What Do We Do While We Wait?
A sermon based on 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5
Sunday, November 14, 2010 -- Saints Triumphant
This week I decided it was time to get studded tires on the van so I took it in on Monday. But they couldn't get me in right away. I had to wait for over 4 hours at Alyeska since so many people wanted winter tires after our recent snowfall.
Do you like standing in long lines at the Post Office? Do you enjoy driving in the long caravan behind the slow-moving RV? Do you like to wait? If you're like me, and it seems like most people in our busy society, you don't really like to wait very much.
But some people make the best of it. I've seen people sitting in traffic of course talking or texting on their phones, putting on their makeup, or even reading the morning paper, just to have something to do while they wait.
And to be honest, I didn't mind the four hour wait on Monday because I planned for it. I took along the laptop and a couple of books and had plenty to do while I waited.
When you have to sit in traffic or stand in line, what do you do while you wait?
The first-century church at Thessalonica didn't like to wait very much either. In fact, some were under the impression that they had waited so long for Jesus to return on the Last Day, that they had perhaps missed it. Others thought his return so close, they quit their jobs and just sat around waiting.
So Paul wrote two very similar letters to the confused Thessalonians assuring them that they hadn't missed Christ's Second Coming. When it did come, no one could miss it. But for now, they'd better settle in because they might still have a long wait. But, he told them there was plenty to do to pass the time while they waited.
Almost two thousand years later we're still waiting for Christ's Second Coming, so the encouragement Paul gave the Thessalonians applies just as much to us. He tells us what to do while we wait: 1) to rejoice because God has done everything to save us, 2) to stand firm in the faith that we have, 3) to pray for the spread of the gospel and deliverance from evil, and 4) to relax, confident that when our wait is over we will join the Thessalonians and our Lord himself in eternal glory, not because of anything we do, but because the Lord is faithful.
Listen again to God's encouragement to us recorded in 2 Thessalonians 2… 13 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. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I. Rejoice (2:13-14)
What were the Thessalonians to do while they waited for Christ to return? Paul first encourages them to rejoice! Even though they were being persecuted, even though they were confused by the troublemakers in the church, even though things seemed to be going anything but smooth, Paul thanks God for them and reminds them that they have ample reason to rejoice.
He reminds them, "from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ."
How much better could it get? God chose the Thessalonians before the world was made, before time itself existed. He chose them to be saved from their sins. He hand picked them to be set apart by the Holy Spirit who brought them to faith in the truth through the gospel. They would share in the glory of Jesus himself! No matter what else happened the Thessalonian Christians could always rejoice in those truths.
And you know that it's no different for us. God chose you, dear Christian. Before Adam and Eve, before he made the stars, before he created earth, before time itself, God handpicked you.
Think about that for a minute. Marvel at it. Why are you a Christian? Because God wants you to be. He sent his Spirit to bring you to faith in his gospel. You know and trust in that truth; that though you rightly deserve to be condemned to hell at Christ's Second Coming, yet because he lived a perfect life in your place and suffered the hell you deserve on the cross, instead of being damned, you will share in the glory of Jesus himself. Rejoice! All that is his belongs to you! And you will receive all of his glory when he comes again to take us to be with him.
Paul goes on… 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
II. Stand Firm (2:15)
Because the Thessalonians had the certainty of the salvation that Jesus won for them, that the Spirit brought them to believe, that the Father chose them to have before the world began, Paul encouraged them to stand firm in their faith, that is, to establish themselves and not be moved.
Like a football lineman, not willing to give up any ground at all, they were to dig in their heels and brace themselves for attack, but not give in.
But how were they to stand firm? What gave them the strength to withstand such attacks on their faith? Paul said, "hold to the teachings we passed on to you," Paul and his companions had already shared the gospel with the Thessalonians before. He had already written to them once before. Now he encourages them to hold on to that Word.
And the same encouragement applies to us. God has chosen you to be his child. He has paid for your every sin on Calvary's cross. Now don't lose out on what's yours! Stand your ground! Let nothing move you away from Christ! Cling to him in his Word! Hold tight to the teachings that have been passed on to you in that Word and never let go!
And, while you stand firm, pray. Paul wrote… 3:1 Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. 2 And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith.
III. Pray (3:1-2)
Paul recognized that there was more to being a Christian than guarding one's own faith. While the Thessalonians should stand firm, they should also support the work of the gospel in whatever way that they could. Here Paul told them that one way to do that is through prayer.
God had chosen them and had made them perfectly righteous through Christ's blood. The prayer of a righteous man, James tells us, is powerful and effective. (cf. James 5:16) So by their prayers alone they could accomplish so much!
He told them to pray that the gospel message would not only spread rapidly, but that it may be honored. How is the gospel honored? When it's embraced and not attacked. When it's held up as truth and not just a myth or fable. When it's treated as the very words of God to man and not as just words about God by man. But most of all, God's Word is honored when it is believed and lived. In short, Paul told the Thessalonians to pray, "Thy kingdom come."
Then Paul told them to pray that they all might be "delivered from wicked and evil men." Because all people didn't honor the Word of God and put their trust in Christ, persecution was sure to happen. They always faced opposition and were always under attack. So Paul told them to pray, "Deliver us from evil."
And the same encouragement applies to us. What do we do while we wait for Christ to come in glory? We pray. We have been made righteous through Christ's blood since God chose us since the world began. So our prayer is powerful and effective.
Don't neglect that powerful gift! But pray for the spread of the gospel! Pray that God would open the hearts of all people to honor his Word and put their trust in him, here on the peninsula and around the world! Pray that his kingdom would come through you and through your witness. And pray that we all might be delivered from evil, confident that our prayers will be heard and answered because we are praying according to God's will.
Finally, Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to relax… 16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word…
IV. Relax (2:16-17, 3:4-5)
While the Thessalonians were rejoicing in God's grace, striving to stand firm and praying with all their hearts, they could, at the same time, relax. They had already been comforted by God. By his grace he sent his Son to be their substitute in hell. That gave them real encouragement, eternal encouragement that could never be taken away.
It gave them a good hope. Not a "I hope it doesn't rain tomorrow," hope, but the sure and certain hope of a victory already won. No matter what happened to the Thessalonians, they could be absolutely certain that they would soon die and go to be in glory with their Savior as his triumphant saints. And he would continue to strengthen them as they lived out their faith while they waited for that day. So they could rest assured that in the end they would be victorious.
But what made them so confident? Certainly not anything they had done, but because of the faithfulness of God.
3 …the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. 4 We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance.
Paul once wrote a trustworthy saying (in 2 Timothy 2:13), "If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself." No matter how great the sins of their past, God's promises stood. If they should sin in the future turning their backs on God and later come to repentance, God's promises stood. "The Lord is faithful," so the Thessalonians could relax.
And nothing can change God's faithfulness. Those same promises hold true for us today. He's given us the same eternal encouragement of life with him in heaven for all of eternity; we have that same good and certain hope. His promises will never prove false. He is completely trustworthy and he cannot disown himself. So keep your eyes fixed on your good hope of heaven and relax.
When the famous painter, Michelangelo, came down from painting the frescoes of a high ceiling, he had become so accustomed to looking upward all day long that it caused him real pain to turn his eyes to the ground. In the same way, let us become so accustomed to looking upward toward our certain good hope of heaven, it pains us to turn away from our hope while we wait for his return.
And when we do, even in hardships, in trials and in persecution we can relax and persevere, rejoicing in our salvation since we've been chosen by God, standing firm in our faith and holding fast to his Word, praying for the spread of the gospel and deliverance from evil, and confident that God will remain faithful to his promises. And as we wait for his return, "May the Lord direct [our] hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance." In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.