"Jesus is Coming Back"
Do you have some good friends you like spending time with and enjoying their company? Well, I suppose we all do. We look forward to being with such people as we give and receive mutual encouragement and love. The same was true for the apostle Paul. Some of his closest friends were living in a city called Thessalonica. A year or two after he met them and helped establish their church, he sent a letter of encouragement back to them. He was inspired by their first meeting and reflects upon their love and support. In this letter called 1st Thessalonians, Paul emphasizes some things he believes his new friends need to know. First of all, he encourages them to grow and mature in their faith in Christ Jesus. Paul hears from others how these friends of his are doing well as they represent the Lord. He is excited about their partnership and advancing the Gospel message of Jesus. He inspires them to keep on doing that. Secondly, he assures them that Jesus is coming back. That is something they can look forward to with great anticipation. These new Christians had questions about such matters, and Paul addresses them throughout this letter. He reassures them that indeed Jesus is coming and that should inspire them with all kinds of hope. 1st Thessalonians is a great letter of hope for those who believe in a daily walk with Jesus Christ. I trust it will give you great hope and encouragement as we come together and study this letter.
One of the apostle Paul's earliest letters was written in about the year 51, of the common era. It was addressed to some people whom he had met just about a year or so earlier, living in the city of Thessalonica. Now, this was the second largest city throughout all of Greece at that time, with a population of some 200,000 people. Before writing the letter, Paul visited the people living there. We find the account of that visit over in Acts chapter 17. As was his custom when he first arrived, he went immediately to the synagogue. The synagogue was the place where the Jews assembled to worship God. Over a period of some three weeks, Paul was there to share the Good News of Jesus, not only with the Jews but also with the Gentiles and others who happened to be there. Paul shared the story of Jesus. He proved from Scripture that Jesus died on the cross and was buried in a tomb and then rose again from the dead. As a result of that teaching, many Jews, along with some Gentiles, were persuaded to believe in Jesus. They submitted to Him in baptism and Jesus became the Lord of their life. Well, as a traveling evangelist, Paul is always on the move and yet Paul had to move away from Thessalonica before he was ready. Oh, there was simply too much controversy surrounding him and his message, and people did not like it. In fact, they drove him out of town. That account is found in the 17th chapter of Acts, as we begin reading with verse 5: "But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: 'These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.' When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil." Oh, because of the uproar of the city, Paul and Silas had to sneak out of town in the middle of the night. Paul traveled over 200 miles south to Athens and then eventually went on to the city of Corinth. And finally, after some time, Timothy and Silas met up with Paul and gave him an account of what had happened in the city of Thessalonica. In just a short amount of time, Paul had grown very close to these new believers. No doubt, he wished he could have stayed longer. He realized that they would face all kinds of opposition, persecution, and these believers needed to develop their faith in Jesus. They needed to stand strong upon Him and depend upon Him in the midst of these trying and difficult times. Well, based upon the report he received, Paul now writes a letter of hope and encouragement back to these new believers. He begins by thanking them for welcoming him into their city and also for receiving the message. He looks forward to the time when they can be together once again. Yes, he knows they are facing opposition. He knows they need a word of encouragement and somehow to be inspired by Paul to remain true to the Lord. As we take a look at the letter called 1st Thessalonians, we immediately notice this is a letter that inspires and encourages young Christians to grow in their faith and remain devoted to the Lord. Paul offers some very practical teaching and instruction, and he does so in a spirit of love and encouragement. Oh, if I were a new Christian today, this is a type of letter I would like to receive, a letter that encourages me instead of hurting me, a letter that builds me up and focuses on some of the good things I'm trying to do instead of running me down and accusing me of other things. With that in mind, I want us to notice some of the things that Paul highlights here in his letter. First of all, Paul acknowledged their spiritual growth. And that is the way he begins, in verses 2 and 3 of the 1st chapter: "We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." In a very short period of time, these Christians had grown in three ways; they grew in their faith in Jesus Christ, they grew in their hope of some day seeing the Lord, and they also grew in their love, not only for God but also for one another. Yes, these Christians knew very early on what it meant to be connected to Jesus Christ and to live a life of honoring Him. One of the most interesting things in 1st Thessalonians is that in these 89 verses, there are some 86 references to God, to Jesus, or to the Lord. What Paul seems to be doing is simply recognizing the significance of Jesus and the role He plays in their life. Yes, for these young Christians it was a matter of focusing on the Lord instead of focusing on themselves, and they knew the importance of doing that. And when they did that, it changed their life. It changed the way they lived, even to the point that they grew and they excelled in the areas of faith and hope and love. Yes, these Christians were constantly thinking about what a life lived for Jesus is supposed to look like. And no doubt, that is something good for us to consider, even today, to continually think about the kind of life that represents the Lord in the community and in the places where we live, and work, and worship, and play. So first of all, Paul acknowledges their spiritual growth. The second thing Paul does in this letter is that he brags on them for their willingness to endure persecution. We find that in chapter 2. Listen to verses 13 through 16: "And we also thank God continually because when you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as it actually is, the Word of God, which is at work in you who believe. For you, brothers, became imitators of God's churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus. You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out." In a very short period of time, these young Christians had given themselves to the Lord. They had given themselves to His teaching and that teaching had become a part of their lives. Yet, as we noticed, even from Acts chapter 17, as these Christians did that, they suffered persecution for it. Many people opposed them because they were more focused on the Lord than they were on the things in the city around them. I have some friends who know what that is like. I have some friends who have been persecuted because they are sharing the Good News of Jesus. I think about one man, in particular. He was beaten and abused and left for dead. And after some time of healing, he was able to continue on with his ministry. Yet, the thing that impressed me the most is that he went back to some of those very same people who persecuted him and he continued to share the Good News of Jesus with them. Oh, thankfully, I have never been persecuted because of my faith, and hopefully, that will not ever happen. Sometimes, however, I think about what I would do if I was persecuted or opposed because of my beliefs and my teaching. Hopefully, I will stand firm on Jesus Christ and depend upon Him to provide what is necessary. That is the second thing Paul does in his letter. He brags on them for their willingness to be persecuted for their faith. The third thing, Paul guides them on how they are to live a life that is pleasing in the sight of God. Notice these words in chapter 4 beginning with verse 9: "Now, about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. And yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more..." These Christians learned very early on the importance of loving God, the importance of loving one another, and they've put that into practice in their daily life. In fact, as we read a moment ago in chapter 1, Paul acknowledges that in his opening words. Yes, they loved God, they loved people, and everything else they did was based upon love. No doubt, those are the two greatest commandments that God has, even for us today, to love Him with everything that we have and then to love the people who are before us. That lifestyle of love demonstrated to the Lord, and everyone else, that indeed their lives had changed and that they were willing to be committed to Jesus Christ. Here's something else in this practical teaching section. A life that pleases God is one of sexual purity, and that is addressed in chapter 4. Immorality was a big problem for major cities like Thessalonica. Many people could not control their desires and their wants. And yet, these new Christians here in Thessalonica found a way to do that. They found a way to live differently than the people around them. And Paul reminds them of the importance to live a sexually pure life in the sight of the Lord. Then finally, Paul mentions the importance of living a very simple life. I love the phrase, the two verses that we have in chapter 4. Listen to verses 11 and 12 of the 4th chapter: "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your own hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody." Paul says make it your ambition to do three things, very clear, very simple; mind your own business, work with your own hands, and live a quiet life. When I think about those three things and the importance of doing those three things today, it does make our life much simpler. Oh, there are other things of practical advice that Paul includes here in this letter, and they are found at the end of chapter 5. And all of these things, no doubt, are important for us to consider, even today. In fact, I want to highlight about 12 of those things, and you will see them there in the text and on the screen. A quick glance finds the following: respect others; live in peace; encourage the timid; help the weak; be patient; be kind to each other; be joyful; pray continually; give thanks; do not limit the holy spirit; hold on to what is good; avoid what is evil. Twelve practical things the followers of Jesus do or do not do on a regular basis. No doubt, that is not a complete list. In other letters which Paul wrote, he added to that list and mentioned other things that are to be done or not done in order to live a life that is pleasing in the sight of God. These things are simply characteristics of those who are seeking to please God. They are characteristics of those people who have been changed from the inside out and who are willing to live a life that indeed earns the respect of others and lets people know that we belong to Jesus. Oh, what made good sense and was pleasing to the Lord almost 2,000 years ago still makes sense and is pleasing to the Lord today. Yes, these are some practical things that, when incorporated into our life, can represent the One who saves us. That's the third thing Paul does in this letter, he highlights some very practical things that Christians are to do. The final and fourth thing that Paul highlights is found in parts of chapters 4 and 5. Paul teaches about Jesus' second coming. And he does two things with that; number one, he announces the coming of the Lord. Now, there are several details that will take place to announce Jesus' second coming. We find those in the 4th chapter. Listen to the reading of verse 16. Paul writes, "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with a voice of the archangel and with a trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first." Now, those five things are unmistakable. Those five things will get everybody's attention and no one will be in doubt as to what is happening as the Lord himself will return. Once that happens, then, we notice in verse 17 that on that day both the dead in Christ and those who are alive will be raised up together with the Lord and forever be with Him. Well, no doubt, those are some words of hope. Those are some words of inspiration these Christians needed to hear, even in spite of the opposition and persecution that was going on. Then in verse 18, based upon those facts, Paul states, very simply, "Encourage one another with these words." No doubt, these are some of the most encouraging words that we find in the Bible. The second thing Paul does as he teaches about the second coming is that; since we do not know when that final day will be, we are to live as if it is today. Obviously, those words are not written by the apostle Paul, and yet that is basically the message he tries to convey in the 4th and the 5th chapters. He urges those who follow Jesus to keep on doing so. He wants them to be ready and to anticipate the day when Jesus will return. He writes this, in chapter 5 and verse 2: "You know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night." It's an interesting use of words, isn't it, but we can relate to that. A thief does not knock on a door in the middle of the day and ask to come in and to rob us, and to take from us that which is valuable and important. No, often times a thief will come under the cover of darkness, when he or she believes that nobody is home and nobody can see them; and they break in, and they steal those things that are valuable and important, and then they try to get away. Well, Paul states, basically that is what will happen when Jesus returns. He will return unannounced, except for the things listed there in verse 16. He will come at a time that we do not expect Him. He will come like a thief in the night. In fact, even Jesus himself stated in Matthew 24 verse 36 that He does not know the time nor the day of His return. That is the fourth point that Paul highlights in this letter called 1st Thessalonians. He prepares people for the Lord's return. Those who belong to the Lord, whether we are talking about these young Christians in Thessalonica or even people today, are to walk as children of light. We are to live self-controlled lives full of faith and love and hope. I think about Paul including that statement in the letter of 1st Corinthians where he writes, "Now these three things remain, faith, hope, and love, the greatest of these is love." Likewise, still today, if we believe Jesus Christ is coming back, then we will fill up our lives with self-control, and obedience, and faith, and hope, and love. Throughout this letter, Paul encourages these new believers. He reminds them to be prepared for the Lord's return. He states simply that believers in Jesus have a future with Him when this life is over. As I think about the letter of 1st Thessalonians, I believe it teaches us four things. Number one, it encourages us to cling to Jesus in the midst of opposition. Number two, it inspires us to keep our eyes focused on the One who saves us. Number three, it challenges us to live as true disciples of Jesus. Number four, it provides hope as we anticipate the Lord's return. 1st Thessalonians is a reminder that a life lived for the Lord is not lived in vain. Yes, there may be times when we face persecution and trials and hardships of every kind. It may feel as if there is no need to live for Jesus Christ because of all of the difficulties that we are encountering in the world today. There may be days when we do not feel like growing spiritually. There may be days when we feel as if we have reached everything that we need to do in order to live a life pleasing in the sight of God. Or there may even be moments when it is hard to do those little things that will make a big difference in the lives of other people, as we seek to represent the One who saves us. And yet we keep doing those things, don't we? We keep following Jesus with one primary thing in mind; the Lord himself is coming back to welcome all of His disciples into an eternal fellowship and relationship with God. That message keeps us motivated. That message keeps us going and living and walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. It keeps us focused on praising and honoring the One who saves us. I would encourage you now to stay tuned for the 1 minute summary of Paul's letter called 1st Thessalonians.
For many of us, our lives tend to revolve around certain times and dates. We have appointments to meet and schedules to keep and they are important. Yet there is coming a time and a date when we will meet with the Lord; and that is one meeting we will not be able to skip. The message of 1st Thessalonians reminds us of that upcoming appointment. In this letter, Paul writes at the end of every chapter that Jesus is coming back to judge the world and we are to be ready for it. Christians prepare for that day, whenever it is, by living a life that is pleasing in God's sight. Paul challenges us to turn away from anything that does not prepare us for that day. Perhaps the best way to do that is to find our identity and our self-esteem in God alone.
Thank you for tuning in to today's program. I trust this brief study of 1st Thessalonians was beneficial. It is encouraging to think about the second coming of Jesus Christ. It is something we can look forward to, as we anticipate seeing the One who saves us. If you would like to hear or view this message again, please go to our website keytothekingdom.com. There you can download it along with other messages, without any cost or commitment. While you are on the website, please take a few minutes to browse through some of the other things we offer. There is a six-lesson Bible study that might be of interest. There are also short devotional messages and video clips that provide inspirational thoughts on living a Christian life. By calling the number on the screen you can request that same free Bible study to be sent to you by mail. Leave your name and address and we will make sure you get one very soon. It will guide you into knowing more about the Lord and the free gift of salvation He offers. Other ways to access our ministry are through Roku® television and a free app which can be downloaded onto your smartphone. Thank you so much for spending a few minutes with us today. I hope you will join us again on this same channel and at this same time as we continue to study the Bible on "Key to the Kingdom."