Night of the Daywalkers

Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

In the Marvel Comics Universe there is a character named Blade. He was invented in 1973 but rose to popularity with the film series of the same name in the last 15 years or so. One of Blade’s nicknames is “The Daywalker.” He got that nickname because he is half vampire and half human. His mother was attacked by a vampire while she was pregnant, and the result is that he is turned into some sort of half-breed. He becomes half vampire, but still a good guy. He’s a creature of the night, but walks in the daytime. In the Epistle reading, Paul writes, “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.”[1] In keeping with the theme of the end of the church year we learn from the text that the day of the Lord will soon come like a thief in the night to put an end to darkness, but we have already been made children of the day.

I.

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.[2] When we last looked at 1 Thessalonians we learned that Thessalonica was the capital of Roman Macedonia. It was surrounded and filled by the wicked practices particularly of pagans, but of the Jews as well. Paul was not able to spend as much time there as he wanted on his second missionary journey, as he was driven out of town by an angry Jewish mob, only to have the same happen in the next town over. And so, he was worried about the new Christians there until he heard a good report from Timothy.

Paul commended them as an example of faith amidst a sea of evil. In addition to temptations to gratify the desires of the flesh as they saw everyone else doing, they had another concern: the return of Jesus Christ. Early Christians believed that Jesus would return immediately, and then when He didn’t, they became concerned that they missed it. This thinking Paul would specifically address in parts of 2 Thessalonians, but at this point Paul writes that the Thessalonians have no need to have anything written about the Second Coming – the return of Christ for judgment against sin and the reunion of all believers. Paul constantly affirms in his writing that he is not teaching anything new, but he teaches what he received from the other Apostles and from Jesus Himself. Part of that teaching was what Jesus said about His own return.

Matthew 24 puts us in the middle of Holy Week. As Jesus left the Temple, His disciples remarked how great the buildings were, and He told them that not one of them would be left standing. This piques their interest and they ask Him what the sign of His coming will be. Jesus gives them a general idea by saying that there will be wars and famines and earthquakes; false prophets will arise and deceive many, and many will fall away from the faith – all things which have already happened and will continue to happen. But to keep them from trying to pinpoint the time, He tells them, “Concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”[3]

This teaching the Thessalonians received from Paul and we receive as well. But, wouldn’t it be nice to know when exactly Jesus is coming? We could have all our ducks in a row; we could make sure that we were behaving like good little Christians. Some, like John Hagee, have put stock in something called the Blood Moon Prophecy. This is the idea that a series of red moons will immediately precede Christ. Therefore, since we can use science to predict these, some say they know exactly when Jesus will return. Now, this is well-intentioned, I’m sure. But, what happens when you have work to do – say you have a task that will take you an hour to do – and you have more than enough time to do it? If you’re like me, you procrastinate. I’ll get this idea that if I can get this thing done in an hour, and I’ve got two hours free, why not spent the first doing whatever I feel like? In that way I make myself comfortable as I gratify my own desire to not do work.

II.

The text says, “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.”[4] Jesus said that the coming of the Son of Man will be like the days of Noah, where people were eating and drinking and being merrily unaware up until Noah was getting into the ark, and the Flood destroyed them all. I like to read the Psalms; Luther prized them and called them the songbook of the Bible. Truly all Scripture transcends time, but the Psalms are especially good at speaking to the core of our human condition. Psalm 73 is one of those Psalms, I think, that just hits the spot. Asaph writes that God is truly good to Israel, but he almost stumbled and slipped out of faith, and the reason was that, “I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”[5]

Job was troubled by this as well. He asked, “Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power…they spend their days in prosperity, and in peace they go down to Sheol. They say to God. ‘Depart from us! We do not desire the knowledge of Your ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve Him? And what profit do we get if we pray to Him?”[6] Sometimes we ask ourselves, what is the benefit of being a Christian? Why do we come to church? We sing and hear some readings, but how does it impact me, if at all, when non-believers appear to live the same or even a better life? Asaph continues in Psalm 73, “When I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.”[7]

Scripture gives us this comfort, that though it seems like the world has the upper hand, that we Christians are like flies beneath the swatter, the end will come like thief in the night and sudden unescapable destruction will come upon those who say in their heart, “There is no God.” Though it appears they live the prosperous life, their end is ruin. The psalmist wrote, “I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end…I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will receive me to glory.”[8]

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…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.”[9] The end of those who reject God in their heart will come swiftly, and they will not escape. But we are not in darkness. Though we were once in darkness, enslaved to the sin that lurks within and around us, now you are light in the Lord. Those who disbelieve, who get drunk on the desires of their own flesh will not enter the kingdom of heaven. While they are telling themselves, “peace and security,” the end will come.

But God has not destined those in Christ for wrath, but for salvation through Jesus Christ. He is the eternal Son of God. He existed before all creation and all things were created by Him. He took on flesh to die for us, to win for us the salvation that we cannot work out ourselves. He did this to win us for Himself and make us children of the day. St. Paul writes, “Let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”[10] Since we have been bought by the blood of Christ, we are not only assured of our salvation, but we also receive the armor of God. This we need as we continue to be in the world, but not of it. The breastplate of faith and love was been placed upon us to share that faith and love with those around us.

Next week we are having our community meatball dinner. The money we raise from it goes not to us, but to our neighbor in need. In this we are sharing the love that we have through the faith we receive from Christ.

This is the second to last Sunday in the Church year. We’ve been focusing last week and this week on what that means for those on earth. We know that those who live according to the world will receive their just reward. But, we are still tempted and we do envy them. There are so many who live such better lives than us. This is why we have been given the helmet of salvation. Our helmet that protects us from the devil and the world is the hope that in Christ all of our sins are forgiven and that in Him we have obtained salvation.


 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Thess. 5:4-5.

[2] 1 Th 5:1–2.

[3] Mt 24:36.

[4] 1 Th 5:3.

[5] Ps. 73:3

[6] Job 21:7, 13-15

[7] Ps. 73:16-17

[8] Ps. 73:17, 23-24

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Th 5:4-5, 9–10.

[10] 1 Thess. 5:8

With Full Conviction

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.”[1]

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.

I.

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.”[2] 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.”[3] Paul also says that those who have been purchased by the blood of Jesus “have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasseswhich he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time.”[4] 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.

II.

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.”[5] 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.

[1] http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/b/l/e/blesseda.htm

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Th 1:2–4.

[3] 1 Pe 1:18–19.

[4] Eph 1:7, 9b-10.

[5] 1 Th 1:6–8.