November 10, 2019
There’s nothing quite like baptizing a baby to bring us hope. Thank you, Leah and Sean, for reminding us of the sure and certain hope we claim as followers of Jesus! But hope can be fleeting, and sometimes it seems like the tiniest challenge can shatter our hope.
The church in Thessolonica was facing a challenge like that. They had questions. When was Jesus going to come back? Had they missed it? Were they ‘left behind’ and putting their faith in something that wasn’t really true?
We might identify with the Thessolonians. Doomsday prophets have been telling us for centuries that all the signs point to Jesus coming soon. Some of them even name the date, and they are always wrong, which only makes the skeptics laugh a little harder at all of us Christians. How can we share the good news of Jesus, with people who don’t even know how much they need him, when they are laughing at the crazy ideas we keep spouting?
But there is hope. Hope that endures. And this week, we take a look at how that enduring hope becomes enduring faith.
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, 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. Let 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. He 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. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?
But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.
For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17)
We could get distracted by some of the confusing ideas in this letter. In fact, the assigned reading for today skips over some of those really confusing verses for just that reason – they can distract us from the point the letter is trying to make.
This is what Bible scholars call “apocalyptic writing.” Most people think that word ‘apocalypse’ is all about the end of the world as we know it. And it’s true that most apocalyptic writing in the Bible focuses on The Day of the Lord, or the end of time.
It’s the day when justice will finally be served, when evil will finally be destroyed once and for all. It’s the day when the wicked will get what’s coming to them, and the righteous will be gathered into God’s fully restored Kingdom. It’s the day of final resurrection, as we heard about in the gospel reading. All will be made right. That’s what we usually think of when we hear the word ‘apocalypse.’
But the word “apocalypse” literally means “revelation.” The last book of the Bible, the one we call Revelation, is called ἀποκάλυψις – Apocalypse – in Greek. What is revealed in this writing is something that we couldn’t possibly know on our own. The veil is pulled back to disclose the unknowable.
Apocalyptic writing has another purpose, too, one that might not be so obvious at first. Revealing the unknowable to us can be a scary thing. Apocalyptic literature is designed to bring comfort and encouragement, by showing us what to expect. And that is exactly what this letter to the Thessalonians is trying to do.
“we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, … [thinking] that the day of the Lord is already here. Let 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.”
Some might think this ‘lawless one’ refers to a specific person in history. It probably doesn’t. Apocalyptic writing often uses symbolic detail to describe a broader idea. The ‘lawless one destined for destruction’ most likely refers to evil itself. And evil will certainly be destroyed. But the important thing here isn’t trying to figure out who the lawless one is. That’s a distraction. The point is to not be alarmed by thinking Christ has already come. “Don’t be deceived. Remember what I told you when I was with you,” the Thessalonian Christians are reminded. Remember what you believed at the beginning of your faith journey. Remember that your trust is in Christ Jesus, not these people who are challenging your faith.
We have just baptized Kaleb, and we made promises to help his parents raise him in such a way that he will grow up to have faith in Christ Jesus. Not a faith that can be shaken by doubt, but a faith that endures, even in the face of doubt.
You see, doubt is not the opposite of faith. Doubt is in the realm of the intellect. It’s somewhere on the continuum between conviction and skepticism. Conviction is believing or thinking positive things about God, while skepticism is at the other end of the intellectual spectrum. Those who call themselves atheists would be at that skeptical end.
Doubt is somewhere in between. Doubt says “I’m not sure. I don’t have enough information. I don’t really know.” It’s a matter of the mind.
But faith is more a matter of the will than the mind. Faith is believing in more than believing that. Faith has to do with commitment and trust. So on the continuum of faith, someone at the positive end would say, “I do” to Christ, while someone at the negative end would say, “I don’t.”
There is no middle ground in the realm of the will. You either commit or you don’t. You either trust Jesus or you don’t. And even if you think you can sit on the fence, not deciding is a decision. It’s just another way of saying “No, I won’t commit.”
But this letter to the church at Thessalonica, this letter of encouragement, is all about commitment. It’s not about what you believe intellectually to be true; it’s about who you trust, who you believe in. And the letter is pretty clear who that should be.
For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our Lord Jesus.
Our Lord Jesus Christ.
We use this name all the time. But what does it mean, really? What does it mean to trust in this name? The key is remembering that this is not just one name. It’s three different ways to identify the One we should trust, the One in whom we should place all our faith, so that faith will endure.
Edward Pillar writes that the names and titles we give to Jesus have particular significance:
First, Jesus—the incarnation of the Living God. The One who lived in Nazareth, ministered in Galilee and Judea, revealed the glorious love, mercy, kindness, and forgiveness of God. He loved to the very end, forgiving even as his executors nailed him to the cross. This is the way of Jesus and the calling of those who are his disciples.
Second, Lord—the Lord above all other lords. For the believer there is this singular confession—Jesus is Lord. God raised this Jesus from the dead, and exalted him to the highest place, giving him the name that is above every name. The disciple of Jesus accepts that Jesus alone is worthy of devotion. And moreover, the disciple of Jesus will test all other claims to lordship from authority figures, either in the government or the church, against the model of the Lord Jesus—love, mercy, kindness, forgiveness, generosity.
Third, Christ—God’s chosen king. To speak of Jesus as Christ is to recognize that he is God’s anointed one—anointed to be king, just as David was anointed by the prophet Samuel to be king.
Jesus, who was God and became human so that we could grasp God on our own terms. Christ, who was anointed as king over heaven and all creation. And Lord, a term we don’t use much any more, except to refer to God, but a title that overrides all human authority. In the first century, to say that Jesus is Lord was to say that Caesar was not. To name Jesus as Lord today is to proclaim with certainty that no other power has authority over us. This is who we trust. This is who we believe in.
`So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast.’ You are not called to sit and wait idly for Jesus to come again. You are not called to be afraid that you might have missed it. You are called to action.
These words are good news, to comfort and encourage you so that you will be “strengthened in every good word and work” (2 Thess. 2:17). Jesus is Lord. Jesus is King over all. Let’s get to work, to spread this good news and trust in him alone.