You are trapped in a burning building. Doom is sure. Then unexpectedly someone you don’t know runs in to announce a way of escape. Is this good news?
Only if you believe it and act on it.
For every person without a saving trust in Christ, life is that burning building. It could collapse at any time. A preacher or parent, a friend or even a foe, has announced to you a way out. But do you believe it? Will you act on it?
As the Word of God comes to individuals, it is either welcomed with open arms or pushed away. As my former pastor would say, the gospel makes you “mad, sad or glad.” Mad because you are offended. Sad because you know it’s true but refuse to act on it. Glad because the hole in your heart is finally filled, your many sins fully forgiven.
Our passage for today is I Thess. 2:13-16. Paul sets these two realities of welcome or rejection before us. On one side of the ledger we find words like: received, accepted, believe and endured. On the other side, killed, drove out, not pleasing, hostile, hindering and wrath.
From this text we discern two signs of a valid reception of the gospel. Could anything be more important?
Sign #1 You believe it comes from God (v.13)
When Paul and Co. entered this thriving city of Thessalonica and preached Christ crucified and risen, as supported by Old Testament Scriptures, these Gentiles received it as coming ultimately from God, not man. Man is only the courier of this package. It shipped from heaven.
The gospel is not something man would invent even if he could. It is far too outlandish and unbelievable and really unflattering for any of us to come up with it.
When an individual receives the gospel, he can truly say: “God just spoke to me.” And what did He say? He said, “I love you. Jesus died in your place. You are forgiven. Now come home.”
God has spoken in Christ! He is not silent or mute or muffled. He is not anti-social or shy or a painful introvert. As Hebrews 1:1-4 reminds us, God is under no gag order. “His final word was Jesus, He needed no other word” as Michael Card sang. Have you heard His final word?
Sign #2 You keep believing despite persecution (vv.14-16).
The second vital sign a person truly believes is that saving faith keeps embracing the very thing that brings the pain! How many persecuted Christians could make it stop by renouncing Christ and going back to Islam or Hinduism or Judaism? But they don’t and instead keep believing the very cause of the hostilities.
This is because the welcomed word goes to work! Like a good pain pill, you take it in the morning and it works all day.
This word of good news is so powerful that it brings new life and then feeds that new life for the rest of your life. You never outgrow the gospel, you just grow deeper into its implications.
This message then sets us on a path of growing holiness and increasing obedience to God’s good commands. It doesn’t free us so we live out of control, pandering to the flesh. It doesn’t encourage us to sin it up because we can just ask for forgiveness. Rather, where the sinful passions were “at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death” (Rom. 7:5), so now the Word of God is “at work” bearing the fruit of righteousness.
In this passage Paul highlights one great work of the implanted word – it makes us willing to suffer for what we believe. If not, do we really believe it?
Hitler’s terror in Nazi Germany was believed to be wrong by many. But only a few Germans were willing to suffer for that belief and resist evil authority. As Israel’s Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, states: “Bystanders were the rule, Rescuers were the exception.”
As hostility escalates in America, will we be the ones who keep believing the gospel and offering life to those dead in sins or will we hedge our bets and lower our heads to remain safe and financially secure?
As Paul so passionately states here, the day of God’s wrath will soon break lose upon the persecutors of Christ’s body. God will take care of them.
This passage also reminds us that the worst persecution often comes from religious people. Just ask Jesus! People consumed with envy and jealousy and fear often turn on God’s spokesmen and harass God’s sheep. We can be the source of their irritation because salt stings and light hurts your eyes when darkness is your ally.
This is because pride and self-righteousness are the deepest and hardest sins of all to see in ourselves and then turn from. Salvation by grace through faith exposes and rebukes the proud religious person inside all of us. When one is righteous in his own eyes because of something other than Christ, the simple message of Christ strikes a nerve.
I close with three valuable lessons.
#1 Persecution is an Equal Opportunity Employer.
Persecution of Christians is not racially driven, it is spiritually driven. It results from a heart problem, not a color of skin “problem”. Satan not sociology is behind it. In the history of the church, Christians, whether Jewish or Gentile, have been persecuted by both Jews and Gentiles. Sometimes the worst persecution comes from your own family!
#2 Receive the gospel and you may suffer the wrath of man. Reject the gospel and you will suffer the wrath of God.
Gospel rejection is Jesus rejection. It puts you in league with those who killed Jesus and the prophets.
#3 Those who reject Christ’s good news are not pleasing to God no matter how religious, moral or pleasing to man they may be.
Good deeds can never placate the wrath of God against our sins. In fact some of God’s hottest anger is reserved for religious people who love their religion but don’t love the truth found in Jesus.
Unless otherwise noted, all posts are written by Pastor Chris McKnight