Expecting Christ’s return (8)

Bible Readings

  • Ephesians 1:3-14;
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

Introduction

My dear friends in Christ,

In the early ’40s, communism spread into many parts of eastern Europe fell under the expansionist powers of the Soviet Union.  The USSR was under the firm control of Joseph Stalin, who absolutely destroyed his political rivals.  His brutal methods to achieve his goals led to millions of deaths.  The three Baltic States Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were illegally occupied by Russia.  This power-hungry occupation spread south into the south as far as Albania.  The military power behind it was brutal and forceful.  Millions of people died. 

At about the same time, also under communist inspiration, the decolonization of Africa started.  One state after the other was decolonized, and in most instances, it went hand-in-hand with brutal killings and military force.  Many governments were in the hands of the military.  The states towards the south observed with fear how the communist-driven armies marched south.  In Mozambique and Angola, hundreds of thousands of people died, more so, the remnant of nations who colonized those states.  Then Rhodesia fell.  Many thousands were killed, and others fled with only the clothes on their backs.  

All along, we who lived in the last state to the south, South Africa, seriously considered our position:   would we be spared the brutality, cruelty, and barbarity of so-called power-drunk freedom fighters.  Would we survive these attacks?

History is now telling its story as about 20,000 people dying in lawless riots every year.

It is not my intention to give you a history lesson; but those who survived Hitler’s campaigns, Stalin’s mercilessness policies, and the Communist advance in Africa shared the same fear:  is it possible to survive?

Over the last few weeks we pondered the words of Paul to the Thessalonians about the return of Christ. Paul stated clearly, contrary to the message of false teachers that Christ had not yet returned.  Before his return, the Lawless One will be revealed.  His arrival will be by the work of Satan (2Thessalonians 2:9).  During that time, true to the nature of his father, he will be a master of deception.  His reign will be accompanied by counterfeit miracles, signs, and wonders (2:9), which will be followed by many who will worship him.  They do so, the Bible says, because they rejected the truth, and will be in a powerful grip of delusion to believe the lie.  This will lead to their condemnation.  

Truly, those who reject Christ and his truth will experience how the Lawless One, anti-Christ, repay them:  with eternal death (Romans 6:23)

Will I survive the deception and attacks of the Lawless One?

The Lawless One is encroaching, and when his time arrives, he will openly attack and destroy whatever he can.  But his power and time will be limited, and so will his influence be.  Let’s say it right in the beginning:

All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (Revelation 13:8, NKJV)

Our Lord said, 

For false Christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. (Matthew 24:24, NKJV)

So, my dear friend, how do you answer this most important question:  do you trust and know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?  Do you know that your sins are forgiven? It is of utmost importance that you know these things before that day overcomes you!  Will you survive the deception and attacks of the Lawless One?  If you think so, on what grounds do you stand to say it?

The Bible takes us by the hand this morning and helps us.  Let’s look with eyes wide open and with sober minds to receive the Word of God. And I trust you will receive and understand it with joy.

A work of God from the beginning

God, the Father.  Verse 13: 

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 …(2 Thessalonians 2:13, NKJV)

Driven by love, God saves sinners and forgives them their unrighteousness.  

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16, NKJV)

Let’s hear it in different words.  

He chose us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will… (Ephesians 1:4–5, NKJV)

I visited the dying man in the hospital.  He asked me to pray that God will give his strength to keep holding the hand of God till the end.  At that point, I had the privilege to proclaim the good news of Christ.  It is not for you to have the strength to cling to God’s hand,” I said,  it is God who will not let go of your hand.

God, the Holy Spirit:  the Father calls; it is the Holy Spirit who gives life and makes holy.  

God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, (2 Thessalonians 2:13, NKJV)

The Holy Spirit opens our eyes for the truth of the Gospel, He gives a the new birth from above;  our spiritual eyes are opened and we see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3)—something even the learned man, Nicodemus, could not see or understand with natural eyes.  

The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the Bible, but He also declares the Gospel to our hearts.  That’s why we always pray that the Sprit opens our eyes before the preaching of the Gospel.

Jesus Christ:  But what is this Gospel about? It’s about Christ.  

To this, He called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 2:14, ESV)

Why do we hear the Gospel about Christ?  Because we are by birth all sinners.  Listen to the Word:  

… the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:22–23, ESV)

What does this verse tell us?  There is no righteousness in us.   John even puts it more blunt:  

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8, ESV)

In other words, not only are there no righteousness in us, we fall short of the glory of God and, as such, we have no hope of being with God.  Isaiah says: 

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6, ESV)

When God sent his Son to seek and save the lost, a mind boggling transaction took place:  

For our sake, He [God] made Him [Jesus Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him [Christ] we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)

It is only through faith in Jesus Christ that we are made righteous so that we may share in his glory. 

The good news of the Gospel

Paul, together with the other apostles and disciples of the Lord, obeyed the command of Jesus Christ:  

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19–20, ESV)

Between Christ’s victory over death and his ascension into the heavens, He met with his disciples over that period of 40 days;  He taught them about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:4).  For the ensuing ten days, they had to wait for the outpouring of the Holy Sprit (which happened on Pentecost Day), and only then they went into all the world with one message:  

This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11–12, ESV)

They became sowers of the Word of God, which is the Gospel (Luke 8:11).  Paul preached this word in Thessalonica and those whom God called hear it and believed it.  Some did not believe it as we read in Acts 13, but others believed and were saved: 

… they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48, ESV)

This needs to happen.  The Gospel must be believed.  You must believe it.  

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17, ESV)

For Paul, who had proclaimed the Gospel of grace to them to believe in Christ, the sure knowledge God’s efficacious call filled him with joy. His ministry was not in vain, not because he was such a good and wise preacher.  No!  He says:  

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16–17, ESV)

My dear friend, how many times have you heard the Gospel preached?  The question, then, remains:  Do you trust and know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?  Do you know that your sins are forgiven?

If you have, God’s eternal calling and your election is confirmed.  Peter writes:  

Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. (2 Peter 1:10, ESV)

Therefore Paul encourages the Christians in Thessalonica:  

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. (2 Thessalonians 2:15, ESV)

Conclusion

Trust in the full assurance that God holds you in his hands.  Hear these words: 

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31–32, ESV)

Will you survive the deception and attacks of the Lawless One?  Surely not by your own power, but by the grace of God—for sure!  So, don’t let fear for that day paralyse you; instead, 

comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:17, ESV)

Paul declares:  

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58, ESV)

Just one last illustration.  The distraught parents of a girl who got killed in an accident when a kangaroo killed her sitting between her parents in the ute, asked me if I could go and baptise her dead body in the funeral parlour.  Clearly, their hope was anchored in a hopeless and helpless ritual.  May I just warn you today: don’t put your trust in external formalities and ceremonies; they will be o no benefit in the day of deception and attack.  Only a living faith in Jesus Christ through the reception of the Gospel will stand you in good stead.  Put your trust in Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 8 September 2019

 

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