Saint Paul's Lutheran Church

Light and Day People, Awake and Sober

In the Name of Jesus. Amen. We are approaching the end of the Church Year and it reminds us to prepare for the Last Day when Christ returns and if we are not on earth when that day comes, then it reminds us to prepare for our personal end, our physical death. That is, last Sunday in 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18 we focused on those Christians who have died in the faith, but this Sunday in 1st Thessalonians 5:1-11 we focus on Christians like you and me who are still here on earth. The Lord covers all the bases for all the saints -- all of those in Christ made holy by His righteousness given to His children who trust in Him -- whether they are saints in heaven or saints on earth.

And what makes us saints in heaven or on earth (or “holy ones”) is what Christ has done for us, putting upon us His holiness; His righteousness; and His covering. Then, to complete the job, the Lord gives us faith through His Word and Sacrament to grab hold of what He has done for us, so that there is no question as to what we are: saints! Don’t shy away from this terminology, designation, and identity. It is completely in accord with the Word of God. For example, at Ephesians 1:1, St. Paul wrote to the living, breathing Christians living in the city of Ephesus at the time of his letter. And he began his letter to these Christians in this way:

Paul, as apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus… (Eph. 1:1)

Christians are saints; saints are Christians. No saint earns or accomplishes this designation. It is strictly the work and gift of God in Christ Jesus. So, I continue this proclamation this morning to all of you saints…like Saint ________, and Saint _________, and Saint _________ (just to provide a few examples). And while we might be tempted to think that some of us are more “saintly” than others, that would be a mistake, because all of us are in Christ. And that is all the “sainting” we need to be saintly saints. Jesus is the reason for your holiness and sainthood.

But, as-long as we are in the world, all of us saints have- to put up with many things that try to disrupt our lives in Jesus. One of those things is the anxiety that swirls around regarding the end. This past week there was among other headlines one that caught my attention about the largest number of scientists that served as signatories on a published scientific paper. It is thought to be the largest-ever formal support by scientists for a journal article. More than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries warned the evidence is clear: Current and future human health and wellbeing are at serious risk from climate change, deforestation, loss of access to freshwater, species extinctions, and human growth population.

And yet, even though we know there are serious problems in the world – such as the current plague in Madagascar (where our Dr. Mary Hobus not long ago visited with one of our LC-MS Mercy Medical Teams); a plague that could mutate and become untreatable – we continue to be confronted with an even more serious threat. And when I say “we,” I mean the people of the world, and specifically – in accord with today’s epistle from 1st Thess 5 – especially those who do not accept the covering that Jesus has won for them. That is the Lord has won and achieved His holiness for all people; He desires all to be saints through His free-gift of love and mercy for all, through His holy blood and victorious resurrection. Yet, some do not trust His divine protection and in effect, reject it and for these: loss of access to freshwater and plague look like small potatoes.

What am I speaking of exactly? I am referring to the end that will come as a thief in the night – completely unexpectedly – (vs 2); I am talking about when sudden destruction comes (vs 3); I am referring to the results of living in darkness and spiritual sleep (vss 5-6). This is the not the way to live. It is the most grave and serious threat to life. Without God who is life, then what is to come is terrifying.

So, this text from 1st Thess 5 is given to all of us this morning for the following reasons:

  1. To remind us of the nature of the Lord’s return.
  2. It’s effects on unbelievers.
  3. And thereby, to reinforce the need for readiness on the part of the believers like you and me.

(Fee, Gordon D., The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009. 185)

In other words, God is here teaching us how to live as saints in the world. The Lord is here supplying amazing insight and stupendous wisdom. And right off the bat, St. Paul reminds about what is known “perfectly well” or what we are “fully aware” (v 2) of like those Thessalonians he was writing to: that we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we have no idea when the end will come.

So, don’t listen to anyone who is into making predictions and don’t waste time trying to predict the end yourself. This is in fact a sign of a false prophet. And there are plenty running around today. But there is something we do know about this day: that when it comes it will come with utter unexpectedness. It will come “as a thief at night (v 2).” No warning. No siren. Potentially, the last thing on your mind.

So, the first wisdom we’re given is that it isn’t about knowing the day, but rather it’s about always being prepared. St. Chrysostom wrote, “We are not masters of our end. Let us be masters of virtue.” (Gorday, Peter, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament IX: Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000. 92) And St. Augustine wrote, “Live good lives, and you will be this day yourselves.” (ibid., 92)

Both these quotes are fantastic, but I especially like St. Augustine’s. Another way of putting what he said is this: you don’t have to worry about the Day of the Lord, because – in a way – that Day has already come to you. You are the Day. That sounds funny, but think of it this way: Christ is the One coming on the last Day, called in the New Testament, “The Day of the Lord.” But Christ has already come to you. You are in Him and He is in you, so that His coming is already with you. He has made you ready. He has made your life readiness. He has prepared you. You don’t have to know when the end will come. He has made you 24-7 ready already, because He is with you 24-7. Your holy baptism is 24-7; His faith-giving and sustaining Word is 24-7; and the grace-given through the Supper is a 24-7 grace; a complete coverage.

So, the first thing that this text does for us is it relieves us as children of God. For you who have the Light of the World Jesus already living with you, in your midst, you in Him and He in you…you are now children of light; people of the day. Christ is your light. He is already shining upon you! You’re ready! You’re covered! What a relief! What an assurance!

We need this assurance, because -- again -- of the world we live in. Now, I already brought out some scary things. There are things in the world like loss of access to freshwater and plague, and yet what might be a little scarier is how the world – especially in the United States – can so easily pretend as if everything is just fine. St. Paul warned the Thessalonians that in the face of great danger, the world was saying, “peace and security.” The Thessalonians were in The Roman Empire and with that Empire came the Roman Pax, the great so-called peace of a powerful empire.

Has anything really changed? The world tries to comfort us through shows of force; a great military; through astounding technology and all it can do; and through dazzling entertainment to take your mind off things. But too often this is part of the grand illusion that says, “peace and security.” Unfortunately, it is an illusion that is all-too effective. It just works on too many people.

We have these startling, but powerfully explanatory words of St. Paul in this epistle. When the whole “peace and safety” hypnotic mantra works; when people unwisely give-in to it, then what happens is truly bad. People can be lulled to sleep. Last Sunday the word “sleep” in 1st Thess 4 was about the sleep of death; but this Sunday the word “sleep” is a different Greek word. “Here a different verb…denotes spiritual lethargy, dullness, insensitivity. It is used of moral indifference, Mk. 13:36; Eph. 5:14.” (Buls, Harold, Exegetical Notes Epistle Texts: Series A, Sundays After Pentecost. Fort Wayne, Indiana: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1984. 92)

And – ironically – this is when the whole “peace and safety” just backfires. When people live in this spiritual sleep, then selfishness comes into play; and all the great sins are driven by service to self -- the false-god of “I” -- so that what “I want,” becomes more important than even the safety of other people. This is when people driven by sin use others and hurt others. This is when horrible things happen in the world. This is when the world is marked by anything other than “peace and safety.”

So, again, we learn how to live. Because you are in Christ, baptized into His Name most holy, and constant recipients of His body and blood, you are people of light; people of day; you are partakers of the Light of the World, Jesus. As a result, you pay attention to the signs and you are not lulled to sleep. St. Paul writes:

8But 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. 9For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10who died for us so that…we might live with him.”

Even in this world, day-people, light people – those in Jesus – are led by Jesus to be sober. And this word here is symbolic for living with an alert faith; it means caring about how you live. You are led by God not to live according to the flesh so that you obey its evil desires. But instead, you simply hold to Jesus who leads you daily to die to sin. Oh, we will always struggle with our appetites, but on-account of Christ your Light, they do not rule you. Instead, Christ leads you. Christ rules. In knowing what is best, He often even permits the memory of our sins, so that we would live in even greater sobriety and watchfulness so that we are ready – 24-7 – for His great and glorious coming. For us, we are awake instead of sleeping; and sober instead of drunk, but how exactly?

Answer: by putting on faith and love as a breastplate and the hope of salvation as a helmet. These are all about protection and defense. Faith and love go together. Faith without love is dead. Love without faith is fake. Faith in and love for Jesus Christ is proof of our protection. These mean that you know God is on your side and that He has first loved you in Christ. That means Jesus is your protection. And you know it, so for good measure St. Paul also brings out your hope that is like a helmet. Not wishful thinking, but helmet-tight hope that is certain that because of Jesus, God is for you. “If God is for us, then who can be against us?” (Ro 8:31b)

And with this magnificent protection from God in place, the Lord here proclaims that in connection to your salvation (v 9) is God’s arrangement, appointment, and destination for you: it isn’t wrath, but it is life with Him! This is what is yours!

So, in this Scripture about preparing for the last day, St. Paul ends this section with what we do because of this supreme confidence of our salvation and always being ready 24-7…do you want to know what to do now? “encourage one another and build one another up…” (v 11). You can do this now: make your fellow believers stronger in faith, love, and hope because God in Christ has made you to be light, to be day, to be awake, and to be sober. Celebrate it Christian! You’re ready. You’re in Christ. Your life in Him is The Day! Come Lord Jesus!

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