Friday, December 2, 2016

"Living by faith in the shadow of Jesus' return ..."

Day #338

Scripture Reading:  I Thessalonians 1-3 …

I know of no other way to live in this world today than by looking toward the return of Jesus Christ, knowing that God will deliver those who believe from the suffering and trials of life as He pours out His wrath on those who do not know Him or worship Him.  Almost 2,000 years ago the Apostle Paul and those to whom He had preached, who had become followers of Jesus, found their only hope in this same truth.  How much more should you and I be setting our minds on God's promises today!!

But what happens?  The same things Paul was concerned about with regard to the Thessalonians and the other churches to whom he had preached the Gospel:  persecution, distress, worldly distractions …  all of these and more threatened the faith of those who were new believers.  As Paul and those with him traveled from city to city they met opposition from the Jews and others, often being physically and verbally assaulted.  Their hope … what drove them to continue, was the fruit that the Gospel was bearing in the lives of those who turned from idols to worship God.

Having moved on from Thessalonica to other cities, Paul longed to know how the church of the Thessalonians was doing, so he finally sent his young friend, Timothy (3:2).  Having received a good report from Timothy, Paul now writes them this letter to encourage them further to continue in their faith.  As you read the first three chapters, you feel Paul's love, his urgency and his passion for the Gospel and for the Church.  He commends the believers, for "your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ" (1:3).  The Gospel had come to them "with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction" (1:5).

Paul rejoiced because they had "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead - Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath" (1:9-10).  How few people today make the connection between faith in the true God and looking toward His return??  How few churches today have any idea that Jesus is even coming back, and what is going to happen when He does?  There is a profound and dangerous ignorance of the events preceding Christ's return and of the wrath that will be poured out on those who do not know Jesus as their Savior and Lord.  In these two letters to the Thessalonians the Apostle Paul ties living for Christ in this life to longing for Jesus' return.  Only if you know what is coming will you be able to endure what is already happening as you live by faith.

Unlike many who hear God's Word preached today, the Thessalonians believed the message Paul preached was from God.  "We thank God continually because, when 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" (2:13).  God's Word cannot be compromised; it cannot be discarded at will.  It must be proclaimed and believed - that's what the Thessalonians did.

Opposition to the Gospel is increasing in our nation and around the world.  Interfaith dialogue and compromise are the hallmarks of "religious tolerance" today and "love" is used to disguise what Satan is seeking to do - deceive.  Paul expresses his willingness to endure suffering and insults, testifying, "with the help of our God we dared to tell you His Gospel in spite of strong opposition" (2:2).  Where there is no opposition to the Gospel, the true Gospel is probably not being preached!!  The Gospel invites all to come to Jesus Christ to be saved, but the same Gospel excludes those who want to mix the worship of God with the worship of the world or other "gods," and who refuse to confess their sins, repent, and rest only in God's grace in Christ.

True faith bears fruit and produces devotion to God because it is produced by the very Spirit of God.  Listen to Paul's heart as he writes, "We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the Gospel of God but our lives as well" (2:8).  Like any devoted pastor, Paul had concern for the Thessalonians.  So MUCH of the visible church today has turned away from God's Word and replaced it with the words of men.  These are “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).

The writer of Hebrews puts it all in focus when he says in Chapter 10 that since we have access to the Most Holy Place through the blood of Christ (vs. 19), "let us draw near to God ... let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess ... let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds ... and let us not give up meeting together" (vss. 22-25).  In other words, let's be the Church, the body of Christ, the fellowship of the saints!  Why? Because Jesus is coming back and this life is not all there is!  Why?  Because there's more to life than living to please yourself or others.  There's GOD!!!

Oh, how I pray that as you read these words you will be drawn to read GOD's Word.  I pray that the Holy Spirit will open your heart and mind to know the truth and to live in anticipation of Christ's return.  Nothing ... nothing else will give you strength to endure the trials, the persecution and the temptations that you and I face as we seek to live for Christ in our world today.  Living by faith in the shadow of Jesus' return makes you understand that every day is important and that your life has eternal significance.  Don't throw it away on things that may not last past tomorrow.  Read Paul's words in II Corinthians 4:16-18, and receive them as, indeed, they are ... the very words of God:

"Therefore, we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

"Heavenly Father, to hear and believe Your Word and to KNOW that I have been saved by grace through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is the foundation of my life.  I have no greater joy, no greater hope, no greater peace.  I long for Christ's return and ask that You continue Your work in me, that I may be a faithful witness of the Gospel to all I meet.  My heart is set on pleasing You, Father, and I give You thanks and praise.  I love You, Father, because You first loved me ... in Jesus' name, Amen"

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