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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

"How Then Shall We Live?"

Twenty-Fifth Sunday After Pentecost


Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.


But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

I Thess. 5:1-11


According to the [11/14/1999] Keene Sentinel there are 47 days left in the countdown to Y2K – the year 2000. So what? Who cares? Well, it seems that a lot of people care! Lots of people are making predictions about the coming New Years Eve or Day. Computers will shut down, electricity will go off, banks will lose records, and airplanes will fall from the sky. And those are the minor concerns!


Thousands of people are already camping on the Mount of Olives, ready to meet Jesus as He returns on New Years Day! Israeli police have already deported groups with plans of murder and suicide on Jerusalem’s temple mount, with the idea of making sure Jesus will return! Crazy!! And people are getting ready for the end of the world!


It's not really a new thing, of course. Predictions about the end of the world, and the coming of Christ aren’t unique to our time. In every age there have been those who interpret the “signs of the times” as indicating Christ’s soon return. Well, I guess we can say that His coming is sooner now than it has ever been! 😊


There were those in Thessalonica who had concluded that Jesus would surely come most any day. Some were apparently stirring up all kinds of excitement, and others had quit their jobs to wait for the event. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The Thessalonians were asking Paul about times and dates of Jesus’ return, just as the Apostles had asked Jesus. And Paul tells them he doesn’t need to write to them about that. “You know very well,” he says. Sounds like a parent talking to a child: “How many times do I have to tell you?” “The Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” And the trouble with burglars is that they don’t tell us when they’re coming!


Do we need another metaphor for Christ’s return? Paul gives it to us: “While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety’ (that is, they imagine they’re perfectly secure) destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”


So, the Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and destruction will come like labor pains. Both illustrations teach that Christ’s coming will be sudden; the burglar is unexpected, while labor is expected. So, putting the two metaphors together, we can say that Christ’s coming will be sudden and unexpected (like a burglar in the night) and sudden and unavoidable (like labor at the end of a pregnancy). In the first case, there will be no warning, and in the second no escape!


Now, if Jesus is going to come again, suddenly, unexpectedly, and unavoidably, how can we be ready? Paul tells us: “But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you as a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.”


The solution to the question of being ready for Christ’s return is not in knowing when He will come, but in staying awake and alert! When it’s dark and we’re asleep, we’re not ready for a visit from a burglar. If only he would come in the daytime! Then we’d be ready for him. It would be light, and we could see him. We would be wide awake and alert.


And so, it is with the coming of Christ. Will He come in the darkness or in the light? Spiritually speaking, will He come at nighttime or at daytime? The answer to this most important question is, “Both!” It depends on who we are! In the case of unbelievers, He will come in the night, because they belong to the night and live in darkness.


“But you, brothers,” Paul tells us, “are not in darkness… You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” (vss. 4 & 5)


The Bible divides history into two ages. Looking at them from the Old Testament perspective they were called “the present age” (which was evil) and “the age to come” (which would be the time of the Messiah).


And, of course, the Bible also teaches that Jesus Christ is that long-awaited Messiah, and that therefore the new age began when He came. He was the dawn of the new era. He ushered in the day. He proclaimed the break-in of the Kingdom of God.


But, at the same time, the old age hasn’t yet come to an end. As the Apostle John put it, “The darkness is passing, and the true light is already shining.” (1 John 2:8) So, for the time being, the two ages overlap. Unbelievers belong to the old age and are still in the darkness. But those who belong to Jesus Christ have been transferred into the new age – into the light.


So then, whether we are ready for Christ’s coming or not, depends on which age we belong to; on whether we are still in the darkness or already belong to the light. It’s only if we are in the light that we won’t be taken by surprise.


So, the question Paul would ask us is this: to which age do we belong, the old or the new? To which age do your loved ones belong, the old or the new? To which age do your neighbors belong, the old or the new? To which age do your fellow workers or fellow students belong, the old or the new?


Do we belong to the night, or to the day? Are we asleep or awake? And if we belong to the day – the new day that dawned with Christ – then our behavior must be daytime behavior. Let’s not sleep or even yawn our way through life. Let’s not live in our pajamas. Let’s stay awake and alert. For then we’ll be ready when Christ comes again.


This is not always easy, nor is it natural for us to do. As we all know, the world can be a tough and unfriendly place. It’s easy to get hurt by it. And it’s easy to be tempted by it. So, to be armed for the battle, Paul tells us to “Put on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” (vs. 8)


And don’t think of “the hope of salvation” as unfounded wishful thinking – no, that’s not what ‘hope” means! Hope is complete confidence in our Lord Jesus Christ and His return!


Jesus “died for us so that… we may live together with Him.” (vs. 10) He died that we might live. Our life is due entirely to His death – and the kind of life He has won for us is a life “together with Him!” So, He died our death that we might live His life. Let me say that again, to be sure you don’t miss it: Jesus died our death, that we might live His life!


Our “hope of salvation” is well founded, therefore. It stands firmly on the solid rock of God’s will and Christ’s death, and not on our own performance or feelings. The ultimate reason why we should look forward to Jesus’ second coming doesn’t lie in who we are (children of the day and of the light) but on who God is, (the giver of salvation and life through the cross).


God created us to live in the light. And to live as children of the day is to live expecting and looking forward to Jesus’ coming again. In the meantime, our life with Jesus will be a battle. And we prepare for the battle with faith, hope, and love. Faith, hope, and love – our breastplate and our helmet.


So, now we go forward in hope, even in a world that seems to be getting worse by the day! We look to a new Heaven and a new Earth where “He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:3,4)


And so shall we ever be with the Lord!


Amen.

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