Sunday, December 4, 2016

"Persevere … it will all be worth it in the end!"

Day #340

Scripture Reading:  II Thessalonians 1 - 3 ...

Living in the first century was not easy.  The early believers faced the usual trials and struggles of life, alongside severe persecution for their new faith in Jesus Christ.  It would have been understandable if some had turned away from Jesus in the face of such suffering ... in fact, some who claimed to believe did fall away, but not those who had been born again by the Spirit, who knew the true God and who trusted in Jesus.  They endured and persevered because they knew that their struggles were temporary and that when Jesus came, He would make it all right!!  This is the message people need to hear today, instead of the false assurance that God wants them to have their best life now.  That may work for people who have no trials in this world, but it doesn't work for millions of true believers around the world.  Our hope goes beyond what we can see.

As Paul commends the Thessalonian believers in this, his second letter to them, he reminds them that "God is just:  He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled" (1:6-7).  The desire for justice lies within each of us because we are made in the image of God, and those who have God's Spirit within us long for that justice to come ... but Paul is quick to inform the Thessalonians that "this will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels" (1:7).  Retribution in this world doesn't always happen, but in the end God will deal with those who do not know Him and who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (1:8).  "They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of His power on the day he comes to be glorified in His holy people" (1:9-10).  What a promise and what an encouragement for those who long for justice in this world.

Paul's desire, as ours should be, was that "the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1:12).  That is the focus of life for all who believe ... that Jesus would be honored and glorified on account of our witness as we endure suffering for His Name's sake.  To do less is to dishonor Him and to fail in our witness to the world.  If you take the name of Jesus Christ upon you then you ARE a witness ... the only question is whether you are a good one or a bad one!!  Your life reflects HIM to those around you.  Paul rejoiced in the Thessalonians because Jesus was being glorified on their account - may it be so for us, too.

To encourage them further, Paul corrects a rumor that had apparently been circulated that the "day of the Lord" had already come (2:2).  Paul had spoken about that day and the prophets speak often of the "day of the Lord," which refers not to the entire series of events prior to and surrounding the return of Jesus, but specifically to God's wrath ... a wrath which Paul spoke of in his first letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 5, verse 9:  "For God did not appoint US (believers) to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ."  Paul explains that there will be a "rebellion" (the word is "apostasy" or a "falling away") BEFORE Jesus comes.  In addition, the "man of lawlessness," the "antichrist," will be revealed when he exalts himself, claiming to be God (2:3-4).

The day of God's wrath will not take place until these things happen.  Paul says the Antichrist will be overthrown by Jesus at His coming (2:8).  And he gives some details that are very important for US today to hear and believe.  "The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders" (2:9).  People clamor for miracles and follow those who appear to do them today, ignoring this and other verses (like II Corinthians 11:13-15).  Not all so-called “miracles” are done or will be done by the power of God.  Paul says that many will perish because they "refused to love the truth and so be saved" (2:10).  The truth is found in God's Word.  ANY teaching that is contrary to the Word of God is false ... it is a lie from Satan himself and his demons.

But notice what Paul says about the Thessalonians ... (this is true about every true believer!):  "... from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth" (2:13).  We who believe have been chosen and called by God to "share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2:14).  How often do you think about that?  When facing trials, suffering or even persecution in some way, our hope is in the Lord and His promise that in the end we will share in the glory of Jesus as He reigns over all the nations!  If you believe in Jesus and are one of God's children your future could not be brighter ... you just need to look further ahead!!!

As Paul closes this letter, he tells them to pray for the rapid spread of the Gospel, and he explains that while not everyone has faith, "the Lord is faithful and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one" (3:3).  Love and perseverance are God's gifts to His people.  “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance” (3:5).  Persevering through trials and suffering is part of the calling of those who believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord.  God will keep His promises to His people and we will finally be with Him in the new world He will create. 

Meanwhile, we are called to labor for the kingdom.  Paul has some strong words for those who are idle.  He declares, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (3:10).  And it is not only physical labor that is necessary.  As followers of Jesus, God is at work ... in us and through us, for His glory.  “It isn’t over ‘till it’s over!”  And when it is, we will be with the Lord, forever!

"Heavenly Father, living in this world it often seems that evil wins and that the trials of life grow heavy, but in those moments Your Spirit speaks comfort and peace through Your Word to my heart and mind: Jesus is seated at Your right hand and all WILL BE well.  Give me grace and strength to rejoice in Your love and faithfulness and give me peace to endure, that I may continually testify that You are good - ALL the time ... not only in the good times, but especially in those 'other' times.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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