OK, we’ve got you all checked in. You can go ahead and take a seat and we’ll call your name when the doctor’s ready to see you. Famous last words. The Bible does not teach purgatory, but sometimes when you are sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room, you wonder. You wonder if you maybe already know what it’s like to wait forever.
It’s not always that bad, of course, but most of you have probably experienced extra long waits in waiting rooms and know exactly what I mean. And every time you go sit to wait you’re wondering, Is this going to be one of those times? Oh, please don’t let it be one of those times! But you know you have to prepare for the fact that it could be one of those times. So you just hope there’s something in the waiting room to keep you occupied.
The usual suspects are magazines, most of which probably don’t interest you, many of which are probably many months old. Then there’s the TV mounted on the wall that is usually either permanently on a channel you don’t want to watch or its remote is being guarded by someone who is really into something you definitely don’t want to watch. Or, there could be some quietly non-offensive music playing, but that’s sure not going to make the time move faster. This is where I hope my phone gets enough service to work in the office, or I try to make myself a reminder that next time I’ve really got to bring a book to read.
I guess what I’m getting at is that we don’t like to wait. Or, at least, we want something to do when we know we have to wait. This End Time season of the church year fits very well with this. We know this world won’t last forever. We know Jesus will come again. We know we have to wait for it. The question is, what do we do while we wait?
Thankfully, the last couple of Sundays have shown what we don’t have to do while we wait. We don’t have to panic. Last Sunday we talked about the Last Judgment, that Jesus will return, as he promised, to judge the living and the dead. But instead of panicking in fear and terror at that news, we learned the comfort of knowing that Jesus is coming back to take us home, to save us and rescue us forever.
In the same way, we’re thankful that we don’t have to work harder to get to heaven while we wait for Jesus to return. We don’t have to be afraid that somehow we won’t do enough, that somehow our good won’t outweigh our bad and that Jesus will come back to punish us. Reformation Sunday a couple of weeks ago cleared that up as we remembered that we are saved by what Jesus has done — by grace alone and not by our own efforts.
But today, I have some things that we can do while we wait. Because until Jesus comes, we can’t do nothing. We can’t go hide under our beds and hope it all ends soon. No, we know and we can be confident in exactly what to do. That’s our goal today. While you wait for Jesus, for the end of the world, here’s what you do: Rejoice! Pray! And never be afraid!
In some ways, the first thing you should do while you wait might be the hardest: rejoice! In some ways, it seems like strange advice. The world is coming to an end. There is sin and trouble and danger and disaster all around us. Rejoice! But look at our text and see what Paul is encouraging us to rejoice about.
But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. (2 Thess. 2:13) The Apostle Paul is saying that he ought to always be rejoicing and thanking God for the Thessalonians themselves, the people of the congregation that he was writing this letter to. He was saying to them, I rejoice, I thank God, for you.
This might sound like exactly the kind of thing that Paul usually writes, and it is. But it’s also surprising when you think about it. When you look at Paul’s letter to this church, in the books of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, you see that he’s writing to people who were having difficulty understanding a certain teaching of Scripture. It just so happens to be the teaching of Scripture that we’ve been talking about for the last weeks: the end of the world.
In 1 Thessalonians we see that Paul is correcting some misunderstandings that were going on about this teaching. Apparantly, some of the Thessalonians thought that Jesus had already returned and that they’d missed it. Naturally, that upset a few people. Paul told them, no, Jesus would come back once, the dead would be raised, and then all believers who were still alive and all believers who had died would go to heaven with their Savior forever. (1 Thess. 4:13-5:11)
But then Paul still had to write another letter, 2 Thessalonians to clear up other issues that they still had about the end of the world. He explained to them about the Antichrist or “the Man of Lawlessness” who would come, but he assured them that Jesus would still win the final victory and give that victory to all who believe. (2 Thess 2:1-12)
Now, you might expect Paul to be a bit frustrated. Come on, get with it here, people! How many letters am I going to have to write you? But instead, we see Paul rejoice. He rejoices and give thanks to God for the fact that the Thessalonians are believers.
What about us? Do we find it easy to rejoice in our fellow believers simply because they are believers? I think it can be easy to be frustrated or angry at fellow believers. Someone can say the wrong thing to us, or do the wrong thing to us, and we can very easily hold it against them. We end up almost keeping track of every way someone has ever wronged us.
Those wrongs might have been real. The hurt that those wrongs against us might still feel fresh. There might be people in this congregation — maybe in this very room today — that you are still angry with. You might not want to rejoice in these people at all, you might not want to give thanks for them at all. They’re the ones who sinned, they’re the ones who hurt you, and maybe you think they don’t deserve your thanks and rejoicing.
Well, you’d be right; they don’t deserve it. And neither do you. That’s the problem with this sinful world that’s coming to an end. Sin is still a big problem. It still makes a mess of things. It still wreaks havoc on our lives and hearts. Your sin caused you to not deserve any thanks or rejoicing. Your sin caused you to not to deserve any blessings from God now and forever.
But that’s exactly why we rejoice! While we wait for Jesus to return, we rejoice in what he’s made us and our fellow believers. Listen to some of the things Paul mentions in our text. From the beginning God chose you to be saved. (2 Thess. 2:13) That was a miracle for the Thessalonians and it’s a miracle for all of you. God chose you to be saved. The fancy word for this is “election.” God chose you — and all your fellow believers — to be saved. Not because you deserved it, but because he loved you anyway.
He goes on to say that God chose you through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He caused the Holy Spirit to work in your hearts at your baptism and the Word. He gave you faith. He gave it to you, me, and all believers. That’s a miracle. Rejoice!
And there’s more: He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thess. 2:14) God continues to use the gospel — the Good News that Jesus lived for you, died for you, and rose for you — God continues to use that to build up your faith. And he doesn’t just do it so you’ll be a member at this church or so that you can call yourself a Christian. He does it that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. That means heaven. Eternal life is yours because Jesus won it for you, and he keeps giving it to you by the Gospel.
That’s worth rejoicing in, for yourself and your fellow believers. Your fellow believers — including the ones you’ve hurt, including the ones who have hurt you — they will share heaven with you. And you’re not going to mind a bit, because none of you — or me — will deserve it. It’s all through Jesus! So put aside your anger and resentment now and rejoice in those fellow believers. Rejoice because it’s God who has chosen us and saved us and brought us to faith and it’s God that will bring us to eternal life in his Son.
Rejoice as you cherish that truth and continue in the Word that taught it to you. Like Paul said, So then…stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you. (2 Thess. 2:15) When we continue in God’s Word and in the gospel message, we will continually have reasons to rejoice, again and again, in God’s unending love for us in his Son.
And while we wait for him to return, we don’t just rejoice. We also pray. There’s no shortage of things to pray for. Again, our sinful world will constantly show us things that only God can help. And we should always make use of our privilege to bring our requests before his throne in heaven.
But Paul mentions some specific things that would be good for us to pray for while we wait for Jesus to return. And they have a lot to do with the reason why we rejoice. Paul writes, Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. (2 Thess. 3:1) Paul didn’t just start a church in Thessalonica; God used him to start and grow many churches. And Paul wanted the Thessalonians to pray that the Gospel message that brought them to faith would be used to help others also.
We can pray for the same thing. The world is a lot bigger than Two Rivers, or Manitowoc, or even Wisconsin. There are people, still today, who don’t know Jesus, who don’t trust him, who don’t believe in him. What better use of the time we have waiting for Jesus to return than to pray that God’s Word would go to those people. That he would work in their hearts by the Holy Spirit. That those people would experience the miracle of faith in their Savior, just like you have.
Of course, some of those people might be close to us. They might be in our families. Pray for them, too. Pray that God would have his Word spread rapidly to them. Maybe he’ll use us at St. John’s to do that, maybe he’ll use you to do that, but pray that God does it. Pray that God would bring more and more people to the most important truth of a living Savior, the same Savior we celebrate. Pray! God has promised to hear you!
Never be afraid!
And when God promises something, we can trust it. And when we trust God, he takes our fears away. The last thing that I want you to remember to do while you’re waiting for Jesus is to never be afraid.
Paul demonstrates this truth in his words in our text. The Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. (2 Thess. 3:3) What a beautiful verse! We aren’t always faithful; we sin. But the Lord is faithful. He keeps all his promises. He keeps forgiving us and giving us his blessings.
He will strengthen…you. You can’t strengthen yourself. You can’t just try harder. God strengthens you, by Word and sacrament. He builds you up to face the evils of this sinful world. And not only that…
He will…protect you from the evil one. God has promised that whatever the devil sends our way, whatever attack there is on our body or soul, he will protect us. Whether that means not allowing the attack to get to us or whether it means strengthening us though that attack, God will be there.
So never be afraid. In some ways, maybe I should have worded this one Never keep being afraid. Because fears will come. Our hearts will doubt. Our anger will return. But when they do. Don’t stay in them. Never keep being afraid.
Instead, bring those fears to Jesus. Bring them to the cross, where they and all your sins were paid for forever. Bring them to the empty tomb where you see your eternity guaranteed. Bring them as you pray up to God knowing that he will come down to rescue you from every evil attack and bring you to your heavenly home. He’s given you exactly what you can do while you wait, and after he comes, he’ll give you everything.
We close with Paul’s blessing from the verses of our text. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2 Thess. 2:16-17)