Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Thought for the Day 31/03/21 - Is Easter the time to change the curtains?

Listen to the AUDIO here. (Click the link).

My mother always used to change the curtains at Easter.

The curtains were there in winter to keep out the cold from the single-glazed windows of my coal-fired valleys home.

It was a spring-cleaning thing, a freshening up thing after the long cold, dust generating heating season to take down and wash the winter curtains and replace them with lighter, brighter curtains for the summer. It cheered everyone up.

There was a seasonal preference in soft furnishings in our house ... and the change-over happened at Easter, at the decree of my traditionally authoritative Welsh Mam: ' I think we'll change the curtains', she'd. Everyone was galvanised into action and a well-practiced family enterprise sprang to life.

It wasn't actually the dawn of Pasradise, but it certainly perked everyone's spirits up!

And that first Easter, at the Jerusalem Temple, soft furnishing changes were also instituted ... by a far higher hand even than my Welsh Mam's!

'Paradise'

What if I used the word 'Paradise'. 

Did that bring up a mental image for you then?

Was it palm trees and sandy beaches?

Was it hiking in the high hills?

What do YOU think of as Paradise, and how to you think you might get access to it?

Of course, this all assumes you would want 'Paradise'. Some seem to want to stay exactly were they are ... but it's an dea that's stuck around for a LONG time, going back to the most ancient civilisations. 

Life on earth seems marred by the broken-ness of Creation, and as Milton long for Paradise Regained, so have most people from primeval times.

And our Verse for the Day sounds as if it's about soft furnishings, but it's actually about opening up Paradise.

So what's all this stuff about a veil?

Though the tearing of the veil is described in all three Synoptic Gospels in Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38 there in our verse & Luke 23:45 ... none of them stops to explain it!
Maybe the point was clear to the first century reader, but it's not so clear to us, so what are we going to make of it?
This veil, described first and most fully in descriptions of the tabernacle, was made of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim worked into it by a skilled craftsman (Exodus 26:31 & 36:35) 
It was hung to screen off the holy of holies (Exodus 26:33) and this veil served to separate the holy place from the holy of holies (Exodus 26:33) and shielded the hottest, holy spot of God's presence on earth, the place where once a year the atonement for the people's sins was made. (Exodus 26:34). 
The rabbis describe this veil as fairly forbidding ... saying that it was four inches thick!

Shutting off the hot-spot of God's presence on earth

Entry behind it was permitted only for a ritually pure priest, Aaron or a descendent, who would enter behind the curtain on the Day of Atonement. 


When Solomon had the Temple constructed , it says,

"He made the curtain of blue, purple and crimson yarn and fine linen, with cherubim worked into it.

                                                                                     2 Chronicles 3:14

Those are royal colours and there were Cherubim worked into it. These Cherubim are REALLY not Valentines Day 'cherubs'!

And we met them before in the Bible in connection with 'Paradise'.

You read about it right after the Fall, when mankind's rebellion against God first began.

"the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. 

He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live for ever.’ 

So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 

After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden 

cherubim and 

a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life."

                                                                                                 Genesis 3:22-24


Those Cherubim on that veil in the Temple were there to guard the way to the red-hot hot-spot of the presence of the One Who becomes a dangerously holy God ... dangerous to sinful people whose sins aren't covered.

What happens in the Verse for the Day is that this guard set on the presence of God is removed, as the torn veil opens it out  ... and the Holiest hot-spot presence of God, decorated with art that evoked the Garden of Eden, was opened ... access to Paradise was being restored on the Cross.

Eden opened ... access to Paradise restored

The passive-voice construction “the curtain of the temple was torn” (Matthew 27:51) implies that God himself tore the veil. 

This is confirmed by the description of the damage: “from top to bottom.” 

Notice also the extent of the destruction ... it was totally torn: Scripture says “torn in two.”

The angelic guardians are disarmed, from top to bottom, and re-entry into the Paradise presence of God is again lay open again ... for the first time since the Fall.

The Point

As He atoned for sin ... paid its' price and therefore took away its penalty for all who would turn from sin to  trust and follow Him ... Jesus opened access to freely relating again to God, which is the feature that made Eden the original Paradise.

The Takeaway

In Eden humanity walked with God free from its labours in the cool of the day.

As Jesus dies on the Cross He pays the price of sin's separation from that soul-restoring presence of God.

And that is the central benefit for Christ's followers of His sacrifice.

Christian life is life lived consciously and in our experience in that restored presence of the Holy One.

Is that a reality we cherish and  practice, and if so, how do we show it?



Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Thought for the Day 30/03/21- even the sun turned its' face away


The last UK total solar eclipse was on 11 August 1999 and we aren't due to see another one from Britain until 23 September 2090.

During the last total solar eclipse in 1999, many flocked to Cornwall – the only place in the UK to witness totality, meaning the skies went completely dark.

I confess I was there, up a hill with a lot of people in long hair, purple baggy pants and sandals, grooving (we did that then) to the drumming and watching the sun disappear.

What you don't realise when you just read about eclipses is that it deeply affects the whole of creation.

The birds stop singing as if it's twilight.

The sheep turn away from their daytime grazing (in slight confusion) and they start to head back to safe lying places for the night.

Confusion in Creation quickly comes into play

Things way above the earth are WAY out of whack when the sun goes out, and you can tell just by looking around. 

Even when you know what's coming and are prepared for what's going on, this sort of event is surprisingly unsettling.

And that's the thing. 

These castastrophic-seeming events in the cosmos - even when you're aware of the astromomy - really force you to sit up and realise something really momentous is going on.

And there Jesus hangs on the Cross ... and the lights go out as the Creator, along with Creation, seemed to turn a sorrowing face away from the Saviour.

Something awful is going on there, and the signs are that the awfulness that's happening is resting, and settling, on the Son.

Here's where our Verse for the Day today comes in:


"From noon until three in the afternoon 

darkness came over all the land."

                                         Matthew 27:45





Now the big thing to notice is this: this event has parallels to something that the Old Testament calls the Day of the Lord.

Let me show you darkness in the day of the Lord.

Darkness in the Day of the Lord

  • The prohet Joel visualised the coming Day of the Lord like this:


"... the earth shakes,
    the heavens tremble,
the sun and moon are darkened,
    and the stars no longer shine.
11 The Lord thunders
    at the head of his army;
his forces are beyond number,
    and mighty is the army that obeys his command.
The day of the Lord is great;
    it is dreadful.
    Who can endure it?"

                                                       Joel 2:10-11


The Lord is clearly there coming to conquer the sin-sourced chaos in Creation, but there are  things there that have only begun to happen as Christ deals with sin at Calvary ... there's a lot more there than just the sky going dark ... clearly there were more things to come.


  • Amos visualised the Day of the Lord like this:



"The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: ‘I will never forget anything they have done.

"‘Will not the land tremble for this,
    and all who live in it mourn?
The whole land will rise like the Nile;
    it will be stirred up and then sink
    like the river of Egypt.
‘In that day,’ declares the Sovereign Lord,
‘I will make the sun go down at noon
    and darken the earth in broad  daylight.
 I will turn your religious festivals into mourning
    and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth
    and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son
    and the end of it like a bitter day."
                                                   Amos 8:8-10

Did you notice that again? There's more to come that didn't happen yet but Calvary's  there too with the darkening of the sun!

What we read of in Matthew 27 at Calvary is a partial fulfilment of the Old Testament's Day of the Lord.

Those three hours are a foretaste of what's coming


It really is not yet the whole lot of it ... there are things mentioned there that in the account of what happened at Clavary quite simply have not happened yet.

It looks like the Lord's made a start on it, but there is a lot of stuff still to come ... check that out in what Jesus says about what to exprect in Mark's Gospel chapter thirteen:

"in those days, following that distress,
‘“the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light; 
the stars will fall from the sky,
    and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”
"‘At that time people will see the Son of Man 
coming in clouds with great power and glory. 
And he will send his angels and gather his elect 
from the four winds, 
from the ends of the earth 
to the ends of the heavens."
                                                       Mark 13:24-27
                                                  

Calvary's darkness was incredibly REAL, but in fact was only a three-hour foretaste of the great day of the coming victory of God.


The Point

Something astonishing happens to the sunlight at Calvary.

It's more exceptional even than it looks because astronomically the movement of the planets was such that they couldn't have caused a solar eclipse - a natural one -  on that day.

Something huge was happening in the Heavens to show that Heaven will be coming, as the price of God's victory over sin, death and hell was getting paid on the Cross and that is glorious!

Its a foretaste of what IS coming.

But realising the gains awaits another day.

That'll be the day Christ returns to banish sorrow and sighing, tears and death.

We have the promise and the evidence of it, but until that future day comes, brokenness is still real in Creation.

Full healing is actually in the atonement, but only in the future of the atonement ... not yet.


The takeaway

It's GLORIOUS what Christ hasdone on the Cross.

But we need to be realistic about what Christ has done, and what yet remains for Him to do.

The partial realisation as yet of His banishment of sin, suffering death and tears is pointing forward to what's yet to come.

But if we expect more than He's promised of that in the here and the now, we'll end up adding to the pain and the brokenness of the present time as furstraion casts doubt on the reality.

The darkness shows us the Day of the Lord was being inaugurated ... but its' full realisation awaits a day in the future.

And until then, where that leaves us is this: we praise Him for all that is past, and we trust Him for what's yet to come.

If we can pray with you about any of this, please feel free to use the contact form below.


Monday, 29 March 2021

Thought for the Day 29/03/21 How coud you possibly DO that?!


There was just too much human on human abuse, vioence and hatred in the radio news programme I was listening to this morning.

  • Countries whose troops were gunning down multitudes of their own citizens in the streets.

  • Boys abusing and raping girls in our schools.

  • Fears about end-to-end encryption being rolled out on more social media sites because of the much increased opportunities for sexual predators to groom children for abuse.

It leaves you thinking doesn't it, how do people ever manage to DO such things to other people, do you think?


De-humanising a human enables the predatory process

When we were still able to travel freely I stopped off one day on the way back from a trip to some French ram sales at a place called Falaise in Normandy the birth-place of William the Conqueror.

It was a great place to visit and I didn't realise the town had recently proudly opened the Museum of the French Resistance there.

My uncle had married into a family that lived through the Nazi occupation of France, that had been prominent in the Maquis, the French Resistance, and my aunt had two parents (one killed in the conflict) both awarded the highest French civilian honour for their efforts.

You can imagine that the museum was place I wanted to visit but it was a salutary place to visit.

I couldn't imagine how people could do these awful things to people, until I stood for a long time and read a set of letters in a showcase from a German soldier. 

These were ...

Letters home from an ordinary man


He'd sent these letters home to his wife about shooting day after day hudreds of civilians (men, women and children) as a member of a Nazi firing squad. 

He described how he'd found it hard to shoot the first few ... children ... but that he reminded himself these were vermin, less than human, and that as he continued to view them like that the task got easier until he really didn't mind it at all.

He got used to it.

And THAT's how atrocities happen

The image of God in mankind needs to be pushed from your sight, and then any human can inflict evil on another.

The fundamental enabling feature of the enabling of atrocities is the lie that this person isn't created as the image of God.


So that Easter week, to stiffen their own resolve to commit their terrible deed ...

The legionaries humiliated the King


In the words of our verse for the Day:

""Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ they said."

                                                                                                   Matthew 27:29

So what on earth is going on here?





Let's drill down into the full story:

Matthew 27:27: "Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers round him."

The Praetorium was an intimidating place ... the Roman governor’s official residence. 

It was the regional hub of the Evil Empire's tortuous operations with it's large echoing halls and hard surfaces it oozed threat, menace and institutional evil.

That 'the whole company of soldiers' that gathered around Jesus thranslates 'a cohort'. This was a hostile group of trained killers numbering 5-600 men. And they weren't gathering around Him for autographs.


v. 28 "They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him"

The scarlet robe probably refers to a military garment that was cheaply dyed in contrast to expensive royal purple, but it resembled the robe of a King

Evidently the soldiers were doing this to Jesus as a form of mockery because the charge was that he was a king.

v. 28 "Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ they said."

Mocking, de-humanising, de-imaging Jesus as the image of God which His words and deeds and Old Testament prophecy fulfilments, as He taught all around the countryside, had so clearly indicated that's Who He truly was!

The soldiers were building their self-reinforcing lie to steel themselves to their terrible purpose.

It was obviously taking some doing, because they weren't even finished with that task yet.


v. 29 "and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head." 

The soldiers' purpose would have been to mock Jesus’ claim to be a king; the crown of thorns would have represented the “radiant corona” portrayed on the heads of rulers on coins and other artifacts in the 1st century.

The crown may have been made from palm spines or some other thorny plant common in Israel, but the botany's not really the point. 

They were reinforcing their mockery and their de-humanisation of Jesus, but in placing the crown of thorns on his head, the soldiers were unwittingly symbolizing God’s curse on humanity (see Genesis 3:18) being placed on Jesus's  head. 

Again, they are debunking Him in their own minds in order to be able to do what they were going to have to do to Him. 

To steel your nerve and re-inforce your will to crucify a preacher was obviously proving a bit of a challenge to them ... especially when even Pilate himself knew that there really was no basis for  a legal charge against Jesus.

v. 29 "They put a staff in his right hand"

You may have seen these things in old epic films of Rome ... the Emperor and his minions carried one of these staves as the symbol of Imperial authority. So they found a reed to put in Jesus's hand to mimic that to mock His Palm Sunday claim to be King, something they next went on to make explicit. 

v. 30-31 "They spat on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 

 After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. 

Then they led him away to crucify him."

Did you notice that last point that's being made there?

Once they'd de-humanised the Lord Jesus, after they had mocked Him, in their own minds they felt enabled to get on and crucify Him.

The enabling power for evil of the de-humanising myth


It takes a lot to mentally prepare yourself to commit such an atrocity to another human being ... but if the history of humanity teaches us anything, it's that de-humanising someone makes us capable of anything. 

And that's how the things that were on the news this morning, and the atrocities I read about in the Museum at Falais in Normandy are able to happen, in reality.

But there is a fascinating postscript to this story, though, and it comes from the execution detail themselves and the centurion supervising the crucifixion of Jesus.

The postcript

"When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus 

saw the earthquake and all that had happened, 

they were terrified, 

and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God!’

                                                     Matthew 27:59

In the goodness of God, the lies they'd told themselves were debunked in the end, 
and we see even Christ's executioners brought to repentance and faith
(Could you IMAGINE having THOSE guys in your congregation?!)

The Point

If you remove the fundamental belief that a human life has worth as created in the image of God, then human nature is sinful enough for ordinary family men like the soldiers and like that German soldier in France an ordinary family man writing home to his wife and his children ... to do almost any sort evil to another.

It is in order to address the realisation of that capacity for evil which lives and writhes in the heart of every person that the Lord went through the mockery and de-humanisation that day, as He walked to the Cross.

The Takeaway

On social media, in our homes, in this world today let's be mindful of the Royalty of Jesus so WE don't end up de-humanising or diminishing Him ... and let's be diligent in seeing His image, even in those who get in our way during this day.

On the other hand if you wish to reject Him, the way lies open to you by de-humanising and mocking Him.

The light at the end of that tunnel though is this: even the people who mocked and de-humanised Him so they could bring themselves to nail Him to the Cross, even they lay within the scope of His mercy ... and no doubt to their own great amazement, would shortly be sitting in Church.




Saturday, 27 March 2021

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 - Living in the Light of Christ's Return

 AUDIO

I.      Introduction

The Thessalonians are doing really well in so many areas of their lives.

But they hadn't had a picture-perfect start to the Christian life.

The apostolic team had needed to move on quickly before their task of adequately instructing and establishing the new church was properly finished in order to protect the new believers from any further pressure because fierce persecution had broken out at Thessalonica.

This letter is trying to remedy that problem.

The things the apostolic team have had to address for them, in terms of answering their questions, have mainly related to the Lord's Return ... what we call the Second Coming.

The Thessalonians had received incomplete teaching before the team had needed to leave rapidly for the new church's future safety, so they'd learned that the Lord Jesus was coming back but their questions related firstly to what to make of the believers who had already died before the Lord returned ... and last time the apostolic team addressed the question as to whether thosew deceased believers had somehow missed the bus.

Now in the following passage at the start of chapter five the apostolic team needs to address the question: 'Well if Jesus is coming back then, it's been a while so where IS He?!'

'Could you please supply some times and some dates, so that we can be sure to be ready?'

Oh, some people do LOVE ‘mysteries’ don’t they?

I mean … offering ‘insights’ and ‘answers’ to things God hasn’t given us plainly to understand.

There are people – possibly they want to feel more ‘special’ than they do naturally – who DELIGHT in what you might call ‘esoteric knowledge’ … knowing things other people don’t know and they absolutely LOVE letting little nuggets of that assumed knowledge drop as if to boost themselves up.

Now … you can see already can’t you that there are likely to be issues, then, with all this.

It’s a phenomenon known to psychology as esotericism or esoterism.

So what the apostles are keen to remind these Thessalonians of so that they don’t get side-tracked and distracted from the things that really matter is that this fascination with hidden things is just futile.

As for times and dates of the Lord’s Return ... it’ll be a surprise.

II.     It's going to be a surprise, vv. 1-3

The phrase at the start of v. 1 shows us there’s now been a change of subject.

We’ve moved on to dealing with times and with seasons, and that subject is done and dealt with pretty swiftly.

a)   Times and dates

"Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you”

Dates and times - days and seasons – this phrase refers to phases on a timeline.

So we read in Ecclesiastes 3:1There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens”

It seems likely that a few shaken folk at Thessalonica might have been slipping into thinking that perhaps Jesus wasn’t coming back and so were seeking to know the specifics … which would have been a distraction from daily faithfully living for Jesus.

The apostles are having no truck with it!

We don’t even need to write to you about it, they say, because as you well know it’ll be a surprise … like an unexpected thief in the night.

Now, this problem had arisen from the Lord’s own time onwards.

The Olivet Discourse in Mark 13:4 was initiated by the question ‘Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?’”

Similarly, Acts begins with the question (Acts 1:6-7) “Then they gathered round him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’

He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’

The Lord reconciles the enquiry in Mark 13 in this way:

Be on guard! Be alert!

You do not know when that time will come. 

34 It’s like a man going away: he leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

35 ‘Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or at dawn. 

36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 

37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!”’

 

The apostles’ aim is clearly though, in all this talk of times and seasons, to re-focus the Thessalonians’ question the way the Lord did with His disciples on the exceptional future single event which really matters: the Day of the Lord and THAT is going to come with all the forewarning of a thief in the night, and living always in readiness and preparedness for that.


b)   Like a thief in the night

 

 v.2 “for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”

Two things here in particular

i) The Day of the Lord

The day of the Lord is the period of time in the future when the Lord will intervene in the events of this earth to consummate his redemption and his judgment.

You can read about it in numerous places in Scripture, but try Isaiah 2:11-12; 13:6-13; Ezekiel 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:32; 3:18; Amos 5:18-20; Obadiah 15-17; Zephaniah 1:7-18; 2:2-3; Zechariah 14:1, 13, 20-21; Malachi 4:1, 5; 1 Corinthians 1:8; 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; and 2 Peter 3:10 for example.

It's a BIG thing … unlike all this speculating about times and seasons the Thessalonians were getting distracted by.

Biblically, it includes both blessings and curses, though the latter is emphasized here.

But it will come SUDDENLY.

 

ii) Like a thief in the night

Jesus used a thief coming at night as an illustration of the unexpected and hostile nature of the coming of God’s judgment in the future.

This is repeated in various ways in v. 4; 2 Pet 3:10; Rev 3:3; 16:15

iii) Like the sudden onset of birth-pains


Childbirth in the first century was a risky business and the large number of women who died in childbirth lowered the average life expectancy of women down into their twenties or thirties.

So the first onset of a woman’s labour pains might therefore easily be the harbinger of death.

But this feature actually follows on from something else we need to notice here, as v. 3 tells us that the coming of this Day of the Lord will make monkeys of the ‘relax, it won’t happen, everything’s fine’ brigade.

c)    Soothings-sayers will be exposed

Listen to this and think about what’s going on here …

v. 3 While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety’,

destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman,

and they will not escape.”

What are the apostolic team GETTING at here?

Well, it looks at first as if Paul & co are tapping in to the sort of language we hear from the Old Testament prophets in (for example) Jeremiah 6:14 or Ezekiel 13:10.

Ezekiel 13 is all about the responsibility God placed on Ezekiel to condemn the wayward prophets of Israel.

Ezekiel 13:10-11 runs: ‘“Because they lead my people astray, saying, ‘Peace’, when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, 11 therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall.”

Ezekiel 13:15-16 says:

I will pour out my wrath against the wall and against those who covered it with whitewash. I will say to you, ‘The wall is gone and so are those who whitewashed it, 16 those prophets of Israel who prophesied to Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her when there was no peace, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”

 

Now, in more recent years, there has arisen the suggestion that the background to what Paul & co are saying is not in the Old Testament but in the slogan ‘peace and security’ that was used in support of Roman power and protection … a source of ‘security’ towards which Paul is of course, by nature, quite skeptical!

It has to be said that we haven’t actually got any archaeology for that precise slogan, and the idea hasn’t been universally accepted by scholars, but given the culture in Thessalonica and given the background of these people and the context of having lost loved ones and been shaken by it, it seems well within the bounds of possibility to me that this was all about not running off to the sooth-sayer.

But we can’t put it (yet) more strongly than that.

Th day of the Lord is coming (no peace where it doesn’t exist) and it’s going to come upon people unexpectedly so far as times and specific dates are concerned.


So, it is going to be a surprise, but you are not going to be surprised – that is ‘caught out’ -  by it.

And that’s for a very good reason …

III.    But you are not going to be 'surprised', vv. 4-5

 

So what’s happening now, to be clear, is that Paul & co are now rapidly switching from a purely temporal view of ‘days’ and ‘nights’ to an ethical one of being ‘day’ or ‘night’ people.

And here’s the reason: “The believers live on a different plane of existence than the people of the world” says Gary Shogren.

 

a) You’re NOT in the dark

v. 4 "But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.”

The Thessalonians are walking in the light of Gospel understanding.

The light metaphor here has its Biblical sense of entry into the realm of salvation: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)

So the apostles’ Gospel work is to carry ‘a light for the Nations’.

Paul describes to King Agrippa in Acts 26:17-18 how the Lord had told him at his conversion on the Damascus Road: I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”

They don’t need to be written to about times and seasons, nor about the facts of the faith concerning preparedness for the Lord’s return.

The Thessalonians understand this.

They are (largely, it appears) the gentiles who have been brought out of Gentile darkness into the light of the Messiah.

They know that they need to live now by grace through faith alone and to do so everyday so that they are ready (like the ten wise virgins in the Lord’s parable) for the bridegroom’s sudden return even if it happens at midnight.

Now, at this point, Paul is still dealing with ideas but he is about to move off into the ethics of light and dark people, because what follows from all this is that …

b) You are by nature and ethics daylight people

 v. 5a “You are all children of the light and children of the day.”

The Thessalonians are not night people, but day people … and that’s where their security lies.

This is where the apostles clearly transition to an ethical statement about two kinds of people … one safe and one not … those associated with night and darkness and then those associated with the day and with light.

What we’ve got here is classic dualistic imagery.

Throughout the Old Testament, night and darkness are used as metaphors of hidden-ness (Job 12:22, 29:3), ignorance and evil (Psalm 139:11-12), sin (Isaiah 5:20) and judgement (Amos 5:18)
And then light is related to revelation (Daniel 2:22) wisdom (Ecclesiastes 2:13) and salvation (Psalm 18:28).

As the Second Temple period unfolds in Judaism we see a more polarised concept of ‘light’ and ‘dark’ people emerge … you’re on the side of the light or the darkness.

Paul, too, embraces that in 2 Corinthians 6:14-16

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.

For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?

Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 

15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?

Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 

What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?

For we are the temple of the living God.”

You see, Paul is establishing the Thessalonians IDENTITY … but he’s doing that to influence their activity.

c) We BELONG to the illuminated zone

v. 5b  “We do not belong to the night or to the darkness."

Your identity, he writes, is to ensure that you live in the light and that’s a matter of living NOT in a strange place but living in your own native territory.

This discussion started with curiosity and speculation about the timing of the Lord’s return, but speculating about these matters is not a particularly spiritually fruitful endeavour.

Gupta: “Paul’s concern is with godly behaviour. For the Thessalonians, Paul desires for them to be prepared, to know what really matters, and to focus less on being ‘in the know’ and more on being ‘in the right’ in their behaviour”

So in vv. 6-8 the apostles are keen to move the focus forward …

IV.     Here's how to live your life in the light, BECAUSE He's coming  back, vv. 6-8

The emphasis here now progresses to disciplined living.

Paul has spoken the truth about the identity of believers in vv. 4-5 and now he moves on to the exhortations to live a particular  sort of life as a result of this.

The total picture portrays the kind of people (soldiers) who were recognised in society as being both disciplined and properly prepared.

v. 6 "So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.”

Paul is not BY ANY MEANS unwilling to point to the lives lived by the people walking in darkness to contrast that with the way these people of the light should be living.

This keeps a clear ethical distinction between what Christian and non-Christian lifestyles should be like and it is not tolerant or inclusive to do otherwise it is compromised.

We need to see that.

v. 7 “For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.”

Night is as night does, says Paul …


v. 8a “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober”

That verb translated ‘be sober’ occurs in vv. 6 & 8 and is (Gk.)  νήφω – to exercise self-discipline or self-control.

We need as people of the light to do THIS, says the apostolic team …

But then, before any misplaced pride or sense of personal moral superiority has any chance to spring up, the apostolic team go straight on to spelling out what being self-disciplined  depends on and entails … and it isn’t anything we can claim any personal credit for, but is all supplied by our Heavenly Quartermaster.

v. 8b “putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet."

The armour the Thessalonian believers wear consists of

I)                  Loyalty

II)               Love, and

III)             Hope

That triad of virtues first appeared in 1 Thessalonians 1:3, and now as the letter is moving towards a close, the team returns to these attitudinal and behavioural distinctives that ALREADY characterise the Thessalonians.


The breastplate is an allusion to Isaiah 59:15-17 where

The Lord looked and was displeased
    that there was no justice.
16 He saw that there was no one,
    he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm achieved salvation for him,
    and his own righteousness sustained him.
17 He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
    and the helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on the garments of vengeance
    and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.”


And then He goes out and executes judgement in the Day of the Lord.


The key to interpreting the genitives ‘breastplate of righteousnsess’ etc. is to be found in the LXX … where the Lord puts on ‘righteousness as His breastplate’.


So Paul is saying here the Christian’s breastplate CONSISTS of faith and love, while the hope of salvation is LIKE a helmet.


These are 'epexegetical genitives' which explain what the breast plate and the helmet metaphors refer to.

V.      Here's your motivation to be doing just that, vv. 9-10

 

v. 9 "For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath

 

but to receive salvation

 

through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

He died for us so that,

 

whether we are awake or asleep,

 

we may live together with him."

 

a) Salvation

 

c)     Atonement

 

d)     Life with Him whatever happens

Whether we are still living, or whether we have died before the Lord’s return, the fact is that we shall live together with Him.

Christian motivation is almost never about Law but arises from the inspiring consequences of the glorious Gospel of God’s GRACE.

VI.    Conclusion, v. 11

Here's what to do with that knowledge - and it emphasise the 'one another'-ness of the Christian life ... did you notice?

 

v. 11 "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."

A.       Encourage one another

The verb here is παρακαλέω … encourage, exhort, or possibly even comfort someone in profound emotional distress.

Paul also directs these Thessalonian believers to use this truth to build up or to edify one another.

B.       Build one another up

Gk. οἰκοδομέω means to actively promote the growth and strength of one’s fellow Christians.

Whether we’ve had this or not, we’ve certainly  NEEDED this in a pandemic.

Gary Shogren has something to say here which is incredibly profound:

“A proper use of eschatological truth is to benefit and enhance the spiritual life of other Christians.”

Encouragement and edification like this are great ways to express the familial love the apostolic team enjoin in 1 Thessalonians 4:9Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you,

for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.”

When you think of a lack of love, you shouldn’t think simply of beastliness being shown to one another.

I mean, the person who gets carried away with speculation about the last things and the person who falls into panics is likely to be distracted from loving others as they should.

If they would return to the Biblical truth that the time of the end cannot be calculated, they could enjoy again and spread around again what 2 Thessalonians 2:16 describes as the ‘eternal encouragement and good hope’ of the Gospel.

In this first letter to the Thessalonians that is precisely what they are doing, says Paul.

By 2 Thessalonians, they may not have picked up on what the first letter was teaching them and accordingly have slipped away, needing bringing back … so that encouragement in what is good needed to become correction.

No doubt there's a fresh principle to be learned from that too.



1 John 2:7-11 - Light and Love in a toxic environment

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