Introduction: This Reformation season is the 500th year anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. We must therefore look at Martin Luther’s favorite New Testament writer – the Apostle Paul. It would be good, therefore, to look at Paul’s teaching on Christ’s Return as a means of preparing for the next sermon section in Matthew’s Gospel where Christ unfolds the ‘Last Things’ in Matthew 24.
Mon/Tues: read Matthew 24:3 & 2 Thessalonians 3:1-16. Paul’s crucial ‘Last Things teaching’ is summed up in one of the first books written and included in what we call the ‘New Testament.’ Before Matthew’s Gospel was written as a record of Jesus’ words about the end times, 1 &2 Thessalonians were written to emphasize the same Bible teaching. For example, the end of every chapter in 1 Thessalonians concludes with words about that great day of Christ’s return! And what could be more salutary than to be reminded from Paul’s closing words in 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 about the right attitude to live by in the light of Christ’s Second Coming:
For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
Meditate and Pray: “Lord, help us to live each day in light of ‘the Great Day’ when all mankind will stand before the judgment seat of Christ! May we rejoice in the certain hope that Christ will stand and represent us at that time, vindicating us from every slur and ungodly criticism, as well as every justifiable condemnation which our sins threaten against us! Amen.”
Wednesday: read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-2. Before we can appreciate Jesus’ teaching on the Last Days in Matthew 24, we must grasp the importance that this Day plays in all of Scripture, including the first book of the New Testament. Let’s think for a few minutes today about this First Letter to the Thessalonians.
Thessalonica was a strategic regional capital of Northern Greece – a city which Xerxes used as his naval base in attacking that land. Paul’s call to take the Gospel to Thessalonica was directly from the Spirit of God, who led him to that city, and the Province of Macedonia in which it was located (Acts 16:9-10). Thessalonica was an urban, commercial and military center with an excellent harbor. Like Corinth, it was given over to the wealth, busyness and idolatry of Greek and Roman culture. Yet, the Lord sustained His people in that environment. May we likewise see God use the book of 1 Thessalonians to stir us up with new courage to face the challenges of living in our worldly culture – much akin to the fast-paced worldliness of Thessalonica.
Meditate and Pray: May we see Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians, in their evil environment, also answered in our lives, as we shine as lights in the darkness of this world: May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it (1 Thess. 5:23-24).
Thurs/Fri: Matthew 24:4-13 & 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13. With fervency in prayer the church prepares for Christ’s Second Coming, and we ready ourselves for the great harvest of souls which will happen then. In just this way in 1 Thessalonians 3, we note how laboriously Paul prepares the way for that Day by praying for the Thessalonians to be “readied” for Christ’s return. The “strengthening” for which Paul prays in 1 Thessalonians 3:13 teaches us that the great Day has to be prepared for – just as an athlete must train for the Olympics; an attorney has to prepare for arguing a case before the Supreme Court and a farmer has to fertilize, till and plant before waiting for the harvest, so Christians are in no shape to welcome Christ’s return without adequate preparation.
For example, take a look at the familiar idea of Christ’s return as a ‘harvest.’ This is the basic picture behind both 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 and 3:13: the ‘harvest’ of believers (body and soul) is God’s ‘field.’ Paul speaks in 1 Thessalonians 3:13 of the “holy ones” who will come as Jesus’ vanguard from Heaven. Some have interpreted this as implying angels, even as 1 Thessalonians 4:16 overtly describes the angelic voices involved in the gathering of believers to Christ. In the Gospels, the angels are described as ‘harvest workers’ who go out to gather believers on the Last Day (Mt. 24:31). Moreover, Paul says elsewhere of our Savior that He is “the first-fruits of those that sleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). In other words, Christ in His Resurrection and coming glory is the ‘first sheaf’ presented to God the Father… as a pledge of the ingathering of the whole harvest which takes place upon His return. Think of it! Like a faithful, patient farmer, God intends to get a ‘full crop’ from all of our lives! Our souls, our bodies and even our good works done in Jesus’ Name – all resurrected at the dawning of the great return of Jesus Christ. That is how effective God will make Paul’s prayers for the Thessalonians as He uses them to ripen those believers for the Harvest!
Meditate and Pray: Are you tempted to mourn the lost days of your past, and the regrets of prior mistakes? Take heart! God is an excellent farmer – He will not miss one grain of holy seed – all that is God-given, spiritual and holy in your life will be gathered. Nothing of value will be lost! What a joyful harvest that will be! Sing about the joy of that day in hymn # 715 of our Trinity Hymnal:
Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.
All the world is God’s own field, fruit unto His praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown unto joy or sorrow grown.
First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.
For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take His harvest home;
From His field shall in that day all offenses purge away,
Giving angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store in His garner evermore.
Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring Thy final harvest home;
Gather Thou Thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified, in Thy garner to abide;
Come, with all Thine angels come, raise the glorious harvest home.
Sat/Sun: read 1 Thessalonians 4:1-13. We can sum up the importance of preparing for that Great Day of Christ’s return with this statement: Christ towers over history as the One who will judge the earth when He returns – a fact which looms over all the commands which precede the description of Christ’s coming in 1 Thessalonians 4:13ff. Paul appeals to the returning Christ in verse 1: “We ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that your life be lived in order to please God.” In other words, the first impact of living in the light of Christ’s return is that we acknowledge His authority here and now to shape our lives to be well-pleasing to God. Because Christ has been appointed by God the Father to return to judge the world (Acts 17:31), He clearly has authority even now to draw us down the path which He chooses for us.
Meditate and Pray: In a world where many ignore Jesus’ authority and scoff at the idea of giving an account to Him, let us affirm that His word carries authority in every realm of life precisely because He will enforce the absolutes of God’s holy Word on that great day of judgment. Oh may the Lord increase our perception of the reality of this Day so that it impacts more our daily living and anchors our hope firmly in Jesus Christ’s return from Heaven.