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Sermon for November 19, 2023 – Proper 28

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 5052 | The Heart of the Father
Greg Williams

Do you ever notice how often we are drawn into the negative rather than the positive? You give a presentation and several people comment on how helpful it was, but one person tells you it was a waste of his time. Which comment do you spend the most time thinking about? For many of us, we allow the negative to outweigh the positive. We can look at Scripture the same way. Rather than see the blessings of what is being said, we focus on what we perceive as the negative. The parable of the talents in Matthew 25 is a good example of this.

In this parable, Jesus talks about a man who is preparing to go on a journey. He calls his servants in and entrusts part of his property to each one. To one servant he gives 5 talents, to another he gives 2 talents and to the third, he gives 1 talent.

When he returns, the one who had 5 invested wisely, doubled the value and now has 10 talents for the owner. Likewise, the one who has 2 doubled it and now has 4. But the one who had one talent didn’t do anything with the talent, he buried it and simply tried to return it because he implied he was afraid of the owner. I’ve heard many sermons focusing on the unprofitable servant – and certainly, there are lessons there. But we fail to see the good news in this parable. Note how the man responded to the other two servants. 

 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’
Matthew 25:20-23 (ESV)

Jesus is showing through this parable that God wants to bless us. He wants us to enter into his joy. He gives us gifts and talents so that we can use them, investing them into relationships, service, and loving others. The result is greater blessings and living in his joy.

What is the Father’s joy? Among other things, being with us, listening to us, walking with us, and loving us because we are his beloved children.

Jesus uses this parable to show us the Father’s heart. He will never force us to love him or use the gifts and talents he gives us, but when we do, he multiplies them beyond our wildest dreams. That’s the heart of the Father.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 123:1-4 • Judges 4:1-7 • 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 • Matthew 25:14-30

This week’s theme is preparation for the Lord’s rescue. The call to worship Psalm humbly casts eyes upward in calling for mercy and deliverance from the proud. The Old Testament reading from Judges recounts the story of Deborah who emphatically delivers God’s command to Barak, son of Abinoam, as God’s response to the cries of the Israelites in captivity. The text from 1 Thessalonians includes Paul’s instructions to prepare for the Lord’s return by living in faith, love, and hope. The Gospel reading from Matthew records Jesus’ parable of the talents that emphasize faithfulness to the master while awaiting his return.

Returning to Jesus’ Return

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (ESV)

Today, we have a wonderful opportunity to look at a subject often neglected in many churches – the return of Jesus Christ. This falls under what is called eschatology, or the study of “last things.” This topic has been so abused and misunderstood in so many ways throughout the church’s history, that it is not surprising that many may avoid the subject. There tends to be two ditches we can fall into when talking about “the end times” and Jesus’ return.

One ditch is a preoccupation with the details of how and when Christ returns, while paying little attention to who is actually returning. Detaching Christ’s return from his identity leaves us at a loss in our understanding of who God is and his good purposes toward us. This will often lead to presentations of Jesus’ return that amounts to some scary doom and gloom depiction of “end times.” I’m sure we have all witnessed to some degree a presentation that does more to scare you than encourage you. And that is unfortunate seeing that the biblical presentations of Jesus’ return are always meant for our encouragement as we will see in today’s text.

Another ditch we may fall into, mostly from a reaction to this first ditch, is to simply avoid the topic altogether. It does seem that is the prevalent approach often taken. Lucky for us, today’s lectionary text will force us to deal with this often neglected and misunderstood topic. We will do our best not to bring in any preconceived ideas of Jesus’ return, and instead, let the Apostle Paul speak on the subject as he does to the church of Thessalonians. As we do, we will see that the faithful way forward in understanding Jesus’ return, the end times, and all things pertaining to eschatology, is to avoid both ditches by remaining focused on the center of who Jesus is and what he has done for us and will ultimately do for us upon his return. In doing that we will receive great encouragement.

Let’s see where Paul begins.

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 ESV)

Paul is being gentle here in how he brings up the subject. He tells his newly formed church that they already know all that they need to know in these matters. But, for good measure, he is going to remind them of what they know anyway. He is not berating his brothers and sisters in Christ for having concerns or confusions about the end times. Rather, he is going to remind them what he has already taught them. This shows the importance of being reminded of the truth. Not in a way that is condemning, but in a sensitive way aimed to build up. We are forgetful creatures, and a reminder of what we know can be just the word of encouragement we need. There is always a temptation to act out of fear or emotion based on some other pressure that may come our way. Paul is skillfully soothing their fears by bringing them back to the center of who the Lord is.

Paul begins by avoiding the first ditch. There must have been some concern about the how and when, the “times and the seasons” of Jesus’ return. So, he answers this concern by reminding them that they are “fully” aware that his return will come like a “thief in the night.” The word “fully” here means “exactly.” Paul is saying they already know the details, the how and when of Christ return. He will return “exactly” as a “thief in the night.” You can almost hear the tone of a loving father answering a child’s bad question. Instead of telling them that they are asking a stupid question, he just gives them the answer to the right question. Paul is not interested in pointing out their misunderstandings as much as he is interested in bringing the truth alongside their misunderstandings to do the correcting.

It may be good here to clarify what Paul means by the phrase “day of the Lord.” In the Old Testament “day of the Lord” was understood as a time of judgment for the enemies of Israel. This judgment was not understood to pertain to Israel. However, in the New Testament, and how Paul is using it, the “day of the Lord” is understood to be God’s judgment for the entire world.

Judgment often gets a bad rap these days. It seems the main thing Christians are told never to do is judge another. There seems to be some confusion between being “judgmental” and exercising biblical judgment. Judgment as the Bible speaks of it is first and foremost simply sifting through and sorting out between what is and what is not. It is the process of discerning by separating things out. Judgment is a very good and necessary thing, not something to be avoided. We value someone who is discerning when it comes to our doctor or our mechanic. When we have a health concern that we can’t figure out, we hope our doctor will be able to sort through it and judge what is wrong with us. We don’t take our car to a mechanic for them to say, “It’s ok that your car is not running, it’s beautiful just the way it is.” No, we want the mechanic to find the problem and fix it. And to fix the right problem. If our car needs new brake pads, we sure hope the mechanic doesn’t replace the transmission. We want them to judge, shall we say, “righteously” or rightly. That’s the biblical understanding of judgment.

God’s judgment serves the purpose of healing and making us whole. This is how we understand God’s judgment and wrath, another word that comes up later. Wrath also serves the purpose of God’s grace to make us his children, whole and fully healed and redeemed. God’s judgment for the Christian is a most encouraging word to us. God will come to sort out, sift through, and set things right. That’s what we can expect to fully be accomplished in Jesus’ return.

When Paul uses the picture of a “thief in the night” to refer to Jesus’ return, he is simply saying that Jesus’ return will be unexpected. Even though we know he is coming back, we do not know exactly when. Paul is not saying you better get your act together because Jesus may return and catch you in the act. That is sometimes how we read Paul’s word picture here. But that is not what he is saying. He is not using some fear tactic to get the Thessalonians in line. No, he is saying you know he will return, and there is great comfort in that, even if we don’t know exactly when and how he will return. Jesus’ coming back is not a threat for the believer, it is a promise we cling to for encouragement and hope.

However, this unexpected return will not be a welcome return for the unbeliever. So, Paul will now address that.

While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. (1 Thessalonians 5:3 ESV)

It’s very possible that the “people” who are claiming “There is peace and security” is a specific reference to the Roman empire’s message of Pax Romana. Pax Romana was a catch phrase during Rome’s rule of the world that meant “Roman Peace.” It meant to claim a peace that would come by belonging to the Roman empire, regardless of the different nationalities existing within it. However, this peace had a catch. It came by the power and might of the Roman military. It was a peace that came by way of coercion and force. People would keep the “peace” because they knew that upsetting the Roman apple cart could lead to being nailed to a wooden cross. Let’s face it, complying out of fear and intimidation is not exactly what we would call peace.

In more general terms, Paul has in mind that these “people” are those who reject Christ and the peace he brings. They claim that “peace and security” only comes by their own means. They advocate a man-made peace and security. Only, it comes by doing as we say without protest. Just trust in us or our ideology. No need to trust in Jesus. In that way, it is a word to all our self-striving and self-sufficient attempts to attain our own peace and security apart from Christ. There are many voices today who are saying God does not exist and Jesus is a myth. We can be our own god and create our own future. Who needs Jesus to return? We got this.

Paul switches metaphors here from a “thief in the night” to “labor pains” with the description of “sudden destruction.” This picture indicates that for those who reject Christ and don’t want his way to peace, his return will also be unexpected, but also painful. The pain will come as everything that runs counter to God’s peace in Jesus Christ will be destroyed and there is no escaping it. They will not escape God’s good judgment and the end of evil. The words of those who are saying follow us and not Jesus, will be silenced in the end. For those who want to hold on to the evil ways of this present evil age, there will be severe consequences. And this is because there is only one true source of peace and that is in Jesus Christ.

So, we may want to ask ourselves, “Where do we look for our peace and security?” If it is in anything other than Jesus, we can know that it will come to a sudden end. So, we can let go of those false hopes of peace and security and put our trust in Jesus which will prove to be true in the end.

Now Paul will switch back to those who do put their trust in Jesus.

But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5 ESV)

Clearly, this is not a passage meant to scare us about Jesus’ return; it is a word of hope. This is the reality that we can cling to as we wait and watch for Jesus’ return. Something better is coming and the evil in our world does not get the last word. We know the thief is coming, even if we don’t know when. There will be no surprises because we know who is returning. He will deliver the very promises that we have been clinging to. As children of light and children of the day, we see clearly who Jesus is for us. We know he is faithful and true. We know he brings his peace and security, not by coercion, but by the Father’s love for us. Knowing Jesus now puts us in a very different place when he returns.

Paul has some implications on account of this.

So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 ESV)

In simplest terms, what Paul is saying is, since you know the reality, live in it. Live today in light of who is coming tomorrow. Align your life with the reality of who Jesus is. Paul is using the word sleep here, not as a metaphor for death, but for moral indifference. He is warning against living in such a way as thinking that it doesn’t matter what you do. Sober, on the other hand, means mental alertness. We are to remain alert to what is real, to Jesus, and put our trust in him every day. Paul’s picture of those who “sleep at night” and “are drunk at night” is a picture of living in a non-reality. They are not aware of what is really going on, like being lost in a dream or stumbling around drunk.

The command for us that Paul issues is that we “be sober.” But he also gives us the preparations to keep that command. He says, “having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” He is not saying that we must put these on, he assumes that we already have. So, being sober is the command and living out of the faith, hope, and love given to us in Christ is how we live “sober.” As we continue to live in faith, hope, and love, we will wait and watch for Lord’s return, standing on his promises and praying unceasingly. Our entire lives are oriented heavenward, anticipating the return of the one who has saved us to be children of his kingdom.

Paul will conclude with a final word of encouragement.

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 ESV)

It’s not apparent in our English translations but “sleep” here means death, not moral indifference like he used it earlier. Paul uses a similar expression in Romans 14:8, and he is not undoing what he just said. Paul is telling the Thessalonians, and you and I today, that we are not the object of God’s wrath. He is not aiming to destroy us in the end, but he will bring the salvation that comes fully with Jesus who poured out God’s wrath on all that does destroy us. He comes to fully deliver us from evil and all that dehumanizes, including death. He saves us completely and that is what we look forward to. And Paul concludes that we should continue to “encourage one another and build one another up.” That’s what Paul has being doing as he reminds the Thessalonians and us of Jesus’ return. For our encouragement it is good to return to Jesus’ return. May we keep our eyes watching for his return as we continue to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Reign of Christ w/ Dr. Michael Morrison W3

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November 19 — Proper 28 of Ordinary Time
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, “Hope in Jesus”

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Program Transcript

Reign of Christ w/ Dr. Michael Morrison W3

Anthony: Our third pericope of the month is 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. It’s a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 29 in Ordinary Time, which is November the 19.

1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So, then, let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober, for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober and put on the breastplate of faith and love and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

It seems to me, Mike, that Paul is insisting that knowing the date of Christ’s coming is not the best way to prepare for his appearance. Rather he points us to being awake and sober as the way to be ready. So, help us understand. What does that mean, in reality, to be awake and sober?

Mike: It means lay off the liquor, don’t get drunk. It means don’t ever go to sleep. Oh, wait a minute. Sleep seems to be necessary, doesn’t it? Maybe it doesn’t mean that.

It seems that Paul is using these words as metaphors, as figures of speech. And we have to figure out where the key similarity is.

There are several metaphors in the passage — the thief, the knight, labor pains, children, daylight, breastplate, helmet. Paul is using words that usually refer to physical things, but he is using them to refer to something spiritual. He is saying that the day of the Lord will come at some unexpected time, but we do not need to be caught unprepared.

If our spiritual life is right, we might be surprised at the timing of it all, but we won’t suffer any loss. The thief, metaphorically speaking, won’t be able to take anything away from us. It will be a time of rejoicing, not a time of fear.

So, what might it mean for us to be asleep? It would mean being unaware, not knowing what’s going on. For example, if we are on a long road trip and someone else is driving while we’re sleeping, and suddenly we are awakened by the screeching of brakes, a loud sound, the car shaking, the seatbelt tightens, and we think the worst. But if we had been awake and watching, then we would have known it was just a bad pothole in the road.

Paul was saying we don’t need to be unaware, that we know the day of the Lord is coming. We don’t know when or exactly what’s going to happen that day, but we know it’s coming, so when it does, we’re better able to figure out what’s going on. We won’t panic. Being awake means that we know what’s going on. We can see it coming.

Now, what might it mean to be spiritually drunk? It means not thinking straight. It means slow reactions. It means lacking self-control. The book of Revelation talks about a woman who was drunk with the blood of the saints. She was intoxicated because she had such power over them. She thinks she’s going to win the war, and she’s so excited about it that she doesn’t see reality. Power is intoxicating. People get so thrilled with their own abilities that they are blind to their problems.

People can be spiritually drunk because they are so thrilled with success in one area that they don’t see where they fall short. That happens to some church leaders who are so successful in building a big church or inspiring complete loyalty from their followers that they become unaware of their weaknesses. People keep telling them how wonderful they are, and after a while they start to believe it.

But it’s not just the leaders who can become drunk. Revelation also talks about people who are drunk because of their illicit relationship with the woman. They are so focused on the temporary pleasures they are getting, that they’re unable to see where that way of life really goes. They’re getting something they want. But they don’t realize that they’re missing out on something else that they need. They are victims of bad leadership—many of us have had experience with that sort of thing, but even so they are drunk. Their thinking is distorted.

Paul wants us to be sober, to think clearly, to be aware of our weakness, to be aware of our need for the Holy Spirit to guide us, give us strength. We do not say, ah, I’ve got it all figured out, my theology is perfect, I know every detail of what is right and what is wrong.

And, on the other hand, we do not want to think that we are worthless, never getting anything right. Thinking soberly means to know that Christ is with us, the Spirit is with us. And church history shows that he uses fallible people, but because that’s the only option in this age. God knows how to use fallible people.

Now, the text gives us a couple of ways that we should be sober. We should put on the breastplate of faith and a helmet of hope. That will protect our vital parts. It will protect our thoughts and emotions. We will not put our hope in the wrong things. We won’t put our faith in the wrong things. We’ll let the Word of God inform us of where our faith and hope need to be.

Sobriety means knowing that we are children of God. And our identity in him is a word of exhortation to do right, as well as a word of comfort when we fail. And I might add, it’s hard to get the right balance when we are drunk, when we are filled with the wrong kind of spirits.

Anthony: And put the exclamation point on it right there, Mike. I hear you loud and clear.

It says in verse 9 that God has not destined us for wrath, but salvation through our Lord. And that seems to me to be rather good news, don’t you think? Tell us more about it.

Mike: Anthony, yeah, that is good news. And salvation is much more than an escape from punishment. The word “salvation” originally meant a rescue from something. People can be saved from an illness, or saved from a shipwreck, and they are restored to the way they were before.

But in the New Testament, the word came to involve much more than a rescue from some physical problem. It came to mean a rescue from spiritual dangers, including sin and death, and feeling alienated from God. And the result is much more than what we had before. Even looking at the history of humanity as a whole, what we get with Christ is much better than what the first humans had before sin entered the picture. The first humans were capable of sinning and dying. But after the resurrection, we will not be capable of either one.

Maybe we might be capable of sinning if we wanted to, but the real point of salvation is that we won’t ever want to sin. We are rescued from the desire to sin, and that, in itself, is very good news. It’s one of the astonishing things about the salvation we are given in Christ.

We struggle with sin throughout life. Some say we sin every day of our lives, and then in the resurrection, in the blink of an eye, at the snap of a finger, we won’t ever sin again. It’s like a cacophony of powerful noise suddenly comes to a stop. And there is silence.

Actually, there’s not silence, there is beautiful music instead. We don’t just come to a point of inactivity, of breathless awe at the majesty and wonder of God. There may be some of that, but there may be praise as well. Maybe faint at first, but soon rising to this triumphant song that will make the Hallelujah chorus seem to be a weak imitation.

I’m speaking in metaphors here because I really don’t have the language to describe the joys and beauties of a spiritual life. And the Bible says that the love of God is beyond our ability to understand. His joy is beyond our ability to put into words. And his peace is beyond our comprehension.

Paul writes that God didn’t plan for us to experience wrath. He plans for us to experience salvation. Paul doesn’t say much about what’s involved in that wrath, but he points us instead to the better outcome. We need to be concerned, not just with what we’re saved from, but also what we’re saved for. And we can talk about the benefits of salvation in this life, as well as in the next. In this life, we’re given love, joy, peace, faith, meekness, kindness, gentleness, and goodness.

But when push comes to shove, as it does for many Christians in other nations, who are persecuted for their belief in Christ, then we have to focus on the benefits in the next life. We want a faith that is willing to accept hardship in this life, or even a painful death, if that’s the cost of being loyal to the Messiah who suffered and died for us. What kind of person are we if we are willing to betray the one who loves us most just in exchange for a few sad years in a horribly corrupt world?

You asked for good news. That may not seem like good news, but it is part of the gospel that Jesus preached and the gospel that Paul preached and the gospel that both of them lived. The good news of the gospel is made more evident. When we compare it with the ungodly things being done around us. This is all the more reason we need to look beyond this life, beyond the blessings we might have in this life, and look to the future life with Christ, which is far better.

Paul says in Romans, sufferings of this life are not worth to be compared with the glories of the future life. That’s true of our blessings too. They are just trinkets in comparison to the spiritual riches that we will enjoy. And quality and in quantity, the good times will never end. It’s a billion trillion quadrillion years of blessings. We can’t even begin to measure. It’s good, good, good, nothing but good!

And the best part is that we’ll be with Father, Son, and Spirit. He wants to be with us. A love that we can only begin to imagine will be with us. As Paul says, if we’re thinking clearly, then we’ll put faith and love on our heart, hope on our head, and encourage one another as indeed you are already doing.

Anthony: Hallelujah. From glory to glory. Talking about wrath, it’s not a subject that people often want to hear in their worship gatherings on Sunday, but it’s an important part of the gospel story. And I recall this from George Hunsinger—and I think I pulled this from one of his lectures—but he said, “The wrath of God is a very important part of the gospel, but it’s not split off from his love. It’s the form that God’s love takes. It’s the wrath of God’s love when God’s love is resisted, and God’s wrath overcomes all forms of resistance. This is what God is doing in Jesus Christ.”

Hallelujah. Praise him.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Can you remember a time that you felt that you had had enough?
  • Why is reaching this point a good place to be?

From the Sermon

  • What usually comes to mind when you hear about “Jesus’ return” or the “end times?”
  • According to the sermon, what are the two ditches we should avoid concerning eschatology (study of end times)?
  • In what ways is Jesus’ return for believers like a “thief in the night”? How does Paul’s analogy of Jesus’ return being like a “thief in the night” strike you?
  • In what ways is Jesus’ return for unbelievers like labor pains?
  • What examples can you think of from people who are saying, “There is peace and security?”
  • Why do you think Paul chooses to continue to remind the Thessalonians of what they already know?

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