The day of the Lord
Sermon: Sunday, 28th February, 2021 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
When I was doing teacher training, part of the assessment included ‘crits’, which would involve a visit from a member of staff, who’d observe your lesson, and then discuss it with you afterwards, giving critical feedback. If you failed a ‘crit’ it was a serious thing. You might not get through the course.
Some of the ‘crits’ were scheduled but for some, you would never know when your tutor would arrive; that meant you always had to be ready. You always had to be prepared. This is, in miniature, an illustration of something much more serious, and something which not just trainee teachers, but every single one of us must be ready for, the Coming of Jesus.
One this day, the assessor is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Does that mean that we can relax back into our chairs and think, well Jesus will pass everyone ‘on the course’? No. He will not. His visit will not just determine our careers, but it shall determine all of eternity, and there’s nothing more serious than that.
The date of his visit is unknown to us, so we must always be ready for it. Some people are already ready for the visit, and are called ‘children of the light’. Tragically, there are those who are not ready, because they are in darkness.
1. Are you ready for the Day of the Lord?
God is informing and warning every single one of us that there is a future day coming when Jesus shall return to the earth, in order to do two things simultaneously: he will save his people, and he will judge those who do not know him. In this passage, it’s called the ‘Day of the Lord’.
The Bible speaks about it again and again. (see Acts ch 1:11 and Matthew 24:30) and Peter speaks also about it; ‘But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.’ (2 Peter 3:10)
In our passage today, Paul speaks about it. It’s obvious from this passage that we don’t know when Jesus shall return. It might be in 5 years or 500 years or 5000 years. Jesus is crystal clear about this: ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’ (Matthew 24:36) And in our passage today Paul is similarly clear, saying that it will come ‘like a thief in night’.
When burglars come, they try and catch you unawares. There’s no advanced warning. There’s no text saying: ‘I’ll probably pop round to steal your widescreen tv when you’re on holiday in July’. Paul is saying, it’s the same for the ‘Day of the Lord’. It comes suddenly.
Sure, many down through the centuries have made predictions, saying it going to be on ‘such and such’ a day. One of Martin Luther’s acquaintances, a monk called Michael Stifel, said the world would end at 8 am, on October the 19th, 1533. He was wrong. Many, many others have tried to predict it. A few weeks ago, one of my friends said, ‘I think it’s going to be soon’.
So, let’s be clear, when it comes to the timing of this great event, we are not given a date. And again, this means we must be ready now, for the Lord Jesus could return at any time.
The sad fact is, often people are unprepared for burglars. They come suddenly, like labour pains. Many have regretted having poor home security, but it is too late. It’s horrible to look back and wish we’d been prepared. We must make sure that we are prepared for Jesus coming back. Because if he comes back, and we’re not ready, it will mean our destruction (verse 3) – eternal separation from God.
The logical question must be, so how can I make sure I’m ready to meet Jesus? What will I say to him? In a nutshell, we must be among those people who trust in Jesus, and his death on the cross, as the basis for our forgiveness and salvation. You cannot be ready unless Jesus is your Saviour, and the one in charge of your life, your Lord. We see this in verse 10 of the passage: ‘He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.’
And we see it in many other places in the Bible too. ‘Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.’ (John 5:12)
Are you ready, were Jesus to come back now, or if you were to die, and be ushered into eternity? There’s no more important question you will ever be asked. Tragically, many people ignore the warning, and just say: ‘It’s fine. God’s not really going to judge the world. Just enjoy your life.’ They say ‘it will be all right’, but the reality is, ‘they will not escape’ God’s judgment, nor will they be ready. It will be too late for them.
I remember being on a beach with Sarah on the Solway coast, and she was warning me of the incoming tide. I said: ‘It’s fine, don’t worry, let’s enjoy a bit more time here’. I was sincere. I genuinely thought it was fine. But it wasn’t. There was danger on the tidal plain, and I had been warned.
But sometimes people ignore warnings. This reminds me of the true events of the Holocaust, outlined in Ellie Wiesel’s book Night. In June 1941 the Hungarian government expelled Jews unable to prove their citizenship. A man called Moshe is crammed onto a cattle train and taken to Poland. He manages to escape, saved by God, he believes, so that he might save the Jews of Sighet. He returns to the village to warn them about the death camps, running from one house to the next: “Jews, listen to me! It’s all I ask of you. No money. No pity. Just listen to me!”. But the Jews of Sighet would not listen. They do not heed the warning. They don’t believe that which was true, and it would have dire consequences.
We need to be people who heed God’s warning to us. Of course God is going to return to this world, and of course each one of us must give an account of our lives. Do you really think God is going to let us live any way we like, and will just ignore pushing him out of our lives, and rejecting his rightful rule in our hearts? We all have within us a sense of justice, that crimes deserve to be punished. Deep down, we know that includes our behaviour too. God will come and right all wrongs.
There will always be those who mock and disbelieve. Just like in the days of Jeremiah, when the Lord promised judgment, but some of the false prophets went around saying everything was fine.
‘The prophets keep telling them, ‘You will not see the sword or suffer famine. Indeed, I will give you lasting peace in this place.’ Then the Lord said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. It was the same in the days of Noah.‘ (Jeremiah 14:13-14)
The people were warned about the coming flood, but they just carry on with the ordinary things of life, totally ignoring the warning. (Matthew 24:37-39)
We can ignore God’s warning, and carry on living for whatever we are living for, but that does not change the reality that the Day of the Lord is coming, and if we are not ready, then we face eternal separation from God.
So, the question is this, when Jesus returns, and he will, will he be coming as your Saviour or Judge? Ignore the mockers, and make sure you value your soul more than the temporary and fleeting pleasures of this life. God tells us that they belong to the darkness (verse 5) and are ‘asleep’ (verse 6) in that they’re living as if there’s never going to be a Day of Judgment. They’re like the foolish virgin who are unprepared, and miss out. They are careless with the most precious thing we have: our souls.
2. How should Christians live in the light of that Day?
Well, we don’t have to guess. Verse 6 tells us that we are to be ‘awake’ and ‘sober’. Being awake, surely involves living our lives to please God, which is the best way to live anyway. It means living holding loosely to the things of this world, and storing up our treasure in Heaven.
Being awake means living a life of service to God, not motivated by guilt or trying to earn his favour, but living for him, because he loved us and gave himself for us. And it means living in the light of the 2nd Coming, knowing that it doesn’t ultimately matter what our friends and family think of us, but what God thinks of how we’ve lived our lives. Consequently, we make it our goal to please him.
There are times in lock-down living with teenagers when their days seems to be night and their nights day. Parents have been known to enter the bedroom, open the curtains, ignore the protests, and say, ‘Come on, it’s a beautiful day outside, get up and get going. It’s not the time for sleeping. It’s time for home learning. Yes!’ That’s really what Paul is saying here – if we trust in Jesus, we are children of the light now, of the day time, and it’s not appropriate to do what others do. We don’t belong to the night any more, and so those old practices must be snuffed out, whether it’s pride, sexual immorality, drunkenness, living for self, or being careless with our souls.
How should children of the light be living? ‘But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.’ (verse 8)
Just as we put our clothes on every morning, Paul wants us to put on spiritual clothes. How do we do that? We have to pray: ‘Lord, help me to trust in you at work today. Lord, please fill me with your love. Make me a forgiving person. Lord, help me to understand more of what you’ve done in rescuing me, and help me to live for you.’ Do you do that? Every day?
In fact, it’s not really clothes we’re putting on but armour! This reminds us the Christian life is really tough and we are in a battle. We’re surrounded by a vast majority who are focused on the here and now, and not on the things of eternity, and in many ways that is easier in the short term. Why can’t we just do what everyone else does?
And the Devil is real and knows our weak points. He wants to bring us down. Do we understand that the way we ‘put on’ this armour is through prayer? Do you really want to begin your days in prayerlessness, without the armour? ‘God, I’m just going to go through this day in my own strength’. That’s what we’re effectively saying to God when we don’t pray. ‘I don’t need you’. But we do. Friends, this involves some good old-fashioned discipline and habit. Getting up at a time when we can spend time with the Lord, in his Word and in prayer. We can’t put it on once a week!
As we close, let’s remember our responsibility to one another in the church: ‘Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.’ (verse 11) Here, the word ‘encourage’ speaks of urging one another, and in this context, we’re urging each other to keep on living as the children of light, and to keep putting our armour on to help up in our daily spiritual battles. Battles are tough, and just as soldiers need and depend on one another, so we must do all we can to pray for and practically help one another.
This isn’t a suggestion from God. It is our mutual responsibility to take care of one another. So, in the coming weeks and months, let’s think how we can help each other to live in the light of the Day of the Lord, and to focus on what matters, and not what is trivial. What can you do this week to build up another Christian in their faith? If you’re not a Christian yet, the urgent thing you need to do is to be ready to meet Jesus when he returns. And you can be, if you trust in him, and receive his offer of salvation!