This morning, we continue reading in 2 Thessalonians; the rest of chapter one.
Last week, we learned all I know about being thankful. We learned to give thanks for each other; as is right. Last week, I reminisced on the things I have preached about thanksgiving. I shared all I know...except one thing. This morning, I want to share an opposite-thankful thing.
Watch the sequence of Paul’s thoughts in the rest of chapter one of 2 Thessalonians...
2 Thessalonians 1:3-4 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore, we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.
We need to stop here. We need to make sure we understand what Paul is thankful for.
--Paul is always thankful for the believers in Thessalonica because their faith is growing, and their love is increasing; as is right.
--Paul is proud as punch of the Thessalonians. He is boasting all over the place because of their faithfulness even in persecution.
--But, I think, Paul is saying more. Paul is saying he is thankful for their faith and love and steadfastness because of their persecutions.
--Paul is thankful for their persecutions because it is growing their faith and demonstrating their love.
I’m hearing echoes of James...
James 1:2-4 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
I am at a loss at the power of this concept. We often express our thanksgiving to God for the freedom we have... to meet without hinderance. We are thankful that we can be Christians in our country without government interference. I am thankful. But Paul is thankful for the opposite. Paul is thankful for the Thessalonians’ persecutions because it is growing their faith and moving their love.
Paul is reshaping their understanding of the value of persecution. Remember Nick. Nick is the name we made up for the guy who was brutally tortured and murdered because of his belief in Jesus. This guy was ripped away from his family. This tender-hearted man was arrested during church. He was thrown in jail, whipped, left to bleed, his grandkids saw him die for his faith.
And Paul is thankful for this??? How??? How can Paul be thankful for persecution? That seems cold. That seems unsympathetic. How can Paul give thanks – as is right – for Nick’s mistreatment?
Let’s keep reading.
2 Thessalonians 1:4-5 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering.
Because of the Thessalonians’ persecutions, they were worthy of the kingdom! The kingdom of God is worth sacrifices. Paul understood the importance of the kingdom invading the world of darkness. The kingdom of God is restoring the world. The kingdom of God is advancing into the realm of darkness. The kingdom of God is taking the world back from Satan. The kingdom of God opposes evil! The kingdom of God is breaking through the gates of hell, releasing the captives! The kingdom of God is worth sacrifice!
So, when Nick gave his life for the kingdom, it was a powerful thing. Nick’s death is not meaningless. Nick’s death was not a pointless tragedy. Nick’s death is the power of love to advance the kingdom.
Every martyr who gives their life in faithfulness advances the kingdom. Their witness is powerful. Their testimony conquerors the devil. Their love inspires.
This is the message of the book of Revelation.
Revelation 12:10-12 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath.
Paul can be thankful for persecution because he knows that sacrificial love is the power which advances the kingdom!
Nick was worthy of the kingdom!
“Wait a second. What about those cruel people who beat Nick to death? Do they just get away with it? Is there no justice?”
Let’s keep reading.=======
2 Thessalonians 1:6-7 ...since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us,
Paul assures the Thessalonians there will be justice; one day. There will be justice for Nick. Those who beat Nick to death will face punishment. Those who ripped Nick away from his love ones, who just whipped him till he bled to death for no other reason than evil, there will be a day of justice. When the Lord Jesus comes again, He will make all things right.
Allow me to speak from our hearts. Built within each one of us is a sense of justice. When we see evil committed in our world, righteous burns within our hearts. That righteousness demands justice. I believe this reflects our God, who is Just. There must be a final reckoning for those who inflict suffering on the innocent. I believe there is evil in the world. I believe there are people who side with Satan to inflict chaos in the world. There is wrong in the world, which needs to be made right!
Paul says that he can offer thanks for persecution because he knows that one day Jesus will grant relief to those who are afflicted. That burning sense of justice in our hearts will be eased because the Lord will make it right. Knowing that evil will be righted allows us to not seek vengeance. Rather, we turn it over to God for justice. I can be faithful because I know there is day coming when justice will balance the scales.
Wrongs will be righted!
“How is that going to work? How is God going to punish the wicked?”
Let’s keep reading.
2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 ...since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.
The word “revealed” is avpoka,luyij apokalupsis. There is a day of apocalypse coming. There is a day when the Lord Jesus will be revealed. But He is not coming alone. He is coming with his mighty angels in fire-flame. To bring vindication; to bring vengeance. We all wonder how God can allow evil to continue, to flourish. How can God allow such suffering at the hand of evil? One day, God knows, He will be make all right.
Notice the details...
First, who is Jesus inflicting vengeance upon...
--Those who are persecuting the Thessalonians.
--Those who do not know God.
--Those who do not obey the gospel.
I believe these are the same people. Those who heard the gospel; those who witnessed the power of the Spirit in miracles; those who saw the love of the disciples; those who knew the truth of what was preached; but who refused to love God; who refused to believe the truth and instead chose to torture the believers. Those who chose evil over love. Those with every opportunity to believe instead chose to reject the gospel. And then take it to the next level... persecute the believers.
That is the who. Now, the how...
2 Thessalonians 1:9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,
Here is where it is difficult. We carry baggage about what happens after this life. Let’s pretend for a moment that we are the Thessalonians. Let’s pretend that we don’t have the rest of the Bible. We only have what Paul taught us and these two letters. Let’s suppose this verse is all we know about what happens to those who rejected the gospel and persecuted Christians.
Let’s explore what this verse teaches.
--They will suffer punishment... there is going to be a punishment.
--This punishment is destruction. The word, destruction, simply means destroyed. The other places in the New Testament this word is used, means ruin, or death or wiping out. There is no thought, in this word, of any continuous; on-going punishment. They will be destroyed.
--Here is the hard part. Eternal is tricky. The word eternal is not synonymous with infinity. aivw,nioj ai-on-ios is a very long time or throughout an age or often, permanent.
--I think what Paul is teaching here is that the destruction is permanent. It is black, black no trade back punishment.
--The permanent destruction is being moved out of the presence of the Lord. Out of the presence of the Lord is nothingness.
I’m 56% sure, that the Thessalonians would have understood that those who were responsible for Nick’s torture would be punished. Their punishment would be final. They would be destroyed, permanently because they were cast out of the presence of the Lord. That does not answer tons of other questions about how we think happens to the wicked after death. But I think permanent destruction is consistently what Scripture teaches; 56% sure.
But this is what Paul is thankful for. Nick’s death would be made right. Justice would be served. Evil would be ended.
I know God is love. I know the Lord Jesus Christ is grace. I know God will make things right. I trust in what he will do, whether I understand it or not... 100%.
Now, watch as Paul returns to what happens to the Thessalonians on the Day of the Lord’s appearing.
Let’s keep reading.
2 Thessalonians 1:10-12 ...when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Notice our three elements again...
--We have hope being worthy of his calling.
--We live in the love of doing good.
--We operate in the faith of his power.
All this adds up to Jesus being glorified! We can be worthy of our calling! Wow, that is what I want. I want to be worthy of my calling. I want the name of Jesus to be glorified by my hope; by my love; by my faith! And – watch this – you in him. Jesus will be glorified in us!
Wow. Paul can be thankful for persecution... This is beyond me.
--Because persecution leads to steadfastness, faith and love!
--Because it makes one worthy of the kingdom. The kingdom is spread through persecution.
--Evil is going to be made right. Evil will permanently be destroyed.
--Finally, persecution leads to glory!
Paul is thankful for persecution. It is an opposite-thankful thing.
Los Alamos Church of Christ
November 25, 2018