Readings: Haggai 1:15-2:9 • Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21 or Psalm 98 • 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5. 13-17 • Luke 20:27-38
This week’s theme is to see the glory of the Lord. When the prophet Haggai told Zerubbabel to rebuild the temple, he said don’t be dismayed at what you hear about how wonderful the former temple was—God is with you and “the glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house.” The Psalmist talks about God’s glorious splendor, “All your works praise you, Lord.” Rivers clap their hands, mountains sing for you, “all the earth burst into jubilant song” at the glory of God. Luke talks about the glory of the resurrection, reminding us that death is no more; God is the God of the living. The sermon focuses on Paul’s second letter to the church in Thessalonica, telling them to stand firm, “that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Stand Firm and See His Glory
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Introduction: Ask the following question and let different people answer: If you were asked, what is our purpose and calling, how would you respond?
There are numerous possible answers to the question, what is our purpose and calling. To love others, to worship, to serve, to live and share the gospel, to share God’s love and life with others, to journey with Jesus. Few would give the answer, “to obtain and live in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Yet this is exactly what Paul says to the believers in Thessalonica. As amazing as this truth is, we often find ourselves getting derailed and losing focus on him and his glory and giving focus to the things life throws at us.
It is easy to be discouraged and allow fear or uncertainty get our focus on ourselves and keep us from the work Jesus has invited us to participate in. It’s easy to get caught up in doing rather than obtaining and living in his glory. Even our own selfishness can dim our eyes to the glory God has for us.
Let’s give a bit of background to Paul’s letter.
In his first letter to the church, Paul commended them for their faith and their steadfastness despite the persecutions and affliction they had faced. Persecution, by itself, might be enough to slow the progress and advancement of sharing the gospel and living out a life following Jesus. As Paul pointed out in the first letter, the church’s faith was growing abundantly and the love of everyone was increasing. But now they were facing some new rumblings—false teaching—that the Lord had already returned. Church members were becoming unsettled. Note Paul’s words:
As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? (2 Thess. 2:1-5 NRSV)
- Don’t be quickly shaken or alarmed
- Keep your eyes opened
- Don’t let others deceive you
- Remember what I taught you
The letter indicates that the Thessalonians let this false wind of doctrine slow them and perhaps keep them from believing in who they were in Christ and what they were called to do. If they were alarmed by the idea that Christ’s return was near, perhaps it was because they did not think that they were “ready” or “worthy,’ and that they might experience something negative when Christ returns. Perhaps they were not confident that Christ loved them and wanted them. Many refer to this as the “I am not…” lies. “I am not in Christ.” “I am not forgiven.” “I am not worthy of love.” “I am not beloved.” “I am not saved unless I do….”
Note Paul’s response:
But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:12-17 NRSV)
Paul focuses on their true identity by first pointing out, “God chose you.” You are in Christ, you are a child of God, you are beloved. You were chosen, and for what? For salvation: “God chose you as the first fruits for salvation.” For what purpose? “So that you may obtain the glory of Jesus Christ.”
Our purpose is to live in the glory of the Lord. We are sanctified by the Spirit and we have salvation. We are to live this truth out daily. But there are times when we need to be reminded. Obstacles, self-doubt, worry, persecution, and opposition can cause us to be shaken. Hearing a twisting of the truth or a fanciful false gospel can temporarily stall the growth and service God has for us. In these times, rather, we are to “stand firm and hold fast” (2 Thess. 2:15).
How do we do this? Through the comfort, strength and encouragement from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit. This comfort, strength and encouragement will empower our “every good work and word.”
Truth empowers. The hope and eternal comfort (encouragement) is a gift to us through grace and the love God has for us (v. 16). His comfort and strength (encouragement) in our hearts is not just a passing feeling but changes us and starts to show up in what we do and what we say (v. 17).
We can get derailed, but knowing God is for us, that he wants us to live in his glory, helps us get realigned, get back on track. This message is throughout the great story of God and his relationship with his people. Don’t get discouraged; stand firm and see the glory of the Lord. Many of us are in a similar position, as we find in the book of Haggai. We are called to rebuild the church, and we see more reasons why things won’t work, than how they will work.
A prophet named Haggai and his contemporaries were called to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. The leaders of the Jews at this time were Zerubbabel, a Persian-appointed governor over Judah, and Joshua, a high priest. Conditions in Jerusalem for this endeavor, however, were not ideal. They were not favorable for work on the temple and the rebuilding had been delayed by drought, bad economic climate and, on a more personal level, the selfishness of the people (Haggai 1:6-11).
Many of the Jews were spending more time on their own homes than in rebuilding the temple, God’s house. It says in Haggai 1:9 that some of the issues they were having were due to the fact that the Lord’s house “lies in ruins, while all of you hurry off to your own houses.” They had forgotten what they were there for. They not only needed to be reminded of their purpose, they also needed comfort, strength and encouragement. Additionally, the Jews were discouraged because they had a hard time believing that a temple like the previous one could be built. They saw the ruins of the first temple and lost heart. The word of the Lord by way of Haggai came to say to the governor, the high priest and the remnant:
Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?” (Haggai 2:1-3)
Discouragement seems to have been the order of the day. I can imagine the people thinking, “The temple is in ruins. There is no way anything we could do would compare to the former temple, so why try?” Sometimes our own disbelief, or our own selfishness, our lack of tending to the things of God can keep us from the growth and service that God has for us. We need encouragement. The Jews received just that, and we can be encouraged by the same words:
Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. (Haggai 2:4-5 NRSV)
When God asks us to do something, he does not leave us alone or ask us to do it on our own. He is asking us to participate in what he is doing. In this story, God says that he would move heaven and earth to fill the temple with splendor. Note his next words:
The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts. (Haggai 2:9).
The New International Version says that “in this place I will give peace.” The remnant Jews, even the leaders Zerubbabel and Joshua, needed comfort, strength and encouragement to do the work they were called to do.
The church in Thessalonica needed comfort, hope, and encouragement to be strengthened in every deed and word—to live out their purpose and calling.
We can get distracted and derailed. We can be fearful. We can get lazy and selfish. We can run into opposition and worry. All these have the potential of keeping us from our purpose and calling—to live in the reality of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Pray that the Spirit will remind you of your purpose and calling, and that hope and eternal comfort and encouragement—which is a gift to us through grace and the love he has for us—will strengthen our hearts and show up in all that we do and what we say.
Small Group Discussion Questions
From “Speaking of Life” and the sermon.
- What could possibly unsettle your faith or belief? Share a time when you were “shaken or alarmed” in your faith or beliefs. (2 Thess. 2:2)
- Discuss what the Thessalonians might have been thinking, experiencing and feeling concerning the “news” (teaching) that Jesus had already returned.
- In Haggai we see that Zerubbabel, Joshua and the Jews were commissioned and called to rebuild the temple, yet they lost focus. What things in life can cause us to lose focus and let down on our purpose and calling?
- Psalm 145 and Psalm 98 are Psalms of comfort and encouragement. They are great reminders of God’s faithfulness—even in times of our doubt and distraction. What are some other scriptures that help keep you grounded and steadfast?