Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
“Are you ready?”
“Ready for what?”
“Are you ready for the coming of the Lord?”
“Sure. The tree’s decorated. The Christmas cards are ready. Most of the gifts are wrapped. The stockings are hung by the chimney with care. I’m ready.”
“No, I’m not talking about getting ready for Christmas. That coming of the Lord was over 2,000 years ago. If you’re still trying to get ready for Jesus’ coming as a little baby in the manger in Bethlehem, you’re really late! I’m talking about the Lord’s Second Coming. Are you ready?”
John the Baptist told people how to get ready—through repentance and Baptism. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, St. Paul gives further instructions: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.”
St. Paul tells us how to be ready for Christ’s coming. In rapid fire, no less than eight imperatives follow one after the other. Rejoice! Pray! Give thanks! Don’t quench! Don’t despise! Test! Hold fast! Abstain!With these eight commands, the apostle reviews for us “the will of God in Christ Jesus.” These are not manmade guidelines. They are from God Himself. For those who are “in Christ Jesus,” they are vital and the way of true freedom and happiness. These are the keys for getting ready for the coming of the Lord.
So… how are you doing? Are you ready? Do you always rejoice? Is your life full of joy? Do you pray without ceasing? Do you give thanks to God in all circumstances? Do you always gladly hear and learn God’s Word? Do you test everything according to the standard of God’s Word? Do you always hold on to those things that are good, and avoid that which is evil?
Of course you don’t! And neither do I. But according to our text, these are the very things that make you ready for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. You must be blameless… and a close examination of your life will show you that you are not. You certainly don’t measure up to the standards St. Paul lays down in our text. Still the apostle seems to indicate that you will be found blameless: “He who calls you is faithful; He will certainly do it.” How can this be?
We have here, in our text, a series of paradoxes. God holds us to the highest, holiest standards. He calls us to be blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ; yet as we have just confessed, we are poor, miserable sinners, who justly deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment. We are warned to not despise God’s Word, to test everything, holding fast to everything that is good and abstaining from every evil; yet we know we daily sin against God in thought, word, and deed. Our lives are often filled with sorrow, frustration, and adversity; yet we are called to always rejoice, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for us.
How do we resolve these paradoxes? Actually we don’t… we can’t… but God does—in the cross of Christ! Only viewed through the cross can these paradoxes be resolved. You see, God does demand of us holiness and perfection. But we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and the wages of sin is death. On the cross, Christ exchanges His perfect obedience and righteousness for your disobedience and unrighteousness. He pays the penalty for your sins and credits you with His holy life and His innocent suffering and death.
He has to! You are a spiritual beggar, hoping to enter the gates of heaven. You are a pauper. You don’t have even a dime to pay toward the high fee for admission. But there is One who has! Christ opened the gates of heaven to all believers with His death on the cross. He purchased your admission, and for every man, woman, and child who has ever lived or will ever live, not with silver or gold but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.
But that’s not all! Not only are you a beggar before God: you are the worst sort of beggar—one filled with pride. You’re a beggar who sits by the gates with his hands in his pockets, not willing to accept a handout, because you think you can make it on your own, even though you don’t have a dime to your name. And the fact is… you would not have the strength to reach out your own hand if you should condescend to accept His charity.
So Christ has to pull your hands out of your pocket, open your closed fists, place His gift of salvation into your hands, close your palms, and put your hands back in your pocket, so you won’t drop His wonderful gift.
You cannot get yourself ready for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ—but there is One Who has! There is One who is full of joy—“the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2). The One who rejoices with the angels in heaven over one repentant sinner” (Luke 15:7).
There is One who prays without ceasing. He often withdrew to a solitary place to pray (Luke 5:16). During Holy Week, He prayed every night in Gethsemane (Luke 21:37; 22:39). He prayed so fervently that His sweat fell like blood (Luke 22:43). In the upper room He prayed for Himself, for His disciples, and for those who would believe in Him through their message (John 17). On the cross, He prayed for His enemies (Luke 23:34). Even today He intercedes on your behalf (Romans 8:34) and speaks to the Father in your defense (1 John 2:1).
There is One who gives thanks in all circumstances. He thanked His Father for hearing His prayers (John 11:41). He thanked the Father for revealing His Word to the simple, and keeping its meaning hidden from the wise (Luke 10:21). And He thanked God before breaking bread and passing the cup (Luke 22:17,19).
There is One who did not quench the Spirit but was full of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1). He was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). The Holy Spirit descended upon Him in His Baptism (Luke 3:17). The Spirit of the Lord was upon Him as He preached the Gospel and did merciful works of healing (Luke 4:18). This One taught that one must be born of the Spirit through water and the Word (John 3:5). He promised to send His Holy Spirit to guide His disciples into all truth (John 16:13). He breathed the Spirit into them that they might pass on His Word of forgiveness (John 21:22-23).
There is One who never despised God’s Word but held it sacred and glad heard and learned it. At the age of twelve, He was found in His Father’s house, listening to the teachers and questioning them. When tempted by the devil, He showed that God’s Word meant more to Him than food, power, or fame.
There is One who tested everything concerning Christian faith and life. He warned His disciples to be on guard against false doctrine (Luke 12:1). He abstained from every evil. “He was tempted in every way, just as we are—yet [He] was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
There is One who does all of these. And He does them for you! Not only does Christ justify you—declare you right with God, He continues to sanctify you—to conform you to His own image through His Word and Sacraments.
This is “the will of God in Christ Jesusfor you.” It is only when we look at God “in Christ Jesus” that you may see Him as your loving, forgiving Father. It is only when you remember that God now always looks at you “in Christ Jesus” that you may be confident that He will be at work in everything for your ultimate good. Such confidence emboldens Paul to pray that God might sanctify you completely and keep you in faith so that you would be ready for the Lord’s coming.
It is a formidable list of commands that Paul has penned here by inspiration of the Spirit. They are guidelines that God urges upon you for your good now and eternally. But they are guidelines that you cannot reach by your own understanding or strength. Only the believer who by faith is clothed in Jesus’ blood and righteousness will be found blameless when Christ comes to judge the world.
As God works in you through His Word and sacrament, you are taught and enabled to “rejoice always.” By God’s grace, Christians are able to be joyful even in times of trial and tribulations that cause us sorrow. Why? Because we know that Christ rules heaven and earth, so that the sorrow that enters our lives is not a matter of blind fate. Anything that causes us sorrow is something our Savior permits to come and will ultimately serve our good.
Sorrows draw you closer to the Lord (Romans 5:3-5). They purify and refine your faith (1 Peter 1:17). They provide you with opportunities to confess the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:13-15). There is, however, one thing sorrow cannot do. It can never, ever separate you from God’s love (Romans 8:39).
God also enables you to “pray without ceasing.” This does not mean that you go around constantly mumbling prayers. To “pray without ceasing” means developing an awareness of Jesus’ presence and an attitude that brings Him easily into every thought and every activity of life.
Closely related is Paul’s admonition to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Let us never forget to thank God for all of His blessings, including those “blessings” that come disguised. Giving thanks in all circumstances means living by faith and not by sight. It is a theology of the cross trusting that God is graciously at work for His people even in the most difficult of circumstances. The Greek in this verse calls for more than “feeling thankful.” It commands an active, conscious givingof thanks in allthings. Of course, you will not “feel thankful” during difficult or unhappy circumstances, those that are threatening and hurtful to you. But you can activelythank God in allcircumstances because you know that He has allowed them and is at work in them for your good.
Nor is your thankfulness limited to words. You can also express it by your actions. “Whatever you do whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17). The simplest actions of every Christian done in faith bring glory to His name.
Next Paul instructs, “Do not quench the Spirit.” Your coming to faith is a miracle in which you had no part. God the Holy Spirit lit the fire of faith in your heart. He keeps building “the fire” through the Word and Sacraments. But failure to use these means of grace gives the devil the upper hand. He is ready to help us put the fire out. And your Old Adam is a more than willing ally in the struggle.
But once you are brought to faith, you have a new man in you who enables you to fight “the good fight” of faith (2 Timothy 4:7) and to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) in cooperation with God’s Holy Spirit. To this end God gives you His Word and the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Through these means the Holy Spirit strengthens your faith and renews your zeal to live according to the new man.
That’s why it is important that you “do not despise prophecies.” You must not look at preaching and teaching of the Word as just “human opinion” instead of receiving it as God’s Word. God’s Word has the power to create that which it calls for. Only as far as it is God’s Word that is being preached or taught will it bring life and salvation. That’s why it is important for Christians to test everything.
The word test is the Greek word used for testing the genuineness of precious metals. The standard God wants you to use is His pure Word. Everything you meet in your daily lives is to be tested and examined in the light of God’s Word.
If you find that what you are testing is “good” according to the standard of God’s Word, then you are to “hold fast” to it. If you find that something is “evil” by its nature, you are to “abstain” from it. Consciously and constantly God wants you to put distance between yourself and whatever conflicts, even in a small way, with His pure Word. Why? Because “a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” A little bit of impurity mixed with God’s truth will eventually destroy the truth and lead to one error after the other.
In this life, you will never reach perfection. But the Holy Spirit helps you to be content with nothing less. On Judgment Day our Lord will find you blameless because of His suffering and death on the cross. You will enter eternal life purified, for you will regain the sinless state human beings had before the Fall.
Are you ready for the coming of the Lord? You certainly are. You may be certain of this because He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it! Christ has lived the perfect life that you could not live. He has died on the cross in payment for your sins. He has risen victoriously from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God the Father. Even today He comes to through His means of grace to sanctify you and make you blameless, He brings you this Good News: You are forgiven of all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.