The Sixth Sunday after Easter May 17, 2015
2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
1 Peter 4:12-19, 5:6-11
1 John 17:1-11
246, 413, 649, 215
But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.
In Christ Jesus—our ascended Lord—dear fellow redeemed:
I expect that when you got into your vehicles today it was a routine kind of thing. You got into the car, closed the door, buckled the seat belt, and off you went. I don’t mean to alarm you, but have you ever stopped to think about how much trust you place in the person who drives the vehicle? You trust that the driver knows how to operate the vehicle. You trust that the driver can control the vehicle, knows the traffic laws, has common sense, and has the emotional control to drive sensibly. You have to trust that the driver knows where you are going, how to get there, and that he will actually take you there. The driver does, after all, have complete control of the vehicle and would not have to take you where you want to go. We even put this kind of trust in complete strangers when we travel any kind of public transportation—a trust breached by the German co-pilot who intentionally flew the plane into the side of a mountain.
We put a lot of trust in the credentials and abilities of drivers without even giving it much thought. It is strange that we don’t always give the same kind of trust to our ascended Savior. The Father has placed Christ at His right hand, that is, He has given Jesus complete power and control over all things. Jesus is steering life for us and steering us through it, but like paranoid passengers we like to grab the wheel and say: “No, Jesus! This way…!” Do you think it is a problem with our driver’s credentials? No. Do you suppose He is lacking in ability? That’s not it either. It is simply that we are back-seat drivers who wouldn’t know how to steer ourselves through life, but are weak enough to sometimes think that we do.
Whether we use a car, a ship, or some other kind of transportation to describe our trip through life, it is our Lord who is the driver—the captain who knows best how to steer us through it. There are often wind shifts during the journey and when the winds do shift they create a need for some adjustment, but the destination is the same. Most important of all, the One at the helm is always the same. Whether in calm seas, shifting breezes, or gathering storms, the message God would have us learn is to SAIL FORWARD WITH CHRIST AT THE HELM I. Give thanks to be on board II. Stay the course.
You are all unique people. The reason why you are unique is because every morning when you get up you have an edge on the majority of the people in the world. It is not that you know what is going to happen that day…no one does and certainly not the horoscope writers. You are not unique because you won’t face things over which you have no control…everyone does. Your advantage is that every day, no matter what happens, you have a reason to be continually thankful.
The reason for ongoing thanksgiving is that God has brought you into salvation and made you His child. We would be surprised what a different outlook we would have, even on the worst of our days, if only we could keep thankfulness for our salvation always in front of our minds and hearts. Give it a try tomorrow. The first thing you do when you wake up is think about the fact that you are a child of God and thank God for it. Then keep reminding yourself of that throughout the day.
Paul wasn’t even thinking of his own salvation when he talked about being continually indebted to give thanks to God. Paul said that he had reason to give thanks continually because others—the Thessalonians—had been brought to faith. “But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” [v.13]
Salvation, whether it be our own or that of our brothers and sisters in Christ, is not less on any one day than it was the day before. Look at the day-to-day sin of your lives. In your sins there are plenty of reasons for God to be continually angry with you. Yet, that anger is continually removed and replaced with a love for the Father because of what Jesus has done. That is the ongoing miracle of your salvation and the ongoing reason for giving thanks.
Our ongoing thanksgiving for salvation is not the kind of thanks that the Pharisee had in Jesus’ parable who said, “God I thank you that I am not like those sinners” (cf: Luke 18:9ff). Rather, our thanksgiving is deep and genuine because we know we are like “those sinners” and that it is purely God’s undeserved love that has provided salvation for anyone. On top of that, we know that it is even more undeserved love that God’s salvation has come to each of us individually.
Paul is quick to point out how God brings sinners on board Christ’s ship of salvation. “…from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [v.13-14] From the very beginning, the fact that we are “on board” is all God’s doing and connected to the work of Jesus Christ. In eternity, God chose you to be His children. In time, God sent His Son to accomplish the forgiveness of sins which is necessary to make you His children. Now, in your lifetime, He has sent the Spirit to work through the Word of God to bring you to the confident trust that Jesus did die for your sins and that you are saved. Through the faith in Christ which the Holy Spirit has created in your hearts, God forgives your sins so that you can share in the glory of Heaven together with Christ our ascended Lord.
All of this was accomplished in you in the same way it was done in the Thessalonians—by the Word of God. The Gospel which Paul and the others brought to the Thessalonians had converted them from unbelief to trust in their Savior. We are brought into salvation by the power of God’s Word. God’s Word is the heart and core of what our own individual lives are all about. “The Gospel,” Paul wrote elsewhere, “is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). This powerful Word which accomplishes so much is the treasure we have in this Gospel ministry and a continual reason for giving thanks.
Now, many people may envision the Apostle Paul as being a great speaker and orator, but he wasn’t. Some people in his day said, “His letters…are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” (2 Corinthians 10:10). Paul himself said, “I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God…and my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power; that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1,4-5). It wasn’t Paul’s skills in speaking that accomplished great things, it was the power of what he spoke, namely, God’s Word.
We all do well to learn from Paul’s example and not to go about our work as a congregation or individual witnesses to Christ with the approach of “What is in it for me?” or “What will our church gain?” Nor should we go about supposing that we are going to win souls for Christ with our skill and ideas. On the other hand, we shouldn’t be afraid to speak up because we don’t think we are qualified. The ongoing work in this congregation—and it is true of every congregation—relies very much on every one giving individual testimony about your Savior. Don’t shy away because you feel inadequate. When you speak the truth about Jesus you are speaking God’s Word and it is not only adequate, it is powerful to accomplish things!
The Gospel is a marvelous treasure. The Good News it announces and the wealth of blessings it gives are every reason to be thankful. We were drowning in a sea of sin but Jesus our Savior came, threw out a lifeline, and brought us onto His ship. We are still on the sea of sin and are daily affected by it in our lives. The waves crash and slosh all over us. We may even get drenched and be so overcome by the sea that we may feel like we are going to drown.
As long as we are on board the ship of our Savior, we are safe. He has defeated sin and death on the cross and with the empty tomb on Easter. Each and every day we can look out at the sea of sin and the death it brings and be ever so thankful we are on board and sail forward. Do that! Sail forward from today, thankful to be on board with one another. Be thankful to have the truth of the powerful Gospel to use for the salvation of souls.
So, by God’s grace we are on board and safe from the drowning waters of the sea. What happens when storms do come and the ship seems ready to shatter into splinters? Do we abandon ship and jump overboard. Some do. In Jesus’ parable of the Sower and the Seed, some of the seed fell on thorny ground and when the weeds grew up they choked out the plants. Jesus said that the seed among the thorns are the ones who “received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).
What happens when this Christian ship on which we are traveling through life, turns where we don’t think we want to go? Do we rise up in mutiny toward our helmsman and take our own ship where we want to go? Some do. They are the people you see and hear about who are out of control, those who aimlessly wander through life without purpose, those who are steered by drugs, peer groups, self-desires, and the like.
The other option in these situations is to be 100% passenger and 0% driver. To do so, takes trust. It means completely trusting that Christ who is steering our lives knows what He is doing and is going to keep us from drowning. It is going to mean complete surrender to God’s direction and no worry about what we are facing. This is why Paul began by recalling all that God our Savior has done for us. Remember why we are so thankful to be on board. It is our Lord and Savior who has accomplished all of that…so then, stick with Him. He’s not going to let you down or bring you to shipwreck after He’s saved you. “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.” [v.15]
Paul’s good counsel for the Thessalonians was to hold onto and cling to the truth of God’s Word. The Thessalonians had received their instruction through Paul’s preaching and also through the mail. The mode of bringing the Word wasn’t significant. Whether by word or by letter, the Thessalonians had learned the truth of God’s Word from Paul and as long as they kept clinging to the truth of the Word, they would not be shaken. Let the winds of the world howl and the waves of evil crash against our bow, the anchor of the Word is solid and with it we will outlast the storms.
While we sail forward as a small confessional Lutheran church, we are in for some rough seas. Some may look at us and at what does or doesn’t happen among us and conclude that we are on the wrong ship. As a confessional church we are not surprised to hear whispers, laughter, ridicule, and other things directed our way. There will be no shortage of those who will be happy to give us advice as to how we might better steer our ship, even if it isn’t quite what the Man at the helm would have us do.
Nor is it just the outside that can pose difficulties. When we, as a small confessional congregation or church body, are out there being sloshed around, the cold chilling waves of doubt will come washing over us and we will wonder, “Are we right in doing what we are doing and standing on that for which we stand?”
The answer to these questions and the defense against all outside attacks is found in what brought us on board in the first place—the truth of God’s Word. When Martin Luther was facing excommunication and with that the threat of death, he was in a fierce storm. All he had to do was to retract the things he had written and he would have had smooth sailing. You can be sure there were whispers, laughter, ridicule, and comments of “look at that crazy monk!” You can be sure there were doubts from within. Luther’s course of action was to go back to the Word and double-check to be sure that what He was clinging to was Scriptural truth. When he saw that it was, he stayed the course, continued to cling to the Truth and weathered the storm. It is the truth of God’s Word that brings us on board Christ’s ship and as long as we cling without compromise to that truth we can sail forward into any storm knowing that Christ is at the helm.
The Thessalonian Christians were facing serious persecution and Paul knew it would continue and try to pull them away from the Savior. Paul committed the spiritual care of the Thessalonians into God’s care. “Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, who hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.” [v.16-17]
In anything and everything that tries to pull us away from our Savior and the truth of God’s Word, there is unending encouragement to be had from our Lord. Picture a child who is scared, hurt, crying, and lonesome being called to an adult who loves him. When that child is up-close beside the loved one, there is so much that can be offered to the child and which the adult can do. In that closeness, the child will receive comfort, love, encouragement, help with the wounds, and whatever else it takes to send him merrily on his way. That is the kind of encouragement God has for you in His Word. It is an eternal, unending encouragement.
There are a lot of hopes in this life but good hope is hard to find. So many hopes are false from the very beginning and many others end in failure and disappointment. God gives good hope. God gives certain hope. His hope is “I PROMISE!” His certain unfailing hope is, “Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
The encouragement and hope against whatever the devil will throw at us comes from the same Truth that put us on board. This is why it is so important to cling to God’s Word and maintain the course. Consider what we lose if we lose God’s Word. If we lose God’s Word we lose our life-preserver, our ship, our captain and helmsman, our anchor. That would leave us at the mercy of the sea. In the devil’s sea of sin, there is no mercy. It’s a scary thought because left to the sea we will be hopelessly left adrift to die by drowning in the miseries of Hell. “Take unto you the whole armor of God that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth” (Ephesians 6:13-14).
We still have the matter of sinful human pride because we still want to take control and choose our own path. We like to follow a calm and easy course. We are reminded that God may at times call us out into the wild open sea in order to test and preserve our faith. At such times He sends His promised Comforter, the Holy Spirit through the Word, to give us help.
When we don’t leave all things to God’s direction it leads to worries and the bearing of burdens that God does not ask us to bear and that we need not bear. When this happens remember to “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).
As brothers and sisters together with Christ in the family of God, we are, throughout Scripture, encouraged to pray for one another. Paul offered the prayer that God would encourage the Thessalonians in their struggles and strengthen them in their Christian lives. Paul continued his prayer in chapter 3 by saying, “…brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you” (3:1). Let us pray for one another that God would encourage our hearts and strengthen each of us as we sail forward and stay the course; and that He would bless the work we do.
In the coming days, weeks, months, years, and the remainder of your lives don’t grow discouraged—stay the course! Don’t give up in frustration—stay the course! Don’t quit working in the Kingdom of God, there are so many more who are still drowning in sin and unbelief and others who are trading helmsman or jumping ship altogether—stay the course! Greet each day with thanksgiving to be on board. Hold on to your anchor and sail forward with Christ at your helm—stay the course! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.