Click HERE for an audio version of this message.
2 Thessalonians 1:5-10
Please turn your attention to our second lesson for today where Paul reminds us that, at home with Jesus, we are completely safe.
The old hymn by Bernard of Cluny begins, “The world is very evil, the times are waxing late.” He wrote those words sometime in the 12th century. We who live in the 21st century would agree. The world is very evil. The love of most has grown cold. Parents sacrifice their children at the modern altar of Molech called abortion and infanticide. People shoot up schools for no apparent reason. People are filled with greed and envy. They think they are entitled to things they want and expect others to pay for it. Social media is full of angry and hateful words, and sometimes we let ourselves get dragged into the negativity. Bible based morality is bashed as old fashioned and out of touch with reality. Persecution is on the rise all over the world. Here at home, Christians are told to keep their beliefs to themselves, and speakers who espouse Biblical principles are banned from speaking on college campuses.
The world is a scary place for Christians to live. But that should be no surprise. Jesus reminds us that the world hated him, the perfect son of God who never sinned and always treated others with love and compassion, who helped many people with their physical needs through his miracles. Yet, because he spoke the truth; because by his words and his perfect life people were convicted of their sins, he was hated and crucified. So, Jesus says, if we are his disciples, if we identify ourselves with him, if we strive to follow him and share the things he said, the world will hate us too.
The world was a scary place to live for Martin Luther, who had a price put on his head by church and government because he spoke the truth of God’s word. The world was a scary place for Bernard of Cluny. The world was a scary place for Paul and the Christians in Thessalonica. They were in danger from Jews who believed that Jesus was not the Messiah but a false teacher and who did miracles by the power of Satan. They were in danger from Romans who couldn’t understand why they would be so unpatriotic as to refuse to call the Emperor a god. But, in spite of the troubles and persecution they were experiencing because of their faith, they did not give up following Jesus. Paul says that they were a shining example to others because of their perseverance in the faith in the midst of suffering and persecution.
Paul says in verse 5 This (perseverance in the face of suffering and persecution) is evidence of God’s righteous verdict that resulted in your being counted worthy of God’s kingdom, for which you also suffer. Paul and the Apostles rejoiced when they suffered because of Jesus because if the world loves you, you are very likely compromising your faith.
Paul told Timothy, Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. We died with him at our Baptism. He reigns in our hearts through faith. As servants in his kingdom we are perfectly safe from all the evils of the world.
You might be ready to tune me out right now because you are thinking, “wait a minute. I don’t feel perfectly safe. I still experience a lot of evil. How can you say we are perfectly safe?
Paul says in verse 6 Certainly, it is right for God to repay trouble to those who trouble you, and to give relief to you, who are troubled along with us. In another place Paul says, The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Paul had seen evidence of God’s protecting hand even in the midst of beatings, shipwrecks, and imprisonment. He trusted that God would remain faithful to his promise to give him eternal life because of what Jesus had done for him. He understood what the Psalmist learned when he was troubled by all the evil in the world and the fact that unbelievers often seemed to have a better life than believers. He understood that life on this earth is not all there is. There is a Judgment Day, a day on which everyone who has ever lived will have to stand before God to give an account, as Jesus pictures for us in our Gospel lesson for today.
Paul says, When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his powerful angels, he will exercise vengeance in flaming fire on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. If the wicked seem to prosper; if evil seems to have the upper hand; don’t give up. Remember that Jesus is coming again, this time in glory, with flaming fire. He will give those who are in his kingdom through faith relief. Those who trouble us because of our faith in Jesus will receive trouble from our Lord. They will receive a just penalty: eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from his glorious strength. They will be thrown into outer darkness where there is no water to cool their tongues; where there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth.
When you read what the Bible says about the last day it sounds even more scary than the evil we experience living in the sinful world today. A lot of people don’t want to read the book of Revelation because it pictures a lot of scary things. Peter talks about everything being destroyed by fire. We might worry that we would be like Lot’s wife and look longingly on the things that are being destroyed and be turned into a pillar of salt as she was. It is important that we don’t get attached to the things of this world that will be destroyed. But, despite all the scary things pictured in Revelation, every vision ends the same way. Jesus wins. Those who are a part of his kingdom, those who persevere in the faith, who remain faithful, who hold fast to what Jesus has given them, they win with Jesus. They share in his victory. They get eternal relief, not only from trouble and persecution of unbelievers, but from all the effects of sin- sickness, pain, death, mourning. When Jesus comes again, he will be glorified among his saints, and marveled at among all those who have believed. Eternity won’t be long enough to give him the praise he deserves for all that he has done for us.
How do you know that the last day will be a day of complete relief and not a day of complete terror for you? Paul says, our testimony to you was believed. Like the Thessalonians we have heard the testimony that Paul and the Apostles have given us about Jesus. We have heard that he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He is God and man, God with us, Emmanuel. He showed who he was by his miracles and his teaching. He allowed himself to be arrested, beaten and crucified so that he could be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. On the third day he rose from the dead. He showed himself alive to over 500 different people, including Paul who was persecuting him by persecuting Christians. Through the testimony of Paul and the Apostles the Holy Spirit has brought us to faith. He has enabled us to believe that what the Bible says about Jesus is true. He really is the promised Messiah. He really did pay for the sins of the world, and since I live in the world, he paid for my sins as well. The Holy Spirit has enabled us to believe in our hearts and confess with our lips that Jesus is our, “my” savior. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. In him, because of what he has done for us, we are completely safe. As Luther said, “take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife, let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won. The kingdom ours remaineth.”
We talked last week about where our focus needs to be—on the cross, on Jesus. That reminder helps us in our dealings with our fellow Christians as it reminds us that we are all equally sinners and all saved only by grace in Jesus. It also helps us to remember that safety is not found in the kingdoms of this world. Governments come and go. Programs to provide safety aren’t perfect. No law, no police force, no army can provide perfect safety on earth. When we talk and act as if they can we have made them our god. Only the one true, triune God is almighty. Only he can provide true safety. It is only when we are citizens of his kingdom through faith in Jesus that we are perfectly safe for all eternity.