23rd Sunday after Pentecost November 17, 2019
2 Thessalonians 2:1-8,13-14
437, 372, 371:1-4, 283
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
May the love of God the Father fill you with wonder; may the sacrifice of God the Son fill you with gratitude; and may the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit fill you with faith, hope, and confidence. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians:
Some of you may be acquainted with the expression: “Anything is possible—if you can get someone else to do it.” I tend to use it a lot because it fits a lot. It’s always easier to come up with great ideas for others to actually carry out. Which, for example, is easier— drawing up a list of projects at church or actually doing the work necessary to correct the problems? To say, “Hey, the lawn needs to be mowed” or to go out and mow the lawn? To come up with outreach ideas, or to actually witness your faith to others? You get the point.
Disturbingly enough, the devil and his minions undoubtedly say much the same thing. Think of it. Satan loves sin. He recognizes the pain and destruction that sin creates, and he is positively gleeful about the stuff. But he’s got a problem. Sin is his idea, but he’s got to get someone else to do it. The reality is that the devil and his vast hoard have to rely on human beings to commit the sin they love. No one can make you sin. The devil can tempt, entice, cajole, but he can’t force anyone to sin. In this sense, it is altogether true that sin is only possible if he can get others to do it.
In our text for this morning we will find application of that insight—information as to just exactly how the devil is playing us against each other, and against ourselves. The text that will guide, instruct and comfort us this morning is found in Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians, the Second Chapter:
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming…But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. ESV
So far the Word of God. Think of it! The Word of God. How we ought to treasure every exposure to something so divine, so holy, so good for us. That our God would give us such appreciation for this gift—and then fill us with all good things through the study of His Words—so we pray, “Sanctify us by Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth. Amen.”
Interesting thought, isn’t it: “Sin is only possible if Satan can get someone else to do it.” Obviously, the devil can sin. Scripture tells us in 1 John 3:8 that “the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” Yet his goal in connection with sin lies not so much in doing as it is in causing others to do. Think of the first temptation in the Garden of Eden. The devil had no power over Adam and Eve that they did not themselves give or allow him. He couldn’t make them do anything. “No!” and “Be gone, Satan!” would have solved things. It obviously worked for Jesus when he was tempted in the wilderness.
The devil can only tempt. This is the first application of our rather cryptic theme for this morning: “Not Always From, Sometimes Through.” The hard, cold fact is that God does not always keep bad things from us; sometimes he just preserves us through them.
Stop here for just a moment and marvel not only at the truth of what we just heard but at how that truth has played out in your own individual life. Have there been difficult things in your life? Obviously. And yet the fact that you are still here and are still being preserved in the Christian faith is evidence that God can be trusted to always carry us through it—even though we might rather he preserved us from it. We would rather, in other words, be spared the whole ordeal, rather than have to be preserved through it. Why is that not always possible? Probably many reasons, chief of which is me; or, in your case, you. You and I are just too dense, thick, dull, slow, stubborn (pick your adjective) to remember the hard lessons of life. Usually all we need in order to forget is for things to go well for a bit. We drift, we forget, we wander—and God has to call us back. Most often the only way he can get our attention is by slapping us up-side the head. Obviously, the fault is ours, not his.
This brings us finally around to our sermon text for this morning. Clearly there were several lies and temptations the Christians in Thessalonica had to be preserved through rather than spared from. The first was the lie that Christ had already returned—together with the obvious result for the Thessalonians that they had missed it and therefore missed out.
Paul in our text offers evidence to disprove the lie, and his evidence was the fact that the Antichrist had not yet been revealed.
One of the reasons the Reformation was so successful and has stood the test of time is the clarity that God gave the reformers—and to us through the reformers. Today we are plagued by religious double-speak. Not so then, with the Reformers. Then they identified not only what they taught and believed, but also what they rejected. Clearly. Again, the obvious pattern today is to speak always and only in vague generalities with which nearly everyone can agree. The poster child for this trend is the so-called joint agreement between the ELCA and the Roman Catholic Church on justification. You may recall several years ago representatives of those two church bodies met to find common ground on what each meant by justification—this despite the fact that no official change had taken place in the Catholic Church since the days of Martin Luther. The result was not only a 15 page document that used many words while actually saying nothing, it also gave birth to the toxic lie that the Reformation had all just been one big misunderstanding. The lie is that Lutherans and the Catholics have actually believed pretty much exactly the same thing.
So what is Satan up to these days? More than we’ll ever know, but one thing is obvious: he hates it when we condemn anything that God himself condemns. The first step in achieving his goal is to create a church filled with spiritual Rodney Kings all chanting in unison: “Can’t we all just get along?” God’s answer: “Not as long as there is darkness in the world. Light can have no agreement with darkness.” Nor is it ever safe or wise to act as if the darkness is anything better or more acceptable than what it is.
Now, plug our text into this truth. The Holy Spirit here, writing by verbal inspiration of the Apostle Paul, tells us several things about the Antichrist. First, the error of the Antichrist was already at work in Paul’s day. Second, the Antichrist would claim to be part of the Church, so the attack would come from within rather than from without. Third, the Antichrist would set himself up as equal to God on earth. Fourth, he would remain until he is exposed in a very public way for all the world to see, and, finally, though mortally wounded by the revelation, he would remain in power until the coming of Christ on Judgment Day.
What alone today fits such a description? Clearly only the Roman Catholic Papacy, which began even while some of the Apostles were alive, represents an attack from within, claims infallibility still today, was exposed by God’s Reformation of the 16th Century, and yet is still in existence today.
Yet we would rather not talk about such things—which is exactly what Satan had in mind. He had the idea that we should all just stop talking about sin and error. If we all just stop condemning anything as wrong, then he’s “gotten someone else to do it for him”—someone else to act on and carry out his idea: you and me. In other words, he has created a culture in our society that makes us feel guilty for honestly acknowledging the truth—or at least certain parts of the truth— whenever that truth can be construed as negative for anyone else. You and I are in danger of accepting the ridiculous notion that it is somehow virtuous to refuse to condemn that which God himself condemns. Take care, fellow Christians, not only that you yourself should not be so deceived, but that you do not become part of the problem. Peter didn’t think he was doing anything wrong when Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan.” Don’t be the one who carries out the devil’s plan.
Yet again some will inevitably ask, “Why did it have to be this way? Why did God allow an Antichrist to come into existence? Why didn’t he just prevent this and so many other things from attacking us?” In answer we go back once again to our theme: “Not Always From, Sometimes Through.” No human being can know the mind of God or plumb the depths of his wisdom. God is God, we are not. So we close our mouths and bow to his wisdom. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46)
Yet all of this would be cold comfort if not for where our text takes us next. God’s Word always seeks our benefit and our salvation. So also we don’t talk about evil to make us feel better about ourselves—or terrified—but so that we might be protected and preserved. Our text therefore continues: “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Want to ask a baffling question? Ask yourself why God would choose to save a sinner like you. And yet he did, didn’t he? It was not just others; it was you he called through the gospel. It was you he brought to faith in Jesus Christ. It was you he loved and rescued. Want to know the ultimate “anything is possible if you can get someone else to do it”? Our salvation. We couldn’t choose God, he had to choose us. We couldn’t pay for our sins, God had to do that for us—which is why he sent his Son, Jesus Christ. God chose to send the Holy Spirit into our hearts through the preaching of the gospel so that we might come to believe some otherwise unbelievable truths; namely, that God now sees you and me as innocent and holy because his Son has paid in full for all that we have ever—or will ever—do wrong. God shattered our rock-hard, stubbornly unbelieving hearts, he there created saving faith, and he has thereby set our feet on the path to eternal life. More than that, the life that he has now created in us will never die.
Listen again to the last line of our text and allow it to sink in—because it applies not just to the masses, not just to others—it applies to, speaks to, you: “To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
God in his wisdom will not always keep trial and hardship from us. But he most certainly can be trusted to preserve us through such things. As he has, so he will. Cling to that promise and patiently wait for his final proof when he comes to take you home. 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.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.