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Posts Tagged ‘hope’

We are looking at Isaiah 40:28-31 this morning, verses which are both powerful and encouraging.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted. But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

We see in these verses that . . .

God’s people were weary

They were discouraged and overwhelmed because they had been defeated by another nation and taken from their homes and now were living as strangers and exiles in a foreign land – Babylon. Yet they also knew, they had heard, that God still had a purpose for them as a people. And that God had promised to bring them back to their home – Jerusalem.

But in their weariness and despair they wondered: Can God’s promise really be true? Is God really able to come through on it? They were enslaved by the most powerful empire of their day and they were at the mercy of its king. How in the world would they ever be able to leave and return home

Considering all this they were tempted give up, “to faint” as our text says. In the ordeal they were facing, as v. 30 says, “even youths shall faint and be weary and young men shall fall exhausted.” Even the strongest among them were overwhelmed.

And so the prophet speaks God’s word to them.

First of all, he tells them that God is able to come through for them. God is the everlasting God. God is the God who created all things. God is the God who doesn’t grow weary or faint. You know, God isn’t now all of a sudden tired and weak and thus unable to help Israel.

Yes, their situation seems impossible, but God is able to bring them back to the land at the appointed time. God is able to keep his promise to them.

Secondly, the prophet tells them that the Lord can strengthen themInstead of giving up in their difficult situation, to “faint” or to “fall exhausted,” they should “wait for the Lord” – v. 31. To “wait for the Lord” means to have an expectant and confident trust in God and his promises, knowing that God has heard us and knows our situation and will come through.

The prophet is saying, if they look to the Lord in their difficult situation, that is, if they wait on the Lord, God will strengthen them – v. 29. Even though it’s so bad that it overwhelms the strongest among them in their own strength, God gives of his strength to those who look to him. And because of this, their strength will be renewed – v. 31. And they will be able to walk, and to run, and to fly. That is, to keep going even in the midst of their troubles in exile, knowing that God can handle their problems and will deliver them.

And you know what? God did come through for them! God raised up another nation which took over and released the Israelites to go to their home. The promise was fulfilled, they were returned to their land, and God worked out his purpose for them.

Well, I share this with you today because . . .

We too can become weary

We all go through difficulties, whether health crises, financial crises, broken relationships with family or friends, personal failures and weaknesses or in general – experiences of deep pain and suffering.

And we will continue to do so throughout our lives. Our faith is not “escapist.” A false promise that things will be just fine, if you have enough faith. No. This life is full of trials and God doesn’t just step in and take them all away.

And as we go through these hardships we can become overwhelmed, discouraged and faint. And even though we know that God has a purpose for each one of us, and that God has given us “his precious and very great promises” as 2 Peter 1:4 says; promises to help us, to save us and to bring us into his eternal kingdom – we too still doubt at times. We become fearful and exhausted.

And in our despair we ask: Can God’s promises really be true? Is God really able to come through on them? And will God come through for me? We are tempted to give up, “to faint,” to give in to our weariness.

And so we too need to hear the message of the prophet, because there is a word in this for us, each one of us. We need to hear and know that God is able to come through for us. For you and for me!

We may be overwhelmed by our circumstances, but God is not. v. 28 says, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.” God is able to help us. God is able to keep his promises to us, just as he did with the Israelites.

And we also need to hear and know that the Lord can strengthen us. We too are to “wait for the Lord” – v. 31, knowing that he hears us and knows our situation. And we are to put our hope and trust in God and rely on him. And when we do this God gives us of his strength. As 29 says, “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.”

We tap into the strength of the Everlasting God himself; we lean on him, the One who never grows weary or faints. In this way, despite our troubles, our strength is renewed. As 31 says, “the Lord shall renew their strength.” And through this strength we are empowered to move forward in our times of difficulty, because we hope in the Lord; because we know that he will fulfill his promises to us.

We can move forward, as v. 31 says, “They shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” In the midst of our problems we will walk and not faint, we will run and not be weary, we will mount up with wings like eagles.

Are you weary this morning? Do you feel overwhelmed? God invites you to come to him and find hope and strength.

 

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The literary structure of Psalm 13

Psalm 13 is really powerful; full of intense and honest struggle, but also faith. And I want to hold it up for you as a model for when you are being overwhelmed by difficult circumstances.

As we get started, a few words about –

Psalm 13

It is the shortest prayer for help in the book of Psalms. There are shorter Psalms, but these are not requests to God.

In terms of how it is put together, there are three obvious parts to this psalm.

  • In vs.  1-2 the Psalmist pours out his heart to God.
  • In vs. 3-4 he makes his request
  • And in vs. 5-6 he expresses his faith and hope in God

And each of these sections has the name of God or “Yahweh” in it, indicated in English by the capitalized “LORD.”

We don’t know the specifics of his situation, but it involves enemies and the threat of death. This is a Davidic Psalm (written by him or in honor of/about him) perhaps referring to his time in the wilderness hiding from King Saul, who was trying to kill him. Whatever the case may be he is facing a very serious situation and needs God’s help.

Let’s look at the first section, which is a cry of despair.

1How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?”

There is no indication in these verses that the Psalmist has sinned or has been unfaithful so that his difficulties are the result of this. He is simply in an overwhelming time of testing and trial.

Notice the phrase “How long?” This is used several times in scriptural prayers, but this is the only place where it is repeated four times, and in such a short space. There is an intensity in this prayer in asking this question of God. These questions also show us that it’s OK to ask God questions like this. God can take it. We don’t have to put on a smile, or fake it when we come into God’s presence. After all, he already knows what we are thinking and feeling. We only need be careful that we do this with proper respect for God.

You can feel the raw emotions and the brutal honesty of this prayer as you read these two verses.

  • In relation to God the Psalmist feels abandoned and ignored by God. God has hidden his face, that is it feels like God has turned away and is not looking out for him; he feels that God has forgotten him.
  • In relation to himself he feels greatly distressed within. “Taking counsel in his soul” perhaps has to do with trying to sort out what he should do, since God doesn’t seem to be acting for him; it has to do with anxious worrying. And he has sorrow in his heart.
  • In relation to his problem , his enemy, he feels defeated. His enemy has the upper hand and this means that his life is in danger.

Also notice the time indicators, the “how long?” questions, the word “forever” and the phrase “all the day.” The sense is that he is barely hanging on. He is worn down. He is at the breaking point. The test is so hard that he can’t take it anymore. So if God doesn’t act soon, it will overwhelm him and be too late.

Next we have his request to God.

3Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, 4lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.”

In general, he wants God to consider him or take note of his situation to answer him. He’s saying, ‘God, don’t forget me or hide your face from me.’ He wants God to act to bring him help him in the midst of his difficulty.

Specifically, he wants God to “light up his eyes.” In Scripture to have dim eyes means that you are overwhelmed, weak and weary (Job 17:7; Deuteronomy 34:7). And to have eyes that are lit up has to do with being strong, full of life and vigor (Deuteronomy 34:7; Ezra 9:8; Proverbs 29:13). Even today we can tell how someone is doing by their eyes, right? We can tell whether they are full of energy and life or whether they are worn down and discouraged. You can see it.

So, being worn down by his trials, he is asking God to give him strength, new life, vigor, encouragement and hope.

And he doesn’t just make his request for help, he gives God three reasons to act:

  1. lest he die, because he is in danger of death.
  2. lest his enemy win
  3. lest they rejoice at his downfall

In this situation the Psalmist understands himself to be in the right; he is doing God’s will but is being persecuted by evildoers. And so, yes, he wants to be saved and vindicated, and have his enemies put down. But it is bigger than this. He is appealing to God in all this to act for your Name’s sake. Since he is representing God and the righteous, it’s not good that evildoers think that God doesn’t care about their evil, or about the well-being of his own. He needs to act for his Name’s sake and for the sake of righteousness.

In section one the writer is hanging by a thread. In section two he is asking God to give him strength. And then we have a tremendous change of tone in vs. 5-6 where the Psalmist speaks of his faith and hope.

5But I trust in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 6I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

Two things are going on here:

1) He is given strength to trust in God. God has indeed begun to enlighten his eyes, even as he has been pouring out his heart and asking God for help. (It is healing to pour out our hearts to God.)

 Now, instead of seeing just his outward circumstances and choosing to give up, he sees God’s faithfulness; that is his “steadfast love” or “unfailing love.” This is God’s covenant love or commitment to him and his well-being. So he has his circumstances on the one hand and then God’s character and promises on the other and he chooses God. This  is called faith.

2) He now looks forward to God’s salvation; for deliverance from his trial and testing. We know he is not yet delivered because his salvation and rejoicing is spoken of as a future reality. But he can now move forward in faith and hope that God will save him, since his faith has been renewed.

  • Even though he may still have some “sorrow in (his) my heart,” – v. 2, now that his faith has been renewed he can look forward to when “(his) my heart shall rejoice” – v. 5.
  • Even though his enemies are exalted “over (him) me” – v. 2, now that his faith has been renewed he can look forward to when God will have dealt bountifully “with (him) me” – v. 6.
  • Even though his enemies are “exalted” – v. 2 over him and seek to “rejoice” – v. 4 at his demise, now that his faith has been renewed he can look forward to when he “shall rejoice – v. 6 in God’s salvation.

And this will not just be a minor thing. God will “bountifully” deliver and save him.

Finally, I want you to look at –

Psalm 13 as a model prayer

It is a model for when you find yourself in times of testing and are ready to give up. Follow the threefold pattern we find here:

1. Pour out your heart to God. Be honest with God. Express your emotions to God – about how distant he seems; about how you are in inner turmoil; about how your problem has the upper hand. And ask God questions, What’s going on? Why, God? Or as here, how long?God, I’m barely hanging on.

2. Ask God for strength. God, enlighten my eyes. Give me renewed life, vigor, vitality and encouragement. And tell him why; so you don’t give in and fail in time of trial and thus dishonor his Name; so that others will see and know that God is faithful to his own and upholds righteousness.

And then, 3. Receive renewed trust in God to make it through. Let God work a work in you as you pour out your heart and as you make your request known and as you think of his unfailing love for you and commitment to you.

Receive the strength to choose to trust in God and stand on his character and promises despite your difficult circumstances. And having been renewed, look forward to God’s salvation; deliverance from your trial when you will rejoice and sing praises to God.

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The book of Lamentations consists of 5 poems of lament, or expressions of sorrow and mourning that come from great suffering. The context for the book as a whole is the destruction of Jerusalem in 587/586 BC by the Babylonians. This judgment of God for Israel’s unfaithfulness was long foretold, but here having been experienced, the full impact of the grief and pain are expressed. It’s possible, but not certain, that the prophet Jeremiah wrote this book, which is why it shows just up after the book of Jeremiah in our Bibles.

Our text, in chapter 3, is the first part of the the third poem. This whole poem is an acrostic where every 3 lines of text begin with the 22 successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This passage contains an amazing expression of hope for the future, from a person who knows suffering and hopelessness, which can help us to know how to think more clearly about our own hope for the future, no matter what our context might be. Let’s begin with the writer’s –

Great suffering and hopelessness

1 I am the man who has seen affliction
under the rod of his wrath;
he has driven and brought me
into darkness without any light;
surely against me he turns his hand
again and again the whole day long.

God’s judgment is described as affliction, wrath and darkness. And it is relentless.

He has made my flesh and my skin waste away;
he has broken my bones;
he has besieged and enveloped me
with bitterness and tribulation;
he has made me dwell in darkness
like the dead of long ago.

These verses speak to his lack of health, his suffering and how he is like someone who is in Sheol, the realm of the dead, which is a place of darkness.

He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
he has made my chains heavy;
though I call and cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer;
he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones;
he has made my paths crooked.

There is no way out from his suffering and God is not answering his prayers.

10 He is a bear lying in wait for me,
a lion in hiding;
11 he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces;
he has made me desolate;
12 he bent his bow and set me
as a target for his arrow.

He is like a person mauled and torn apart by a wild animal, like the target for an archer. 

13 He drove into my kidneys
the arrows of his quiver;
14 I have become the laughingstock of all peoples,
the object of their taunts all day long.
15 He has filled me with bitterness;
he has sated me with wormwood.

He is full of arrows, he is shamed and full of bitterness. Wormwood is a plant with a bitter taste.

16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
17 my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
18 so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.”

He has no peace, he can’t remember what happiness is, and his endurance is gone. This is a person who knows what hopelessness feels like, as he says in v. 18, my hope has perished. Then the poem goes on to talk about –

Finding hope again

 19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.

21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

He gives a brief prayer for God to remember his suffering, because he can only remember it and be overwhelmed by it. But v. 21 begins in a different direction. This is where he remembers who God is, and this gives him hope.

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

Remembering who God is, gives him hope. Specifically two qualities are mentioned:

  • “steadfast love” – which can be translated as kindness, faithful love or great love.
  • “mercies” or compassion. It is the love that a parent has for a child.

And then God’s “faithfulness” in giving this steadfast love and mercy is highlighted:

  • God’s steadfast love “never ceases”
  • God’s mercies “never come to an end”
  • “They are new every morning”

This is his portion or allotment in life. God’s ever renewed love. He has lost everything else – his city and home were destroyed and no doubt he had family who were killed. And yet this is enough. As v.24 says, “’The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’”

A word of hope for us

Now I can say with great confidence that I have not suffered as much as the writer of this poem has. And I thank God for that. But precisely because he has suffered so much, he has the ability to speak to us. For if he can find hope in God in his circumstances, surely we can as well.

Whether we are being disciplined for our sins, as was the case here with Jerusalem, or God is just letting us go through hard times to train us and build our character, or we are experiencing good times God’s steadfast love and mercy and his faithfulness in giving these is what sustains us. It is the basis of our hope for the future.

This is the text I first shared with you when I came 9 years ago; my first sermon as your pastor. I told you that our hope in that time of transition was not in me, or in you, or in our circumstances, but only in God. And so I end by saying the same thing to you today.

As your pastor I now commend you into the hands of our God who faithfully gives you his steadfast love and mercies day by day. And I encourage you to have a strong hope for the future, because of who God is.

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Our title today is “Don’t grow weary and give up!” And our text is Galatians 6:9, if you would like to turn there in your Bibles.

Galatians 6:9

The apostle Paul says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

Let me begin by pointing out a few things about this verse. The phrase, “grow weary” can also be translated, “get tired,” or “become discouraged.” It means, “don’t lose your motivation in continuing a desirable pattern of activity.” [BDAG]

In this case what is desirable refers to doing what is right or as the ESV says, “doing good.” This means living the Christian life, or more specifically in v. 10 it means doing good for others – that is, being a Christian and ministering to others both within and outside of the church.

The sense is that you have been doing good for a while and the temptation over time is to get tired and weary of this. The promise is of a harvest in due season; of fruitfulness in due time. (The reaping language comes from vs. 7-8) And the condition is “if we do not give up;” that is, if we don’t lose heart or faint from weariness.

If we put all this together it can read: “And let us not grow weary/ get tired of doing what is right/good, for in due season we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up/lose heart.”

Now, let’s look at –

Galatians 6:9 in the context of the book of Galatians

Galatia was the name of a Roman province in Paul’s day, in what is now modern Turkey. Paul preached the gospel here on his first missionary journey, recorded in Acts 13 and 14. And a group of several churches was formed in some of the cities in this territory – Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe.

Well, it wasn’t long after Paul left that new teachers had come in and were teaching a different Gospel saying that Gentile believers need to become Jews to truly be saved. In other words, faith in Christ and his death on the cross was not enough. And some in Galatia had accepted this new teaching. And this led to a terrible conflict with lots of hurt and pain all around.

1. Paul was upset. There is no letter quite like Galatians, where his emotions are raw and in the open. For instance, he says in 3:1-3 – “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” It seemed to Paul that these new teachers had put a spell on the Galatians so that they abandoned the truth. 

2. Accusations were made against Paul. These were made by those whom Paul labeled “trouble makers” (6:17).

– They said, Paul is a people-pleaser. Specifically, when he is around Jews he preaches circumcision, but when he is around Gentiles like you, he doesn’t. He does this to make it easier for you; gain more converts. (5:11; 1:10). Paul corrects this by noting he has suffered persecution for the cross of Christ, which is not a mark of a people pleaser; and that it is they who seek an easy life by preaching circumcision since in this day most of the persecution came from Jewish sourses (6).

– They said, he is not a real apostle with a message from God. Paul responds in detail, of how God called him and gave him a message to preach on the Damascus road when he saw Jesus. (1, 2)

– They said Peter doesn’t support his ministry. Paul responds that Peter along with James and John had approved of his message before he came to Galatia. They gave him the right hand of fellowship. (2). [It’s a bit more complicated than this given the Antioch incident, where Peter seemed to be against Paul, but Paul notes that he corrected Peter publicly.]

3. There was dissension and division in the church of Galatia. In his list of the works of the flesh, notice how many have to do with conflict gone awry – “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions” – 5:20.

And Paul talks about the danger of gossip and slander – “if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” – 5:15. He talks about the danger of “becoming conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” – 5:26.

To all this he contrasts the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” – 5:22-23. Paul is saying, the manifestation of the Spirit in our lives in these ways is the antidote to such destructive works of the flesh.

4. There were strained relationships. Paul says in 4:13-20 – “You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? They make much of you, but for no good purpose . . . my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.” They worked together closely and cared for one another, but now Paul is not sure where he stands with them.

5. Difficult action needed to be taken. This was serious stuff and sorting through it was not necessarily easy.

  • Those who were confused needed correction. Paul works at this throughout most of his letter. And he comes out and says it bluntly in 5:4 “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” Some people needed to relearn the gospel.
  • Those caught in sin needed help. Paul says in 6:1-2 – “Brothers and sisters, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Notice how this involves gentleness, humility and love on the part of the one who seeks to restore another.
  • The false teachers needed accountability. He says in 5:7-10 – “You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is.”

What a mess!!! Can you imagine? One thing we learn from all this is that conflict isn’t new. It was there in the apostolic period, recorded for us in the New Testament. And as we look at this particular example in Galatia – we don’t know how long it went on, but surely it would have taken a toll on them. And thus we understand the the temptation to give up from weariness. And also the need for this exhortation not to do this in Galatians 6:9, which is his last word of teaching to them, before he closes out the letter. “And let us not grow weary/ get tired of doing what is right/good, for in due season we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up/lose heart.”

I believe –

This is a word of encouragement to us

Perhaps you have been through conflict or difficult times in your personal life, in your church life or at work or school. And the result is that you are weary this morning. The word of encouragement is – Don’t give up! Why? Because we will reap a harvest. God will come through for us. When? In due season. It may be in this life, or it may not be. Some labor faithfully with little fruit to show for it in this life. But certainly the harvest will come in the fullness of the kingdom.

This is a message of hope. Your work is not for naught. Despite our difficulties, God is faithful and will give us a harvest of blessing. So don’t let life’s difficulties cause you to give up and put you on the sidelines. Continue on with your Christian faith strong. And continue to do good and minister to others.

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Series: Paul to the Thessalonians

We are continuing to let 1 Thessalonians guide us each Sunday, so that whatever Scripture text we are up to is what we will talk about, trying to understand carefully what Paul has to say. And today Paul is teaching on the topic of  –

The day of the Lord

This is an ominous teaching, often spoken of in the Old Testament. It is when God breaks into history to judge sin and set things right. It is a time of darkness, despair and destruction. Let’s look at a few Scriptures to get a sense of this:

  • Isaiah 13:6, 9 – “Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come! . . . Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation . . ..”
  • Jeremiah 46:10 – “That day is the day of the Lord God of hosts, a day of vengeance, to avenge himself on his foes.”
  • Ezekiel 30:2-3 – “Thus says the Lord God: Wail, ‘Alas for the day!’ For the day is near, the day of the Lord is near; it will be a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations.”
  • Joel 1:15 – “Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.

So this is a terrible time of judgment. [Now, whenever God breaks in to judge a nation, this is a day of the Lord event. For instance Isaiah 13 is talking about the destruction of the Babylonian empire. But this also foreshadows what will happen at the end of the world itself.] 

But there is another aspect to the day of the Lord which is what Paul highlights here. Just as there is judgment on the unrighteous, the day of the Lord is a time of deliverance and salvation for God’s people. For instance in Zechariah 14, when the Lord comes with all his holy ones, as we talked about last week, God’s people are delivered (also Isaiah 14:1-2 following chapter 13; also in 13:9 the destruction is against “the sinners” in the land; Joel 3:18.)

Perhaps they need to hear this part of it, having been scared by the despair, doom and gloom. Or perhaps they are anxious about how to be ready for such an event, if it can come at any time. Paul’s message to them here is one of reassurance. Although for the world it will be a time of judgment and destruction, for the people of God, it will be a day of salvation.

The day will not overwhelm you

“1Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”

The phrase “times and seasons” refers to the when question. He is basically saying that they know that no one knows when the day of the Lord will come.  If in the previous section on the dead in Christ they needed some additional teaching, here they know this truth that it will come suddenly and unexpectantly like a thief in the night.

As we have already seen, Paul had taught them Jesus’ Olivet discourse about the second coming and the resurrection. And he will continue to refer to this in our verses today talking about the day of the Lord. In fact, much of what he says is a mash-up of the teaching at the end of the Olivet discourse found in Matthew 24 and Luke 21 about being ready. You can see the handout that illustrates numerous points of contact.

The “thief in the night” is a parable from Matthew 24:43-44 (also 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 3:3; 16:15). It teaches that Jesus could return at any time, therefore we need to be ready at all times.

So the Thessalonians know this and can be alert. But the world does not know this. So they are not ready. “3While 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.” This is very much in tune with what we saw above. The day will be a time of judgment. Paul uses the word “destruction.”

The phrase “peace and security” was actually a Roman slogan for what the empire and its armies gave to its citizens. So what Paul is saying is that precisely when people think things are good and peaceful – the day will come upon them. In other words, it is a false security that they have.

He uses the imagery of labor pains to say that it will come suddenly and with great pain. And, as with labor, there will be no escape.

“4But you are not in darkness, brothers and sisters, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5For you are all children of light, children of the day.” Although the world is unprepared, Paul is saying, you are prepared, so you won’t be surprised. You will be ready.

Why? Because they are children of light, children of the day. Paul is referring to the fact that they are Christians and live as Christians. They already desire and live under God’s rule and his way in the midst of a dark world. And so when the day comes to extend God’s rule to all the earth, they will be ready. (For similar language – sons of disobedience, children of light ,referring to behavior see Ephesians 5:8.) So he is giving them words of assurance. They need not fear.

Literally, v. 5 says that they are “sons” of light and “sons” of the day. Paul may well have the idea here that all Christians are inheritors of the blessings that will come on that day. Son-ship often carries with it the idea of inheritance, in this case applied to both female and male believers. Now we suffer, but then we will be blessed. (Inheritance language – 1 Corinthians 6:9; Galatians 5:21)

Also notice how he plays off the words “day” and “night” in v. 2 to speak of two different conditions and ways of life:

  • The world is in a state of darkness/night, which leads to a way of life – they are not prepared/not doing God’s will.
  • Christians are of the light/day, so they are prepared/ doing God’s will.

And these differing conditions and ways of life lead to differing results:

  • The world will be surprised and will not escape destruction.
  • Christians will not be surprised and so will not be destroyed.

Now, Paul wants to give them assurance from excessive fear over the day of the Lord, but he also has to encourage them to –

Continue to be ready

“5We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8But since we belong to the day, let us be sober . . .”

Paul is saying, since we are not of the darkness, but rather belong to the day – let’s act that way! Don’t sleep or be drunk. Don’t fall back into the world, into spiritual darkness, into being unprepared, not doing God’s will.

Rather he tells them: keep awake and be sober. Keep doing God’s will; keep living the Christian life so that you are ready. (Both of these exhortations are from Jesus’ teaching. The first – “stay awake” comes from the parable of the thief, and the second, “be sober” is a deduction from the parable of the householder.)

“. . . having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” Here Paul further elaborates what it means to be awake and sober. Their lives are to be characterized by faith, love and hope.

Notice that Paul says that they have already put on this armor when they became a Christian. And he knows that they are still evidencing these virtues, as he pointed out in chapter 1:3. He is basically saying, maintain this armor of faith, love and hope, since you live in a hostile world. (Paul is most likely referring here to Isaiah 59:17a, where God “puts on righteousness as a breastplate and a helmet of salvation on his head.”)

– What does it mean to have “the breastplate of faith and love”? In both Isaiah 59 and Ephesians 6, where this is talked about, it refers to righteousness. Perhaps this image can be expressed in a phrase Paul uses in Galatians 5:6, “faith working through love” in our lives. That is putting our faith into practice by doing God’s will.

– What does it mean to have “for a helmet the hope of salvation”? It means to stay focused in our thinking about the hope of salvation we have in Jesus. And this is what Paul moves on to talk about –

Our hope

“9For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”

It is not God’s purpose for believers in Jesus to be judged by God’s wrath. That is for those who walk in darkness. Rather it is God’s destiny for believers “to obtain salvation” when the day of the Lord comes. This is our hope.

And this salvation is “through our Lord Jesus, who died for us.” Without this we are not saved. As Paul makes clear in chapter 1:10, it is “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

And then, picking up the language of 4:13-18, Paul talks about how, on that day, whether we are already dead in Christ or alive and remain – we will live with him. That is, we will be resurrected to live with him forever. This is the salvation we will obtain.

So Paul ends with strong words of encouragement. Although the day will bring judgment and despair on those who are in darkness and are not ready. For those who are ready, we have a glorious hope!

“11Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” Life is hard for them. They are suffering persecution. And so keeping an eye on the future will give them the strength to keep moving forward. And they are to help each other in this.

First of all, this passage fills out the picture of – 

What takes place when Jesus returns

–  Jesus will come

– The dead in Christ will be raised

– Those remaining will be raised to meet him

– Then, we learn from our passage today, will come sudden destruction; wrath and judgment, just as the day of the Lord passages in the Old Testament indicate.

(Paul clearly connects the day of the Lord to the second coming of Jesus and the judgment of the day of the Lord. It is when Jesus comes that there is vengeance and destruction – 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10. Also in 2 Thessalonians 1:10 – “when he comes on that day,” the coming and “that day” are the same event. Jesus’ “coming” and “the day of the Lord” are also equated in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 – “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.” This also follows the Olivet discourse in Matthew 24. First there is the coming of Jesus and the resurrection of the righteous – 24:30-31, and then in the further teaching and parables – there are descriptions of judgment, which Paul will allude to throughout our verses -24:36-51.)

We are also challenged to – 

Be ready!

Now the tone here is different than in the teaching of Jesus, where the emphasis is on warning that disciples who are not ready will be excluded from the kingdom (Matthew 24:51). Here Paul is confident that they are doing well, and so the tone is different, as long as they stay ready. His message is keep awake, keep sober, keep on your armor, continue in your faith, love and hope.

And if you are doing well as a Christian today, walking in God’s will and finding forgiveness when you fail I would encourage you in the same way. Keep doing God’s will! Keep living the Christian life!

But if you are here today and you are not doing well as a Christian; if you are walking in known sin, then you need to wake up! You need to sober up so that you can be ready.

And if you are here today and you are not a Christian then you need to begin at the beginning with salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for you. Let him transform you and then begin to walk in God’s will for your life.

Finally, if you are ready –

Don’t be afraid!

Yes there will be judgment, yes there will be despair and doom. Think of the verses that were read about the day of the Lord. Amos 5:18 says – “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light.”

But not for Christians! Because of Jesus death for us, because we are now children of light, because we are now changed within, because we now walk according to God’s will – the day of the Lord is a day of salvation! We are assured of this.

And so we can pray, “Your kingdom come!” And we can boldly pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Because this will be a day of rejoicing for those who are ready; a day of inheritance; a day of blessing.

William Higgins

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The Call to Stop Sinning

This message was updated – The seriousness of sin

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Despair and Hope: Psalm 77

We are looking at Psalm 77 today and the themes of despair and hope. [Let me say at the beginning that there are some issues of translation in this Psalm, especially v. 10 which can be rendered in several different ways. I won’t get into any of this. For today I will simply use the NIV version of Psalm 77.]

Let’s jump right into the first part of the Psalm. Here we note that . . .

The psalmist is really struggling

There are several indications of this.

  1. He is desperately calling on God. He says in v. 1, “I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me.”
  2. He refuses to stop. V. 2 – “When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted.” Stretched out hands is a posture of prayer. He is, as it were, lifting your prayers up to God. Yet, despite this, his prayers are unanswered. There is no relief.
  3. When he thinks of God, instead of being encouraged, he is dejected. V. 3 – “I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint.”
  4. He is unable to sleep. V. 4a – “You kept my eyes from closing.” Here he addresses God directly and says, ‘you are the reason I can’t sleep.’
  5. He is so upset he can’t talk. V. 4b – “I was too troubled to speak.”

He is definitely going through a hard time. He is distressed – v. 2; without comfort – v. 2; groaning – v. 3; faint of spirit – v. 3; sleepless – v. 4; troubled – v. 4; and speechless – v. 4.

Lets look now at . . .

The source of his distress

Vs. 5-6a – “I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night.” He is thinking about a time in his life when things were better. When he used to sing joyful songs. When all was well. It isn’t like this anymore. Now he’s overwhelmed by difficulties.

This leads him to deep thought. V. 6b – “My heart mused and my spirit inquired.” And from this pondering he is able to articulate his inner struggle. This comes in the form of six questions:

  • “Will the Lord reject forever?
  • Will he never show his favor again?
  • Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
  • Has his promise failed for all time?
  • Has God forgotten to be merciful?
  • Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” (vs. 7-9)

It’s obvious from these that he feels rejected by God, uncared for, and forgotten. God is not answering prayer and seems entirely absent.

All seems hopeless, which is highlighted by his language – “forever, never again, for all time.” It’s never gonna get better.

This is a crisis of faith. He has the expectation that, if God is truly God, things should be a certain way, like they were before his troubles. So there is a gap between what should be and what is.

This leads him to question God’s character. Exodus 34:6 gives a foundational statement of who God is in the Old Testament. It says, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” It is this very description that the Psalmist is struggling with in his questions, using some of these very terms. Is God really like this? Has God changed?

Now, his actual circumstances aren’t made clear. From the questions, and the Psalm as a whole, it seems that it is not just something in his individual life. The problem involves the whole people of God, Israel.

And it has gone on for a long time without resolution. It could be that he is speaking from exile in Babylon wondering if God will ever remember and deliver them.

Remembering the deeds of the Lord

This brings us to v. 10 which is the turning point in this Psalm. “Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.’” He decides to look back at when God was very active among Israel; when God’s favor was abundantly evident in the days of Moses.

He says in vs. 11-12, “I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.” The focus is now on God’s actions in the past: “deeds,” “miracles,” “works,” and “mighty deeds.” These, the psalmist will “remember” (2x), “meditate on,” and “consider.”

When he looks back at what God has done for Israel in the past, he can see God’s greatness. Vs. 13-15 – “Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.”

This refers to the Red sea crossing and even uses some of the language of Exodus 15:11-14 where Moses’ talks about this. God performed miracles and did deeds of power. God rescued his people.

From this the psalmist remembers that God is holy; that is, better and greater than all other gods. God is in a class all his own.

Finally, the psalmist describes . . .

The great Red sea deliverance

. . . in more poetic detail. We need to remember here the symbolic meaning of “the waters” as chaotic, evil and in opposition to God. The waters were blocking Israel from escaping the chariots of Egypt. But God confronts the waters, who are afraid of him. v. 16 – “The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed.”

Vs. 17-18 picture God coming as a warrior on the storm clouds. “The clouds poured down water, the skies resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth. Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked.”

Vs. 19-20 speak of the Red sea crossing. “Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” God defeated the waters of the Red Sea and saved his people by making a way through for them. And he did this without leaving any footprints.

The message is clear. God will also act to deliver the Psalmist and the people of Israel in their current situation. This is who God is, and this is what God does.

So by looking back, he takes heart. He can’t see God at work in his present circumstances, but by seeing who God is in the past, he can have hope even in his difficult circumstances.

Lessons

1. You will go through times of despair. When we are young in years or new in faith, we may not think so. I didn’t. But Your faith will tested. It will be tried so thoroughly that you will have deep inner struggles and doubts about God and God’s faithfulness. The psalmist certainly went through this.

And the point here is that this is normal. It’s a part of walking by faith. So, don’t be surprised when it happens.

2. It is good to bring your doubts and complaints to God. Just as the psalmist does here.

It should be done with respect, for sure. But we can be honest with God. God already knows our thoughts and feelings. So pour out your heart. ‘God, this is my distress. This is how I feel. This is what I don’t understand. These are my questions.’

When we do this, then God can help us to gain a right perspective. We can both by honest and also look to God for help in dealing with our situation.

3. When we are despairing of God’s purpose, promises it helps us to see the bigger picture. In the smaller picture of our current crises perhaps all we can see is cause for despair. This was true for the psalmist.

But when we step back and see the bigger picture, when we remember who God is and what God has done in the past to deliver, this gives us something to hang on to; it gives us some hope.

William Higgins

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