Sermon for Sunday, November 10th, 2019, the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Ps. 145:1-5, 17-21; Haggai 1;15b – 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17;
The Text: 2 Thessalonians 2:15
The Topic: Hold fast to the word of God.
During his 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy often closed his speeches with the story of Colonel Davenport, the Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives.
One day in 1789, the sky of Hartford darkened ominously, and some of the representatives, glancing out the windows, feared the end was at hand.
Quelling a clamor for immediate adjournment, Davenport rose and said, “The Day of Judgment is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. Therefore I wish that candles be brought.”
Rather than fearing what is to come, we are to be faithful till Christ returns. Instead of fearing the dark, we’re to be lights as we watch and wait.
– p. 490, 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers and Writers from Craig Larson and Leadership Journal, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2002. Second Printing, 2008.
The Day of the Lord Jesus Christ’s second coming, some were telling the Thessalonian Christians, is at hand. St. Paul writes to correct this error, and to emphasize that he was not its source. He reminds them that the Day of the Lord cannot come until the revelation of the Antichrist, who sets himself up in the temple of God and declares himself to be God (2 Thess. 2:3-4). At the time that St. Paul wrote this Epistle, in A.D. 51 or 52, the Jewish temple in Jerusalem still existed, and it made sense to refer to the Antichrist taking his seat in the temple and claiming to be God. St. Paul’s teaching here is simply that the Day of the Lord’s Second Coming was not yet at hand, since there had been no Antichrist entering the Jewish temple and insisting that he be worshipped by the whole world.
For us now, of course, the doctrine that the antichrist must be revealed in the Jewish temple poses a great interpretive challenge, since no Jewish temple has existed in Jerusalem since the Roman armies destroyed it in A.D. 70. Even St. Augustine of Hippo wrote of the difficulty of interpreting this verse:
But it is uncertain in what temple he shall sit, whether in the ruin of the temple which was built by Solomon, or in the Church; for the apostle would not call the temple of any idol or demon the temple of God. And on this account some think that in this passage Antichrist means not the prince himself alone, but his whole body, that is the mass of men who adhere to him, along with their prince….
– p. 881, Marcus Dods (transl.): Augustine: City of God, Book XX, Chapter 19. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2006.
Probably, a new Jewish temple will be built in Jerusalem, and this has to happen before the Antichrist’s coming, which in turn has to happen before the Lord’s coming. When in the future all these events will happen, we are not sure, but the point that St. Paul is making is that no-one should be alarmed at the thought that the Lord Jesus Christ has already come for the second time, since He has not, and will not until the revelation of the Antichrist.
PRE-OCCUPATION WITH THE PAST OR THE FUTURE INSTEAD OF LIVING IN THE PRESENT
Just as at first, the Apostles were gazing up into heaven after the Lord Jesus had ascended into heaven, and had to be told by the two men in white raiment not to stand staring up into heaven, for Jesus would come in the same way that they had seen him go, here St. Paul had to tell the Christians of Thessalonica not to be alarmed at rumors that Jesus’s second coming was at hand. From this we must learn as Christians to be preoccupied neither with the past nor the future, but to live for the Lord in the present moment, while holding firm to our hope of glory that we have by being one with Jesus Christ through Baptism.
THE CALL TO STAND FIRM AND KEEP FIRM HOLD OF GOD’S WORD
Instead of paying attention to false information that the second coming of the Lord had already taken place, the Thessalonian Christians were urged to stand firm and hold fast to the traditions which St. Paul taught them orally or through his epistles (2 Thess. 2:15). The verse remains important for us today, since it calls Christians to stand firm spiritually, and keep hold of God’s word, the Bible. The traditions that we are required to keep are the ones delivered to us in the Bible through the Church. The doctrines of the Gospel of Christ that we have received, we must continue to believe, obey, and pass on to our children and grandchildren. When we do this, God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, working through the Holy Spirit dwelling in us will strengthen our hearts and make us firm in every good word and deed (2 Thess.2:17). In this way, the Lord, who has loved us and given us an eternal inheritance and a good hope through grace, directs us to live a life filled with good words and deeds in the present.
This is an example of how God stabilizes us by directing us to keep the commands and believe the truths of his word, causing us to grow up in all things into Christ, who is the Head of the Church (Eph. 4:15), so that we are no longer swayed by false doctrines typical of those who have selfish motives, and are deliberately leading people astray from Christ for their own gain.
In the midst of speculation by some about the exact timing of events in the last days, we must stand firm on God’s word, holding fast to its commands, promises and teachings, so that, as we abide in the Lord more and more, his word becomes the foundation of our whole lives, and no-one will be able to sway our beliefs, since Christ himself, through his word, has taught them to us.
I end with the Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent:
BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.