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About this series
The Awesome Power of Encouragement
Do you know someone who needs a spiritual "shot in the arm?" Do you long to receive encouragement from others and be the kind of person who brings out others' highest potential? First Thessalonians is the Apostle Paul's game plan for encouraging believers. This book teaches practical ways to bring hope and love into the lives of those you care about most, and also presents the New Testament's clearest teaching about the future of the Church - the rapture.More from this series
Fasten your safety belt and let’s turn the page and we want to look at the final portion of Paul’s teaching. Notice, very importantly, that in the NIV the first verse says, “Now.” That’s okay. Good translation. It’s not quite as hard. The word there is, “But.” He’s making a contrast.
He says, “Now,” you know, if you hear it as, “Now,” it’s a great word. If it’s, “But,” see, he’s talked about the Church, he’s talked about the Rapture, he’s talked about the Coming. “But,” now he’s going to shift gears and he says, “I want to talk about the end times in general.”
And in verses 1 through 3 he’s going to teach us, as believers, “We need to warn, we need to warn the people in our relational network and we need to do it by speaking the truth in love.”
And then, in verses 4 through 11, he’s going to come back and say, “We need to not just warn them, we need to win them by, literally, living the truth out in everyday life.”
So, let’s look at these three verses and see what he says about not just the Rapture. What he’s going to do is talk about the day of the Lord. And the day of the Lord was prophesied in the Old Testament, so they should know about it.
Isaiah 2, Isaiah 4, Isaiah 12, Joel 1, Amos 5, Zephaniah 1 and 3. The day of the Lord was, I mean, they knew about the day of the Lord. And the day of the Lord, then, was also taught by who? Christ. His disciples asked Him about it, you know, Mark 13, Matthew 24, Matthew 25.
He clearly, they knew. And the apostle Paul taught them when he was with them about the day of the Lord. And the day of the Lord is this time where, historically, there is going to be great judgment followed by great blessing and the day of the Lord, in the New Testament, is always used in reference to, not the Church, but the judgment of the nations.
So, with that, sort of plant it in the back of your mind. Let’s look at the first three verses where we need to warn others. It says, “But,” or, “Now, brethren, about times and dates,” literally about the durations and the characteristics of this whole end time scenario. “About the times and the dates, we don’t need to write you.” Why?
“For you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” They know very well, why? Old Testament teaching, teaching of Paul, teaching of Christ.
So, what he’s talking about now is not any mystery, not any new information. He is giving them the big picture. “You know the day of the Lord, when Jesus comes in final judgment, He’s going to come like a thief in the night.”
Verse 3, “While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly.” And then notice the simile. “As labor pains on a pregnant woman and they will not escape.” That same little double negative, strongest in the New Testament, it’s here. “They, in no way ever, will escape.” It’s very strong.
Now, let’s make three quick observations about those verses. Observation number one: Jesus’ return is certain. He’s saying, “You know, Old Testament, I don’t have to warn you, I don’t have to tell you. It’s going to be like a thief in the night but it is absolutely certain.”
The little picture he gives, a woman who is five, six months pregnant. She may not know the day the baby is coming but she’s real sure something is coming. Right? What she doesn’t know, she’s always semi-unexpected about the specific day. And so that’s how the picture plays out. He says, “Guys, we need to warn people.” Jesus is coming back.
Secondly, Jesus’ return will be unexpected. People will be saying things like “Oh, yeah, I know there’s a crisis in the Middle East but they’ve always had problems. Oh, I know there’s this devastating disease called AIDS but people have always had that. Oh, sure, there’s a few wars and lots more earthquakes and I know there are three or four major, Third World countries that their economy could sink everything and I understand that, you know, Iraq may have nuclear arms and North Korea and whole world could go up in smoke but, see, I try not to think of those things. And besides, the stock market is going up. And my own personal, private, little world seems to be okay.”
Peace, peace, safety. A thinking person, who would study world history, would find the level of devastation, earthquakes, wars, rumors of wars, plagues in our day are at an unparalleled level. And only a person in denial, only a person who sticks their head in the sand, only a person who is so defensive about reality that they want to keep God at a distance, can push all that information and all that truth away. A thinking person says, “The world’s got major problems and it could go up in smoke.”
There are idiots and terrorists stealing plutonium, there are countries now with atomic power that we wouldn’t let our children play with, let alone let run a country. And he is saying, “Jesus is coming back. It’s not peace and safety. And when He comes back He is going to surprise a lot of people.” And some of those people are your friends. Some of those people are your family members. And, dare I say, probably in a group this size some of those people are you.
God brought some of you, today, to have a divine appointment. You don’t know Christ as your Savior. You might be a great person, a moral person, a great worker, a good mom, a good dad, a great single person. I’m not saying you’re a bad person. I mean, you’re just one of us. But you don’t know Christ. You haven’t accepted the Lord Jesus, as His sacrificial payment for your sin, and when the Rapture occurs, those who know Him go and those who don’t, don’t. And it is unkind, unloving, and cruel to keep that to yourself. And the warning is, “Would you please tell people that?”
‘These are the claims of Christ. I’m going to be your friend whether you accept them, I’m going to be your friend whether you reject them, but I have a moral responsibility to tell you He’s coming. It’s certain. He’s coming unexpectedly. And, finally, when He comes, it will not be to bless, it will be to judge. And you can either allow Him to be your judge now and let Him judge your sin and place it all on Christ so you come as a son or a daughter. Or you can wait and stiff-arm God and He will be your judge later and every knee will bow, every tongue will confess, and you’ll suffer irreparable damage.’” We are told, by our Lord, to warn those in this situation.
We’re not only to warn them but we’re to win them. And there’s one major point I want you to get from verse 4 through 11. Simply put, you win them by living a significantly pure life where you live out what you say you believe.
Notice verse 4, “But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.” In other words, “Hey, there’s going to be no surprise for you.”
“You are sons of light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” Now, listen to this, here’s the application, “So then, let us not be like others who are asleep,” this is a different word for, “asleep.” This means moral and spiritual lethargy. It means indifference to spiritual things.
He said, “Let’s not be like them who are asleep but let us be alert and self-controlled.” Alert means to be mentally sharp, spiritually alert, calm, sober-minded. It gives multiple references to an attitude of prayer. So be alert and self-controlled. That Word means, “moral purity.” Be stable. Live a life of holiness in view of the Lord’s return.
“For those who sleep,” verse 7, “sleep at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night.” Contrast. “But since we belong to the day, let us be,” notice the repetition, “self-controlled,” live out this life. This time, it’s in the present tense. Continually be self-controlled. At home, be self-controlled. How? By the grace of God. At work, be self-controlled.
Specifically, how do you do it? He tells us: “Putting on faith and love as a breastplate and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” That’s in a tense of the verb that means, “Do it once and for all!” Put on a breastplate of faith, trust God, accept His love, and be loving toward others and have the security of your life, the helmet, your thinking, by the hope of salvation.
And it’s of a soldier. It means be not like a soldier asleep. Be alert. Be strong. Be ready. Go into your world and to your relational network and exhibit faith and love and hope in such a way where people say, “Hey, man, how in the world do you do it? You got three kids; you’re under such pressure. How does your life work? Your wife walked out on you, your husband walked out on you, that boss treats you terrible. I don’t know how you make it on what you live on. There’s something different about you.” “Yeah, it’s Christ.”
See, we’re to win the world by living a winsome, God-empowered, grace-oriented life. He gives the reason: “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath.” God’s will isn’t that we’re involved when the wrath occurs. “But to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
And then, notice verse 10, what a line: “He died for us.” The little word, “for” means, “on our behalf and in our place.” He died for us. Just let it sink in, okay? He died for, you put your name it. He died for you. He died for me.
And this idea isn’t just some man, fully God, fully man died somewhere historically. The idea is every sin, every shameful thing, everything in your closet and mine, He died in your place. God judged that sin, when Jesus died on the cross, and all that you’ve done, all that I’ve done, all that anyone has done was poured out on Christ and He is our sin substitute.
He died for us, in our place. He’s the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world. You know what your responsibility is? To receive Him. To turn to Him. To lift the empty hands of faith and say, “God, I need You.”
Now notice why He died for you. This is so great. “So that whether we are awake,” alive, “or asleep,” dead, “we may live together with Him.” I don’t know your background, my background in church was so terrible. I never had any idea that God wanted a relationship with me.
Jesus died on the cross isn’t some little thing to sing. He died on the cross because you matter. He loves you! He understands your hurt, He understands your pain, He understands where you’ve been, He understands your baggage and you know what He’s saying? “Come to me. Come to Me today. Let Me love you. Let Me forgive you. Join My family. Let Me cleanse you. Let Me take the deepest wounds and hurts. I’ll be the dad you never had. I’ll be the mom you never had. I’ll be the mate that left you. I’ll be the person you’ve been searching for. But whatever you think success or money or anything is going to get you, I’ll be that. I am God and you matter to Me. I died for you because I want a relationship.”
He doesn’t want to give you a list of dos and don’ts and duties and how many things you’re supposed to go to. He wants to bring you into a loving relationship with Him, and your service to Him will flow out of gratitude and life and love. And then He tells us, “Therefore, encourage one another and build up each other, just as in fact you are.”
I’d like to ask you a couple questions before we go home. The first being: Would you characterize your response to Christ’s return as, A) A fearless skeptic; B) Fearfully confused; or C) Joyfully anticipating?
What would you mark down if you had to? Are you certain that you are ready for the Lord’s return? If Jesus… if you knew 1:55 today the Lord was coming back, are you, with absolute confidence, sure that you would be a part of that event called, “The Caught Up,” or, “The Rapture?” Not because you’re a good person, not because you go to church, not because you give to the United Way, not because you read the Bible now and then but solely because you are related rightly to God, through the person of Christ, in His work on the cross and, by faith, you have accepted that free gift. Are you ready?
The [second] question I would ask is: Is there someone you need to warn and to win, before Christ returns? Did some names come to your mind as I was talking? Aunt, uncle, friend, coworker, family member, an ex, a child, a mom, a dad? Who is it and when will you start that game plan? And the first place is to pray. As we close today, I want to tell you, very upfront, that today is the day of salvation. God brought some of you here today and you’ll never hear the gospel as clearly, not because of the guy who was preaching but because of the Spirit that’s working. You may never hear it as clearly, as you have it right now.
And that your response today is not, “I’ll think about it.” Your response today is, “Lord Jesus, I get it. Yes, I’m a strong-willed person. Yes, I want my own way. But I’ve been stiff-arming You long enough and I want to put down the hands of resistance and I want to ask You today to forgive me, to cleanse me, to come into my life and make me a new person.” It’s called, “being born again,” or “born from above.” I want to pray a prayer and not by some rote but if it really reflects where you’re at and you want to respond to Christ, do it today, will you? You may never hear His voice as clearly as you hear it today.
Lord Jesus, You said that no one comes to You unless they are drawn by the Father. And that’s not mystical. It means they hear the gospel, it means that they’re at a place like today and they hear it clearly that You love them, that they can, in no way, by any works or effort of their own, get good enough but they need to humble themselves and they need to trust that Jesus died in their place to pay for their sin and that You rose again to give them new life.
If you’re in that boat today I encourage you to take a courageous step of faith and entrust yourself to the Savior. And if you don’t know how, just follow along. You can pray in your mind. But pray along with me: Dear Jesus, please forgive me. I’m sorry for the things that I’ve done that I know were wrong. I’m sorry for the people that I’ve hurt and the promises I’ve broken. I can’t do it anymore. Please forgive me and come into my life right now. I trust that Your death paid for my sin and Your resurrection will give me new life. Make me the man, the woman, or the student that You want me to be.