Monday, November 11, 2013

Proper 27 of Series C (2 Thessalonians 2:1-8, 13-17)

“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago, from the second chapter of Paul’s second letter to the Church in Thessalonica. Dear friends in Christ: do not be disturbed by what anybody tells you about the end times. Many false prophets have gone forth, and they will continue to go forth, pointing to signs, predicting the end, stirring you up. They sell books by the millions, they peddle their complicated calculations, they set dates, and when they are wrong, they quietly recede back into the shadows, leaving many Christians deceived. The Thessalonians were stirred up by a letter claiming to be from the apostles, and Paul writes our text to calm them down: “We ask you, brothers, to not be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.” Speculation on the end of the world has been going on long before Paul wrote these words, and it will continue until the end itself comes. The false epistle read by the Thessalonians is just one of many falsehoods to come (you can find many more at Barnes and Noble). But don’t listen to any of that noise. Do not be disturbed by words that don’t come from God; turn to the Scriptures to know what is going to happen at the end.

The Scriptures are clear: the end is coming, Jesus will return. That is the promise of the resurrected One, the One who cannot lie. He will come at an hour that no one expects, like a thief in the night, and when He comes, He will send forth His angels to gather in the saints. The Scriptures are also clear: before Jesus returns, before the glories of that great Day, this world will get far worse. “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.” Do not be deceived: the man of lawlessness is coming. Elsewhere in Scripture, he is given this title: the antichrist. Do not be deceived; he will come, and he will bring great evil with him.

The man of lawlessness “opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” He will set himself in the very temple of God; he will exercise his influence within the Church, and there he will deceive many into sin and unbelief. The rebellion led by the man of lawlessness won’t be a rebellion against governments but a rebellion against God, a turning away from Christ to antichrist, a great apostasy from the true Church to the one sitting in the temple of God. Do not be deceived! The man of lawlessness will be a leader in the Church; his threat comes from within the bride of Christ, seeking to corrupt and destroy her. He will speak convincingly, he will even do miracles, and he will lead many away from the true Christ to worship him. The end times will be filled with earthquakes and famines, wars and rumors of wars, but the greatest threat is the spiritual threat, the great apostasy brought by the man of lawlessness.

Do not be deceived, stay on your guard! The man of lawlessness, the antichrist, is coming, and he will seek to carry you and me into sin and destruction with him. If history has been filled with people predicting the end or claiming to know the signs that the end is coming, then there has been an equal amount of ink spilled trying to identify the antichrist. And some have been closer to the truth than others. The Lutheran confessions correctly find that in their time, the office of the papacy can only be described as antichrist, since the papacy set itself in the place of God by claiming that Christians cannot be saved without it. Others have suggested political or religious leaders of all kinds. Each generation has seen those who fit the description, but only God knows who is an antichrist, and who is the antichrist, the ‘man of lawlessness’ who comes before the end. Do not be deceived; our task isn’t to identify the man of lawlessness, our task is to stay clear of his influence.

Paul tells us that “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.” We don’t know when the man of lawlessness will come, and we don’t know who he’ll be, but we do know his spirit, the mystery of lawlessness, is already at work among us. Do not be deceived into sin by the serpent’s oldest question, “Did God really say?” Do not be deceived by the mystery of lawlessness, which explains away or defangs the law, saying that its commands are outdated or don’t apply to you. The mystery of lawlessness searches for loopholes, it finds the law flexible, seeing gray where the law is black and white. Do not be deceived by the serpent’s lie: “You will be like God.” The mystery of lawlessness wants us to call the shots, to determine right or wrong for ourselves, finally to worship ourselves in place of God; its goal is to lead us to sin, unbelief, death, and hell.

Do not be deceived, the mystery of lawlessness holds great sway in our world; even if the man of lawlessness has not yet appeared, he has many followers who hold sway in every generation. The threat is real, and it is terrifying, for the man of lawlessness is after your soul, and he will destroy your body to get at it. Those who refuse to worship him, who refuse to join him in his lawless, sinful ways, will suffer. Lawlessness is never content until all are lawless. The last days will be days where it will be terrible to be a Christians, as we experience persecution on a scale never seen before. Today we have it pretty cushy as American Christians, but we have the guarantee of Scripture that persecution is coming, that persecution will come before the end. The only thing holding back the man of lawlessness is the work of Christ Himself. Paul tells the Thessalonians, “You know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time.”

Do not be disturbed, Christ restrains the man of lawlessness through the work of the Church, the proclamation of His Word of forgiveness throughout this world. Jesus tells the disciples that because of their preaching, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven.” The preaching of forgiveness defeats the mystery of lawlessness, it delivers us from the evil that seeks to lead us into unbelief and destruction. The power of the man of lawlessness is the power of sin’s bondage over you, and Christ’s Word of forgiveness, spoken through the Church, breaks those bonds. The Absolution casts Satan from heaven, Christ’s Word defeats the one who leads us into sin by forgiving that sin. Do not be disturbed, the power of Christ’s Word is the power that protects you from anything that the man of lawlessness or the mystery of lawlessness can do to you.

This fight is not ours to win. Do not be disturbed, it is Christ who fights with us and for us against lawlessness. The fight is His, and the victory is His. The man of lawlessness, the antichrist, will come, and his deception will be great, but his defeat is sure. Paul calls him the ‘son of destruction;’ he will be destroyed, because he has already been conquered. Christ fought this enemy, and He triumphed, for He defeated all evil upon the cross when He paid the price for your sin. Do not be disturbed; Christ has won the victory over all who hate us! The devil, and his ally, the man of lawlessness, are enemies crushed by the power of the cross. There Jesus won the victory, there Jesus struck the serpent’s head, there He robbed death of its power, forgiving all sin. There the law was fulfilled on your behalf. He went to battle for us on that Good Friday, and He won the victory—the empty tomb proves it! The man of lawlessness can rage all he wants; he is a defeated enemy, he will be destroyed. Do not be disturbed, the victory remains with Christ.

Paul tells us that at the end, “the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of His mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of His coming.” Christ will simply appear, and the man of lawlessness, along with all sin, all evil, and death itself, will be destroyed. The man of lawlessness will rage all he wants in the latter days, but his days are numbered; when Christ appears, he will be killed by the breath of His mouth, and the saints will be delivered, set free from his power forever. The fight is not ours to win; the fight is Christ’s, and the victory is Christ’s. When Jesus appears on the clouds, when the final trumpet sounds, your victory has come, and Christ will gather you and all the saints from the corners of the earth to dwell with him forever.

Do not be disturbed by the events of the last days. Much of what Scripture teaches us about the last days is disturbing and frankly terrifying, but Paul leaves us with comfort, with confidence, with the assurance of victory despite all that we experience. “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this He called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Stand firm, you are chosen by God in Christ. You are the chosen, the elect, the Baptized, called to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. Stand firm in that identity, do not be disturbed as this world hastens to its end. You are Christ’s forgiven saints, and you have the sure and certain promise of an eternal inheritance.

Stand firm, the same power that holds back the man of lawlessness until the proper time is the power that will destroy him in the end: the power of Christ, the power of His Word. Cling to that Word in these latter days. “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” We can only find comfort and strength in the coming tribulation and persecution by clinging to the Word, to Christ’s forgiveness. We are prepared for the Last Days by studying that Word, by receiving the Absolution, by eating and drinking Christ’s Body and Blood. Christ gives us His grace precisely for these latter days, to strengthen us, to comfort us, to bless us. “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” Amen.

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