Last Sunday of the Church Year Sermon
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
ďReady or Not, He is ComingĒ
November 21, 2004
Last week we heard the
words that Jesus Christ will speak on Judgment Day when the whole world
is gathered before Him and He separates the sheep from the goats.
He will speak of how His Christians served Him even though they
did not see Him. We serve
our Lord Jesus by serving the least of his brothers.
We honor Christ by honoring His Christians.
These are the good deeds that He will display to heaven and earth
on the last day.
Religious people come up with
all sorts of religious works that they assume must be of great value
because they appear to be so valuable.
Itís a common opinion that going into some kind of church work
is a better and holier life than to serve God in a secular vocation.
But the God who calls us out of darkness into the light of His
truth calls us to serve Him in the world and among people who are not
Christians. It is also a common opinion that the more material comfort we
sacrifice the more spiritual benefit we will gain. Several years ago I became acquainted with a Lutheran
seminary student in Ukraine who had been a Russian Orthodox monk.
As a monk he was taught that to gain the treasures of heaven he
had to give up the treasures of this world.
It is true that many people have been blinded by the promise of
material wealth. They put
their trust in their own possessions and they have no trust in God.
But the poor can be as materialistic as the rich are.
It isnít a matter of what you have.
Itís what you value. Since
it is Christ who has brought us salvation, we value Him.
We learn to sing:
heart imprint thine image,
This the superscription be:
crucified for me,
But lifeís riches, cares, and
pleasures do efface Christ in the heart of many Christians.
On your bulletin for this morning you see Lutherís seal. At the center of the seal is a cross inside of a heart.
In the heart of every Christian is the cross of Jesus Christ.
Christís death on the cross is at the center of our faith and
life. In this way a
Christian can live a holy life in this sinful world.
When the crucifixion of Jesus for us is at the center of our
faith and life we are prepared to live and we are ready for Christís
The day of the Lord, or Judgment
Day, will come without warning. We
donít know when it will come but we do know that it will come.
Itís like a woman expecting a baby.
When the baby comes, the baby comes.
I recall the birth of our first child.
My wife decided not to take any medicine for the pain.
As the contractions became more and more painful, she said, ďI
donít know if I can go through with this,Ē referring to her decision
not to take any anesthetic for the pain. I didnít understand what she meant. I thought she was saying she wasnít ready to have the baby.
Well, ready or not, here he comes!
Thatís how it will be when Jesus returns.
He will come suddenly. He
will come like a thief in the night.
He will take this world by surprise.
Our text for today is written so
that we may be ready to meet Jesus whenever He returns. Since
we donít know when that will be, we must be ready at all times.
There cannot be something that pertains to our salvation that we
may set aside for the future. The future is today. The
parable of the foolish and wise virgins makes it crystal clear.
Jesus will return when people who should have known better were
not ready to meet him. The
time to prepare for Christís return is now.
The apostle describes the
readiness of a Christian to meet Jesus by contrasting day with night,
light with darkness, being awake with being asleep, and being sober with
being drunk. He uses a description of the visible world to illustrate a
truth about the spiritual kingdom to which we have been called in
Christ. People get drunk at
night. They run around and
party and hide behind the cloak of darkness to disguise what they do. They live as if there is no tomorrow because they cannot
tolerate the idea of facing the final tomorrow of Godís judgment on
this world. And so they
deaden themselves against the truth.
But we Christians are of the
day, not of the night. We
are children of the day and of the light.
We have seen the light of God shining in the face of Christ.
No, we havenít seen Jesus transfigured on the mountain. We havenít seen Him risen from the dead.
But we have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit Jesus sends.
As we confess:
To be enlightened by the Holy
Ghost is to be led out of darkness into the light of Godís grace.
Here is how St. Peter describes it.
Notice how St. Peter joins
together being brought into Godís light with receiving mercy from God.
This is how we are enlightened.
It is by receiving mercy. In
the same way, St. Paul says we are sons of the day and of the light, not
of the night or of the darkness. Then
he reminds us of why this is so. He
writes: ďFor God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation
through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or
sleep, we should live together with Him.Ē
The reason we obtain salvation
through our Lord Jesus Christ is because He died for us.
Had He not died for us, we would remain stumbling around in
darkness without any spiritual light at all.
There is no spirituality apart from the death and resurrection of
Christ because it is only by the death of Christ that sin is forgiven.
And it is by the death of Christ that all sin is forgiven. No sin remains unforgiven because Jesus bore all sin.
Sin is what blinds us. Sin
is what muddles the mind. Sin
is what makes us spiritually drunk, unable to make sense out of who we
are, who God is, where we stand with Him, and what our future holds.
St. Paul speaks of weapons that
we use in our daily spiritual struggle against the forces of darkness. He lists two weapons here, though in his Epistle to the
Ephesians he mentions several more.
The two weapons are the breastplate of faith and love and the
helmet of the hope of salvation. These
are both defensive weapons. Thatís
because we are under attack from the devil, the world, and our own
sinful flesh. We must
protect both the heart and the head.
The protection of our heart comes by both faith and love.
Faith receives the forgiveness of sins.
Love gives the forgiveness of sins.
In this way we are centered in Christ in whom there is pure mercy
and grace to meet our every need of life.
The life of darkness is lived in and from unrepentant sin.
The life lived in the light is lived in repentance and faith. Faith is destroyed by unrepentant sin. It is destroyed when it isnít fed. When faith is starved, love is lost as well because there is
no love without faith.
Christians who are taught the
faith and confess the faith often foolishly think they can retain the
faith by themselves. So
they neglect Godís word. They
stay away from the services of Godís house.
They go for months, sometimes even years, without the Lordís
Supper. They think that
since they were once living in light that they are incapable of going
back into darkness. So they
throw away the breastplate. When
their faith is attacked they are mortally wounded.
They fall away from the faith they once confessed.
This often happens without their knowing it.
They wake up one day and realize they donít believe anymore.
The protection of the head is by
the helmet of the hope of salvation.
Without hope we cannot think clearly.
Unless we know where we are going, we have no idea of how we
should be living along the way. You
may remember the saying, ďEat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we
die.Ē What else is there
when you donít know where you are going?
The hope of salvation keeps our head clear.
We are focused. We
are alert. Even when we donít know just what will happen from day to
day we do know that when the day of Christís return comes it will be a
time of tremendous comfort. We
can die in peace. We can
meet Christ with confidence. The
helmet of salvation keeps our head from being beaten into senselessness.
People who donít know they are
going to heaven donít know they are going to heaven because they think
that going to heaven depends on themselves instead of on Christ.
They have no helmet to protect their head.
They are like a punch-drunk boxer.
But when we know that we are justified through faith alone in
Christ, then we know that we are going to heaven.
We know that we are appointed to everlasting life.
We have this confidence because there is nothing lacking in what
Jesus did for us. He really
did destroy the devilís power by taking away all our sin.
He really did destroy death by dying the death of all people and
by rising from the dead. And the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth whom Jesus sends,
testifies to us that we are Godís children.
So we know we are going to heaven.
We know that whether we live or die we remain united with the God
in whose name we are baptized. This
keeps our head clear. We
are ready to meet Jesus.
St. Paul encourages the
Christians from Thessalonica to continue to comfort one another.
It is not just the called and ordained preachers who have words
of comfort to give. Every
single Christian can comfort his brothers and sisters in Christ with the
same gospel the preachers preach. We
have a certainty of salvation that God alone can give us.
This is what brings us comfort in every loss and encouragement to
get up every morning to live the life God has called us to live in the
clear light of day. We
donít need to hide in darkness. We
arenít afraid of being seen by God or by man.
God has appointed us to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus
Christ, who died for us. This
truth gives us a confidence that nothing can take away.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus