2 Thessalonians 2:1–5 (NRSV)
The Man of Lawlessness
2 As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. 4 He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. 5 Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?
2 Thessalonians 2:13–17 (NRSV)
Chosen for Salvation
13 But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.
16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, 17 comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.
Have you ever watched a Christian movie? If you have chances are very high that that movie had a theme that is common with vast majority of Christian movies. The most common theme for Christian based movies has been covering the end times. I own several of them, watched even more, and have gotten so bored with the concept that my mind has nearly shut out any discussion of the rapture, or the mark of the beast. It is not that I do not believe that these things could occur as these videos suggests, the reason my attention has been dulled is because people make proclamations of truth where only fantasy can reign.
The reason I say this is because the passages of scripture used in creating these movies and books are highly symbolic and written in metaphoric language. When we focus on the proper interpretations of these cryptic passages our attention can be distracted from what is really important.
These distraction are not uncommon in the history of the church. Within nearly every generation there has been some movement that has pushed that the end is near. Just in the time that I have been ministering among Friends here at willow creek we have encountered a few dates that were positively identified as the end. The problem is that the end did not occur and because it did not occur the church has become a mockery. But these dates have happened before, the Seventh Day Adventist movement began due to the influence of one of these end time proclamations. The Jehovah’s Witnesses also began speaking in this manner. There were movements surrounding the turn of each century and each millennia saying that today is the day or this year is the year so me ready. For the most part the movements making proclamations have been just as vague at knowing the actual date as scripture itself, even the Friends Movement could have been described as an apocalyptic movement because it proclaimed that the Day of the Lord is upon us.
The first century church was not a stranger to these ideas, in fact they were saturated with the idea of the end of the age being near at hand. Last week I mention that this letter was likely the first letter that Paul had written, in any case we know for a fact that each of the letters written by Paul had to have been written before the conclusion of the Jewish War in 70 AD where the Romans leveled the Holy City of Jerusalem. What this means is that within the first forty years of the Church there were already teachers that claimed to know when the end would occur. And within the first forty years there were already teachers claiming to be the leaders of those who were Left Behind.
Right away the first generation of believers were being distracted. Christ came to give life. Life is lived. Christ came as a baby, he lived through gestation, was born as an infant, was initiated into the Jewish community through his circumcision on the eighth day. He grew in knowledge and wisdom, he participated in worship at the synagogues and at the temple, and he listened to the contemporary teachers and participated in the discussions following. He was fully human in every aspect. He lived with his family till he was approximately thirty meaning he worked with his family for seventeen years. He entered ministry as his second career, in his age he would have been considered middle aged. Again he lived a full human life experiencing the joys of seeing his family marry and have children, he experience the pangs of sorrow when close friends and loved ones passed beyond the veil of death, he felt betrayal and anxiety yet did not sin. Jesus came for life and to show and give us the means to life free from bondage. Jesus came to give us life.
The thing about life is it has to be lived with others. Every step of the way life has community. This begins in the womb, we are literally connected to another human being and experience life through that unique relationship. A fetus experiences emotions: when the mother is anxious the baby also shows signs of anxiety, when the mother is joyful the fetus also expresses joyful activity and dances. If the mother eats spicy food the child makes sure that the mother knows how uncomfortable this makes them both. We are conceived in relationship and live in every day of our lives in relationship. When we neglect relationship our brains are unable to process our emotions and other stimuli efficiently, and we begin to physically, emotionally and spiritually deteriorate. A lifestyle of sin places wedges in relationships which prompts and promotes this deterioration. A lifestyle of sin focuses on the desires of the flesh, it focuses on what I can get out of those around us. Eventually this will fracture even the most intimate relationships; between parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters. Often apocalyptic and end times teachings focuses on perpetuating lifestyles of sin, instead of promoting lifestyles of life.
How can I say this, when the movies and the books are encouraging people to turn to God? So many of these teaching are not promoting a life of repentance and reconciliation but instead are focused destruction of the world. We allow the lawless to rule because what difference does it make we will escape the torment. So we allow corporations to break up families because profits are more important than a holiday. We desire cheap food, cheap fuel, free healthcare, and education but what is the cost of these things and when we consider the cost do we consider the holistic cost? We will often promote ideas of escapist eschatology because we feel we will not have to be held accountable for our participation in the lawlessness of the world.
But Paul encourages a different attitude. He gives thanks for the sanctification by the spirit. This is the setting apart and distinguished for a purpose. He gives thanks that those Thessalonians are members of the first fruits of the gospel, the kingdom that is not of this world but is under the reign and influence of God. This is something very important. Something that we should consider more deeply. If the world is caught in lawlessness which is defined by lifestyle of sin the Christian life should look different. That is what sanctification is all about. We that are of Christ have been removed from the lifestyle of sin and destruction and have been placed into one that focuses on building relationships and encouraging reconciliation. This sanctification is received by entrusting our lives in the truth, the truth that we were created from something greater. We were created to be in community with each other, we were created to live lives that promote the mutual benefit of all those around us. When Paul speaks about the spiritual gifts, he said that the Spirit gave those gifts to be used for the common good. This common good is only seen when the focus of our lives are moved away from the individualistic ideology of “what’s in it for me.”
“So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.” Hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, the truth of the Gospel that was exemplified in the life of Jesus. Paul also says this in another way, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” We have been set apart for a distinguished purpose, we have been appointed and destined for the glory of God to share the good news in our community, in our states and provinces, in our nations and to the ends of the earth. The good news is that the kingdom of God is at hand. Do we see it or are we distracted? Are we looking for the ripples of the divine touch around us or are we instead focused on the advent of the lawless one?
You see the eschatological ideas can be viewed in an alternative way. God wants everyone to know him with the knowledge that brings salvation and the church has been predestined to be the instrument through which that knowledge should be distributed. As long as the church participates in the mission of Christ to take the gospel to all peoples God waits. He waits until the church no longer has influence. He waits till the church no longer has the strength to carry on the mission because the church has become distracted. Have you ever considered this? Maybe God is waiting for us. Maybe God is waiting for us to accomplish our part of the overall mission that he set before us from the foundations of the earth. He is waiting for us to run our leg of the relay of life. God might be waiting because there is still hope for the church, because people still love and are willing to sacrifice their own desires for the good of others and are unwilling to let the lawless one destroy the hope that they have.
Paul concludes this section with a prayer for the church, “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.” Do we believe that God can grant us comfort, hope, and strength? Do we listen to these words and see rippling waves where God has touched the fabric of life around us?
The past couple of weeks have been some of the most emotionally trying times of my life. Last Sunday was actually the anniversary of the death of my little sister, she has been absent from our lives for nineteen years. And I attended the funeral of a young man who served his country honorably and came home only to face a very different type of battle. The weirdest thing about it is that both of them were born in the same year. I could easily look at the past couple of weeks and say all hope is gone. I could crawl into myself and withdraw from all relationships and just give up. I would be lying if I claimed that this did not cross my mind. But do you know what else happened this week? I saw ripples of the divine, I conversed with people who for the first time in a while realized that there really are people who care about them because people came to talk. I was able to hear stories of how little seemingly small actions thirteen years ago rippled to a point where hope was remembered when they thought hope was gone.
We stand at a cross road like every generation that has come before us and every generation that will follow us until the end of ages. We must make a choice. Will we allow the lifestyle of sin to reign in our lives or will we live something different. Will we give up hope and allow the lawless one to take hold of our community or will we say not while I am around. Will we take up the lifestyle of Christ and continue the kingdom traditions: Making it our custom to Worship in the Meeting places, withdrawing often to the isolated places to pray, and ministering to the need of those within our community? Will we stand firm through whatever trial the world throws at us and meet that trial with the love of Christ? The love that would get down on its knees and was the feet of those who would reject them and would lay down their lives for those who do not know what they are doing? Will we live lives of destruction or encourage lives of hope and reconciliation? Hold fast to the traditions you have learned, remember what is most important, and continue to walk with Christ. These are the words that Paul encourages his disciples to with. These are the words that we to need to grasp. Remember that no matter what happens, Christ will always win in the end because his victory has already been won.