1 Thessalonians 5. [P]
Do you like routine? Some people are creatures of habit and live by routine – I tend to be that way, others hate it. Here, inside, your life is ordered according to a set pattern: lock-up at a certain time, breakfast at a set time – you know what to expect when. It may drive you up the wall, but even those who hate it, do depend upon routine to a certain extent – get up, expect the sun to rise, eat, go to sleep, expect summer to follow winter etc. Even if you hate it there is a certain security and comfort in knowing what to expect. Particularly if there has been turmoil or distress, there is a relief when things slip back into routine and you know what to expect. The Bible tells us what is going to happen in the future and it tells us that there will be times of turmoil, wars, earthquakes and famines – and the last few decades have had their share of them. There will be distress but then there will be a time of peace. People will breathe a huge sigh of relief – everything is back to normal. Back to the old routine, you know what to expect. Nobody is expecting anything out of the ordinary – all is routine. But it is just when you are not expecting it, that the unexpected happens – if you were expecting it, it wouldn’t be unexpected! [1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 There is no need to write to you, brothers and sisters, about the times and occasions when these things will happen (he is talking about Jesus coming back. And people are not expecting Jesus to come, are they? It has been so long, everything carries on as it always has). For you yourselves know very well that the Day of the Lord will come as a thief comes at night. When people say, “Everything is quiet and safe,” then suddenly destruction will hit them! It will come as suddenly as the pains that come upon a woman in labour, and people will not escape.] And isn’t that how it is – generally people are not expecting God to intervene – everything carries on the way it always does. We may have had our crises: an earthquake, but we will rebuild, we will get back to normal. There has been a couple of world wars, a gulf war, a war in Vietnam and Korea, Afghanistan; but the cold war is over. Everything is back to normal; we can just get on with life. There has been a crisis, you have ended up in prison, but parole will be soon and you can get on with life as normal. The crisis is over. Everything carries on as it always has. The Bible says that Jesus’ coming will be: “like the days of Noah” – perhaps the greatest disaster ever to strike the earth, a flood that engulfed the whole world in God’s judgement. But beforehand people were just carrying on life as normal. [Luke 17:26-30 As it was in the time of Noah so shall it be in the days of the Son of Man. Everybody kept on eating and drinking, and men and women married, up to the very day Noah went into the boat and the flood came and killed them all. It will be as it was in the time of Lot. Everybody kept on eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. On the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulphur rained down from heaven and killed them all. That is how it will be on the day the Son of Man is revealed.] People do not expect God to intervene – but the Bible says that He will – and at the time you least expect it. It says that it will be like a “thief in the night” – you don’t expect the robber, his success depends on catching you unawares. Jesus used the same picture: [Matthew 24:42-44 “Be on your guard, then, because you do not know what day your Lord will come. If the owner of a house knew the time when the thief would come, you can be sure that he would stay awake and not let the thief break into his house. So then, you also must always be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting Him. ] The thief succeeds because people are not expecting him; but if they expect him, put in a security system, are standing guard, he will not succeed. To be forewarned is to be secure. That is why the Bible warns us – so that we can be prepared [P]. Destruction is coming and there will be no escape! God doesn’t want us to be destroyed in the destruction that is coming. Do you remember back in 1980? In March of that year a certain mountain in Washington State started to show signs of increased volcanic activity: earth tremors, steam plume etc. The scientists monitored the activity of Mount Saint Helens and it just kept on escalating. The north side of the mountain was swelling – it got up to a rate of 50 feet a day! Something was going to happen! So they issued warnings – an evacuation order was put in place – this mountain was going to blow! Seven people died when Mount Saint Helens erupted in May, but not one of them needed to. There was a certain Harry Truman (not the president) who lived on the edge of Spirit Lake, just to the north of the mountain; he was not going to move no matter what orders were given. His body is now under over 100 feet of mud and ash. He could have lived, if only he had heeded the warning. We too can live – if only we will heed the warning! God warns through His prophets before He acts in judgement. There was Noah – for 120 years he preached, warning that destruction was coming in a huge flood. He had a message from God; He did not want those people to be destroyed. But people just mocked and got on with their lives. I mean it had never even rained – what a fool Noah was to build this huge boat. What a waste of time and money. But Noah and His family lived – everyone else died. God did act just as He warned. We are fools to ignore His warning! But people do not believe the warning God gives, they do not believe His Word, rather, they mock it. [2 Peter 3:3-9 First of all, you must understand that in these last days some people will appear whose lives are controlled by their own lusts. They will mock you and will ask, “He promised to come, didn’t He? Where is He? Our ancestors have already died, but everything is still the same as it was since the creation of the world!” They purposely ignore the fact that long ago God gave a command, and the heavens and earth were created. The earth was formed out of water and by water, and it was also by water, the water of the flood, that the old world was destroyed. But the heavens and the earth that now exist are being preserved by the same command of God, in order to be destroyed by fire. They are being kept for the day when godless people will be judged and destroyed. But do not forget one thing, my dear friends! There is no difference in the Lord’s sight between one day and a thousand years; to Him the two are the same. The Lord is not slow to do what He has promised, as some think. Instead, He is patient with you, because He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from their sins.] So Jesus is going to come when people don’t expect it – and His coming will not be how people expect it. Some people were expecting it to be wonderful, but in fact it is going to be a day of judgement, a day of destruction [Amos 5:18 How terrible it will be for you who long for the day of the Lord! What good will that day do you? For you it will be a day of darkness and not of light.]. But God does not want people to be destroyed; He wants them to be forewarned. The way is escape is to turn from their sins, to repent – turn around from going your own way and go God’s way. If you are expecting it you will not be caught unawares: [1 Thessalonians 5:4-8 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the darkness, and the Day should not take you by surprise like a thief. All of you are people who belong to the light, who belong to the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, we should not be sleeping like the others; we should be awake and sober. It is at night that people sleep; it is at night that they get drunk. But we belong to the day, and we should be sober.] Those of the day are not taken by surprise but those of the darkness are. What does it mean to be of the day or to be of the night? How can you make sure that you are of the day and not of the night? How can you remain sober and alert? [P] It is not talking about whether you have a day job or do night shift, or go to bed late. I think we all know what to be in the light is – it is in the open, not hidden, pure with nothing to be ashamed of – it is being righteous. God is light, being in the light is being in fellowship with Him [1 John 1:7 But if we live in the light—just as he is in the light—then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin. ]. On the other hand, being of the night is doing shameful things, things that you are not happy to be seen doing. Night is when you sleep – you are not alert looking for Jesus return. It is night when people go drinking and get drunk; they don’t do it at day time. Those of the day are sober – self controlled not giving way to their lusts and desires, but living sensibly. It says that we should be sober – how are you to be sober? [1 Thessalonians 5:8 We must wear faith and love as a breastplate, and our hope of salvation as a helmet.] Those in the light are righteous, not living in sin – but how can you be righteous enough for God? The only way to get righteousness is by faith [P] – not by doing, trying to meet God’s standard by our own efforts – but by depending upon the righteousness of Jesus. He is the only one who met God’s standard and His righteousness; the righteousness of God is placed in the account of the one who depends solely on Jesus – on Him dying as punishment for the wrong you have done, and being raised again to life as vindication of His sinlessness. Faith is a breastplate, it protects our heart from the accusations of the devil. Jesus gave his followers a command: [P] [John 13:34-35 And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.”] So to remain sober, watching and waiting, prepared for Jesus’ return, we must have faith but also live in obedience to His command by living in love, loving one another. In the great chapter in the Bible on love, 1 Corinthians 13, Paul ends by saying 1 Corinthians 13:13 Meanwhile these three remain: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.] To be in the light we need to have faith in Jesus, love for God and one another and hope [P]. What is this hope? It is the hope of Jesus’ return, of Him coming back to rule as King over all – His will and rule being carried out. [1 Peter 1:3-5 Let us give thanks to the God. Because of His great mercy He gave us new life by raising Jesus Christ from death. This fills us with a living hope, and so we look forward to possessing the rich blessings that God keeps for His people. He keeps them for you in heaven, where they cannot decay or spoil or fade away. They are for you, who through faith are kept safe by God’s power for the salvation which is ready to be revealed at the end of time.] Most have rejected or abandoned this hope – “Jesus isn’t coming back”; “everything carries on as it always has”. But Jesus is coming back, and for those who are not in the light His coming will be dreadful – His anger will be poured out on them – it will be a day of destruction! But God doesn’t want you to be destroyed, that is why He warns you. People say that God will not act, look how long it has been and nothing has happened – but God will act, the reason He hasn’t is because of His great patience [2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to do what He has promised, as some think. Instead, He is patient with you, because He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from their sins.] He doesn’t want you to die, to be destroyed – why choose death when life is offered as His gift? – why be like Harry Truman when Mount Saint Helens erupted?! Why continue in the dark and suffer His anger when you can be saved?! [1 Thessalonians 5:9-11. God did not choose us to suffer His anger, but to possess salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us in order that we might live together with Him, whether we are alive or dead when He comes. And so encourage one another and help one another, just as you are now doing.] You can be saved from the wrath that comes when Jesus returns. Jesus is coming and He is coming in great anger and wrath that will be truly dreadful. People think that Jesus is mild and loving, He won’t be angry but listen to how His return will be: [Revelation 6:12-17 And I saw the Lamb (that is Jesus) break open the sixth seal. There was a violent earthquake, and the sun became black like coarse black cloth, and the moon turned completely red like blood. The stars fell down to the earth, like unripe figs falling from the tree when a strong wind shakes it. The sky disappeared like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the rulers and the military chiefs, the rich and the powerful, and all other people, slave and free, hid themselves in caves and under rocks on the mountains. They called out to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the eyes of the one who sits on the throne and from the anger of the Lamb! The terrible day of Their anger is here! and who can stand against it?!”] God did not choose us to suffer that anger, but to possess salvation. A wise jailer once asked the writer of this letter: “What must I do to be saved?” – saved from this terrible fate. He answered: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” You can be saved from this coming wrath through Jesus, through faith in His death on your behalf so that you may live together with Him when He comes. That day when He returns, instead of being a day of dread, is a day of hope! A day you look forward to. It is a great encouragement to know that He is coming back for His own, so that they can be with Him forever! Hallelujah! I think the implications and application of this letter are fairly obvious! Jesus is coming, why encounter His wrath?! Be alert and sober; be of the day, so that you aren’t caught unawares. Be ready for Jesus return through faith in Jesus, walking in love and looking to the hope of His return. There is salvation for the one who depends upon Jesus having suffered the death penalty that they deserve and relies on His resurrection life to now be their life. Don’t be caught out like the one robbed by a thief coming at night. Be ready and alert, watching for His return. He who has this hope keeps himself pure.