Initial thoughts for “Children of the Day”

A sermon on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-28

4th Midweek Advent Service, 20 December 2017


It will come as no surprise, that Last Day of the Lord–no surprise to the faithful. “Sudden destruction will come upon them,” the Apostle warns, “…and they shall not escape.” (v.3) The language of a “thief in the night” applies to “them,” not “you” faithful of the Church, as St. Paul writes:

But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.” (v.4)

Christians live in expectation and anticipation of their Lord’s return. The Lord’s approach and arrival escapes the notice of those who pay no heed to His Word, scoffing and ignoring anything Jesus has to say about how He shall return soon–sooner than some think. For “them” it will be an alarming intrusion into their lives, shattering every smug, false sense of security. For those of us eager to welcome him, Christ’s return seems to be taking longer–maybe much longer–than expected.

Biblical language like “us” and “them” seems so terribly adversarial and divisive by our contemporary sensibilities. Most in our time prefer to eliminate any such distinction between faithful and unfaithful. They view the Biblical either-or distinctions as unhelpful: godly and ungodly, righteous and unrighteous, holy or defiled and unclean.

Many propose we reject such categories, such judgments, such words as those by which God reveals Himself and His will in Scripture. Rather than reckon with a binary good/evil paradigm, even many contemporary Christians embrace a radical human unity in diversity. “It’s all good,” or if not, then at least perhaps it’s all some shade of good–a hue of good enough. Nonetheless, in the end this pretense is unsustainable.  Even the most liberal, tolerant and diverse among us love a good #Reckoning, where what is evil gets recognized, condemned and punished for the evil that it is. At our worst, we happily cast ourselves in the role of The Punisher.

8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.

The Lord acts to save in a radically inclusive way, sending one and the same Son to suffer our punishment and die for the sins of the world. Sinners of every variety, whether pious and well intended or devious and malicious at heart, all fall short of the glory of God. None can boast a better Savior than the next, for one Christ paid the price once and for all. That universal, inclusive Jesus stands as the exclusive cause and source of our salvation. God gathers “them” sinners to Himself through His Son. Reject Jesus, and one rejects the universal atonement made for your sins, for all our sins. Reject Jesus, and one will wind up viewing him as a thief of time, talent and treasure–all that is dear–if not your thief at this moment, then the thief of others’ worthwhile energy and efforts. Folks wonder, “Why do they waste all this time fussing about an old Book?”

God creates the eternal “us” of His Church. Mercifully, He makes a completely inclusive communion of saints exclusively out of terminal-case sinners. All who trust in Jesus receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life through that faith in His name.

The Lord has sent “us” to “them” with this Gospel. By His Word, the Holy Spirit calls and gathers “them” unto “us,” as we are united in our forgiveness by faith in Christ Jesus. “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…” (Eph. 4)

God’s answer to sinful diversity of doctrine is by the Gospel to knit together “one holy Christian and apostolic church.” (Nicene Creed) Even our temporal diversity is overcome as we embrace the same faith in the same Word revealed to the prophets of old, proclaimed by the Apostles and confessed by the church across the centuries. Through this Gospel He gathers and includes those of “every nation and tribe and people and language.” (Rev. 5:9-10) This is an “eternal gospel” for all ages. (Rev. 14:6) Together we confess and cry out “salvation belongs to our God, and to the Lamb who sits on the throne.” (Rev. 7:9-10)

The “us” which God creates in His Church, His Spirit preserves as Christians gather in the flesh, in time and space together with one another. This rather idealistic, universal unity is realistically made manifest where two or three are gathered in His name. God bids us find agreement in Christ! (Matthew 18:19; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 13:11) Gathered in place and time, Christians “encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thess. 5:11) With His Word, we encourage one another.  In His Word, we build one another up.

The Lord’s Apostle further describes the life “we” live as God’s very own “us,” children of one Father unified in His Truth, the gospel of the forgiveness of all our sins in Christ Jesus:

12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.

Such true spiritual unity requires and produces much patience as it grows in “us” and manifests among “us” in “our” common confession of the faith, of Christ, and of the Gospel in all its articles. “Our” one God calls us to the glad task of together working through what is true and false, right and wrong when it comes to matters of the faith. Paul describes it in many places, but here in 1 Thess. 5 saying,

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good.”

Too many in our time despise this sacred, spiritual work of growing together in faith with others. They would rather not talk about our apparent differences, let alone talk through them. So some simply set them all aside and each does what is right in his own eyes. Such a path is not pleasing to God, nor in keeping with the apostolic faith. We are to hold fast to what is good, but test everything. That which is not good ought not be held fast, but cast off.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)

But all this takes time, patience, persistence, prayer and yes, effort in using the means by which Christ is pleased to create unity in the Truth. It means hearing the Word of God and keeping it. It means making disciples by baptizing and teaching them all things. It means a common, plural, group endeavor to “examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves!” (2 Cor. 13:5) For “us” Christians, this becomes a joyous work of hearing the Word of our Lord, receiving His Spirit’s gifts, of being enlightened, sanctified and kept with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

For “them” it is a burden to study, to patiently grow in the Word, and persistently teach and learn from one another. For “them,” there must be an easier way than dealing with real people, real differences, real sinners, and a real God who really reveals Himself and His will through His Word.

But for “us,” for you who believe, Christ speaks a blessing to live as Children of the Day:

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

This is the complete kind of unity God alone brings forth by the Word of Christ Jesus, our Lord. Such unity remains entirely God’s Work. God’s Son accomplished our reconciliation on the cross. God’s Spirit forges this unity through God’s Word as we make good use of it, by faith. Apart from such faith in His Word, none can take hold of it. But faith grasps hold of His blessing that He will sanctify us completely, in spirit, soul and body. The Lord is faithful. The Lord is calling you to be joined with His “us,” the Church. Grow together in Christ. Spend the patient time together in His Word, building one another up and being built up yourself.  Stand steadfast, united by mutual trust in the Word made flesh, dwelling among “us.”

That Jesus prayed for such unity among us, this sanctification:

“16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. 20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…” (John 17)

Our Lord, who is Faithful and True, will surely do it. We have both His Word and His blessing for this very purpose. Amen.


1 Thessalonians 5 (ESV)

1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

25 Brothers, pray for us. 26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. 27 I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

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