Advent Sunday, December 2nd 2018
Passage : 1 Thessalonians 3:6-end.
Our first bible reading was from Paul’s first Letter to the Thessalonians. We heard his words ”when our Lord Jesus comes” – his second advent. The return of Christ is the dominant theme in his letter. As we read it, we see how many times the return of Christ – theParousia – is mentioned. As we will see, it is a message he returns to, in a number of different settings and applications. As we consider how it is mentioned and how Paul applies it to the life as a Christian, it shapes our vision of what Advent is about.
Also remember who are the Thessalonians. A church planted by Paul. But it was a very young church. We have existed this year, on Dec 20th,three years old. Now, when he writes, the Thessalonian church is only several months old. This church was planted on Paul’s second missionary journey. He then, as opposition grew, had to leave and travelled to Berea, where again persecution came, and from there he went to Athens. Reading the whole letter you see how personal it is, as he weaves into it, comments about his concerns and experiences of them as a church. He was concerned how they were doing. He sends Timothy to them, and then he travelled onto Corinth. Timothy catches up with him there. So it is in Corinth he writes, upon hearing Timothy’s report. He writes to a church only several months old.
a)1:3 2 We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. 3 We remember beforeour God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love,and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
In his prayers he remembers. Not only what he has been told by Timothy, but also what he remembers from his own weeks in that 100,000 strong city. His words makes us think perhaps we need to pray and work for better memories – as John Stott says, ‘as we remember people, their faces, names, needs, we are prompted to pray for them and to thank God for them’. Paul notes.
He remembers their faith, love, hope.
Faith towards God. Love towards others – both inside and outside the Christian community. Hope towards the future. What are signs of being a Christian? How do you know, what do you look for? Is Paul here suggesting that three signs for him – looking upwards towards God in faith, out towards others in love, on towards the Parousia in hope? He adds the word endurance – how this hope of Christ’s return becomes a strength to press on when we are opposed or things around us want to stop us. Paul elsewhere suggests to know that our faith is not simply about this world, gives strength in our following… (see 1 Cor15:58).
b) 1:8-10 Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
Paul says – they report. He has been saying how knowledge of their faith has become known across the areas around and through Greece. And further afield. So they are known for it. And they are known for specifically three things – known for repentance – their lives changed from worshipping Greek gods, to trueworship; they are known for how they serve God; and thirdly, known for how they wait for Jesus from heaven…
This is the first place where Paul clearly talks about the Parousia. From now on, it will be mentioned in each chapter of his letter.
But what he has said sounds strange – he says they are serving and waiting. That sounds a contradiction – one is action,the other is not. They balance each other don’t they. You see no matter how we work, serve, pray, no matter how we see the powers of the future kingdom breaking in, we can only improve society,we can not perfect it, we cannot build an utopia on earth. We long for and wait for Christ to come, then the kingdom will be truly here, a true and full reign by Christ of justice, peace.
Yet on the other hand, while we wait expectantly, while we pray Marantha – Come Lord Jesus – we do not sit idly. with arms folded, mouths and eyes closed,indifferent to the needs around us. ”Instead, we must work even while we wait, for we are called to serve the living and true God.” (John Stott, 1 Thessalonians).
c) 2:19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presenceof our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?
This does not say that Paul glorifies in them and not in Christ. But it is enough perhaps to say, this reflects his outpouring of love towards them – that chapter is very personal. – If you think Paul is all theory and heavy teaching, do read 1 Thessalonians and see his pastor’s heart. 2Corinthians is another letter which shows his heart – when perhaps we can grow up thinking he is all mind and hard as stone. His joy is in this church. And in the time ahead, when Christ returns, he will glorify the Trinity for the Thessalonians are”trophies of Christ crucified”, proof of what Christ has done. Paul sees the return of Christ, a time to give glory for all that Christ has done through him, around him, in him.
Now, All Saints this challenges me to ask – can Advent be a time to offer ourselves again to Christ and say, Lord we seek you to use us, in such a way, when you return you will glorified, there will be trophies of Christ due to how you have worked among us around, through us?
d) 3: 11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 Maythe Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyoneelse, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
A prayer – here half way through the letter. He spontaneously shares his prayer for them. The last petition we focus on. We cannot be perfect in this life, but we are on a journey of sanctification. So in Christ – we are saints, holy ones – but the journey we set ourselves upon – we look to what we will become – we will become ”blameless and holy” – we set that as our goal, of what will be in us, yet we need that strength of God – through his Spirit – as we move along becoming transformed ever increasingly. Advent reminds us to set our direction towards becoming holy people – for that is how God wants to transform us.
e) 4:13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.
I only quote part of this very well known passage. At times it can be hard to know what the issue is that Paul is tackling – it is like reading a series of Whatsapp messages and having the other person’s comments deleted. But it appears – they are worrying about those who have died before the Lord’s return. They have mistaken views – ‘uniformed’ Paul says – and they have lost hope, feeling their loved ones and friends have become lost. Paul reassures them that those who have died in Christ – who have fallen asleep – are not lost. He reassures them -and us here – that when Christ returns – from heaven, with the loud command,the voice of the archangel, the trumpet call of God, the dead will rise. And those who are alive will be caught up with him in the air. And, as Paul says,we will be with the Lord forever.
It is a pastoral message from a pastor to his flock. It was a concern then and an encouragement for us all today. As life goes on, and as people die close to us – friends, grandparents, parents – as we attend funerals, the return of Christ becomes a promise for them and a comfort to us. They will be raised. Paul is clear, there is no second class group – all will be with the Lord forever. And so he says – ‘do not grieve as people without hope’. He does not say – ‘do not grieve’. He says, ‘grieve with hope’. We allow our emotions to become shaped by God and his love truth and promises, but we are not to set aside our emotions, and become hard as a stone. As Calvinsays – ”let the sorrow of the godly be mingled with comfort – the hope of blessed immortality will accomplish this.” (1 Thessalonians, John Calvin).
f) 5 Now,brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. … 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober,putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is not sure if the believers anxious about what will happen when Christ returns. Or were they restless trying to work out the exact day. Paul affirms,as we hear often in Jesus teaching, that the day of the Lord – which is the same as the Second Coming – will come unexpected and for some, who do not believe, unwelcomed. In these verses, he teaches: That the day will be unexpected – the Lord has chosen to hide the exact day from us – as Jesus says there will be signs, yet it will unexpected as well. Yet for believers, it is not to be an unexpected day – we are to be in constant readiness to receive Christ. We are to keep watch in eager expectation.
Maybe this Wednesday – Sinterklaas (December 5th) – is an example. For your kids. Or you remember how you were. This Wednesday, they watch and wait. They know when the evening comes, if you do it this way of course, they know at some point maybe the door bell will be rang, and a parcel a bag will be there. Watching, waiting, expectant, but not knowing when,unexpected but expected at the same time. That appears to be what Paul is sharing here – Christians to be expectant of the salvation to come.
g)Final. 523 May God himself, the God of peace,sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The onewho calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
These words are similar to what Paul prayed before. First half of the letter he prays. Second half he prays again. He has a double petition. For them to sanctified through and through. And that their spirit, soul and body – a way of saying, totally sanctified – would be kept blameless at the Parousia.The prayer is about sanctification and preservation. Again as he prayed before,the prayer for God to be at work within us, looking to when it is completed.And that we would be blameless, holy when he returns. But then v24 is the statement of not only who will do it but that he will do it – he calls us to be holy and he gives us the grace to be holy because we are loved, chosen, as Paul declared at the start of the letter, God will be working in us to become holy and we will be blameless when his son returns, to face not wrath but salvation. Is this a prayer to pray for other believers? I’d invite you to pray this pray for your fellow believers here in All Saints -to be sanctified and blameless at his coming.
Paul mentions 7 times about the Return of Christ. The hope is one of the signs of a believer; a believer is both serving God and waiting; seeking that through Christ’s work through us and around us He would be glorified on his return; to seek to be holy as we will be when he returns; comfort through knowing those dead in Christ will rise and be with the Lord forever; unknown when, unexpectant but expected; praying for others that they would be ready, knowing God calls and gives grace.
Advent is about these things, and more… we continue to explore in these coming weeks.
Shall we pray: O Lord our God,
make us watchful and keep us faithful
as we await the coming of your Son our Lord;
that, when he shall appear,
he may not find us sleeping in sin
but active in his service
and joyful in his praise;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.