Sunday the 6th of Novembers 2016
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5 &13-17
Nearly two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul came to the town of Thessalonica in the region we now know as Turkey. Whilst he was there a number of people responded to his preaching of the Gospel and a church started. Right from the beginning this little church, who met in a house in one of the believers, was persecuted, but they were also faithful. Whilst this church was not a big church, so to speak, they were dedicated to following their Lord Jesus, and learning what the Apostle had taught them. However at some point in time some people came among them and started to stir them up because they were teaching false things about the faith. Particularly these people were saying that the end times had already arrived. As you can imagine this unsettled many of these believers and caused them to be confused. I can imagine that they would have been looking around them and asking themselves questions, perhaps like: is this what the end times looks like? And clearly the reaction by them was one that made them very anxious and unsettled.
I have had a number of people talk to me about how they are looking at the way the world is at the moment and wondering: Are we in the end times? Or how much longer do you think that God is going to let things go before Jesus comes back? And of course there are many people out there that have lots to say about where and when Jesus is coming back. Many people have opinions and there are some who are clearly false teachers in the churches. With talk of Jesus return there often comes much anxiety.
To the Christians in Thessalonica God’s word to them was one of encouragement. Listen to what his word says : “13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits[ 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.
15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings[c] we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
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.”
In the face of uncertainty and false teaching they were encouraged to stand firm and hold fast to the teaching that was passed on to them. That is the teaching that comes from the apostles that came from Jesus Christ himself. In Mathew 28 as you have heard already today with the baptism of Ashleigh Jesus says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. These Christians were being encouraged to hold on to the Gospel that was proclaimed to them, and not to be deceived by false teachers.
This again speaks to us in that we here today are to stand firm on the Gospel that had been proclaimed and is being proclaimed through the Holy Spirit working faith in us, and we are to hold onto what the we have received through God’s Word, the ancient creeds, and the Confessions, as we await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We here today in the midst of confusion and anxiety are told, like the Thessalonians, to stand firm.
But does standing firm mean that we just stand and do nothing? Verse 14 tells us: “14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And then in 16 it says: “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.”
God himself has chosen us as first fruits, he has called us through the good news. But what has he called us for. As Christians we often think about life after death and the resurrection, about what is going to happen when Jesus returns. But the question is: What do we do in the mean time? Do we just sit around and wait?
As those of us who have faith in Jesus Christ, we look for his second coming with hope, knowing that because of what he has done for us by his death on that cross and his resurrection from the dead, our salvation is assured. But God is not calling us to sit and wait, but rather we are to be comforted by the gospel so that we are “strengthened in every good word and work” (v17). In other words, in response to what Jesus has done for us we respond with our actions. Whatever our situation may be, we are all called as God’s children to be good news for all people. This calling doesn’t stop because we are dying, don’t have time, or are physically unable. We are always called to respond. The important thing is that in our responding we do not do it alone, the Holy Spirit is with us, guiding us as we live our lives responding to Jesus call on our lives.
The church in Thessalonica, was not a very big church, but they were faithful. The apostle Paul reminds them not to be lead astray by false teaching. But he did more than that, he reaffirmed that, whilst they were waiting for the return of Jesus, that the Holy Spirit was working in them; that while there were on this earth God was working in them in various ways to show his glory. The false teachers if you like were a distraction, from what God was really doing among them.
Here today in this small congregation, surrounded by a world full of anxieties and false teaching that distracts us, we can be affirmed that God is the one who is at work in us though his Holy Spirit, that he is here today working amongst his children.
Our church may not be big, we may not have hundreds of people like other churches around us, but each of us are called here together to stand firm on what God teachers us through his Word, and to live out our faith together by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us. As it says because of our Lord Jesus we have his grace and even more that that it says that he gives us: “eternal encouragement and good hope” This is good news for us.
In responding to the unsettledness and confusion that was happening among the Christian’s in Thessalonica, whilst they did receive a warning not to be deceived, they received a word of encouragement, a word that built them up, a word that brought their focus back on to what the Church of Jesus is all about: following him where they were and not letting others side track them from this. These same words of encouragement also speak to you and me here today.
In a time where many people are talking and thinking about the end of the world, where there is much anxiety among many, about Jesus return I encourage you to focus on the gospel to focus on fact that right here at this time, God still has things for you and me to do. We do not need to be anxious or afraid, because the Gospel means that we have confidence in our salvation because of Jesus. This means that we do not need focus on what is to come, but focus on and to see what God wants us to do here and now in this Church community and to follow him with confidence.