February 16, 2020 – “Today, Tomorrow, and Forever: Doubt and Assurance” by Rev. Cody Sandahl

Sermon begins at the 4:01 mark after the music

Lay Reader = 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, 2not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.

3Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. 4He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. 5Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? 6And you know what is now restraining him, so that he may be revealed when his time comes. 7For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. 8And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. 9The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, 10and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, 12so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned.

Introduction

We are almost done with our series looking at Paul’s two letters to the church in Thessalonica. Last week Pastor Carol encouraged us to stand on our sure, solid hope in Jesus. We can live for weeks without food, days without water, minutes without oxygen, but without hope? Forget it!

This week we are moving on to Pauls’ second letter to the church. It was probably written very soon after the first letter. It looks like the person who delivered Paul’s first letter was concerned that the church had misinterpreted Paul’s first message, and Paul felt obliged to clarify and reinforce a few things.

In our first reading today, we heard one of the hardest passages in the entire Bible to interpret. In that part of the letter, Paul references his other teachings he taught them while he was with them in-person. The church would have known what he was talking about, but we don’t have those other teachings written down. So it’s like hearing one end of a telephone conversation and trying to fill in the blanks. So that’s why I had Bill read it instead of me preaching on it! Pastor’s privilege!

So instead of that, we’re going to look at what was causing them to suddenly doubt their faith and how Paul tried to reassure them.

2 Thessalonians 1:1-12

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: 2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing. 4Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring.

5This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering. 6For it is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7and to give relief to the afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marveled at on that day among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

11To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, 12so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Missed It

There was a woman I knew who took her faith very seriously, and she attended a church that stressed the end times – you know, like Revelation kind of stuff. One day she was at work and she went to the restroom. But when she came out, something seemed odd. The person who worked next to her wasn’t there anymore. Strange. In fact, the person who worked two spots down wasn’t there anymore, either. Very strange. She walked to her boss’ office. The boss was gone, too.

Suddenly it hit her like a ton of bricks: the rapture happened while I was in the bathroom! The end times happened, everyone else was raptured into heaven, and I missed out! Why am I still here, God? And, frankly, why did they get taken into heaven instead of me?!?

And right as the panic attack was starting to settle in, the office door opened and her coworkers all started filing back into the building. Turns out there had been a major car wreck while she was in the bathroom, and everyone went outside to see if anyone needed assistance.

For that one perilous minute, she thought the Day of the Lord had finally come, and she had missed out! And that was what some of the Thessalonians were worried about for themselves.

It’s a pretty common theme throughout Christian history. Every generation has enough experiences and enough challenging circumstances to think they’re living in the end times. I’ve heard from some of you who believe we are nearing the end times now. My response is always the same. It’s possible! Jesus could return in five minutes! But Jesus could also return in five thousand years!

This is a little funny to me, because let’s imagine that you knew Jesus were going to return on February 29 this year. How would you live differently? The history of apocalypse cults suggests many people would sell their homes and quit their jobs and live it up for a few weeks.

But is that going to help win you favor with Jesus? Let’s rephrase that scenario. If you knew Jesus were going to return on February 29 this year, how would JESUS want you to live differently? Maybe you have some bitterness you’re holding onto and Jesus would want you to forgive as he taught us. Maybe you’ve drifted in your faith and Jesus would want you to spend time alone with God in prayer as he often did. Maybe you’re spending all your time chasing money, and Jesus would want you to chase God’s kind of love instead of the world’s rewards. If Jesus were returning on February 29, how would he want you to live differently?

Now here’s the key point when thinking about Jesus’ return and the end times. Are you ready? If Jesus would want you to live differently between now and February 29 in time for his return, wouldn’t he want you to live that way no matter when he’s returning? You might have more urgency, more motivation, but whether Jesus returns in two weeks or two hundred years doesn’t actually change how Jesus wants us to live our lives. If something came to your mind when I asked about Jesus returning on February 29, go ahead and make that change! Make Jesus happy anyway! It usually works out better for you anyway! What’s stopping you?

Paul told the Thessalonians in our first text today, “As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed.” In other words, just live like Jesus is returning soon no matter what.

Resolution

I was at a church conference last week, and one of the speakers told us how he had resolved to invest in his health one year, and he found a screaming deal at a local gym. He joined on a special promotion for $10/month, and 24 Hour Fitness happened to buy the local gym during his promotional time period. Based on acquisition law, 24 Hour Fitness had to keep honoring that promotional rate as long as he kept up his membership. So for ten years he kept this unimaginable cheap gym membership. All of that was thanks to his resolution to invest in his health at just the right time.

Of course, there was one catch. There’s always a catch, right? Here’s the catch. In those ten years – ten years! – he went to that gym…once. His resolve failed between his house and the gym. But he couldn’t give up that incredible gym membership rate! Surely next week he would go to the gym, right? The only thing he used less than the gym membership was the exercise equipment in his basement.

Paul told the Thessalonians in our main text today, “To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him.”

For God’s will to be shown in us, for Jesus to be glorified in us and us in him, for our lives to reflect Jesus’ power and grace, Paul says we need good resolve. The Thessalonians needed good resolve because they were afraid they had missed out on Jesus’ return. They doubted they had any time left. We are more likely to doubt whether our faith has any sense of urgency. Most of us probably think, “Jesus won’t return during my lifetime.” Most of us probably think, “I have many years ahead of me.”

Maybe Jesus won’t return in our lifetime. Maybe he will. Maybe we have years ahead of us in our lives. Maybe we don’t. I think we stand to lose a lot if we treat our faith like going to the gym – I’ll get around to it eventually. But I believe we stand to gain a loving, meaningful life if we have the good resolve to follow Jesus today and tomorrow and the next day.

If you take out the insert from your bulletin, you’ll see a box on the bottom of one of the pages. Take a look at that. We’re in mid-February, so I’m very confident that 90% of our New Year’s resolutions have fallen by the wayside already. But it’s a leap year! So what if we made a Leap Year Faith Resolution? Go back to that scenario I asked you earlier – if Jesus were returning on February 29, how would he want you to live?

Why don’t you go ahead and do that? The box says, “By February 29, I will invest in my faith by…” What’s one thing that Jesus might want you to write in that box. Just one thing. It’s a Leap Year Faith Resolution. “By February 29, I will invest in my faith by…”

Maybe you feel Jesus calling you to invest in your faith by reading and reflecting on the Bible. If you want some help with that, we have a weekly devotional email that helps you learn, reflect, pray, and live. Send us an email and we’ll add you to it.

Maybe you feel Jesus calling you to invest in the faith of your family. If you want some help with that, we have a weekly family devotional email. Send us an email and we’ll add you to it.

Maybe you feel Jesus calling you to invest in your faith by praying for other people. Grab one of our weekly Joys and Concerns lists and pray for those people.

Maybe you feel Jesus calling you to find deep and meaningful relationships with people who really care about you. Come to the upcoming game night. Or join one of our men’s Bible studies, or the adult Sunday School class that will be available every Sunday this year. Or join a women’s circle or the Shabby Sheep women’s Bible study. Join the book club or the quilters. We can connect you with relationships that matter.

Maybe you feel Jesus calling you to invest in your neighborhood. If you want to have a block party to help you get to know your neighbors so you can be the love of Jesus on your street – I have funds to help you pay for the party! Be Jesus on your street.

Maybe you feel Jesus calling you to serve others. Volunteer at the parent’s night out, or at the Community Dinner, or be a sub at Whiz Kids tutoring, or volunteer at the Life Center or Love INC – some of our partner organizations.

What’s your Leap Year Faith Resolution? “By February 29, I will invest in my faith by…” If you’re still drawing a blank, email me and let’s grab coffee or lunch. I can help you figure out where Jesus is calling you and give you ideas about how to do that.

Summary

Sisters and brothers, the church in Thessalonica was paralyzed by their doubt. They doubted that they had any time left to live like Jesus because they thought he had already come again. Paul assured them they hadn’t missed out, and he encouraged them to have good resolve in their lives of faith until he comes again.

We might be paralyzed by our doubt as well – doubt that our faith needs to have any sense of urgency. We have all the time in the world – until we don’t. Paul encourages us to have good resolve in our lives of faith until Jesus comes again, too.

Where might Jesus be calling you to have good resolve before February 29? Amen.