What are you looking forward to in life? Perhaps it’s a summer holiday? Or a celebration of a birthday or an anniversary? Perhaps a baptism, or a wedding? The one event we should be looking forward to more than any other, because it is the most certain event the future holds for all of us, is the return of Jesus Christ. Jesus is coming back, and that is one hundred per cent certain!
That is what the church at Thessalonica were looking forward to most of all!
1 Thessalonians 1:9 … They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
For the Thessalonians and for the apostle Paul, the Christian life was simply a life “waiting for his Son from heaven”. This is the overarching theme of this whole letter, which may well be the earliest document written in the New Testament.
Here in chapter one Paul starts with his favourite topic, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only one thing could have turned pagans like the Thessalonians away from their idol worship and that was the gospel. And the gospel is the only thing that can save men and women today from the judgment which is coming soon.
THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL
4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.
On their second missionary journey, just after they had been thrown out of Philippi, we read in Acts 7 how Paul and Silas preached the gospel in Thessalonica. And that gospel came
Not simply with words – with much more than just words, because the gospel is not merely words or ideas. The gospel is not some philosophy invented by human beings. Some corners of the church seem to have lost confidence in the gospel and spend all their time defending it and protecting it and preserving it. As somebody famous once said, “The gospel is no tame pet cat to be defended, but a lion waiting to be uncaged!” The gospel came to the Thessalonians not simply with words,
But also with power – the gospel is the power of God!
Romans 1 16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
The gospel is simply the message that Jesus Christ is Lord, that Jesus is risen from the dead, that Jesus has died on the cross for our sins and that God offers new life to all who trust and follow Jesus. That message is the power of God!
With the Holy Spirit – It is the Holy Spirit who enables people to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord. It is the Holy Spirit who brings people to new birth in Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who is at work both in the person who preaches the gospel and at work in the person who hears the gospel.
And with deep conviction – Christianity is not taught but caught! We need to be people who believe what we preach and who preach what we believe. When we are really convinced about what we believe, others will see our deep convictions and believe as well. We need to be prepared like Paul to stand up for what we believe it, and proclaim the gospel with passion, however much that costs. So Paul can say of the Thessalonians
We know that God has chosen you – We remember that we do not choose God but it is God in His grace who chooses us. It is not our efforts which will bring a person to faith in Jesus Christ, but the work of God the Holy Spirit.
Paul took the gospel to the Thessalonians not simply with words but with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. And this is what happened next.
RESPONSE TO THE GOSPEL
1 Thess 1 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
The Thessalonians welcomed the message. Paul says more about this in chapter 2.
1 Thessalonians 2 13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.
Indeed the gospel is not men’s message but God’s message, the word of God. That is why the gospel is so powerful in transforming lives! The Thessalonians welcomed the gospel. And Paul lists FOUR signs of their genuine conversion.
JOY given by the Holy Spirit
1 Thessalonians 1 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
Joy is the surest mark of the Christian. C.S.Lewis said, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” Not superficial happiness or frothy praise but a deep down certainty that God is in control and we are safe and secure in His love and His promises. So God gives us plenty to rejoice about.
7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere.
The faith the Thessalonians showed was exemplary – a model to all the believers. Not merely an intellectual assent to the truth of the gospel but trusting in God and living our lives on the basis of what He has said. David Watson defined true faith as “taking God at His word.” And this kind of faith leads on to work produced by faith:
3 We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith,
Hard work for God is the sign of true faith. It is not that we are trying to earn or deserve our salvation. We know we never could. But our grateful response to all that God has done for us in Christ is to serve God in obedience and hard work.
Joy and faith are accompanied by two other signs of true conversion.
3 We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Labour prompted by LOVE
Our motive for serving God is not only faith but also love. These are the greatest commandments. To love God with all our heart and all our soul and all our strength and all our mind. To love our neighbours as ourselves. And to love other Christians just in the same way as Christ has loved us. Love isn’t something we feel. Love is something we do!
Endurance prompted by HOPE in our Lord Jesus.
Just like the apostle Paul himself, the Thessalonian Christians were facing hostility and persecution. What kept them going? It was their hope. The happy certainty that Jesus Christ is coming back and when He does He will put the world right again. That is why they wanted to be ready to meet the Son!
Joy, faith, love, hope. The four marks of true conversion. The proof to Paul that the Thessalonians were truly saved. Marks which we hope others will see in our lives too.
There we have the ways in which the Thessalonians had responded to the gospel. But there were other signs in their lives which were shining out like a beacon to the whole of that region. Other people knew what their lives had been like before they heard the gospel. Other people could see the difference Jesus makes.
THE EFFECTS OF THE GOSPEL
8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
We all have our own testimony. The story of the wonderful things God has done in our lives and the difference Jesus makes to us day by day. Paul didn’t need to hear their testimony from the mouths of those Christians in Thessalonica because everybody told him about them wherever he travelled. How wonderful it would be if people were chattering about us. Have you heard about the amazing things God is doing in North Springfield?
They had turned from idols
In those days there were plenty of false gods to worship. All the Greek gods and the Roman gods and the weird gods of ancient Eastern mystery religions. So many unworthy objects competing for worship. Nowadays people have their own false gods of shopping and entertainment and money and sex and power and self sufficiency, quite apart from the cults and false religions and all the dangers of the occult. Men and women need to be rescued from false gods today just as much as the Thessalonians needed to turn away from idols.
To serve the living and true God.
Jesus Christ is the living God. The true God. The only God! Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.”
That isn’t a popular message in these days of pluralism. People don’t like to hear that Jesus is the one and only way to God. But that’s the gospel!
And to wait for His son from heaven.
Jesus said in John 14 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
What a wonderful and comforting promise that is! Christians are waiting for the Son to come and take us to be with Him in glory. We aren’t living for the present any more. We aren’t the “here and now” people. We have become the “tomorrow people.” “The people of the future.” Our lives are shaped by the day when Christ will return. We are waiting for God’s son from heaven,
Whom He raised from the dead
Death has no hold on Christ – His love broke open the grave. Jesus promised that He will return, and the resurrection is God’s proof that Jesus can keep His promises.
Jesus – who rescues us from the coming wrath.
There is the greatest change in the Thessalonians lives – and in our lives. Invisible from the outside, but of eternal importance. Before they heard the gospel and believed it for themselves they, and we, were doomed! For them and for us, the return of Christ was a day to be dreaded, the day of God’s judgment, when they and we would face only punishment for our sins. But now the Thessalonians, and we, can look forward to Christ’s return with joy and hope! Because Jesus has rescued us from the wrath which is to come. Christ will bring not punishment but life in all its fullness in the glory and the presence of God Himself. So now we have this wonderful happy certainty of a marvellous future. Our lives are filled with excitement and anticipation – because we are waiting for the Son.
Right after his visit to Thessalonica, this was the message Paul preached in Athens.
Acts 17 29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”
The fact is that every single human being, everybody in the whole wide world, is waiting for the Son, one way or the other. Most don’t realise it, but their eternal destiny will be settled once for all when Jesus returns. Most are continuing to live life their own way, worshipping all kinds of false gods and denying the existence of the one true God. Most are waiting to face the judgment seat of God.
But for Christians the return of Christ promises eternal blessing and peace which are well worth any amount of opposition or suffering we may experience in this short life. Like the Thessalonians our lives should be filled with joy and faith and hope and love. We should be waiting on the edge of our seats, straining on tiptoe, for that day when we will welcome back God’s son from heaven. Here’s the challenge. Are we really ready and waiting to meet the Son?