December 11, 2022
2 Thessalonians 2:9-17
"The Sure Salvation of the Saints"
It has always interested me to see non-believers celebrate Christmas. Not in a critical or negative way, but more like a curious way. Beyond the materialism most of us get caught up in…which seems a bit cliché to even mention in passing…there is a beauty and joy surrounding Christmas which resonates with people. There's something about Christmas that can brighten even the most sin-sick soul.
But after Christmas, then what? Churches get bumps in worship attendance, especially Christmas Eve, but after Christmas the bump flattens. Interesting. What remains is the attraction many people have to the idea of Christmas. A baby in a manger, shepherds, angels, and beautiful music are all very attractive. But then, what?
You and I know there's more to Christmas than its Americanized version
and vision. Devoted followers of Jesus Christ see Christmas as one stop on
their ongoing growth in faith and devotion. The time from this Christmas to the next is a grand and glorious thing for us. As for those who don't believe, one wonders.
Here's how Paul captures the culture of unbelief, in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12:
The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
This describes the default setting of our culture. In other words, in not accepting the love of truth, there is no growth beyond the sweet sentiments of Christmas. Or should I say, no growth beyond the grip that an idealized Victorian vision of Christmas has on our culture. By His own choosing, God allows some to remain lost in their delusion of unbelief.
Paul uses those verses to set-up the primary point of chapter 2 - The Sure
Salvation of the Saints. As we'll see, this is why Christmas isn't a detour for believers…it is one landmark among many on the journey of our growth in Jesus Christ.
Let's set the scene for verses thirteen through seventeen. We have to go back to verses one through three:
"Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 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. Let no one deceive you in any way."
They had been in fear. Paul did not want them to be afraid. Do not be quickly shaken, he challenges them. And then he outlines how Christians ought not live in fear. The Christian life is one of joy and hope and eagerness and exhilaration and happiness. Whether at Christmas or any other time of the year, we have nothing to fear. We hear that in the birth narratives of the gospels of Matthew and Luke. They angels were telling the various participants, "Do not fear…fear not…don't be afraid."
Here's something you might want to write down:
CHRISTIANS HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR.
We look joyfully to the future. No matter what the future, we will not be afraid. Even after the bows and decorations and presents are put away, and the favorite holiday cookies and treats are eaten, and we've put on the extra pounds of Advent, and we head into the bare, cold days of winter, we have no reason to be insecure. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."
Let's now read about the foundation of our unquenchable joy:
But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who
loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
Here are two points we need to be immediately aware of.
First, when Paul says we ought, he is not talking about a forced or expected expression of gratitude. Instead, he means a great compulsion that naturally arises out of his great joy for them. To put it another way, it's like saying, "How can we not give thanks to God for you?"
Second, there's the very intentional transition from saying "give thanks to God" to beloved by the Lord. Paul transitions here from talking about God to talking about Jesus. This is a pivotal point where Paul refers to Jesus in a way which expresses his oneness with the Father. They are loved by the Lord, meaning by Jesus Christ.
So here's where that truth leads us. As loved by the Lord, they are not praiseworthy because of something special about them or unique in
them. They are praiseworthy because of the eternal and unchanging choice of God. We are fickle and flawed and riddled with faults. There is nothing inherently good about us. We are who we are in Christ because God chose us from eternity past to obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember, your name was written in the Lamb's Book of Life from before the foundation of the world was set. That's why Paul doesn't say, "We give thanks for you," but rather, "We give God thanks for you." God saved us. Your salvation is all God's work. We were never smart enough or clever enough or hardworking enough to save ourselves. Uninfluenced by anything outside of His electing grace, God set His love on you. How wonderful is that? Before the world began God loved you and chose you and called you and transformed you in time in order to glorify you.
Elsewhere Paul says this:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved."
- Ephesians 1:3-6
What a glorious promise that is. Before you were born, God set His love on you. Before a single human being was ever made, God chose you. That's where your salvation was initiated. From before the foundation of the world.
That glorious truth fills our Christmas celebrations. And it propels us joyfully to everyplace we go and in everything we do. You have been chosen to worship Jesus. You have been chosen to celebrate Christmas. As Matthew 1 says, "You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." And that had been determined from before the foundation of the world. Here's something else you might want to write down:
OUR ETERNAL SECURITY RESTS IN THE TRUTH THAT WE ARE LOVED AND CHOSEN BY THE LORD.
That is the Christmas truth we know and understand. It is missed by so
many in our culture. You don't get that truth from a Mariah Carey song or a Hallmark Channel movie.
How many of you watch any of the millions of Hallmark Christmas movies? One man says that if he had a dime for all the common themes packed into a Hallmark movie, he'd have a lot of dimes. One of the more ubiquitous themes is "Follow your heart." What wretched advice that is. Over and over, the Bible tells us that the heart is deceitful and cannot be trusted. Following your heart is terrible advice. Another one is, "It's always okay to do the things that make you happy." No, it isn't. If it were, I'd have nothing but donuts, cheese doodles and beer for every meal. You have to be discerning, ignoring some of these false messages in holiday movies, programs, and songs.
There's cultural Christmas, which does nothing to equip you to live joyfully in all things, and there's 2 Thessalonians 2. One worldview barely carries people into the new year, while the other brings the assurance in all things.
We are chosen by God. We are loved by Jesus. And finally, we are
transformed by God. That's what Paul means when he says, "You may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." Transformed.
There are two elements to this promise.
First, right now, in Christ, we are growing more and more detached from sin. Notice I didn't say we no longer sin. But, most of the time, more often than not, though we are sinful people, we are longing for what is pure and holy. We are delighting in the things of the Lord. And so our lives reflect what Paul calls the Fruit of the Spirit. We are loving and joyful and peaceful and patient and kind and good and faithful and gentle and self-controlled. The transformative work God began in us when He chose us to follow Him is reflected in our outward actions.
You can buy a sweatshirt that says, "I May Look Calm But in My Head I've Slapped You 3 Times." I kind of like that. It says to me that I am working on overcoming my inner demons with some of the aforementioned Fruit of the Spirit. Are you with me on that? We aspire to an expression of our better selves. That's the first way God works in us so we can obtain the
glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The second, and most important thing is, God has acted in such a way so as to guarantee our future salvation and glory. God has chosen us to live eternally with Christ. That's what it means to obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here's one last thing you might want to write down. We are:
Paul affirms that God has eternally chosen you. He chose you purely on the basis of His love alone. As God separated you from sin, He began a work in you so you could be a positive, joyful, helpful presence in the world. And through all this, God sets your life on a trajectory to obtaining the glory of Christ. This is beautifully put in Philippians 3:20-21:
"But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself."
That's what Christmas is all about. Amen?
So, here we are, smack dab in the middle of Advent. Life isn't always easy. Bad things happen. We sin. We make bad decisions that negatively impact us and/or those we love. We sometimes bring harm to complete strangers. But through it all, as Paul reminds us, we don't need to be discouraged. We don't need to be shaken. Instead, we need to be hopeful and joyous. We need to be strong and courageous. As verse seventeen promises, God will comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. The word translated "establish" is from the Greek, sterizo, from which we get "steroids." God is the source of our strength and power. That's why we can confidently say that no matter what happens to us…no matter what we experience or go through in life, all is well because God empowers us to be strong and bold and immovable and stable and fixed and mature and not shaken.
Again, as the angels assured everyone in the gospel birth narratives, we have nothing to fear and everything to hope for. I pray that truth becomes more and more real to you this Advent season.
HEAVENLY FATHER, THANK YOU FOR THE BIRTH OF YOUR SON. BECAUSE OF THAT, WE LIVE WITH JOYOUS HOPE FOR WHAT AWAITS US. MAY WE GROW IN STRENGTH AND COURAGE AS WE WALK FAITHFULLY WITH JESUS CHRIST. WE KNOW THAT
SOMEDAY WE WILL LIVE WITH HIM FOREVER. AMEN.