Sermons, Uncategorized

Are You Ready for the Coming of the Lord?

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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.

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Sermons, Uncategorized

Encourage and Build One Another Up

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“Encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

If you’ve watched any amount of religious programming on TV, you know that the majority of what many televangelists preach about is Judgment Day and the signs of the end times. They are forever exploring, interpreting, and guessing about what some of the more obscure prophecies about the future might mean, as they study the books of Daniel and Revelation and apply them to the headlines of the day, overlooking what Scripture says about “times and dates.”

God has not chosen to reveal the time when Christ will come nor the reason that He planned it for when He did. Anyone who says he knows the time contradicts Jesus’ clear words: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36). Thereby he also reveals himself as a false prophet (Matthew 24:23).

If they would just listen to St. Paul in our text, those prophesy preachers would have to give it up. Perhaps they would preach about something more important, like Christ and Him crucified for our sins. Perhaps they would preach of our risen Savior who brings us eternal life. Perhaps they would preach of our ascended Lord who intercedes on our behalf, and who will one day return to judge the living and the dead. Sin and grace and Christ is what Christian preachers need to preach a whole lot more than trying to peer into a future known only by God.

When is the end of the world going to come? When is Jesus coming back? “Stop asking,” is St. Paul’s basic answer. The important thing for us to know about Jesus’ return is that He will return, and it will be sudden and unexpected, “like a thief in the night.” It’s ironic, but the by-product of so much seeking into the future is that it inevitably leads some people to say, “It can’t be now.” They come to believe in their own interpretation of the signs and convince themselves of “peace and safety.” And while they’re thinking they are safe, “sudden destruction will come on them… and they will not escape.”

Like a trap snaps shut on a mouse, the end will come upon these people. And just as a woman who is in labor pains can’t escape those pains by changing her mind about being pregnant, so they will have no chance to turn back. The Lord’s appearance will be announced in a flash and a twinkling of an eye by the voice of the archangel and a trumpet’s blast. Once this begins there can be no preparations by unbelievers to escape their ruin in God’s judgment. It will be too late.

But Christians need not obsess about Jesus’ return. St. Paul writes: “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). The people who say, “Peace and safety,” are the ones in “darkness.” They really don’t know what is going on. They have a false sense of security and peace. They ignore the fact that their sins make them enemies of God. They don’t realize that their unforgiven sin must bring God’s judgment upon them.

But the Thessalonians are not in the dark about Jesus’ return, because they are “children of the light,” “children of the day.” They have learned the Gospel and are so active in spreading it that they surely are not people who know nothing or care little about the Lord’s coming. It is unthinkable that the Last Day will find them unprepared like those who live in the darkness of ignorance and unbelief.

What will that mean for those who believe? Well, St. Paul says: “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6). We are different from those unbelievers who are asleep, those who are self-absorbed and self-deluded, thinking that they won’t ever have to answer God. They are not ready to meet their Creator, any more than you are ready for school or work if you’ve slept through your alarm clock and wake up an hour late. Let’s be awake and be in control of our appetites and attitudes and actions. That’s the way to be children of the day who are ready for Jesus to appear at any moment.

Paul moves on to use a different picture, that of a drunk. Sometimes people try to drink their problems away. The alcohol dulls their senses, and for a time they become totally unconcerned about those problems. Of course, that only works for the short-term and then the problems get worse. The alcohol that masked the problems initially, starts to feed the problems, and then ends up magnifying them.

In the spiritual realm there are people who have some inkling of the consequences of the Lord’s coming. They know they have a spiritual problem. But their solution is to dull their consciences with some homemade religious moonshine or with the wine of the world’s pleasures. This does not solve the problem. It only allows them to forget about it for a while. And when they finally wake up, they’ll realize that their problems are much worse than a nasty hangover.

Paul urges us to “be alert and self-controlled.” Rather than being unaware like one who is asleep, Christ wants us to be on the watch for His return in glory. Instead of being unconcerned like one who is drunk, Christ wants His followers to await His coming in full possession of their senses. The believer knows all that the Last Day means for him, and he knows it will be a great day for him. So, he is eager and always alert and ready.

But how can we be always alert and self-controlled? Satan is constantly attacking our faith with all his might, trying to make us even more sluggish, trying to get us to take our eye off the goal. We are spiritually weak and tired. We are worn out and battered and bruised and discouraged. It seems so easy for Satan to draw our minds completely away from Christ’s return! We spend our time concentrating on the journey more than on the journey’s goal. Life’s problems and pleasures, trials and treasures, sorrows and joys consume our interests.

How, then, can we keep from falling into the spiritual sleep or drunkenness? We can be alert and self-controlled by putting on our God-given armor. “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 5:8).

Roman soldiers of Paul’s day were well protected from the enemy’s arrows, spears, and swords only if they put on armor. The breastplate and helmet protected the most vital areas—the heart and the mind. God has provided His believers with similar protection for our hearts and minds. God gives us faith, love, and hope as our armor against the spiritual weapons that Satan and his cohorts hurl at us.   

Faith is the confidence that God will do whatever He promises. Love is faith in action, living each day as an expression of thanks to God for all He has done for us. The hope of salvation is what sustains our faith and love and encourages us to grow. Without the certain hope that we will be raised from death to live eternally in glory, our faith would be meaningless (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).

How does this God-given armor help us to remain watchful for our Lord’s coming? It surrounds us with the Lord’s strength, so we can take our “stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11). It clothes us with the Lord Jesus Christ so that we “do not think about how to gratify the desires” of our sinful nature (Romans 13:14). It enables us to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5). It shields us with God’s power from despairing amid “all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:6). This God-given armor supplies us with all the spiritual strength we need. When we stand in the power of God, not our own, we won’t fall into the spiritual sleep of the world.

Paul adds: “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).

God did not “destine us for wrath.” It was not His will or plan that sinful men should be sent to hell and there suffer eternally the punishment of His wrath. No, God wants to rescue us from the terrible consequences of our sins. And God wants us to receive this salvation as a gift of His mercy.

All this He accomplished “through our Lord Jesus Christ.” He paid the penalty we deserved for our sins when He died for us. His precious lifeblood was the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Jesus did this, Paul says, both for believers and unbelievers—those who are “alert” and those who are “asleep” in regard to Christ’s return. What a waste it would be if we were found asleep, unprepared for the Lord’s coming. Then we would lose all that Christ has won for us. Therefore let us put on the spiritual armor that God had given us.

A war rages for the soul of each man, woman, and child. Satan would love to lure the “children of light” and “day” away from God. His attacks are relentless. He uses persecution to weaken our defenses. And he causes dissension and discouragement among the members of the congregation. This is why we must “encourage one another and build one another up.”

What are some practical ways that Christians can do that? First of all, we can make sure that Satan no longer uses us to discourage one another. How often do we criticize one of our fellow Christians rather than praying for them? How often do we tear one another down, rather than build them up? How often do we bring discouragement rather than encouragement to our fellow Christians, especially those we’ve entrusted with leadership positions in our congregation?

  Encouragement comes in many ways—through notes or letters, through e-mails, private conversations, and sometimes through something as simple as a reassuring touch or pat on the back. But the only truly effective form of encouragement to stand against the devil’s schemes is to share the Word of God of with one another, corporately and privately.

Surely as members of a Christian congregation, we treasure the family of fellow believers with which God has blessed us. What a gift it is to gather for worship and to encourage one another in our faith! Together we confess our sins and receive Christ’s absolution. We study the message of Christ our Savior together. Together we sing the words of the liturgy and hymns. We pray for one another. We join in the fellowship of Christ’s very body and blood.

What a comfort this is as we go through difficult times! What a blessing to know that our brothers and sisters in Christ are with us through the trials and troubles of life! And what a comfort it is in time of bereavement to have this spiritual family! Our fellow redeemed remind us of the hope that is ours even as we lay into a grave the body of a loved one who has fallen asleep in Christ!

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). We have such a glorious comfort to share. We share the hope of our Lord’s coming. We need to remind one another of this hope, lest we fall asleep and be caught unprepared! We need to remind one another of Christ’s work of salvation on our behalf. We need to encourage one another to gather frequently to receive Christ’s means of grace. For in this Word and Sacrament we continue to hear this Good News: You are forgiven for all 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.

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