Sermon for Sunday, October 30th, 2022, the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Isaiah 1:10-20; Psalm 32; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12; Luke 19:1-10
The Text: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12
The Topic: Being counted worthy of our calling
Eric Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea was an unlikely hero of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. The twenty-two-year-old African had learned to swim only nine months before the games, had only practiced in a twenty-meter pool without lane markers, and had never raced more than fifty meters. Through a special program that permits poorer countries to participate, even when their athletes don’t meet customary standards, Moussambani had been entered in the 100-meter men’s freestyle.
When the other two swimmers in his heat were disqualified because of false starts, Moussambani was forced to swim alone. He was reportedly “charmingly inept.” He never put his head under the water’s surface and flailed wildly to stay afloat. With ten meters to the wall, he virtually came to a stop. Some spectators thought he might drown. Even though his time was more than a minute slower than what qualified for the next level of competition, the capacity crowd at the Olympic Aquatic Center stood up and cheered him on.
After what seemed like an eternity, the African reached the wall and hung on for dear life. When he had caught his breath and regained his composure, he said through an interpreter, “I want to send hugs and kisses to the crowd. It was their cheering that kept me going.”
– Greg Asimakoupoulos and Rubel Shelly: “help for Long race,” PreachingToday.com
At the beginning of our Epistle Lesson for today, St. Paul is encouraging the Thessalonian Christians by saying how he always give thanks to God for them. How was it that the Thessalonian Christians gave St. Paul cause always to give thanks to God for them? It is an important question since God calls us to be Christians for whom others give thanks to God.
The first reason for St. Paul’s continual thanksgiving for the Thessalonian believers was that their faith was growing abundantly (2 Thessalonians 1:3). Their faith was not growing slowly and incrementally, but wonderfully increasing. Not only was their faith increasing wonderfully, but also the love of everyone of them all for one another was abounding. In his First Epistle to the Thessalonians, St. Paul writes of these virtues:
We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father.
(1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, KJV)
In the above passage, St. Paul mentions the Thessalonians’ faith, love, and hope. These are the three theological virtues, that St. Paul describes as eternal in 1 Corinthians 13:
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
(1 Corinthians 13:13, KJV)
Faith, hope, and charity, or divine love, are eternal virtues that never cease, and the greatest of these is charity. These three were called the theological virtues by St. Thomas Aquinas, a medieval Catholic theologian, for two reasons:
- Firstly, they have God for their goal, in that by these virtues we are directed properly to God, and they are infused into our souls by God alone
- Secondly, we come to know these virtues by divine revelation in Holy Scripture.
St. Paul was so thankful that these eternal virtues were so powerfully at work in the lives of the Thessalonian Christians, that he expressed his pride in them to all the other churches, for their patience and faith in all the persecutions and sufferings that they were suffering (2 Thessalonians 1:4). In all their persecutions and trials, their faith in Christ and their patience made them strong to endure everything. They lived in an age (the first century A.D.) when Christians were a persecuted minority in the Roman Empire. As the formerly Christian West enters an age when persecution is increasing, we must look to the examples of faith, patience, love, and hope that we find in the lives of the saints.
The Thessalonian believers’ abounding love and wonderfully increasing faith were clear evidence of God’s righteous judgment of counting them worthy of God’s kingdom for the sake of which they were also suffering (2 Thessalonians 1:5). Their faith and patience under trial also indicated that they were not themselves resisting their persecutors or adversaries, but had entrusted their case to God, whose righteous judgment would also see to it that those who troubled them would be repaid with tribulations (2 Thessalonians 1:6). On the other hand, God would give rest to the persecuted Thessalonians and to St. Paul and his companions at the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ from heaven with his mighty angels (2 Thessalonians 1:7).
Here comes the great reversal – the persecutors of Christians will suddenly be destroyed, as the Lord Jesus Christ appears from heaven, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God and have not obeyed the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:8). Their punishment will be everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power (2 Thessalonians 1:9). “Everlasting destruction” does not mean instant annihilation, but destruction that goes on eternally in hell, where the fire is never quenched (Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:43-48; Revelation 20:14-15) and the worm never dies.
Instead of suffering this fate, Christians, whose faith, hope, and love are rooted in God, rejoice at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is glorified in all the saints as they rejoice with wonder in his presence. The faith of the faithful will then be rewarded, since they continued to believe the testimony of those who brought the Gospel to them (2 Thessalonians 1:10).
This great separation between the faithful and those who disobey the Gospel will suddenly come when the Lord Jesus Christ suddenly comes again, bringing judgment to the disobedient and eternal life and joy to the faithful. There is no fence-sitting – one will either be in the kingdom of God or out of it. Since there is always the danger of being found outside the kingdom of God, St. Paul assures the Thessalonian believers that he is praying always for them, that our God may count them worthy of this calling, and that he may fulfill in them all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith in power. The purpose of this prayer is that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in them, and they may be glorified in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).
In essence, then, we must continue to pray for one another, that God may count us all worthy of the call to follow Christ our Lord all the days of our lives, and that we may all have and show the grace of perseverance in the faith to the end.
 Quoted on p.431, , Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.