Sermon Title: Called by the Gospel
Sermon Text: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17 Second Sunday after Easter
Grace be unto you and peace from our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
Let us hear the Word of God, as we find it written in 2 Thessalonians, the 2nd chapter. 13 But we have a continuing obligation to thank God for you, fellow Christians, whom the Lord loves, because in the beginning God chose you to be made holy by the Spirit, to believe the truth, and so to be saved. 14 For this purpose also He called you by the Gospel which we preach; He wants you to have the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 Stand then, fellow Christians, and cling to the instructions we handed down to you when we spoke to you or wrote to you. 16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us everlasting comfort and good hope, 17 comfort you inwardly and strengthen you to do and say everything that is good.
And now let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, Oh Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
The Thessalonian Christians were confused, for they were being persuaded to believe the teachers who had come after the apostle Paul had visited them. These teachers were, from what we can gather, unbelieving Jews who were accusing Paul of teaching error. They claimed that he had no divine message to proclaim, for he was inspired only by selfish and mercenary motives. Yet the church in Thessalonica was growing, despite the attempts of the false teachers. St. Paul, after being urged to leave Thessalonica, had made his way first to Berea, then to Athens. While he was in Athens, Paul dispatched Timothy back to Thessalonica to see what condition the church there was in. As Timothy headed back to Thessalonica, Paul made his way on to Corinth. There, in Corinth, Paul began to become disillusioned with his missionary work. He sank into depression, fearing that all his work in proclaiming the Gospel throughout the Greco-Roman world had been in vain. It was then that Timothy, Paul’s beloved companion, came to Corinth with news of the Church in Thessalonica. The church had survived under the pangs of persecution and the malicious teachings of the unbelieving Jews. This news brought Paul out of his depression, for the Word of the Lord had survived, and by the accounts of Timothy, thrived. Paul set down to write to the church in Thessalonica, to greet them, strengthen them in the faith, and clear up any confusion. St. Paul wrote two letters in all to the Church at Thessalonica. His words of comfort have survived the centuries, and are applicable even today. As the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, there is nothing new under the sun (Eccles. 1:9). Have you ever been confused about what exactly God is saying to you on a particular subject or in a particular text? Have you ever been uncertain about whom you should believe when people you know are saying different things? The solution to which the apostle Paul directed those first century Christians in Thessalonica is the same solution to which I would direct you today. Stand firm in biblical truth, for it reveals God’s love, plan, and will for you.
Yes, biblical truth reveals God’s love for you! God’s love that calls you by the Gospel. When the Holy Spirit came to those early disciples on the first Pentecost and enabled them to speak in foreign languages they had never previously spoken, we are told that those listening said, in our own languages we hear them tell about the wonders which God has done (Acts 2:11). The most amazing of those wonders which God had done is His plan of redemption through Christ Jesus, by which He has saved us.
Yes, biblical truth reveals God’s plan and will for you. When the Thessalonian Christians were confused and uncertain, the apostle Paul directed them to God and to the fact that from the beginning God chose [them] to be made holy by the Spirit, to believe the truth, and so to be saved. That which removes spiritual confusion and uncertainty is the grace of God. That grace, which is the undeserved love of God for us sinners, is a love which extends all the way back into eternity when God chose us to be His believing children. His selection came in connection with the redemption He planned in Jesus Christ. He [has] called [us] by the Gospel. You, me, and all believers.
Having planned and then completed that redemption through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God then sent His Holy Spirit to work faith in our hearts through the preaching of the gospel; His word of truth. Dr. Martin Luther’s explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles Creed begins: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.” And this is most certainly true. We cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, or come to Him. It is our sinful flesh, our earthly desires that keep us away from Christ. Thanks be to God that He sent His Holy Spirit to call us through the Gospel.
You may be asking yourself that big question, that question which plagues our history, science, and philosophy. “Why?” “Why has God called me by the Gospel?” Let us go back to what St. Paul wrote to console the Christians in Thessalonica. He called you by the Gospel which we preach; He wants you to have the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Notice the goal, or purpose of the plan God has for you as His believing child. He wants you to obtain the glory of your Lord Christ Jesus. In simpler language, God plans to give you all the blessings of eternal life.
God does not want sinners such as you and I to spend our lives doubting His love for us, or questioning whether or not we will experience what He has planned for us. God promises the glory of Jesus, and He wants you and me, and all people to live our lives with confidence knowing that when our time of grace has ended, we will both see Jesus and be with Jesus throughout eternity. For Jesus said, he who believes and is baptized will be saved (Mk. 16:16). He does not say “might” be saved, or “perhaps’ will be saved. No, He says that those who believe and are baptized will be saved. No questions, no doubts, no uncertainties are to plague believing children of God when it comes to God’s plans for the future.
Will there be times of uncertainty and confusion in our lives here in this world? Will there be times when we are not sure what to do? There may well be, for sin and Satan plant uncertainty and confusion. It is to their advantage to do so, as they attempt to lead us away from Christ. Beyond that, there are gray areas in this life to which Scripture may not directly speak and to which we must then apply the truths of Scripture as precisely as we can. However, even in the midst of such times we can rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4) as the apostle Paul encourages us to do. We can rejoice in the Lord as we abide in and study His Word, knowing that as we approach the issues confronting us, God’s Spirit will guide us as we seek to fulfill His will.
It is true that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, but it is the Holy Spirit that creates this belief in us. This is done in Word and Sacrament. God’s Word does not return to Him empty, but rather, accomplishes the purpose for which He sends it. He sends it so that all might hear and come to believe. Through baptism, your sins are washed from you and you are marked as a child of God. In the Sacrament of the Altar, Christ Jesus, our Lord comes to us in his body and blood for the strengthening of faith and the remission of sins. God wants you and me, and all people to be saved, and so he comes to us. He calls [us] by the Gospel.
We are saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ Jesus. This truth summarizes God’s love for us and His plan for us. We must also realize that God has a purpose for us in this life. He has not saved us from sin and Satan so that we might be lost once again to them. He has not created us, called us, sustained us, redeemed us, or sanctified us so that we might simply serve our own selfish wants and desires. No, God has a great purpose for each of us. Many of you have perhaps memorized Ephesians 2, verses 8 and 9; by His grace you are saved through faith. It was not your own doing; it is God’s gift. It is not the result of anything you have done; and so no one may boast. For these words outline God’s plan of salvation. Verse 10, however, may not be as well known, yet these words are so very important for they express why God has created us, called us, sustained us, redeemed us, and sanctified us, and what our purpose is to be in this world. St. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tells us, for he has made us what we are, creating us in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10). God has created us for the purpose of doing many good things; things which He has prepared us to do both for His glory and for the distinct blessing of those around us.
When the Thessalonian Christians were uncertain and confused, the apostle Paul pointed them to the biblical truths of God to calm their fears and remove their uncertainty and their confusion. They had been called by the Gospel; they were loved by God in Christ Jesus. Of that, Paul maintained, they could be certain. They were to look forward to the gift of eternal life as God indeed had planned, of that as well, they could be certain. In the meantime, they were to be busy in word and in deed fulfilling God’s will; His will of love as they lived their daily lives, interacting and coming in contact with other people. Whether they dealing with fellow Christians, persecutors of the faith, or deceptive teachers, the Thessalonian Christians were to love one another as Christ loved them. Daily living unto the Lord and in accordance with the will of the Lord would enable the church in Thessalonica to grow in confidence as the Spirit of the Lord continued to work His will and way in their lives.
And so it is with us, dear Christian friends. When uncertainty and confusion enter our lives; when we just do not know what to do; do not panic or despair. Rejoice in the love of your Savior, who paid the ultimate sacrifice for your sins, for my sins, for all sin.
Stand firm in biblical truth, for it reveals God’s love, plan, and will for you. Throughout Scripture, God speaks of his abounding love for you. It is because of this love that He gave his only Son…[for] God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world would be saved through Him (Jn 3:16,17). He comes to us in Word and Sacrament, so do not despise coming to church. For as Christ Himself tells us, where two or three have come together in My Name, there I am among them (Mt. 18:20). God’s plan of salvation is abundantly spread over the pages of your bible. Do not put off a daily reading of Scripture, but rather as the apostle Paul writes, cling to the instructions [that have been] handed down to you. All through your life, it is God’s will that you love one another as [Christ] has loved you (Jn 13:34).
Such demands, can anyone keep them? Well, let us not forget what Dr. Luther wrote in his explanation. “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.” It is not by our own works or deeds, reason or strength, but it is the Holy Spirit that directs us to God. God knows that our sinful nature keeps us from Him, which is why He sent us His helper, the Holy Spirit, to direct us to the means of grace, God’s Word and Sacraments, where God comes to us.
It is by the Holy Spirit that we have been called by the Gospel. That we can believe that our Lord Jesus Christ, true man and true God, was born into this world of the virgin Mary. We can believe that for our sins, God made Him who did not know sin to be sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). We can believe the wages of sin is death [so that] the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 6:23). Yes, it is the Holy Spirit who guides us to confess our belief in Christ Jesus, which we do in the Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds. It is the Holy Spirit that directs us to come to worship, to read our bibles, and to love one another. We cannot do these things on our own. Thanks be to God that by the Holy Spirit, we have been called by the Gospel, and can proclaim to the world that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ bore all of our sins and iniquities upon the cross. We can declare with certainty that death and hell could not hold our Savior, for He is Risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us everlasting comfort and good hope, comfort you inwardly and strengthen you to do and say everything that is good.