Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who with the Holy Spirit are three-in-one.
Last week I spoke about the hope of the coming of Christ. I used the New Testament lesson at the end of 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 where it starts Paul’s discourse about the Coming of the Lord.
This morning, I’d like to continue that conversation moving on to the things that must be done to ready ourselves for such a time. I’ll start with an illustration.
While on one of his expeditions to the Antarctic, Sir Ernest Shackleton was once compelled to leave some of his men on Elephant Island, with the intention of returning for them and bringing them back to England. But he was unavoidably delayed, and by the time he could go for them he found to his dismay that the sea had frozen over and his men were cut off. Three times he tried to reach them, but his efforts ended in failure. Finally, in his last effort, he found a narrow channel through the ice.
Guiding his small ship back to the island, he was delighted to find his men not only alive and well, but all prepared to get aboard. They were soon on their way to safety and home. After the excitement ended, Sir Ernest inquired how it was that they were ready to get aboard so promptly. They told him that every morning their leader rolled up his sleeping bag, saying, “Get your things ready, boys, the boss may come today.”
The return of the Lord Jesus to this earth is much more certain than Shackleton return to Elephant Island. Christ’s promise to return to claim His redeemed is established upon His Word and His character. It is still the blessed hope of all who love Him. Hope that will not fail.
This story parallels the second coming of Jesus Christ. Paul told this to the church in Thessalonica and he tells us today about the importance of being ready every day. Just like the maidens from last week, we are to keep our lamps lit and ready for the king’s return. Get your things ready because the boss may come today.
In our New Testament lesson, Paul gives us insight on how to make that happen so, let’s tear this scripture apart a little bit. (5:1-2) “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written for you. For you yourselves are fully aware.”
The Second Coming of Jesus Christ is one of the most repeated teachings in all of Scripture. Paul was well aware of this, and he explained that his readers should understand that Jesus was coming again. As a matter of fact, he told them that he shouldn’t even have to tell them again. It should be obvious.
It is kind of like the story of a tourist driving through North Dakota who stopped at a gas station and observed a piece of rope dangling from a sign labeled “Weather Forecaster.” “How can you possibly tell the weather with a piece of rope?” the tourist wanted to know. “It’s simple, don’t cha know, when the rope swings back and forth, it’s windy, when it gets wet, it’s raining, when it’s frozen stiff, it’s cold outside, and when it’s gone… tornado!”
There are simply some things that should be obvious without even asking. The imminent return of Jesus Christ is one of those things.
Let’s move on to the rest of verse two where it tells us that He will come “…as a thief in the night.” The question is not “if Jesus will return?” but “when will he return?” Paul answered this question by basically saying, “No one knows.” He explained this by describing the time of Jesus return as a thief in the night. Just as a thief plans his entry at an uncertain time when least expected, so will be the coming of the Son of God. Jesus Himself said in Matthew 24:36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” And later He said in (Matt 24:44) Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
As we go on with our lesson in 1st Thessalonians we are given warning when we hear that God will judge those who are not ready. (5:3-5), “While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For You are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or to the darkness.”
Paul refers to the Second Coming of Christ as the “Day of the Lord.” Throughout scripture the “Day of the Lord” was the designation of that latter time in history when God would pour out His vengence on the ungodly. When the Lord Jesus Christ comes for His people, soon after He will begin to pour out His judgments upon the earth in a time called the Great Tribulation.
The tragedy of this day is that so many will be unprepared. And not only will they be unprepared, they will be actively deceiving others as they cry out “Peace and security.” They’ll be thinking there is no danger at all, when in fact destruction is imminent. Because of their unbelief they will be caught unaware of what is happening right before their eyes. Because their hearts are hardened, they will remain deaf to the warnings of the faithful.
Lets move on to verses 6 and 7 where it tells us to prepare with an attitude of watchfulness (5:6-7) “So then, let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night.”
As a soldier is commanded to “stay alert” at his post, so must we as Christians. Paul instructs us to “watch”. The Greek for this means to stay awake or be vigilant. His command was in the present tense which means this must be a continual practice of the Christian. It’s a matter of attitude.
A Roman soldier would be put to death for falling asleep on his watch. The outcome could be just as fatal for the person not constantly looking for the return of Christ.
We are called to live daily with the Discipline of Self-Control. Paul is warning us that we must not allow anything within our lives that will influence our moral alertness. Just as alcoholic beverages will greatly influence and inhibit a person’s abilities to focus and make important decisions, so sin will affect one’s ability to make moral decisions. A person does not become drunk with just one drink, but one drink leads to two and then to three. Slowly the drinker becomes drunk without even noticing it and his senses become blurred making him a danger to himself and to others.
In the same way, if we do not control the addiction to sin in our lives, we will soon become so overcome by its effects that we become oblivious to spiritual matters and therefore unaware of and unconcerned about the imminent return of Christ. As a drunkard who is passed out and oblivious to the world, so is the uncontrolled sinner spiritually passed out and vulnerable to destruction. Thess. 5:8 reminds us that we must live daily with the Protection of God’s Armor. “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”
Finally, we hear of the blessings for those who are ready (5:9-11), “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live in Him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
There is a Peace in always being ready for the coming of Christ. You can look for Christ’s coming with excitement and expectancy instead of fear and dread when you remain ready.
There is a Comfort in knowing that you will be saved from the judgement of God. Joseph Bayly made the quote, “God’s people should plan for a voyage of a thousand years but be prepared to abandon ship tonight.”
As the Boy scouts say, “Always be prepared.” Live with an urgency in your heart. The urgency to understand the importance of having a right relationship with Christ that is never-ending. The urgency to prepare others in their hearts so that they may count themselves as God’s elect as you do. The urgency to prepare yourselves to live a life in eternity with God Himself.
Surrender to God and learn to fear, love and trust in Him above all things. Make yourself ready for His return and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you towards preparing others for the journey.
Be strong in the Lord, putting on the full armor of God so that you can make your stand against the Devil’s evil schemes. May Grace be to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love. Amen.