CONVICTIONS WITH OTHERS IN MEANINGFUL WAYS?

 

IF NOT, WHAT HAS TO TAKE PLACE IN MY HEART FOR ME TO DO SO?

 

 

 

[1] Mao became grossly overweight by age 60 and smoked heavily.  He still made it to age 82.

[2] On robbery in 1907 cost the lives of 40 guards. 

[3] Also known as “The Great Terror” (1936 - 1938)

[4] Stalin was a heavy smoker.  He had a brain hemorrhage and died 4 days later. 

[5] Pol Pot died at age 72, apparently of heart failure or suicide (the latter because he knew that he was about to be handed over to the US).  Idi Amin died at an unknown age, likely somewhere between 74 and 80, apparently of kidney failure.

[6] Also the reason why hell may be a balancing of the scales of justice.

[7] The idea of suffering in hell (Jesus: weeping and gnashing of teeth), may be a desire for retribution. 

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/sep/21/september11.usa13.

[9] The Taliban must act ... They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate.  He also told the world that in this “war against terror” they will either be with the US or against it.

[10] Began October 7, 2001 with the aerial bombing of Taliban and al-Qaeda targets.  It ended officially on December 28th, 2014, but there continues to be US soldiers on the ground, named “Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.”

[11] May 2, 2011.  However, there are no more extreme Sunni terrorist groups today than ever before.  But I wonder if that had more to do with getting rid of Sadam Hussain. 

[12] The OT commandment that demands an eye for an eye was to limit retribution and prevent an escalation when it comes to revenge. 

[13] Ironically, in 2017 Spacey was accused of a host (16?) of inappropriate sexual advances and liaisons with boys around 14 years of age. 

[14] The verb “omeiromenoi” is only used here in the NT.  The meaning is unclear but the verb has been translated as “being affectionately disposed” or as “yearning over”.  I thought it should probably be related back to the feelings of a nursing mother. 

[15] Greek psychas - can also mean minds or souls, but in the context the word “lives” makes most sense.

[16] Literally, “walk” (peripateo).

[17] https://www.sciencealert.com/the-latest-data-suggests-you-can-only-keep-five-close-friends; http://nationalpost.com/news/world/humans-only-able-to-maintain-five-relationships-in-their-inner-circle-and-150-in-their-outer-circle-study-finds.

Apr 1 - Easter Sunday - Encountering The Resurrectd Christ

Encountering The Resurrected Christ

April 1, 2018

1 Corinthians 15:3-8

 

ENCOUNTERING THE RESURRECTED CHRIST

April 1st, 2018

1 Corinthians 15:3-8

 

Some people reject Christianity because they think that Jesus did not actually rose from the dead - it wasn’t a historical event. 

 

Others reject Christianity, because they can't see what difference that it would make in their lives today.  The good news about Jesus seems to be insignificant or irrelevant to what really concerns them, what really goes on in their lives.  They can't see how going to church or believing in Jesus, including believing in his resurrection, will affect anything. 

 

The question regarding the truth of the event and the question regarding the meaning of the event are most often so intertwined that it becomes hard to deal with one without dealing with the other as well.

 

So I want us to consider both of these questions this morning:  The question about truth: "Did Jesus really rise from the dead?".  And the question about meaning: "If He did, what difference does that make?"

 

The Resurrection of Jesus Really Happened Because:

 

1. Jesus predicted that he would rise from the dead.

 

On at least three different occasions, Jesus told his disciples, those who were closest to him and followed him around to listen to his teaching, what would happen to him.  On the overhead you will see the record of one of those times from Mark 10:

 

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.  Again Jesus took the twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him.                                                       Mark 10:32

 

"We are going up to Jerusalem," he said, "and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock Him and spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him.  Three days later He will rise."                                                            Mark 10:33-34[1]

 

Jesus never said this to any but the inner circle,[2] however, he did hint at it.

 

Jesus answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; but no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet.   For just like Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."                                                                    Matthew 12:39-40[3]

 

Obviously, Jesus' predictions do not prove that he in fact rose from the dead.  However, some of those who reject Jesus' resurrection, such as Mahatma Ghandi and Albert Schweitzer, still think that he was a man of absolute integrity. 

 

But Jesus' integrity is called into question if he predicted something that really didn't happen.[4]  It is hard to honour Jesus as a good and honest man, or even a psychologically healthy individual, if he didn't live up to his claims to divinity and to rising from the dead. 

 

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), in his book, Mere Christianity, put it this way:

 

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic - on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the devil of hell

 

You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. .... We are faced, then, with a frightening alternative.  This man we are talking about either was (and is) just what he said or else a lunatic, or something worse.                                                  C.S. Lewis

 

The enemies of Jesus could not produce his body.  If they were able to do so, it would have ended Christianity before it even got started. 

 

Some people claim that Jesus never really died on the cross.[5]  He revived in the cool of the tomb and moved the stone blocking its entrance.  However, anyone who knows the horrible reality of what it meant to be crucified, and the lengths to which the Roman soldiers went to make sure that Jesus and those crucified with him were dead, would realize that this is just not possible.

 

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.  The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other.                  John 19:31-32

 

But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.   John 19:33-34

 

Others have tried to say that the disciples came and removed the body and disposed of it so that no-one could find it.  However, that would mean that Jesus' followers would be willing to go to their deaths for what they knew was a lie and a hoax.

 

It is clear from the Biblical accounts that after Jesus' death the disciples did not expect to see him again.  They were demoralized and hiding in Jerusalem in a locked room, afraid of being arrested, imprisoned, and possibly executed as revolutionaries. 

 

They did not think that Jesus would rise from the dead.  Some of them went back to Galilee and returned to fishing for a living. 

 

Then, when they first heard the reports of Jesus’ resurrection (by the women at the tomb), they did not believe them.  

 

However, seven weeks after Jesus' death, they were no longer ashamed or afraid to be publicly identified with Jesus - instead they were outspoken in proclaiming him to be the Messiah. 

 

When this brought them into the expected conflict with the Jewish authorities, they were prepared to be imprisoned, flogged and even put to death, rather than to disown Jesus or to keep quiet (Acts 2-4).

 

The most outspoken of them, Peter, John and James, were extremely fortunate that they weren’t executed in those first years.. 

 

The first death that we know of, an impromptu stoning for proclaiming Jesus as Israel’s Messiah, happened about 5 years after Jesus’ execution.  It was the deacon Stephen (c. 36 AD).[6]  The coats of the executioners were laid at the feet of the person who would become the apostle Paul, the ring leader of the murderous mob and possibly the one who told them to stone Stephen.[7] 

 

The next execution that we know of was of the apostle James, about 8 years later (c. 44 AD), by King Agrippa.[8]  But there are indications that other Christians were imprisoned and executed between those two events (for example, we are told that Paul persecution the church in a murderous rage).  Within the next 25 years, most if not all of the apostles and many church leaders had been executed. 

 

So what had happened, that this band of Jesus’ followers, scared, in hiding, fleeing Jerusalem, were willing to put their lives on the line by openly proclaiming that Jesus was the resurrected Messiah?  They themselves said, that the reason was that they had seen the resurrected Jesus.

 

Norwood Russell Hanson was a philosopher of science at Yale University prior to his premature death.  He wrote a well-known essay entitled "What I Do Not Believe", about the reasons why he didn't believe in God.[9]  Let me read you what a portion of what he wrote:

 

Suppose ... that on next Tuesday morning, just after breakfast, all of us in this one world are knocked to our knees by a percussive and ear-shattering thunderclap.  Snow swirls; leaves drop from trees; the earth heaves and buckles; buildings topple and towers tumble; the sky is ablaze with an eerie silvery light. 

 

Just then, as all the people of the earth look up, the heavens open - the clouds pull apart - revealing an unbelievably immense and radiant Zeus-like figure, towering above us like a hundred Everests.  He frowns darkly as lightening plays across the features of his Michelangeloid face.  

 

 He then points down - at me! - and exclaims for every man and child to hear, "I have had quite enough of your too-clever logic-chopping and word-watching in matters of theology.  Be assured Norwood Russell Hanson, that I do most certainly exist! ... if such a remarkable event were to transpire, I, for one, would certainly be convinced that God does exist.                  Norwood Russell Hanson

 

While such a thing never happened, when the disciples saw Jesus alive after his execution, it was an earth shattering event.   

 

Paul, who was confronted with the risen Christ, totally changed his life and endured immense loss and suffering, and ultimately execution in Rome because of his absolute conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead.

 

Now think about it.  If you knew that you were propagating a lie, would you be willing to be imprisoned and flogged and killed for that lie?  Yet many in the early church who had been with Jesus during his earthly ministry were willing to risk martyrdom.    

 

In the church at Corinth, apparently some teachers denied the possibility of an afterlife, much like the party of the Sadducees in Jerusalem. 

 

Paul felt he had to address this teaching in part because a denial of an afterlife also puts into question the historicity of Jesus' resurrection from the dead.[10]  

 

Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, that if Jesus’ resurrection was not a historical fact, then Christians are deluded and derive no benefit from claiming that he did. In fact, he writes, that Christians are, of all people, most to be pitied.[11]

 

If, however, Jesus in fact rose from the dead, then, as Paul put it, Jesus was the "first fruits of those who have died" and the first of those who are permanently raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20).[12]  His example would then be proof positive that there is an afterlife indeed. 

 

Paul believed that Jesus was not only the one who was resurrected first, but also the one who made an afterlife with God for the rest of humanity even possible (1 Cor. 15:21-23).  He begins his argument by reciting what appears to be a creedal formula, possibly the earliest creed of the Christian church.

 

For what I received I had passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas,[13] and then to the twelve.[14] 

                                                1 Corinthians 15:3-5

 

The creed ends with Jesus appearing to the apostle Peter and then to the 12 apostles.  However, Paul goes on to write about more post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.

 

After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally (or: untimely) born.

                                                1 Corinthians 15:4-8

 

The point that Paul was making is that these eyewitness testimonies of Jesus’ resurrection prove that he in fact did rise from the dead.  The writer of Luke mentions that Jesus appeared for 40 days after his resurrection.

 

After Jesus’ suffering, he also proved himself to be alive to them through many convincing proofs. He appeared to them over a period of 40 days and spoke of the things concerning the kingdom of God.             Acts 1:3

 

Even 20 years after the event, Paul could write to the church at Corinth that many of these eye-witnesses were still alive.[15]  Those who were skeptical could find almost 500 eye-witnesses who could verify that they had seen the risen Jesus. 

 

Some would say that the followers of Jesus wanted him to be alive so desperately, that they just envisioned or hallucinated about it.  The problem with this theory is that while individuals can have hallucinations, it is unheard of that groups of people have the same hallucination at the same time.  And, as I have already mentioned, there is no proof that the disciples were even expecting Jesus to rise from the dead.

 

Those who followed Jesus weren't wide-eyed fanatics.  Instead they seem to be credible, rational, eye-witnesses.

 

I realize that this is a very subjective criteria, but don't we have to bank our decisions about something we didn't see ourselves on credible eye-witnesses?  When I read the NT accounts, I find that the insight of the apostles is profound.  They thought through their personal commitment, their teaching was coherent and their moral standard was high. 

 

Now to deal with the second question about relevance.  What possible difference could the events of 2,000 years ago make today?

 

II. The Resurrection of Jesus Has Meaning Today Because:

 

1.  It deals with our alienation and separation from God

 

One of the strangest concepts found in the Bible is that the God who created the heavens and the earth, this infinite, immense, spiritual being, is a God who does not require people to prove themselves to him by how much they can do for him.  Rather, he is a God who proves his strength by serving humanity.

 

That almost sounds like blasphemy, doesn't it?  But consider what the Bible says:

 

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.  And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.    Acts 17:24-25

 

God doesn't need anything from us.  He has no deficiencies that we can make up for.  Rather, we have the deficiencies and he is infinite in power and wisdom, holiness and love - and is ready to serve us! 

 

God isn't looking for people to work their way into heaven.  He is looking for people who magnify his power and wisdom and love by admitting their deepest needs and failings, and then letting him do his work on their behalf.

 

We read in the OT that God acts on behalf of his people (Isa 64:4), those who are fully committed to him (2 Chron 16:9).[16]

 

And that is how Jesus characterized his mission.  As one of service:

 

The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45

 

Without the resurrection of Christ Jesus, the Christian faith is a sham and a lie.  There would be no saving significance (and thus no significance at all) to Jesus’ death if he did not rise from the dead.  The events of 2000 years ago would indeed be meaningless for us today.[17]

 

However, if Jesus indeed rose from the dead, then that proves that he was who he had claimed to be, the Son of God, who is one with God the Father.  It proves that his death had meaning and purpose.  That it made it possible to receive God’s forgiveness, and resulted in God’s resources, God’s Spirit, being active in the lives of believers.    

 

The reason why Easter is more important than Christmas, is because the resurrection of Jesus is a sign to us that God's declaration that HE will meet our deepest needs through the cross is valid.

 

There are two questions that follow from this:

 

  1. Do we know what our most pressing needs are? 

 

And then,

 

  1. Will we let the risen Christ come into our lives to meet those needs?

 

The most pressing need that we have this morning isn't our financial need.  It isn't our need for healing and better health.  It isn't our need for a career.  It isn't even our need for good relationships. 

 

Now I understand that these may be pressing and heart-wrenching needs in your life or mine, and I believe with my whole heart that God can give us the power to help us deal with them.

 

But the most pressing need we have this morning is our alienation and separation from God.  Our sins - the things we do and say and think which we know to be wrong - but we do and say and think them anyway - those separate us from God.  And the result of that separation is separation from God in this life and in the life to come

 

The Bible teaches that Jesus carried all the things we do that offend our conscience and dishonour God, all of the sins we commit, onto the cross.  It teaches that Jesus died for the sins of all humanity in order to make a reconnection with a holy God possible. 

 

What is even more surprising is that in the Jewish Scriptures, 700 years before the crucifixion of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah described the work of the one he refers to as the "Servant of God" in this way:

 

But he was pierced through for our iniquities, he was crushed for our sins; the punishment that brought us salvation was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the guilt of us all.... My servant will justify the many as he bears their sins ... because he poured himself out to death and was numbered with the transgressors.                                                            Isaiah 53:5-6,11-12

 

The debt had been paid, the curse had been lifted.  The suffering servant has done the work we could never do for ourselves - take away our sin and make us right with God.  And the result is that death no longer has a final claim on us. 

 

The apostle Paul put it this way:

 

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.                                       Romans 8:11

 

What Paul was saying is that acceptance of Jesus' work on the cross will allow us to re-connect with God and that means that God will begin to live within us and we will live with God forever, even if our physical bodies are frail and will pass away.

 

The resurrection of Jesus has meaning for today because 1.  It deals with our alienation and separation from God.

 

There are probably many of you here this morning who can bear witness to the personal life-changing power of the living Christ.  When we put our faith in him, he will come to reside within us by his Holy Spirit, and begin to demonstrate his love and power in us.  As a result we can receive new love for God, new love for people, a new hope and joy - even when things are rough -, new patience in times of trouble, new freedom from the past

 

For some of you there will have been dramatic change over a short period of time.  For others of you, the change will have been less dramatic and over a longer period of time.

 

While none of us are perfect nor will we ever be in this life, there should be change, positive change, which comes into our lives when we believe that Jesus not only died for us, but rose from the dead to substantiate all of his claims about himself and the reason why he came to earth. 

 

Jesus' promise to his followers after his resurrection that he would be with them always.

 

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.                                                       Matthew 28:20

 

But this is not just a promise for those who were with him at that time, because he referenced the end of the age.  This promise extends to us and to those who will come after us.  What does that promise mean?

 

Many people are enslaved to fear or resentment or greed or lust or selfishness, or unconcern, or some other sin

 

  • When we experience the presence of Jesus, then we can be freed from that which enslaves us

  • That means, if the risen Christ is with us, he will change us.

  • When Jesus is with us, then we will learn not only to live our lives for our self-interests, but to include the needs of others as well.  We will learn to love and serve and sacrifice - yet never suffer loss or lose ourselves in the process. 

 

We will still face temptation and we will still make mistakes.  It’s not as if all of our problems are a thing of the past.  Life will not necessarily be easy and free of worries.

 

But it means that our consciences and our hearts are renewed. 

 

At the Last Supper, Jesus encouraged his disciples to love each other. He washed their feet, which at the time was the job of the lowliest of slaves.   With regard to this, Jesus said: 

 

I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  ... My command is this:  Love each other as I have loved you. ... I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

John 13:14-1515:12,11

 

True joy and meaning are found in demonstrations of love and care toward others.

 

I am reminded of Easter already over 15 years ago.[18] Two elderly women were killed in a car accident in Cameroon where the vehicle they were traveling in hit a tree and they were thrown from the vehicle.

 

One of the ladies was someone personally known to be, Ruby Eliason, who had spent all of her life as a medical missionary, first in India and then in Africa.[19]

 

Some of you might remember her because many of the churches of our convention used to support her.  Ruby was 77 years old when she was killed.  The other woman, Laura Edwards, a retired doctor, was 78.

 

Some people thought their deaths were tragic, and in one sense they are right because every death is tragic.[20]  But consider this, Ruby and Laura, at their age, could have been taking it easy living in Canada after their retirement.  But they were so filled with love for the lost, sick and poor that they just continued to serve God in this way.  They spent their whole lives helping others. 

 

There are tens of thousands of people who are retired on the Peninsula and their whole life consist of going from one meaningless activity to another, or of sitting in a care home feeling lonely and useless.  I ask myself, “which is the real tragedy?

 

In “Mere Christianity,” in direct opposition to the saying about people being so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good, C.S. Lewis wrote:

 

Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is.  If you read history you will find that the Christians who have done the most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.

 

The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this - that is, ineffective in doing something positive for the world.[21] 

 

Following Jesus, the one who was raised from the dead, can and should be a life-changing experience. 

 

Let me close with a quote from the personal testimony of Paul M. Anderson, a university professor in biochemistry (at the University of Minnesota, Duluth):[22]

 

I could ... “probably be considered successful by some standards (wonderful wife and family, a new home, a successful career). ... Yet something was missing. 
What was missing was purpose and meaning in my life, and this was intensified by the tremendous beauty, order and design evident in the world as I observed it as a scientists.  ...

Within my experience with Christianity, my biggest problem had been Jesus Christ.  I intellectually accepted the idea of God, but I could not accept Jesus Christ.  ...

 

(He goes on to relate how the book “Surprized by Joy” written by C.S. Lewis brought about a change).  He went on:

 

Suddenly I understood.  Before I had seen Jesus Christ only as a man.  Now I understood that Jesus Christ is the “visible expression of the invisible God” who came to earth to live, but was put to death on the cross as a sacrifice that we may be saved from our sins. I had not even understood that I needed forgiveness! ...

 

At that time I bought a Phillips translation of the NT and read the entire book in about three weeks.  I remember reading passages such as, “The preaching of the cross is ... nonsense to those who are involved in this dying world, but to us who are being saved from death it is nothing less than the power of God,” and thinking, “I understand that.” 

Since that time I have had a sense of purpose and meaning in my life and work, and I have come to understand clearly my need for forgiveness, which I am assured of through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. ...

 

I (now) have a responsibility (and desire) to conduct my life in a way that is pleasing to God. ...

 

(And) I find my ultimate fulfillment in understanding God’s plan as revealed through Jesus Christ.  “For it is in him, and in him alone, that men will find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.[23]

 

HAVE I ENCOUNTERED THE RISEN CHRIST?

 

IF NOT, WHAT IS KEEPING ME FROM DOING SO?

 

IF SO (if I indeed have encountered the risen Christ), HOW HAS IT CHANGED ME AND THE WAY I LIVE MY LIFE?

 

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?    

John 11:25-26

 

[1] The accuracy of the prediction is actually one of the reasons why liberal theologians think this is an ex-eventu prophecy placed in Jesus’ mouth by the author of Mark or by his source.  They point out the surprise and disappointment of the disciples when the events actually took place.

[2] However, when Jesus predicted that he would rebuild the temple in three days should it be destroyed (John 2:19), John comments that Jesus was in fact speaking about his body, not about the actual temple (John 2:21).  In Mark, this statement was misquoted during Jesus’ trial: “We heard him say, ‘destroy this man-made temple and I will build another without hands in three days’.”

[3] See also, John 2:19-21 - Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."  The Jews replied, "It took 46 years to build this temple, and you want to rebuild it in three days?"  But He was speaking of the temple of His body.

[4] The only problem with this statement is that Jesus seemed to have also predicted his imminent return. 

[5] The “swoon” theory.

[6] Acts 7:60 - He enraged the crowd by accusing them of being stiff-necked, of being like their ancestors who killed the prophets, and of not keeping the Mosaic Law. When he said that he saw Jesus standing at God’s right hand, they stoned him to death. 

[7] Acts 7:58

[8] Acts 12:1-2 - Herod Agrippa (also known as Agrippa the Great, grandson of Herod the Great, ruled Judea, Galilee, etc., from 41 - 44 CE) “laid hands” on some Christians and had James executed with a sword.

[9] Norwood Russell Hanson (1924-1967, What I Do Not Believe, and Other Essays (Reidel, 1971), published posthumously.

[10] If the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised (1 Cor 15:16)

[11] Because of the persecution and suffering they endured for believing a lie.

[12] Those Jesus raised from the dead during his ministry would die again.

[13] i.e., The apostle Peter.  Cephas means “Rock” in Aramaic.  It is the Aramaic equivalent to the Greek Petros.  Simon was renamed “the Rock” by Jesus (Matt 16:16-18).

[14] Paul likely thought here of Isaiah 53 with regard to the Messiah dying for sins.  The burial and resurrection was never prophesied in the OT, however, Paul may have been thinking about the link Jesus made to the prophet Jonah (Matt 12:40) or perhaps to the fact that the God apparently rescues the person in Psalm 22. 

[15] 1 Cor 15:6-7

[16] Isaiah 64:4 - Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.  2 Chron 16:9 -For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.

[17] Paul says that Christians would remain in their sins.

[18] April 19, 2000

[19] From 1954-1980 in Tezpur, Assam, India (apart from 1959-1961).  From 1983-2000 in Cameroon.

[20] http://personalblogofpetermusa.blogspot.ca/2010/08/tragedy-hits-cbc-health-board.html

[21] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: Harper, 2001 ed. pp. 134-135).  “..... Online at https://github.com/F1LT3R/mere-christianity/blob/master/book-3/3.10.-Hope.md.

[22] Born 1938; edited the book, Professors Who Believe:  The Spiritual Journeys of Christian Faculty (1999).  He is now professor emeritus.

[23] The quote is from “A Scientist’s Search for God” (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1988).

Mar 25 - Deciding To Have A Joyful Heart

Deciding To Have A Joyful Heart

March 25, 2018

Zechariah 9:8-10

 

DECIDING TO HAVE A JOYFUL HEART

March 25th, 2018

Zechariah 9:8-10

 

When Jesus entered Jerusalem a few days before he was killed, he rode on a young donkey.  And the crowds that were at the city gates and along the road placed their outer clothes, their coats, and branches broken from trees, in front of the animal as Jesus rode along.

 

And they began to shout exuberantly,

"Hosanna! 

Hosanna in the highest!

Hosanna to the Son of David

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. 

Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David

Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.  Blessed is the king of Israel."[1]

 

Why were the crowds so exited?  What were they hoping for?  We are told in the gospels of John and Luke that one of the reasons why some of these people may have been so excited, was because they had witnessed Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave just a few kilometers away in Bethany.[2] 

 

But all of the Jewish adults surrounding Jesus were rejoicing and shouting because they recognized that Jesus’ choice of entering Jerusalem the way He did, was a conscious decision on Jesus’ part to fulfill the prophecy made long ago by the prophet Zechariah:[3]

 

Here God is addressing those who have returned from exile through the prophet (a word from YHWH 9:1)

 

I will defend my house against the marauding army that goes to war and returns home.  Never again will an oppressor attack my people, for now I keep watch with my own eyes.                                        Zechariah 9:8

 

Zechariah had seen the marauding armies of Babylon sweep through Judah and destroy Jerusalem.  This would never happen again once the messianic king comes.  God himself will make sure of it.   

 

But of course, Jerusalem was conquered and ransacked again, for example, by the Greek Seleucids[4] and, later, by the Romans, both before and after Jesus’ death.[5]  So Zechariah was looking forward to a time when the anointed one, the Messiah, the Davidic King would come to his people to rule over them, and not only over them, but over the whole world. 

 

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout joyfully, daughter of Jerusalem!  See, your King is coming to you, righteous and victorious, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.[6] 

 

Through the prophet, God tells the women of Jerusalem to rejoice and shout with joy because the King who would come into the city will be righteous (upright moral character) and victorious, despite being gentle and riding a young donkey. 

 

The picture of a conquering warrior king on a donkey is as incongruous as a soldier or noble man riding this rather humble beast of burden. A horse maybe, but not a donkey. It simply is counter-intuitive.

 

So Jesus choosing to ride a donkey is not something insignificant.  It is why the crowd knew that Jesus was in fact declaring himself to be the Messiah by doing so.[7] 

 

In our passage, God continues to speak through the prophet to the nation of Israel:

 

I will take away the war chariot from Ephraim[8] and the war horse from Jerusalem,[9] destroying the battle bow.  He[10] will proclaim peace to the nations.  His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the river Euphrates to the ends of the earth. 

 

Here both God and his anointed would bring peace.  The picture is again of the most feared part of the Babylonian army, their chariots and warriors on horseback, all of them armed with battle bows.  God himself and his messianic king will make sure that these will never be used again against the nation of Israel and its capital Jerusalem.

 

The king will rule from sea to sea, possibly in reference to the ends of the Mediterranean Sea, known as the Great Sea.  He will rule from the River Euphrates to the East, to the ends of the then-known world to the West, likely in reference to Tarshish, what today would be Spain. 

 

 

And so, as Jesus rode toward the city and entered it, the crowds did exactly as they were told to do in Zech 9:9.  They welcomed their king with shouts of joy.

 

And as they shouted, they gave Jesus the title "the Son of David", because the Messiah was to be a descendant of king David of old.  They shouted about the restoration of the Kingdom of David as promised in the OT.  They proclaimed Jesus to be the coming anointed one who would save God's people.

 

The crowd purposefully obeyed the call to rejoice greatly and to shout joyfully, as they are told to in Zechariah 9:9.  And they did so by quoting from Psalm 118. 

 

In Hebrew they shouted out two words that sounded like Hosanna.  "Hoschiya Na", an expression found only once in the OT.

 

O LORD, save now (hoschiya na); O LORD, prosper now.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. ... With [branches] in hand, join the festal procession to the horns of the altar.[11]                   Psalm 118:25-27[12]

 

... the crowd heard that Jesus was entering Jerusalem.  So they took palm branches[13] in order to greet him and shouted, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!”      John 12:12-13

 

The crowd knew the prophecy in Zechariah, as it was read and taught on in the synagogue.  And they made sure that they fulfilled their part, with the anticipation that Jesus would fulfill the Messiah’s part in the prophecy.  In particular, Jesus was expected to call together the Israelites into an army that would defeat all of their enemies, would throw off the cruel Roman occupation, re-unite the northern and southern kingdoms under his rule, and usher in an unprecedented time of peace and prosperity. 

 

 

Hoschiya na!  In the Psalm, it is the cry that someone would make when they fell off the ferry into the Strait of Georgia: "Help, help, save me!” 

 

But by the time of Jesus, the phrase "Hoschiya Na" could also mean "Salvation!  Salvation is here".   It's the cry of joy when the person who had fallen off the ferry sees the Search and Rescue Boat coming toward her.  It is the joyful bubbling over of a heart that sees salvation on the way, and can't keep it in.

 

So when the crowd shouted Hosanna, they were saying, "Hooray for salvation!  It's finally arrived".

 

When they shouted "Hosanna to the Son of David", they meant, "The Son of David will be our salvation, salvation belongs to the King, the Messiah".

 

When they shouted "Hosanna in the highest", they meant, "Let all the angels in heaven join in as we rejoice over God's salvation."

 

Hosanna went from plea to praise.  From a cry for help to a shout of confidence.

 

Have you ever been at a deciding game?  Maybe where the winner goes on in the play-offs.  Or better yet, it’s a cup final.  Imagine such a game going into sudden death overtime.  And I’m assuming that you’re a real fan here.  And your team scores.  The crowd goes absolutely bonkers.  How would you feel?  Content, happy, elated, euphoric even? 

 

I wonder if that was the kind of exuberance and joy and shouting that was taking place when Jesus rode that donkey into Jerusalem.  If so, it is no wonder that Jesus was told by the Pharisees to tell the crowd to be quiet.

 

When I read the account of the crowd, I had to ask myself, “Do I have that kind of joy?”  Can I decide to rejoice so enthusiastically?  Do I have something to cheer about?  Do I have any reason to be glad?  Has my team won?  Do I anticipate that it will?”

 

Now those who were cheering on Jesus that Palm Sunday when he rode into Jerusalem hailed him as their Saviour, their Messiah.  But they didn't fully understand what Jesus was saving them from.  They didn't fully understand the victory and the freedom that Jesus was bringing. 

 

We live in a place where there is normally an abundance of rainfall.  And yet, with all the rain we do get, we have to ration our water use when we get weather that you and I like. 

 

Imagine for a moment that you are in a place where there is very little rainfall and the climate is a lot hotter than here.  Rivers stop running.  Wells run dry.  There isn't enough water to irrigate the fields.  The crops die.

 

Imagine that, to make things worse, there is a war and the enemy soldiers take you prisoner and throw you into a deep, dried-out well, into a waterless pit, much like the brothers of Joseph did to him. 

 

You would be condemned to die a miserable death in that dry well, a parched, hot, cramped prison where you would never be able to get yourself out of without outside help.

 

So God continues to speak to those who returned to the land through the prophet Zechariah:

 

As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.

                                                          Zechariah 9:11

 

Notice how Jesus’ words at the Last Supper closely mirror this verse from Zechariah. 

 

This cup is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Matthew 26:28[14]

 

In Zechariah, God says to the Israelites – even though you have returned from exile, you are still in a waterless pit.  But when the messianic king comes, I will pull you out of that dry well.  And it is because he, the Messiah, will renew the covenant between us, the one that is sealed with blood

 

What blood is not specified here, but both God’s covenant with Abraham and with the nation of Israel at the time of Moses were made with animal blood ... in fact the latter is called “the blood of the covenant.”[15]  On the Day of Atonement, the sacrifices are to bring about the forgiveness of sin (which Heb points out is just a shadow of what was to come through Jesus’ sacrifice).

 

So the people of Israel and Judah should shout for joy.  God will not only bring peace, but he will rescue them from the pit. 

 

Now you may be able to understand why some of very people who were shouting in joy at Jesus, only a week later were so deeply disappointed in him - to the point that they may have been part of those who, at the trial before Jesus, shouted, “crucify him”,[16] or why they mocked him and hurled insults at him as he hung on the cross.[17] 

 

Where is the warrior Messiah that Jesus seemed to have proclaimed himself to be when he rode on a donkey?  Here he is, arrested, defeated, disgraced, at the mercy of the very oppressors that he was to kick out of Jerusalem.  No wonder they shouted at him as he hung on the cross, “Hey, let’s see you come down from the cross.  Let’s see you save yourself, you who proclaimed yourself to be the Saviour of the nation.

 

Jesus’ words to Pilate would have seemed utter nonsense, “My kingdom is not of this world … My kingdom is not of this realm” (John 18:36)?[18]  Where else would the kingdom of the Davidic king be located but on earth? 

 

The Messiah, arrested, scourged and crucified by the hated Romans is

like Ronan the Accuser annihilating the Guardians of the Galaxy,

like Lex Luthor killing Superman,

like the Joker destroying Batman,

like Syndrome wiping out the Incredibles,

like Red Skull smashing Captain America,

like the Borg permanently assimilating the crew of the Enterprise,

like Darth Vader killing Luke Skywalker,

 

like Dr. Octopus obliterating Spiderman ... you get the idea. 

 

The apparent super-hero is permanently eliminated by the super-villain.   What a disappointment.  What a disaster.  No more sequels ... the show is over.  That is what the people thought in Jesus’ day.  The show is over!

 

So, how does this relate to us 2,000 years after Jesus rode down from Bethany and into Jerusalem?  Has our joyful shouting when we first turned to Jesus been quietened by the hardships and troubles we have faced since?  Have our cheers of joy, our great rejoicing been muted by our disappointments in God, all the things he has failed to do for us or those who we love? 

 

We want victory, don’t we?  We want God to intercede on our behalf.  We want him to provide success, accolades, comforts, the good life, ... and take from us pain, difficulty, suffering and physical death – and not just for ourselves but also our loved ones.  Permanent health, wealth, and happiness.  Isn’t that what a good God should provide?

 

But that’s not how we experience life.  What do you mean, “my kingdom is not of this world”?  Sounds a lot like pie in the sky in the by and by. 

 

My joy is lacking or destroyed because …

 

The expectation that Palm Sunday 2000 years ago, was for Jesus to save the Jews from the Roman overlords.  But he didn’t.  It seems as if the enemy has won.  Are my “enemies” still winning?  The gut wrenching divorce.  The failure of my business.  The potentially fatal disease.  The horrible car accident.  The addiction.  The constant conflict at home.  The child or grandchild making terrible choices.  The loss of a job.  The chronic debilitation. 

 

I’m reminded of the man who just had his annual physical examination and the doctor tells him that he can live a completely normal life as long as he doesn’t try to enjoy it. 

 

Sometimes it seems as if we’re still imprisoned in that dry well, parched for some relief, stuck with no way out. 

 

I am reminded of the Samaritan woman at the well outside the village of Sychar.  She was ostracized in town because of her many failed relationships and because of her present lifestyle.  And in such a small place, everyone would know what she was doing.

 

As a result she had to come to draw that precious commodity, water, at midday, in the searing heat when no-one else would be there to point their fingers or whisper to each other. 

 

She has not had an easy time of it.  Being shunned by the other women was painful.  Looked down upon as corrupt and a bad person destroyed her self-worth.  Possibly she had a tough childhood and was married off by her father while still in her early teens.  There is no indication that she had children who would have got her water and given her the security of being looked after in her old age.  These are just some of the reasons why all of her relationships are fractious and full of conflict.  Life was hard and painful.

 

The woman was incredulous that Jesus could offer her water when he did not have a bucket and rope, no means to draw from the well.  Yet Jesus said to her:

 

If you drink the water from this well you'll just be thirsty again in a little while.  But if you drink from the water that I am offering you, you will never be thirsty again.  And that water will become in you a spring that will well up to eternal life."                                           John 4:13-14

 

Jesus knew that there is a thirst in the woman’s hearts for God, and for meaning, and for peace ... and nothing she had filled her life with had brought it to her.  She misunderstood.  “Yes, give me that water so that I don’t have to come out here in the heat of the day.

 

She only thought in terms of her present circumstances.  Jesus knew that her need ran deeper.  That she needed something a lot more important than indoor plumbing.   Because that is not really where joy comes from. 

 

In essence, joy is not the event itself, but it is discovering the secret of being content in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, good and bad. 

 

My joy is lacking or destroyed because …

 

We fill our lives with all kinds of activities, toys, things, people, none of which are bad in themselves, but we do so because we think they are all necessary prerequisites to our happiness.  Only then we will be, as the Psalmist says, be “like trees planted by streams of water” (Ps 1:3).  Only then we will escape being stuck in a dry, dusty and stifling well.  

 

Many people go through life looking for a secret combination that will unlock joy for them: 

I need to buy these things.

I need to own these things.

I need others to see me a certain way.

I need them to treat me courteously and respectful.

I need to be able to go places and experience things.

If all of these needs are fulfilled, then I will experience joy. 

 

I was listening to a comedian online the other day.  He said that money can indeed buy happiness

 

He made the point that you never see someone frowning on a jet ski. 

 

However, he then contradicted himself because he said that he’d seen people in the third world who seemed to be happy despite the fact that they were impoverished, something he found really annoying.

 

The joy we receive from buying or owning something; the joy we receive when we’re treated nice; the joy we receive in our holidays … these are, more or less, short lived.  They cannot carry us along permanently. 

 

If those are the source of our joy, then what happens, is that we need to buy more stuff or own more stuff or upgrade our stuff, or have others treat us even better, or go on another vacation, all in the attempt to maintain our happiness.

 

But ultimately, joy does not come from outside things.   Outside stuff can enrich life and make it more enjoyable.  However, lasting joy comes from within. 

 

I’ve seen this in my own life.  I’ve known a number of men who were incredibly rich, able to buy whatever their hearts desired, do whatever they wanted, experience whatever they decided on … but by and large were miserable and cantankerous, making life hard and unpleasant for their employees, friends and family members.[19]  They always seem to find a reason to be upset, disappointed, worried, or angry.  And they seem oblivious to the fact that, despite all they owned and enjoyed, they were still imprisoned by their attitude. 

 

Maybe they’ve gotten used to being irritable.

Maybe they always expect the worse.

Maybe they’ve developed the habit of responding to life's normal disappointments and challenges as if it is the end of the world.

Maybe they are deflecting, blaming their miserable mood on someone else, on circumstances, on bad luck, on God. 

 

A famous psychologist once said that he considers only one kind of person who comes to him to be beyond help - and that is the person who blames others for his or her problems. 

 

Of course, the same can be true of poor people.  Poverty does not engender joy either.  Again, it is something within a person that determines to a large degree how they experience life. 

 

I believe that joy is the result of an underlying attitude that a person has.  It has to do with a conscious choice to rejoice and be joyful.  In essence, joy comes down to learning the secret of contentment regardless of the circumstances, to find happiness during good times and bad times.   

 

The people who surrounded Jesus saw themselves in a dry place because the nation was under Roman occupation.  They thought that reversing their unhappiness, dealing with their discontent, meant having their outward circumstances changed.  Jesus will battle and overthrow the Romans and get rid of the corrupt high priestly family.  Then things will get better.  No more overbearing taxes that bled them dry.   Hosanna! 

 

But Jesus saw his mission differently.  He realized that the real drought, the real prison, the real problem, lies in the hearts of people.  It is in their hearts that they are imprisoned and it is there that they need to be set free –

free from the guilt of the past,

free from the malaise of the present, free from themselves, free to live for God, free to do the right things, and

free from the fear about the future, including death.

 

That is why Christians, of all people, should be the most joyful, the most positive, the most exuberant of all people.  They should be filled with happiness and joy. 

 

The prerequisite for joy is not experiencing a problem and worry free life.  The prerequisite for joy is not being independently wealthy.  The prerequisite for joy is a mindset, it is a general outlook. 

 

Does that mean that Christians run around with silly grins on their faces?  Or does it mean that Christians don't deal with down times or times when they are sad?  Does it mean we can't experience the February blues or the November doldrums? Does it mean that Christians can't struggle with depression?  Does it mean that I have to feel guilty when I don't feel on top of the world?  Of course it doesn't! 

 

My joy is lacking or destroyed because …

 

Being aware of the incredible ways that God blesses us, does not make us immune to feeling down.  Some believers think that they should be perfect.  That nothing should rattle them.  That nothing should be able to rob them of their sense of peace.  That the disappointments and challenges in life should simply roll off their backs like water off a duck’s back.  That they should never feel stressed or overwhelmed or depressed.  That they should never need help, counsel, or outside help.

 

Whatever life throws at them, they believe that they should be able to maintain a stiff upper lip, to be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, to be able to buck up, or whatever other idiom they can think of, otherwise there is something seriously wrong with them or their faith. 

 

That’s simply unrealistic.  At times, we simply need help, even if Jesus is in our lives.

 

We need to accept ourselves for who we are.  We need to accept our bodies, our minds, our mistakes, our personalities and our emotions and feelings.  We need to genuinely like ourselves.

 

That doesn't mean that we simply stop trying to improve ourselves, that, with the help of God and others, we do all we can to improve our health, our thinking, our personalities and our emotions.  What it does mean is that we don't have to wear masks of perfection.  And it means we will go easier on ourselves.  We will be able to laugh at ourselves.

 

Some people don’t want to change.  They prefer being miserable, negative, grumpy … maybe it’s a coping mechanism that’s is meant to protect them emotionally against life and against others.   Maybe there’s a certain satisfaction with feeling sorry for themselves.  Or it’s a way of drawing attention to themselves. 

 

But as believers, we will need to praise and glorify and give thanks to God, to be filled with exuberance and joy, at all the good that is in our lives right now and at the hope we have for eternity. 

 

When we worship and praise God, when we give Him thanks – there is a shift from self-occupation to a focus on God.   When praise, rejoicing and thanksgiving become a way of life, then joy will follow us all the days of our lives.  It will become engrained in us despite the stress or strain we might face.  And that is spiritual and mental wholeness.

 

Praise, exaltation, thanksgiving opens us up to the power of God.  These are bridges to God that allows him to be active in our lives and our hearts.  Wherever there is adoration, reverence, worship, praise, and thanksgiving, God will work.

 

In some situations, it isn't easy to be jubilant.  At times we will feel far away from God.  At times the situation we find ourselves in will not be good.  So, at times, we won't feel like shouting for joy. 

 

But something can and does happen when we verbally sing and express our praise to God.

 

IS ANYTHING ROBBING ME OF THE JOY OF THE LORD?  IF SO, WHAT IS IT?

 

PRAYER:

 

Heavenly father, thank you that you love me so much.  Thank you that you are my stronghold, the one who will save me as I turn to you.  Thank you that salvation is now, it has arrived, it is here. 

 

And so, Lord, I give you my hurts and my grief and my despair.  I forgive the people who I believe have hurt me.  I release the past to you.  Give me the ability, right now to feel good about life, to see you smiling in approval of me, because of what Jesus has done.  I affirm my trust in you.  I believe you have a purpose behind all that has happened.  I am hopeful about the future.  Give me a sound mind, a joyful heart.  Amen

 


 

 

 

 

[1] Combination of Mark 11:9-10; Matt 21:9; Luke 19:38; John 12:13

[2] John 12:L17-18 - Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. Cf. Luke 19:37 - When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen.

[3] Zechariah spoke around 520 - 518 BC in Jerusalem (after the return from the Babylonian exile).  The book is broken into an earlier part (chapters. 1-8) and a later part (chapters 9-14).  The second part seems to point further into the eschatological future. 

[4] Under Antiochus the Great, c. 200 BC, Antiochus Epiphanes IV ransacked Jerusalem c. 175 BC,  Antiochus VII recaptured the city c. 134 BC, but a large payment keeps spares the city from destruction. 

[5] Pompey the Great conquers the city in 63 BC.  Roman legions take the city and destroy it in 70 AD.  They retake the city in 135 AD. 

[6] Quoted in John 12:15 and Matthew 21:5

[7] Strangely, we are told in John 12:16 states that his disciples did not recognize that he was in fact fulfilling this prophecy until after his glorification.

[8] I.e., The northern kingdom of Israel.

[9] The capital of the southern kingdom of Judah.

[10] I.e., The coming King.

[11] This may be why Jesus immediately went to the temple after the triumphal entry – see Mark 11:11 (he went to the temple, looked around, and left again for Bethany); In Matt 21:12-17, Jesus cleansed the temple and then healed the lame and the blind before leaving for Bethany.  Luke 19:45 also records the cleansing of the temple.  No visit to the temple is recorded in John’s account.

[12] LXX - Celebrate the feast with thick (branches); or:  stand together for a holiday with the ones making dense / or thick (pukazousin) unto the horns of the altar.  Comment: celebrate the feast with thick [branches, which bind the victims] even to the horns of the altar.  Still makes little sense to me.

[13] Gk. Baia ton phoinikon

[14] Luke 22:20 - This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.  1 Cor 11:25 - This cup is the new covenant in my bloodMatt 26:28 - This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Mark 14:24 - This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.

[15] In Gen 15:9-10, Abraham cuts animals in half.  In Gen 15:17, God passes between the parts.  Ancient treaties: “The parties involved would walk the path between the slaughtered animals so to say, “May this be done to me if I do not keep my part of the treaty.”  See also this practice referred to in Jer 34:18.  Heb 9:19-22 points out that the Mosaic covenant was also a blood covenant in order for God’s people to be forgiven.  See also Ex 24:7-8 - Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!"  So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, "Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words."

[16] Mark 15:12-15 - So Pilate asked them again, “What then do you want me to do with the One you call the King of the Jews?” And they shouted back, “Crucify Him!”  “Why?” asked Pilate. “What has He done wrong?” But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify Him!”…

[17] Mark 15:29-30 - Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!”

[18] John 18:36 - Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place."

[19] Arzberger, Stadler

Mar 11 - It Starts With Conviction

It Starts With Conviction

March 11, 2018

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

 

IT STARTS WITH CONVICTION!

Impacting My World For Good And For God – Part 1

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

March 11, 2018

 

A little boy was afraid of the dark.  One evening his mother told him to go out on the back porch and bring in the broom.  The little boy said, “Mama, I don’t want to go out there.  It’s dark.” 

The mother smiled reassuringly at her son.  “You don’t have to be afraid of the dark.  Jesus is out there.” 

The little boy looked at her and asked, “Are you sure he’s out there?

She said, “Yes, I’m sure.  He is everywhere, and he will help you when you need him.” 

The little boy went to the back door and cracked it a little.  Peering out into the darkness, he called, “Jesus!  If you’re there, would you please hand me the broom.”

 

Today I’m starting on a series on Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, and the topic is conviction - the first thing that’s necessary when it comes to impacting the world for God and for good.

 

1 Thessalonians is probably the first of all of Paul’s surviving letters, written around 50 AD, about 20 years after Jesus’ death, likely from Greece (Athens or Corinth). 

 

Paul and Silas had been commissioned in Antioch of Syria as evangelists and church planters.  This was Paul’s second missionary journey.  As they went through Asia Minor (what today is Turkey),[1] they met a young Christian man named Timothy in Lystra, whose faith impressed Paul. After having him circumcised, Timothy joined the two men in traveling on. 

 

Something prevented them from moving west into the Roman province of Asia[2] as originally planned, so they travelled first north before turning west and traveling to the port city of Troas.[3] 

 

From there they took a boat to a port town in Macedonia,[4] stayed there overnight and the next day travelled on to the city of Philippi, the capital city of the region.  If you’ve ever heard of Alexander the Great (c. 356-323 BC), he was a Macedonian, born and raised in Philippi, a city named after his father, King Philip II (reigned c. 359-336 BC). 

 

While in Philippi, Paul met and converted Lydia, a prominent woman in the city. 

 

But when Paul healed a demon possessed slave girl who was able to predict events, her owners got really upset because a lucrative source of income was taken from them. 

 

They had Paul and Silas arrested, brought them before the city magistrates, who had them beaten severely with rods and then thrown into prison for the night.  While this led to the conversion of the jailer (Acts 16:11-40), they were forced to leave town after being released from jail in the morning.

 

They travelled southwest to the port city of Thessalonica, where Paul spoke in the synagogue, arguing that the OT Scriptures foretold a suffering Messiah, and that this Messiah had come in the person of Jesus (Acts 17:1-3).  It is very obvious from his letter that Paul must have also spoken quite a bit about just how close it was to Jesus’ return. 

 

It was right around this time[5] that the Roman emperor Claudius[6] expelled the Jews from Rome because of unrest that had broken out.  According to the Roman historian, Suetonius,[7] at issue was a certain “Chrestus,[8] which very likely meant that the Jews were rioting in Rome against those who taught that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, which is exactly the same message that Paul was proclaiming in Thessalonica.

 

Paul started the church in Thessalonica with converts both from the Jewish synagogue, particularly a large group of devout Gentiles attached to the synagogue, including some leading women from the city (Acts 17:4).  To that group were added a large number of Gentile pagans who Paul met and spoke to in the streets.

 

In response to the number of people converting to Christianity, some prominent men of the city hired a mob to riot in the city, possibly because they heard what had happened in Rome.  They wanted the mob to apprehend Paul and Silas, drag them before the city authorities and falsely accuse them of fomenting a revolt against the emperor Claudius by proclaiming that is king.[9]

 

This was exactly the charge for which Jesus had been crucified, so the design was to have Paul, Silas and Timothy executed.  

 

The violent mob came to the house of Jason, where Paul, Silas and Timothy were staying.  Not finding Paul or Silas there, they dragged Jason and some other of the new believers before the city authorities.  It was a good thing that the city authorities seem to have been relatively level headed.  They asked for a large sum of money as security, in order to ensure that Paul and Silas wouldn’t cause any more problems. 

 

But the believers knew this wouldn’t be the end of it, so they helped the three men flee at night in order to escape arrest (Acts 17:5-10a).  From Thessalonica they travelled south to Berea where they would plant another church. 

 

I think Paul must have been frustrated at having to leave this and other fledgling congregation in Philippi after such a short time.  He knew that the believers there would continue to face opposition, and he was likely worried that they would abandon their faith as a result, or possibly that they would embrace some heresy. 

 

His fears were not unfounded.  The Christians who were left behind in Thessalonica did in fact have to endure opposition and persecution, which Paul refers to in this letter as “afflictions” (1 Thess 3:3-4,  “many tribulations” (1 Thess 1:6) and “suffering”  due to the actions of “their own countrymen” (1 Thess 2:14). 

 

From Berea the men travelled south to Athens.  Paul was so worried about what could have happened to the Christians they had to leave behind in Macedonia.  So Paul sent Timothy back in order to find out if they were holding up, and in order to encourage them (1 Thess 3:1-3).  This Timothy did - which would have taken him about 2 weeks.  The distance he had to walk was just over 500 km.  It would be like walking from here to Port Hardy - over 100 hours of walking.  We don’t know how long he stayed in Thessalonica, possibly a month or longer.  He then returned to Greece in order to update Paul (1 Thess 3:6). 

 

By and large, Timothy’s report was very positive.  The church was relatively stable despite the persecution.  The converts lived out their faith as they demonstrated kindness among themselves and to Christians who were coming through town. 

 

However, Timothy reported back that some of the converts did not grasp the ethical implications of the good news, so some were still getting drunk (1 Thess 5:6-8), others continued to have extra-martial sex (1 Thess 4:3-8),[10] while others had stopped working with the expectation that other Christians should look after them (1 Thess 5:14; cf. 4:11-12).[11] 

 

Paul’s letter then was in response to Timothy’s report. 

 

The three most common themes in the letter deal with:

  1. consistent love for others

  2. holy living

  3. the return of Christ

 

So let’s read the beginning of the letter.

 

Paul, Silvanus (= Silas) and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.  1 Thessalonians 1:1

 

This is the introductory section of the letter. Following the letter writing convention of his day, Paul first mentions himself, who is writing the letter, and then the two men who are with him and who the believers in Thessalonica know personally.  This is followed by the recipients and then by a blessing:  Grace to you and peace. 

 

In almost all of his letters, Paul follows the introduction with a thanksgiving section. 

 

We continually give thanks to God for all of you as we mention you in our prayers.  In the presence of our God and Father we unceasingly call to mind your work of faith, your labour of love, and your patient endurance based on your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.                                                                  1 Thessalonians 1:2-3

 

In particular, Paul points out what he is thankful about - the work and labour and endurance of the Christians in Thessalonica based on their faith, love and hope.  They hadn’t crumbled under the opposition they face.

 

As we do, we know (the genuine nature of) your calling [or: election], brothers so beloved by God, because our good news did not come to you in word only but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.

1 Thessalonians 1:4-5a

 

Paul comments on the fact that he is convinced that the Thessalonians were a part of God’s chosen people, in other words, that their faith was genuine, based on their ongoing conviction of the truth of Paul’s message.  This was a deep inward conviction that they held. 

 

Paul writes that part of the reason was that the message they received first of all connected with them on a human level – they heard “the word.”  They heard the logic behind Paul’s arguments.  What he said made sense to them. 

 

But they not only received the words as a human message.  They also received the gospel, the good news “in power and in the Holy Spirit”.  In other words, there was a supernatural component to their conviction.  It wasn’t just logical deduction, but the Holy Spirit spoke to their hearts as well

 

Some people think that Paul was referring to miracles that he might have performed in their midst when he was in Thessalonica.  But the account of his stay in Thessalonica, in Acts 17, does not record any miracles, although that does not discount that Paul may have been able to physically heal some of them. 

 

The account in Acts does record how Paul’s message was accepted in a miraculous way.  You would think that a message about salvation through a crucified saviour in the context of either the Jewish synagogue or Greek philosophy, would more likely have aroused derision than admiration. 

 

The power of the message, the gospel, was in its ability to penetrate the heart of individuals and be received with joy.  And then, once accepted, it had the power to transform, to free those who believe and make them into new men and women.  To renew them in their attitude and actions.

 

In this context, Paul first mentions the Holy Spirit, because with the infilling of the Spirit, the miraculous begins. 

 

The Christians were fully convinced that what Paul told them was the truth because of the healing and transforming “power” that had been displayed.  But there was another reason.

 

On the other hand, you know what kind of men we were among you for your sakes.  6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, when you accepted the word amid much tribulation, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.                                                              1 Thessalonians 1:5b-6

 

Paul’s message was also believed because of how Paul, Silas and Timothy conducted themselves while in Thessalonica.  We know that they worked to support themselves.  They were themselves utterly convicted of the truth of what they were proclaiming.  They lived out the ethic of sacrificial love toward each other.   

 

This was an example to the Thessalonians and they tried to emulate the three men … and they tried to emulate what they had been told about Jesus … and apparently were quite successful in doing so.[12] 

 

And so the Thessalonians believed in Paul’s message, despite the persecution they faced, likely including opposition from their own families.  And this brought them joy, happiness if you will, even though life had become harder rather than easier.   

 

So you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.  From you the word (i.e. message about) of the Lord has sounded out, not only in Macedonia and in Achaia, but in every place your faith toward God has become known everywhere, so that we have no need to say anything.      1 Thessalonians 1:7-8

 

Timothy could report back to Paul that the converts in Thessalonica were enthusiastic about their new-found faith and not shy about telling others what they had found, witnessing about Jesus despite the opposition.  

 

When Paul was waiting for Timothy’s return, he must have heard reports from other Christians who had travelled through Thessalonica on their way to Greece.  They had told him just how the Christians in Thessalonica treated each other and continued to share Paul’s message.  They were so exemplary, that news of them was spreading among the other churches in Macedonia and Greece (Achaia).    

 

They (= those who heard of the faith of the Thessalonians) themselves report about us:  What kind of reception we received among you, and how you turned to God from your idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven - the One whom He raised from the dead - Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath.                         1 Thessalonians 1:9-10

 

Paul then outlines what the reports about them included.  The pagans among them had turned from the gods and goddesses of the Greco-Roman pantheon, and embraced belief in the one true God, for whom they now lived.  And they were waiting with anticipation for the return of Jesus, as the one who would save them from the judgment day. 

 

Note that Paul prays to God the Father who deeply loves those who have faith in Him and who have turned to serve Him. 

Jesus, the Son, is “the Lord” (a title for God in the OT), the deliverer, raised by the Father from the dead, the object of the Christian message and the believers’ hope, the One whose return they await. 

The Holy Spirit is the One who changes and empowers the messenger and the converts so they are filled with joy.  

 

Over time, Paul’s relationship to the Macedonian churches, particularly the church in Philippi and Thessalonica, continued to be happy and warm – unlike his relationship with some of the churches he had planted in Asia Minor (Galatia). 

 

We know from both his letters to the churches in Corinth and Rome, that believers in Macedonia, despite their poverty, were consistently generous in their giving to himself and the Jerusalem relief fund.  Apparently the believers in Thessalonica and Philippi were the only ones who continued to support him financially. 

 

I have a Lexicon at home.  It contains entries of many, many individuals – usually people of consequence, people of influence, those who had accomplished something of note or something despicable, those who had influenced history both in a positive or negative way, as well as those who were simply public figures because of their jobs (actors, sports figures).

 

There are people who were famously rich, or influential politicians, philosophers, scientists, athletes, explorers, authors, artists and composers.   Let me show you a couple of slides and see if you recognize the people who are on them.

 

Ludwig von Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Rembrandt (van Rijn);

Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Leonardo Da Vinci

 

Winston Churchill, Abe Lincoln, Adolf Hitler;

Mao Tse Tung, Vladimir Putin, Nelson Mandela, Napoleon Bonaparte

 

Dalai Lama, Sun Myung Moon, Billy Graham, Mother Teresa,

Rabbi Israel Yitzhak Yosef (chief Sephardi Rabbi of Israel),[13] Mahatma Ghandi, Ayatollah Khomeini,

 

Charles Darwin, Marie and her husband Pierre Currie, Albert Einstein;

Stephen Hawking, Benjamin Franklin, Sigmund Freud

 

Emmanuel Kant, Jean-Paul Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche;

Karl Marx, Bertrand Russel, Renes Decartes

 

 

These were individuals who are almost universally known, those who were a driving force, or who changed the course of history, or who impacted others in a significant way. 

 

And I ask myself, what makes these people different from others not found in the Lexicon?  Maybe it could have been extraordinary intelligence, creativity, talent, looks, ruthlessness, or inquisitiveness.  But I also believe that these people were driven.  And so they were determined.  They were relentless.  They simply had to do what they did.

 

The same is true of other Christians who stood out in history.

 

In the 18th century, there is Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf (d. 1760), who supported the Moravian movement and reformed the Lutheran church.

John Wesley (d. 1791), founded the Methodist Church.

 

In the 19th century William Carey (d. 1834), was a pioneer missionary to India.  General William Booth (d. 1912), founded the Salvation Army.

 

These men made a huge difference in their own time and beyond.  They weren’t particularly good looking or wealthy or intelligent.  But they did have an inner driving force, an inner conviction that propelled them, compelled them, to do what they did.      

 

In our passage this morning, we read that people all over the region and beyond had heard about the faith and conduct of the Thessalonian believers (in every place your faith toward God has gone forth).  Even though they were relatively new to their faith in God, they were living out their faith and were speaking about it.   The believers at Thessalonica were having an impact.  And the reason was that they too were convinced of and convicted that Paul’s message was true.

 

As I thought about our passage, I asked myself, how do I become a person who is able to impact those around me in a positive way for God and for good?  And at the very foundation, it begins with what I believe to be true and therefore of most relevance

 

Some people don’t believe because they do not feel a need to be saved.  The message of Jesus is just not relevant to them.  They are convinced that they lead a relatively good life and are good people.  From what do they need to be saved?  And to what end should they be saved?

 

But I think if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we sometimes need saving from ourselves, from our inability to do what we know is right, from our greed and pride and selfishness, from our bad habits and attitudes, from our emotions.  We have a need to deal with the garbage of our past and present.  We have to deal with the inevitable end to our lives. 

 

We need to ability or the drive or the motivation to become better spouses, better parents, better grandparents, better employers and employees, ultimately better human beings.

 

And that’s not a bad place to start when it comes to the relevance of God in our lives.  But the converts in Thessalonica also had a deep need to connect with the true and living God.  And the message about Jesus, about this Son of God, who came and died to pay the penalty of all the wrongs they had committed so that we can have a fresh start with God – it hit home – for them it was indeed “good news.”

 

To impact the world for good and for God …

 

The reality is that if we are not convinced about the truth of the message – the good news that God has acted for his people’s salvation in Christ -  we won’t be, we can’t be, like the Thessalonians.  So we need to have the message about Jesus touch both our minds and our hearts.

 

That does NOT mean that we won’t have doubts.  A few weeks ago I spoke about the very real possibility that doubts will arise from time to time and that ultimately our faith is a reasonable, but still a leap of faith.

 

I don’t think there is anything wrong with telling God about the doubts and questions we have and to pray for the Holy Spirit’s continuing work in our heart to help us to find and believe in truth and to reject falsehood.

 

When I read about the atrocities committed in the name of Christ, the inquisition or the crusades, or the corruption of religious leaders, or the hypocrisy or self-righteousness in the church, or the difficulties in the Bible, or whatever may turn people from Christianity – all I have to do is weigh those against the miraculous changes for good I see in those who genuinely come to God, the peace people receive, the purpose in life, the inner healing, the ability to deal with pain and sorrow and even death, the beauty and truth and wisdom in the Bible, and all the good things that have come as a result of genuine faith – the abolition of slavery, the schooling of children, the feeding of the hungry and the building of hospitals. 

 

We have to realise that so much that has been done in the name of God or Jesus has little or nothing to do with either.  Those who truly follow the teaching of Jesus are those who forgive, those who care, those who love others. 

 

The truth is that nothing apart from a personal relationship with God can radically change hearts and minds to live in love, mutual acceptance and hope, rather than in selfishness and conflict.  Science can’t do it.  Political systems can’t do it.  Self-help books can’t do it.  Seances can’t do it.  Horoscopes can’t do it.  Seminars can’t do it.  But the Holy Spirit can.

 

It’s been said that if you can start the day without caffeine or pep pills, if you can be cheerful while ignoring aches and pains, if you can resist complaining or boring people with your troubles, If you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it, If you can understand when loved ones are too busy to give you time, If you can overlook when people take things out on you, when, through no fault of yours, something goes wrong, if you can take criticism and blame without resentment, If you can face the world without lies and deceit, If you can conquer tension without medical help, If you can relax without liquor, If you can sleep without the aid of drugs … then you are probably a dog (or an emotionally and spiritually mature believer).

 

In any case, a person who impacts his world for God and for good is one who is convinced that the message about Jesus is both relevant to life and true – assured by the truth of the message in his mind and the conviction of the Holy Spirit in his heart.

 

In order to be a person who impacts the world for good and for God …

 

Paul mentions two attitudes evident in the lives of these believers in Thessalonica.  The fist is found in v.3 – patient endurance or enduring patience (based on / inspired by) hope in Jesus Christ.  And the second one is found in v.6 – is speaks of it in the context of accepted the word despite difficulties:  The attitude of joy or happiness.

 

These are not two characteristics that most people develop naturally.  Being able to endure, to go on patiently, no matter what life may bring is the result having hope.  For the believer, the object of that hope is Jesus Christ.  Hope is a word that speaks

 

1. of something good that will happen in the future.  Verse 10 or our passage speaks of the hope of the Thessalonians have in the future.  It points to the return of Christ who would deliver them from the coming wrath. 

 

2. But I think that hope also speaks of the present.  We have hope in Jesus Christ for our present lives, not just for the future. 

 

And when we have this hope in help for today and eternal life for the future, then it allows us to look at things from an eternal perspective – even if we have a tendency to slip back into our human, all too human, perspective.

 

Don’t sweat the small stuff – and, do you realize that in light of eternity – almost all things are small stuff.  You know, it is the ability to realize that I have to get all bent out of shape because of something that, in the greater scheme of things, is not that important.

 

I’m not speaking about a lack of concern, but the ability to roll with the punches and not let circumstances or others upset us – because life is short and eternity forever.

 

And the second attitude that should grow in our lives is joy.  Joy is the ability to have a positive and joyful outlook on life, even if things aren’t the greatest.

 

Patient endurance and joy don’t just happen.  They come from having hope and from having the Holy Spirit in our lives.

 

That does not mean that good Christians don’t get angry, don’t feel anxious or depressed.  Some people think of feeling angry or sad as “negative” emotions – but at times they may be appropriate.  When our friend rips us off.  When our spouse leaves us.  When our house gets broken into and our stuff stolen.  When we lost our job.   There will be times when we feel angry or depressed. 

 

Those who play the “A good Christian never gets angry or depressed” tape long enough, usually end up stuffing their emotions, repressing or suppressing them.  Underneath, those feelings are still there, and if you stuff them long enough, usually the result is one of two things – either a very ugly explosion – usually at a bad time, or a person becomes emotionally sick and crippled

 

We need to be honest about what we feel, but also be honest enough to examine whether or not what we feel fits what has happened to us.

 

There are three warning signs that you may have a problem with a lack of patient endurance or joy.  They deal with the intensity of your feeling, the frequency of your feelings and the duration, or length of time we feel what we do.

 

You see, if you are often angry or sad.  If you blow up a lot or you’re depressed a lot. 

Or, if you feel angry or anxious or sad over a long period of time. 

Or, if your feelings are overwhelmingly intense – all of these may be signs that something isn’t quite right in your life, that there is either a problem with your brain chemistry, with your past, with your thinking process, or possibly, with your faith

 

Just like a smoke detector can warn us of a fire – allowing us to get out of the house, so our emotional state may be warning us that something isn’t quite right inside of us. 

 

Painful feelings like anger, guilt or depression can alert us, make us aware, that something is wrong and hopefully motivate us to change and grow.  Because God does not want his people to suffer needlessly, he wants to use the bad things that happen to us for our growth and maturity. 

 

We have a tough time being a force for God or for good when we are consistently angry or depressed.  God wants us to develop the characteristics of patient endurance and joy in our lives.  

 

If I want to have an impact in this world for God and for good, I will be convinced that the message (good news) about Jesus Christ is relevant and true,

I will have the growing attitudes of patience and joy developing in my character, and …

 

There are a vast number of idols that we can serve.  We can serve the idol of money or success or self-fulfilment or pleasure or power.  Our idol could be a person, either ourselves or someone else, maybe someone we love or admire.  Our idol could be a sport or a possession.  There are so many things that we can worship in this life. 

 

The Thessalonians turned from serving their dead idols and turned to serving the living and true God.  They became imitators of Paul and of Christ.  They became examples to other believers.

 

There was a profound shift not only in their beliefs, but in their whole orientation to life.  And the practical result of this profound shift was two-fold.

 

  1. They were good, kind, caring, loving in how they treated others.  We read that their faith resulted in loving actions (v. 3). 

     

  2. They started to share the message about Jesus with others, wherever they went (v.8). 

     

    That’s what it means practically to be a believer – to share love in word and deed with others.  To care enough about others to help them – physically, emotionally or spiritually. 

     

    Let me leave you today with a couple of questions:

     

    IS SOMETHING KEEPING ME FROM FULLY COMMITTING MYSELF TO GOD?  IF YES, WHAT IS IT?

     

    Do you need to investigate the good news about Christ for yourself, and discuss it in a group setting?

     

    IS SOMETHING KEEPING ME FROM BEING PATIENT AND JOYFUL?  IF YES, WHAT IS IT?

     

    Is more patience and joy something you really desire in your life?  Are you sick of either stuffing your feelings of anger and frustration – denying them because you think they are bad – or sick of constant feelings of depression or anger or anxiety?  Are you ready to be honest about the way you feel and be honest about the reasons for those feelings? 

     

    Why don’t you begin by praying that God would show you the reasons for what is happening, commit yourself to finding help and speaking about it that will help others and yourself grow in joy and patience?

     

    IS SOMETHING KEEPING ME FROM BEING CHRIST-LIKE IN WORD AND DEED?  IF SO, WHAT IS IT?

     

    Maybe you need to figure out if there are still idols in your life that keep you from serving, worshipping and fully turning to the living God. 

     

    I think we all need to pray on an ongoing basis that God’s Spirit would make us into, emotionally and spiritually mature and loving and caring individuals.

     

     

     

 

[1] Also known as Anatolia.

[2] Paul likely wanted to go to Ephesus, since that is where he shipped to from Greece on the way back to Antioch.  Acts 16:6-7 – While in Galatia, they were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.”  This is likely the southern part of the province.  Instead they went to the western province of Mysia (can also be considered the northern part of the province of Asia).  When they attempted to go north to the province of Bithynia, “the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.”  So they continued west in Mysia to the port of Troas.

[3] See Acts 16:6 - 18:5.  Originally, Paul and Silas had not intended to go to Macedonia and Greece.  Timothy had joined them at Lystra (Acts 16:1-2).  Paul continued on to Greece but was prevented from returning to Thessalonica as he had planned (see 1 Thess 2:18).

[4] Samothrace

[5] Between 49 and 51 AD.

[6] Reigned c. 41-54 AD.

[7] Suetonius lived c. 69-122 AD.

[8] Suetonius, Divus Claudius 25.4.  “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus he expelled them from Rome.”  This is also noted in Acts 18:2 - Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.  And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome.

[9] The charge of sedition.

[10] fornication; sexual immorality

[11] Cf. 5:22 - Abstain from every evil.

[12] See 1 Cor 4:16 – I urge you to imitate me.  1 Cor 11:1 – Follow my example as I follow Christ’s (or: Imitate me just as I imitate Christ).  Phil 3:17 - Join one another in following my example, brothers, and carefully observe those who live according to the pattern we set for you.

[13] Ashkenazi Jews are from Germany and northern France.  Sephardic Jews are from Spain.  These European Jews are different from the African Jews (i.e., Ethiopian), and Asian Jews (i.e., Mizrahi).