The Sermon for Sunday, November 19th, 2023, the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18; Psalm 90:1-12; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10; Matthew 15:14-30
The Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10
The following conversation was heard between an old farmer in the country and the new parson.
“Do you belong to the Christian family?” asked the minister.
“No, they live two farms down,” replied the farmer.
“No, no, I mean are you lost?”
“Lost? Why, I’ve lived here thirty years.”
“I mean are you ready for the Judgment Day?”
“When is it?” asked the farmer.
“Well, it could be today or tomorrow.”
“Well,” said the farmer, “when you find out for sure when it is, you let me know. My wife will probably want to go both days.”
(p. 508, Robert J. Morgan: Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007)
It is easy to be misleading when sharing the Gospel with others and asking leading questions, but the truths of the Christian faith nonetheless speak powerfully to those who will hear them.
On the wall of the sanctuary in the Cathedral of Christ the King, Queenstown, South Africa, where Bridgitte and I were married almost thirty-five years ago, there is a huge picture of the Lord Jesus Christ seated on his throne and underneath the words, “Et iterum venturus est cum gloria iudicare vivos et mortuos.” These are the Latin words of the portion of the Nicene Creed which in our prayer Book reads, “And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead.” This is a sobering sentence for any couple to read written large above their heads when they are getting married. It is both a sobering and a joyful part of the confession of our Christian faith, and an aspect of our faith which the Church brings to our attention in the season of Advent. For the Second Coming of Christ and the Day of Judgment put into perspective the whole of our life on earth. After all, how often do Christians, particularly Anglicans, reflect much on the second coming of Christ, and what it implies for the way in which they conduct their lives?
1 THESSALONIANS 5:1-10: THE DAY OF THE LORD COMES LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT
The opening verse of our Epistle Lesson today removes Christian concerns about the periods of time and appointed times for the coming of the Lord. In Acts 1:7, the Lord Jesus, in replying to the disciples’ question whether he would restore the kingdom to Israel at that time, made this significant statement:
It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.
(Acts 1:7, KJV)
This indicates that such information is hidden from Christians. Using the same two Greek words for “times” and “seasons” that are used in Acts 1:7, St. Paul dismisses the need to know such times and seasons as are appointed for the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ:
But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.
(1 Thessalonians 5:1, KJV)
Now why is it that Christians have no need to know the exact date and time that the Lord Jesus Christ comes again?
The answer lies in St. Paul’s next statement:
For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
(1 Thessalonians 5:2, KJV)
Just as one cannot predict what time or what night a burglar will break into a home and steal from it, so we cannot predict when the Lord Jesus will come again. Now for Christians, the day of the Lord is associated with Christ’s Second Coming, but we must remember that “the day of the Lord” in the Old Testament also means a time of judgement and recompense for disobedience. For this meaning of the day of the Lord, we need only consider today’s Old Testament Lesson from the Book of the prophet Zephaniah. The day of the Lord need not be merely a single twenty-four-hour day, but it can be an extended time of distress and judgment, as Israel experienced in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army in 587 B.C. and again by the Roman army in A.D. 70.
In verse 3, St. Paul refers to people of the world at a time when they think that world peace has been achieved, claiming, “Peace and safety.” Then all of a sudden, when they least expect it, sudden destruction comes upon them, as birth pangs before a woman gives birth, and they will not escape. Now this can be true of any natural disaster, or sudden outbreak of war, anywhere in the world. This verse implies that those who aren’t Christians will not be able to see such terrible distress coming.
THE VIGILANCE OF THE SONS OF THE LIGHT
How is it, then, that Christians are not taken by surprise when the day of the Lord comes?
The answer is given in verses 4 and 5: firstly, Christians are not in darkness so that that day should overtake them like a thief. “Darkness” means a lifestyle of sin and rebellion against God. Such people live under the dominion of Satan, sin, and evil. Being in the darkness, they cannot see. This means they are not aware of the purposes of God and have no accurate foreknowledge of what He is going to do. As Christians, we all are sons of the light, sons of the day, meaning that we belong to God’s kingdom and the Holy Spirit is dwelling in us, leading us into a knowledge of the truths of God that we need to know.
But the fact that Christians are children of the light and of the day imposes on them the discipline of not falling asleep spiritually, but being awake and vigilant, keeping watch over ourselves and their families, and continuing in prayer, praise, thanksgiving, and intercession. In view of this, St. Paul commands us not to be spiritually asleep, like the rest of the world, but to watch and be sober. For this purpose, we must arm ourselves daily by putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of the hope of salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:8). The breastplate represents the virtues with which we should face people and the attacks of Satan that might come through people. We face them with faith in God that He has saved us, is saving us, and will save us by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ, and we face them with love, as Jesus himself faced his enemies and taught us to love them. The helmet of the hope of salvation is also very important, for it means that we protect our mind continually with the hope of salvation of which the Holy Spirit has assured us. This hope is a reminder that God has not destined his people for wrath and judgement, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:9), who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we should live in fellowship with him (1 Thessalonians 5:10).
CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
We do not stay spiritually vigilant by neglecting our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ or the disciplines of Bible study, prayer, and obedience to the Lord. What will you do each day to listen more closely to the Lord and to remain spiritually watchful?