Text: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
I love to sing. I’m not particularly good at it, but I love to sing nonetheless. I love to sing from the hymnal, and I often find myself humming a tune at various points in the day. But, I am hard pressed to pick a favorite. It’s a dangerous question, asking what someone’s favorite hymn is, because you never know exactly what you’ll get. The answers range from, “What’s a hymn?” to “The Hokey Pokey,” to even “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I am blessed to spend a good amount of time at the nursing home. Some of you can probably guess one of the most requested hymns at the Wednesday afternoon service: “Blessed Assurance.” I am a recent graduate from the seminary and I don’t usually deviate from our Lutheran Service Book, but I do like the first and last stanzas of this hymn. “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of His Spirit, washed in His blood…Perfect submission, all is at rest. I in my Savior am happy and blest, watching and waiting, looking above, filled with His goodness, lost in His love.”
The hymn talks about the assurance, the conviction, we have in Jesus Christ. Through His perfect submission to God’s will and His death for our sins, all is at rest for those who have faith in Him. Believers are born of the Holy Spirit and washed in Jesus’ blood through Holy Baptism. And they now await His return from heaven. As we wait on earth for the return of our Savior, things sometimes get a little hairy. We deal with death, with divorce, with persecution of all sorts, and a myriad of other little pockets of suffering. This was the case with the church in Thessalonica as well. Paul was worried that in his absence they would be carried away by the wind. But he knew that they, and we too, have been chosen by God through the redemption in Jesus Christ and given the full assurance of faith by the Holy Spirit.
After the usual introduction to his letters, Paul writes, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you.” The apostle Paul and his companions, Silas and Timothy, gave thanks to God and remembered the Thessalonians in their prayers. They knew that despite appearances, Thessalonica being a Roman capital of state and debauchery, the brothers there are beloved by God and have been chosen in Christ Jesus. And that gave them peace. St. Peter writes that those called to faith in Jesus Christ have been purchased from their old sinful ways, “not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” Paul also says that those who have been purchased by the blood of Jesus “have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses…which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time.” He is confident that the church in Thessalonica has been redeemed by the blood of Christ through faith in the Word of God.
This is because the Word of God that Paul delivered to the church was not just words, nor is it just idle speech. No, it is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. God Himself says His Word is like a consuming fire or a hammer that smashes the rock-hard sinful heart. That is what it is doing when through God’s Word we are convicted of our sin. God’s Law shows us how we daily fail to live up to our calling. We don’t live in love towards our neighbor. We duck opportunities to share the truth of God’s Word with those around us and we neglect our obligation to be in God’s Word daily and teach it to our children.
Paul writes about the Thessalonians that report has spread about how they turned from idols to serve the living and true God and await the return of His Son from heaven. This is astounding because Thessalonica was known as the “Mother of Macedonia.” It was the center pagan worship, and all that entails. It was also a port. Sailors get in from a month at sea, and what do they want to do? Sexual immorality was not recognized, but was disregarded or encouraged as we see both in life and on TV nowadays as well. But the Thessalonians were redeemed through the blood of Christ. They were rescued from the worship of dead idols and brought to the true God. They were delivered from God’s coming wrath against sin. We are also redeemed and cleansed by that same blood. Though we were dead in our trespasses, Christ has cleansed our hearts and minds through the washing of the water and His Word.
Report of the Thessalonians spread all around. Paul writes to them, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.” Instead of remaining in their old and dead ways, those redeemed in Christ become imitators of Jesus. The Word of Jesus comes not only in word, but also in power, and gives us the full conviction of faith in God. God says that His Word is not empty or powerless, but as the rain and snow come down from heaven and water the earth, so does His Word produce and bring forth fruit.
There’s a theological term that I learned in seminary. If we look back at Genesis 1, and our confirmads will know this, How does God create? He creates simply by speaking. God speaks and it is done. The term is, “performative utterance.” That means that the words actually enact or do what they say. St. John references that in his gospel. It’s also the same idea that when I or another pastor speak the absolution in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you actually are forgiven your sins. This idea also means that God’s Word works in us what it says. It works faith and full conviction, blessed assurance, through hearing the Word daily and receiving Jesus’ body and blood as often as possible. By these things we are daily conformed to the shape of Christ.
Conformed to Christ through His Word and Sacrament, the Thessalonians were led not just to the full conviction of faith, but also to the labor of love. Through the Holy Spirit, the beloved of God are led to labor in love and hope. In that way, Paul said, the Word of the Lord spread in Macedonia and Achaia, even in places far beyond that. People heard not just that the Thessalonian Christians had turned from pagan worship, but that they were now speaking the Gospel of Jesus Christ through their actions. Through their behavior and work they showed forth the free forgiveness that we receive through Jesus Christ, who died in our place to redeem us from the powers of death and eternal suffering.
But do not be fooled. Being redeemed from sin and death and being conformed to the image of Christ does not mean that things will be easy. Instead, it is guaranteed to result in affliction and persecution. We live in an age where speaking Jesus’ Word can land you in jail. Conducting your business with the morality that you learn from God in Scripture can result in legal proceedings, costing your life savings and maybe even your business itself. Standing up for unborn children, will result in hatred from the world. It will only get worse. This was Paul’s fear for the Thessalonians, that in his absence, the persecutions of the world would lead them to forsake their faith in the Word of God. But, as Timothy later reported, they didn’t.
They were held firm through Jesus Christ. They had been given the full conviction in the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ is our savior. He is our redeemer who has rescued us from our sin and from the coming wrath. He is our Good Shepherd who guides us through this valley of shadow to the green pastures. We pray and know, that we have been chosen through the redemption in Christ. We have been given the full conviction, the blessed assurance, that we are Jesus’ and He is ours. He will keep you and guard you all the days of your life, so that in the end you persevere in all things and receive the crown of life.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Th 1:2–4.
 1 Pe 1:18–19.
 Eph 1:7, 9b-10.
 1 Th 1:6–8.