Introduction – Preparing for the coming King
No doubt many of you will have been preparing for this new academic year. Many of you will have been preparing for this new term of ministry. But are we preparing for the coming King? You see Jesus Christ is coming again as Judge. We read that in both 1 & 2 Thessalonians. 1 Thessalonians 4&5 says that those who have put their faith in Christ, in his death on the cross, can look forward to that day with great hope and encouragement, whether they are dead or alive when Jesus returns. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:16:
"16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage each other with these words."
But those who reject Christ will get what they want for eternity. Paul puts this very starkly in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10:
"6God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7and give relief to you who are troubled and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed."
So are we getting ready and helping others to be ready for Jesus’ second coming? Is that on our agenda for ministry this term whether we’re a Sidesman, a Scout leader, a Sunday school teacher, a small group leader, a sound desk operator, a service sheet collator, a singer in the music group, a student team member, a JPC sports team player, a school C.U. leader, a sermon transcript/CD producer, a server of tea and coffee at Mothers and Toddlers or whatever your ministry area is – as I’ve now run out of those beginning with ‘s’! Because we all have a part to play in God’s work. You see this isn’t just about making converts; it’s about making disciples of Jesus Christ for the glory of God. And Jesus has commissioned all those who follow him to go and do that in the power of the Spirit. Preparing for the coming King was certainly on the Apostle Paul’s agenda and it’s the message of his two letters to the Thessalonians.
On Wednesday Home Groups begin. In those groups we’re starting a new Bible study series on 1 Thessalonians with preparing for the coming King as the overall theme. If you’re a Christian and not yet in a Home Group or some other small group at JPC do join one tonight. You see, according to Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, we are to encourage one another to live and witness in the light of Jesus’ second coming and build each other up in readiness for Jesus’ return. And we can do that in Home Groups in ways that we can’t do in this larger gathering, such as praying for one another, encouraging one another and applying the Bible together. If you’re still thinking through the Christian faith the small group for you is Christianity Explored starting on October 5. In that informal group you’ll discover how you can be ready to meet Jesus when he comes again, by putting your faith in him as Saviour and Lord. So do make sure you’re in one of those two types of small group, where we can learn the truth together from God’s Word about how to prepare for the coming King.
For, as at Thessalonica, there’s always false teaching around on the second coming and how to prepare for it. In 1992 one church leader in the Far East persuaded 20,000 followers that the Rapture would occur on 28th October of that year. To prepare themselves for the Lord’s coming, people abandoned their jobs and their education, sold their homes, divorced their spouses and deserted the army. Tragically some women even had abortions so they would be light enough to be taken up into heaven. The pastor was later prosecuted and sentenced to two years imprisonment. At Thessalonica some appear to have given up their jobs and were idle (2 Thessalonians 3:11) perhaps because of their belief that the day of the Lord had already come (2:2). But Paul says to them (2:3): ‘Don’t let anyone deceive you…’ Jesus will come again but we don’t know the date. Jesus said that even he doesn’t know, only the Father (Matthew 24:36). But we are to be ready.
All of which brings us to 2 Thessalonians 2:13 and our main passage for this evening. As we wait and prepare for the coming King Paul writes back in 2 Thessalonians 2:2: "Don't become easily unsettled" and in v15 he appeals to his readers then and now to "stand firm" and hold to the teachings of Christ and the apostles. The word "unsettled" in the original was often used of a ship adrift from its mooring and suggests a lack of stability. I discovered how true that can be this summer while sailing on the Norfolk Broads. In torrential rain and howling gales the boat and all inside her rocked vigorously from side to side. And when the gap between the mooring and the boat was too wide the boat’s instability led to some falling overboard! In the case of the Thessalonians they were being unsettled by some false teaching about the second coming. They were also facing persecution (2 Thessalonians 1:4) and temptation (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). So Paul reminds them of the truth of their eternal security in the Lord and therefore tells them to stand firm and to hold to the truth and prays for them.
We live in unsettling times. False teaching abounds in the wider church. Those who hold to biblical Christianity face persecution even in this country. The media constantly bombards us with material that undermines a biblical world view and tempts us to be immoral. On the eve of the fifth anniversary of 9/11 we’re reminded of the rise of Islam. These threats, attacks and winds try to blow us over.
Behind these threats, attacks and winds is the devil. There is a spiritual battle going on. And as we see from 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 these physical, intellectual and moral attacks will come to a climax when Antichrist is revealed. For he will inaugurate a time of unparalleled anarchy. Hell will break loose. And many will be swept away by the gale of error and evil. So how are we to stand firm? How is it possible? How can we be rock like and immovable? How can we have Christian stability and how can we help others to have it too? Well in v13-17 of 2 Thessalonians 2 Paul gives us some answers and then goes on to urge us to pray for the rapid spread of the gospel in chapter 3 confident that the Lord is faithful and that he will strengthen and protect us from the evil one.
So first, STAND FIRM AND HOLD TO THE TRUTH
Look at v13&14.
"But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Confident of God's work in their lives Paul thanks God for the genuine Christians at Thessalonica just as we should give thanks to God for one another, for those loved and saved by the Lord, for those in our Home Groups and other Bible study groups, because God from the beginning chose them to be saved and then called them and will bring them safely home in the end, in spite of any tribulation. So Paul's assurance that they will stand firm, his confidence in their stability is due entirely to his confidence in the stability of God's loving purpose for them. It is only because God is steadfast, that we can be steadfast too. How we need to be reminded of that and to realise the stability of God's loving purpose for us.
The biblical doctrine of divine election and call, which is summarized in these two verses, is difficult to fully comprehend but it is so comforting and encouraging to know that our salvation goes back to the gracious initiative of God. God chose us and called us.
And God's election of us is not just for a short term of office, as it might be for a newly elected local councillor or a newly elected mayor, but that we might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ when he returns and for eternity. You see divine election is from eternity for eternity.
Here in these verses then is a summary of the process by which we become Christians. There is the sovereign, gracious choice of God; there is the Spirit's action which makes effective to us the work of Christ; and there is our response of faith in welcoming that work and clearing the way for God's Spirit to act upon us. Look at v13&14.
First, v13 God's eternal choice.
"From the beginning God chose you."
Why did he choose us? Because he loved us and he chose us to be saved - to deliver us from the ravages and consequences of sin. How?
"Through the sanctifying work of the Spirit who brings us to new birth, indwells us and transforms us, and through belief in the truth."
He opened our eyes to believe it, in contrast to those who closed their minds to it and refused to believe, as Paul states in v10-12.
Secondly, v14 God's historical call.
"God called you to this salvation by grace through faith through our gospel."
God's call comes to us through hearing the gospel and then we respond. Some say that the doctrine of God's election means there's no need for evangelism. But no! Surely the doctrine of divine election actually makes evangelism essential. For as v14 makes clear it is through the preaching of the gospel – the good news that Jesus Christ died in our place on the cross to pay the price of our sin and rose from the dead defeating sin, death and the devil - that God calls us to himself, "that we might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ."
So let's be clear. In the eternity of the past God chose us to be saved. Then he called us in time, causing us to hear the gospel, believe the truth and be sanctified by the Spirit, with a view to us sharing Christ's glory in the eternity of the future. So God chose us and called us from the beginning to the glory. We can have confidence in God's eternal stability of purpose, even when the devil attacks, even when the Antichrist is revealed and rebellion breaks out. As Paul writes in the next chapter: "The Lord is faithful, he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one".
Also in v13 Paul describes the Thessalonian Christians as "brothers loved by the Lord". In v16 he describes the Father and the Son as the God "who loved us". You see behind God's election, call and salvation is God's love. And the fact that God is love; that he has set his love upon us, that he loves us still and that his love will never let us go is the foundation of Christian stability. Therefore ‘brothers loved by the Lord’ be assured that the love once shown us in Christ - the love which was the mainspring of our salvation - continues to enfold us, come what may - even in the face of the lawless one! You see our stability is not only impossible, but actually inconceivable, apart from the steadfastness of the love of God. But this doesn’t mean we just sit back and do nothing. Look at v15:
"So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter."
In other words, since God has so clearly included those who believe in the truth in his great purpose, and since that purpose cannot be overthrown even by Satan and the man of lawlessness, stand firm, hold to the truth and do not be frightened by the opposition or unsettled by false teaching.
In the face of very strong winds of opposition, false teaching and temptation we are to stand firm and hold on to something solid and secure - the truth of God's Word. So we must be unswervingly loyal to the Scriptures or to put it another way firmly evangelical Christians. Are we? Do we spend time learning from them on our own, with others and at church and putting them into practice? That is the road to stability. The only way to resist false teaching is to hold to the true teaching, to rebuke and correct the false and to drive away heresy.
Note also that Paul says here, "Brothers stand firm and hold to the teachings". He’s writing to a church not just to an individual. We are also to stand firm and hold to the truth together. Ephesians 6:10f :
"Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God and stand firm together, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes…and pray in the Spirit on all occasions."
How are we to stand firm and hold to the truth together? One very important way is by praying for one another. John Newton once said that ‘Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees’. This term at JPC we’re having a particular emphasis on prayer. Prayer is vital. Paul knew that. He prayed continually for the Thessalonians and requested prayer for his ministry. Who are we ‘praying for without ceasing’ as Paul exhorts us to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, and who’s praying for us? Perhaps you could meet with one or two other Christians to pray and read the Bible together on a regular basis this term. So …
Secondly PAUL'S PRAYERS AND REQUEST FOR PRAYER
What can we learn from Paul about this? Look first at v16&17:
"May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word."
Interestingly Paul addresses his prayer to our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father. And despite the plurality of the subject he goes on in v.16 to use the singular who and the singular verbs loved and gave. He clearly thought of the Father and the Son as one. A fact which Jesus himself clearly stated in John's Gospel chapter 10:30:
"I and the Father are one."
Jesus Christ is God. A truth that we must hold to. And Paul continues describing Father and Son here in v.16 with the words, "who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope". He loved us to death on Calvary. In the cross of Christ God's love and grace resulted in the gifts of eternal encouragement and good hope for those who trust in Jesus Christ. They resulted in giving us every reason for eternal confidence before God. In that confidence Paul prays that God will encourage and establish the Thessalonian Christians. Look at v17:
"May God, Son and Father, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word."
In other words, may God fortify you inwardly, and may that inward strength show itself outwardly in every good deed and word.
With the same confidence in God Paul had let's be praying for that for each other. It is God who encourages and establishes. Only God can do it by his grace. Therefore we must pray. Yes God does use people to accomplish his work in others. Paul encouraged the Thessalonians and sent Timothy to encourage and establish them. And those of you here tonight who have been commissioned as group leaders are to encourage and help to establish those in your care. But we must pray too. It is God, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope. And it is God who encourages our hearts and strengthens us in every good deed and word. Aware of this Paul humbly goes on to ask for prayer, just as we should. Look at chapter 3 verse 1:
"Finally, brothers, pray for us…"
But what were these brothers in Christ to pray for Paul and the ministry Christ himself had personally called him to? Well, first we see the priority is not for our own needs but for the rapid spread of the gospel. Look at the rest of v1:
"…pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honoured, just as it was with you."
George Gallup, of opinion poll fame, once said, “Any revitalization of faith in this country will have to start with prayer.” We are to pray that the gospel would spread rapidly and be honoured here in Jesmond and throughout Newcastle, Gateshead and the other areas in which we live. Many hundreds of thousands of people here are in desperate need of the gospel. Many people in this city have no idea what the purpose of life is. They are lost. So we are to pray that the message of the Lord would spread rapidly and be honoured among the people of this city and this region. And we praise God for the many answers to prayer there have already been with regard to the Gateshead Project – planning permission has now been granted for the building and there’s now a Home Group based in St James’ Village. There’s still much to pray for. But God answers prayer!
However we’re also to act and be willing to be part of the answer to our prayers and those of others, in terms of being willing to play our part in spreading the message of the Lord. This term we have the opportunity in Home Groups and as individuals to be involved in something called Share Life. It’s based on 1 Thessalonians 2:8 where Paul writes that ‘we were delighted to share not only the gospel of God but our lives as well’. It’s an informal way of sharing what Christ has done in our lives with our friends. Make sure you get the leaflet about it from your Home Group leader. Of course some will mock and try to undermine the truth of the Bible but let’s not be put off by that. Instead let’s pray and trust God. So (v2):
"Pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith. But, have confidence in the Lord, the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one."
So Paul has confidence in the Lord that they will continue to obey. V4
"We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command."
For, as Paul wrote in his first letter to them – “the one who called you is faithful and he will do it”. (1 Thessalonians 5:24) So he prays a prayer which we can pray for each other here. V5:
"May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance."
You may be being tempted to give up – to give up the ministry God has given you, you’re finding it hard, you haven’t got the time, you don’t think you’re doing it very well, and there’s opposition from home or colleagues or friends. Some of you may even be being tempted to give up coming to church. Well as Winston Churchill said, when he and this nation were facing great opposition, “Never, never, never, never, never, never give up.” Never give up following and serving Christ. Don't give up and don't be idle. Instead prepare and be prepared for the coming King: remember and know the love of God and fix your eyes on Jesus who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.