Sermon for December 13, 2020 — Rejoice Continually!
Old Testament Lesson: Malachi 4:1-6:
1“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. 3Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.
4“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”
Psalm 71 on Page 92 in Christian Worship
In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness;
turn your ear to me and save me.
Be my rock of refuge to which I can always go;
for you are my rock and my fortress.
Since my youth, O God, you have taught me,
and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
Even when I am old and gray,
do not forsake me, O God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
your might to all who are to come.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Gospel Lesson: John 1:6-8, 19-28:
6There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
19Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”
21They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
22Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
23John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
24Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
26“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
28This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24:
16Rejoice always, 17pray continually, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22reject every kind of evil.
23May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
One of the most popular carols of Christmas that you here at this time of year is “God rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” There are many different versions of this Carol, so you can take your pick. I’m actually kind of partial to the version by the Canadian rock group Barenaked Ladies who sing it along with Sarah McLachlan. The refrain of the song mentions that , at this time of year, we are brought tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy. Last week, we looked at comfort. Our emphasis in the second Sunday of advent was the comfort that John’s message brought about the Lamb of God This week, we talk about joy. Lot of people talk about joy at this time of the year. However, many people don’t think of this time as a particularly joyous time. For all sorts of reasons, there can be feelings of depression and anxiety that come into peoples’ lives at this time of year. The Apostle Paul in our text, speaks about being joyful at all times. We can wonder how that can be possible because, like I said, even at the most joyous time of year fear and anxiety and sadness managed to find their way into our hearts. Paul, though, in his concluding words to the Thessalonians, tells us how we can…
I. We have a God who feeds us.
II. We have a God who makes us holy.
III. We have a God who equips us.
Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians is one of his most unusual letters. It is unusual because the first half of the letter is almost entirely about the personal relationship between Paul and the Christians in Thessalonica. He had established the church in Thessalonica on his second missionary journey . His journey there, though, did not end very well. He was able to preach and teach there for about 3 weeks, but then The Jews who are jealous of the Apostle Paul’s success raised opposition to him and had him driven out of the city. The Apostle Paul then traveled down the eastern coast of Greece stopping in Athens for little while and then moving on to the city of Corinth. It was in Corinth let the Apostle Paul got the news that the opposition that he had faced in Thessalonica was continuing. The Jews in Thessalonica were continuing their opposition to the message of Christ and were harassing the Christians who lived in that city. The Apostle Paul was, understandably, a little worried about the Christians in Thessalonica. That is why, as soon as he had established himself in the city of Corinth, he sent Timothy up to Thessalonica to see how things were going with the Christians who were there. Timothy returned after a little while with some amazing news. The congregation had not fallen apart. As a matter of fact, the congregation had grown and they had brought the message of the gospel too the area that surrounded their city.
After hearing this report, the Apostle Paul quickly wrote this letter. In the first half of it, he talks about his joy that the Thessalonians had remained in their faith and had spread the message of the gospel throughout their area. In the second half of his book, he address some matters that he had not had the time to address when he had been in their midst. He advised them to keep their lives free of sexual immorality which was so rampant in that time and place. He encouraged them in their brotherly love toward one another. He also instructed them concerning some matters about Christ second coming. It seems that there was some confusion about that among the Thessalonians.
Now Paul is coming to the end of his letter; and, as he often did, he left them with a number of commands that he wanted them to carry out. Listen again to what the Apostle Paul wrote them in these concluding words to his letter. 16Rejoice always, 17pray continually, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22reject every kind of evil. 23May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
The first thing that we are going to look at here is Paul’s command not to treat prophecies with contempt. It has to be pointed out that the idea of prophecy had a little bit of a different meaning with the people in the early church than it does for us now. Back in the early days of the Christian Church, God would still speak directly 2 different Christians at different times. These Christians were known of his prophets. From time to time God would reveal his will to someone during a gathering of Christians and that believer would share that message that he got from God with them. The Apostle Paul wanted them to listen to these words of prophecy . However, he wanted them to be sure that what they heard from these prophets was the truth. That is why he told them to hold on to what was good. This meant that they were supposed to take the words that they heard and compare them to what they already knew through the revealed word of God in Scripture. If it agreed with the word of God, they were to listen to it. If it did not agree with the word of God, they were to hold it at arms length and avoid it.
In our day and age, we don’t have the same phenomenon. God does not reveal himself to people directly as he did back in the days of the early church. Instead, what he is done for us is to let us know that his revealed word in the Bible is all that we need for Christian faith and life. In our day and age, he provides us with people, pastors and teachers, who proclaim to us the message that he has revealed in the Bible. These people are his modern day prophets. The Apostle Paul’s encouragement to the Thessalonians stands to this day. We are to listen to what these Proclaimers of God’s word have to say to us. We are to take their work seriously. However, we are also to compare what they say, and then includes my preaching, with what scripture has to say. Again, if it agrees with scripture, we hold on to it. If it does not agree, we avoid it.
This is so important because of what God wants to do for us through the preaching of his word. The Apostle Paul outline sad in the last couple verses of our text for today. He speaks about how it is God’s desire that our whole self: body, soul, and spirit, be kept blameless until that last day that the Apostle Paul had taught the Thessalonians about. How are we kept blameless until that day? That happens when God uses the proclaimed word of God to point us to Christ. One of the things that marks a true proclamation of God’s word is that it does just that. It points us to Christ and his finished work for us. It reminds us that everything that is necessary for our Salvation has been accomplished through Jesus. It reminds us that this child born in humble circumstances in Bethlehem is our God who lived a perfect life in our place and I to death that pays for all of our sins. Through this Jesus, God makes us blameless, holy. Through this continually proclaimed word of God, God keeps us in the faith that brings us his forgiveness and his sons holiness. God feeds us through his word so that he can make us concentrate on his plan of Salvation for us
but also notes God’s other purpose in feeding us with his word. The Apostle Paul says that God wants to sanctify us through and through. That is a process that will not be completed within our lifetime. Notice how the Apostle Paul concludes this section by saying that God is faithful and that he will do this. Our Christian lives of sanctification, then, is something that our Lord God is responsible for. He does that through means of his word and his sacraments. That makes us a continual work in progress. What sort of things does God accomplish in our lives? Those are the things that are mentioned in the first part of our text.
So now , finally, we get to the subject of joy. One part of our sanctified living is the continual joy that he produces in us. That doesn’t mean that we’re always walking around with a big smile on our face. It means that the joy of knowing that our savior has won us the forgiveness of sins in victory over sin, daff, and the power of the devil is something that is going to be our constant companion. Having this joy in our lives is one of the things that make us different as believers in this world. It is one of those things that proclaims Christ in this world. People see the change that our God has brought about in us and it, in part, make some curious about what God has to offer them.
What else does the Apostle Paul mention here? He talks about Christians being thankful in all things. When he wrote to the Thessalonians, that meant that they should be thankful even when they were being persecuted. They could be thankful in that circumstance because God had promised that he was at work in them even during that time. God wants us, in our Christian lives, to be thankful for all the blessings AND all the challenges that he brings into our lives. Again, this thankfulness, especially at this time of year, demonstrates to the world what a loving and blessed God we have.
The Apostle Paul also encourages the believers in Thessalonica to pray continually. In the King James translation, this passage reads as pray without ceasing. That doesn’t mean that we are to spend our lives with our hands constantly folded, our heads constantly bowed, and a prayer escaping our lips at all times. What it does mean is that God wants us to have a prayerful attitude. He wants our thoughts to be directed to him at all times during the day. This is something that shows our reliance on our God and our thanks for him. It is also one of the witnesses that testify to him through our lives.
Christian joy is not a matter of emotions. It is something that flows out of the gifts that our God has given us through his word. This is what brings us joy at Christmas time period this is what brings us joy throughout the year. Amen.