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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Comforted by Christ's Return
Text:LD 19 2 Thess. 1:1-12 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's return

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

192 - Unto God Our Savior

168 (Red) - Marvelous Message We Bring

370 - Day of Judgment! Day of Wonders!

176 (Red) Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending           

Dox: 488:1-2 - Now Blessed Be Jehovah God

Scripture: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12 (Page 1842);  Q&A 52                   

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Pastor Ted Gray  
“Comforted by Christ’s Return”
2 Thessalonians 1:1-12; Q&A 52
If you and I had lived in Thessalonica back in the first century, we would have known what trouble, persecution and hardship are all about.  It was in Thessalonica that a riot broke out when Paul and Silas first brought the gospel. Luke records, in Acts 17, how Paul and Silas escaped under the cover of darkness to Berea. 
Perhaps that is part of what Paul had in mind when he wrote to the persecuted church at Thessalonica, “Among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring” (v. 4).
But it wasn’t only those in Thessalonica in the first century who faced trials, ridicule, and persecution for their faith.  Life for believers in Christ has been hard in every era of time. Jesus Himself warned, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”  The truth of that statement, from John 15:20, was evident in the first century and continues to be evident in every century since.
It was certainly the case at the time the catechism was written.  There was a rift between the Roman Catholic Church and the newly formed Protestant churches.  Protestant comes from the word "protest."  The Reformers protested that the Roman Church had left the clear teaching of Scripture in a number of areas, including salvation by grace alone through saving faith in Christ alone.  They sought to reform the church to biblical doctrines and practices. But the rift between them was so great that many were martyred.
In addition to the warring factions in the visible church there was political conflict. The conflict was so great that it would lead Thirty Year War of 1618-48. During that time Germany, and the other lands in that area, were ravaged by famine and by plague.
With that background, the catechism begins in the first question and answer by stressing that Christians have comfort from Christ, even while enduring great trials and troubles. The catechism brings up that theme of comfort frequently. And we read of that theme of comfort again, in the answer to the 52nd question, “How does Christ's return ‘to judge the living and the dead’ comfort you?”
The concept of comfort at the second coming is something that only a believer can have. Many unbelievers scoff at the idea of Jesus returning to judge the living and the dead, but when they come to their own death bed, they are filled with great fear.
Consider Voltaire, the outspoken French atheist. When terminally ill, he begged his physician for more time on earth. He said: “I am abandoned by God and man; I will give you half of what I am worth if you will give me six months' life.” When his doctor told him it could not be done, Voltaire said, “Then I shall die and go to hell!”
Or consider Sir Thomas Scott, a member of the English Parliament who believed that religion was the source of all trouble. On his death bed he said, “Until this moment I thought there was neither a God nor a hell. Now I know and feel that there are both, and I am doomed to perdition by the just judgment of the Almighty.”
Those are just two examples pointing to an innumerable number of people described in Revelation 6. That chapter describes the second coming of Jesus Christ and the fear of all who have rejected Him. “Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  For the great day of Their wrath has come, and who can stand it?’”
Sometimes the intense fear of the unbeliever works its way into the thoughts and hearts of believers. Christians sometimes share a fear of the judgment. The devil is quick to accuse and is effective at slander, for when he lies he speaks his native language (John 8:44). Our conscience also often accuses us, which is good; it is a blessing from God who gave us our conscience to be a warning for us. And the Holy Spirit, who is our Comforter on the one hand, is also the One who convicts us of our sin, on the other hand.
Consequently, there are times when even the strongest Christian wavers, when even the strongest Christian may question the reality of his or her salvation. Thus, it is a real encouragement to have the catechism, as it follows Scripture, point out to us that we need not fear the judgment.  Instead, we find great comfort in looking forward to that awesome Day when Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead.
The catechism gives three reasons, each grounded and anchored in Scripture, why we have comfort as we await the final judgment.
The Judge Who Stood Trial in Our Place
The first reason given is that the One who will judge the world is the One who has stood trial in our place before God.  He has removed the curse of our sin from us.
That Christ stood in our place and took the judgment we deserve upon Himself, is clear from many Scriptures. Consider Isaiah 53:6, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” In a similar way, 2 Corinthians 5:21 summarizes the gospel in a nutshell: “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
To have someone stand in for you at a trial is a blessing that most of us don’t fully fathom. A colleague of mine had the unfortunate experience of going through an intersection that had a red light camera, when the light had just changed to red.  He received the ticket in the mail. There was no doubt about his guilt. The picture showed the intersection with the red light. The picture showed his car with his license plate in the intersection. The picture showed his face as the driver. He was clearly guilty and had to pay the fine. There was no one else to stand in his place; no one else who would pay the fine.
But it was nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to being in God’s court. We have all broken every one of His commandments. It is not as though we blew a stop sign here or there or went through an intersection when the light had just turned red. No, we have transgressed all the laws of the righteous and holy God who requires perfection from us. Matthew 5:48 records these words of Jesus: “Be perfect therefore, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” 
Yet none of us comes close to reaching that perfection. The question of the Psalmist in Psalm 130:3 has an obvious answer: “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?” None of us could stand before God, confident and unashamed, on our own. But the catechism, as it follows Scripture, reminds us that Jesus has already stood trial in our place. As the catechism puts it, “I confidently await the very judge who has already offered Himself to the judgment of God in my place and removed the whole curse from me.” 
Years ago, when the American west was being settled, wildfire whipped by the wind could spread across the vast prairies with devastating speed.  Any settlers caught in its path would be burned to death.  But the settlers learned that when they saw smoke in the distance and realized that they would be in the path of the wildfire, they must immediately start a fire where they were. Then they would gather all their animals and wagons, all their families together in the middle of the large burned area they had made.
On one occasion a frightened child asked what was going on.  “Why did we start a fire and why are we standing in the middle of this place where the ground is still hot and singed?”  
The child’s father replied, “Don’t be afraid.  We are standing where the fire has already burned. The wildfire won’t be able to harm us.  The prairie here has already been burned up.”
In a similar way, since Jesus has already stood trial in our place, we stand where the wrath of God has already burned. The judgment and the curse of sin cannot harm us because Jesus took the fire of God’s wrath upon Himself. As a timeless hymn put it:
On Him Almighty vengeance fell,
Which would have sunk a world to hell.
He bore it for a chosen race,
And thus becomes our Hiding Place. (Hail Sovereign Love, Jehoida Brewer, 1776)
Part of standing in our place includes having Jesus take the curse of our sin upon Himself. When Adam and Eve sinned this whole world and everything in it came under the proper and righteous curse of God against sin.  Every time you step on a thistle – walking barefoot in the summer in your yard – you should be reminded of the curse that this world is under. As the Lord told Adam, in Genesis 3:17, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you...” 
One of the most graphic descriptions of the curse of sin is in the Old Testament book of Leviticus. In Leviticus 18:25 the Lord says: “Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.”  No wonder Romans 8 describes how even the creation is looking forward to the Lord’s return because then “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21)
But, of course, it is not just the earth that is under a curse. You and I, being imputed with that original sin of Adam are also under a curse.  Galatians 3:10-14: “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, ‘The man who does these things will live by them.’  Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’ He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”
Enemies Receive Their Just Punishment
A second reason the catechism gives for our comfort when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead, is that all enemies of Christ and His people will be condemned to everlasting punishment. As the catechism, following Scripture, explains, “Christ will cast all His enemies and mine into everlasting condemnation…”
The Lord takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and neither do we. But we do find comfort in knowing that God will right all the wrongs. In fact, one of the definitions for the word “judgment” is to “make something right.”  On Judgment Day, Jesus will right all the wrongs.
As we read in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might on the day He comes to be glorified in His holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.”
It is always our prayerful desire that the enemies of God repent and turn in faith to Jesus Christ, just as Saul of Tarsus, convicted by the Holy Spirit, turned from being a persecutor of the church into a powerful advocate for the church.
But when the course of life goes on and those who have maligned Christianity - whether Voltaire or all the others who have agreed with him - die in their sins, we can take comfort that God as the righteous Judge will condemn them for their sinful, unrepentant ways.
In Psalm 73 we read a lament of Asaph as he asks, “Why do the wicked prosper?”  Asaph describes how it almost led to his downfall, “...As for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence.” (Psalm 73:2-6)
But then he writes later in the Psalm, “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surely You place them on slippery ground; You cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!  As a dream when one awakes, so when You arise, O Lord, You will despise them as fantasies.” (16-20)
There is indeed comfort, not in a vindictive way, but a righteous, proper comfort in knowing that rebellious unbelievers will receive what they deserve, and all wrongs will be righted at the final judgment.
Taken into the Glorious Presence of God
A third reason for comfort cited by the catechism is that when Christ returns He will take His chosen ones – those who by His grace have believed in Him – into the joy and glory of heaven. The catechism, following Scripture, assures us, “but (He) will take me and all His chosen ones to Himself into the joy and glory of heaven.”
The promise of heaven is put before us many times in the pages of the Bible. It is to our own detriment that we think of things on earth far more than we think on things in heaven.  Jesus tells us in John 14 to take comfort in our thoughts on the “many mansions” (KJV) in His Father’s house,  prepared for His people.  Paul tells us in Colossians 3:1 to “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Virtually all the other writers of Scripture focus our thoughts on Christ and the glory of heaven.
One reason they do so is because thinking on heavenly realities purifies our life on earth. 1 John 3:2-3 explains: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.  Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”
The more we focus on the second coming, the more we see our own unworthiness. But by grace we look in saving faith to Christ with the blessed assurance that He not only bore the judgment and curse of our sin in his death, but also imputes His perfect record of righteousness to all who have saving faith in Him alone. Although we are justified by His righteousness alone, we strive to live honorable, obedient, holy and righteous lives out of deep gratitude for our salvation.
Focusing on the second coming not only purifies us, but also instills within us great comfort. It assures us that God will take us, after we have suffered in this life, to be with Him in the glory of heaven. The Scripture that the catechism references is that familiar passage in Matthew 25:34 where Jesus says, “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.’”
Another Scripture referenced by the catechism is Philippians 3:20-21: “But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so they will be like His glorious body.”
And we must always be ready to meet Him. As Jesus said in Matthew 24:42, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” Although that day will terrify every unbeliever, every true child of God will rejoice in the second coming.
Jesus describes two dramatically different reactions to His return in Luke 21:25-28: “There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud, with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
How joyfully and eagerly we should look forward to the second coming!
By His grace and indwelling Spirit do you look forward with joy to the second coming of Christ? Do you find joyful comfort in the certainty of His return? Do you have the blessed assurance of salvation, through saving faith in Christ alone, that Jesus bore the curse of your sin and imputes His perfect record of righteousness to your account?
May that be a joyful reality for you and for me! May we take great comfort, in all the troubles of life, knowing that Jesus will return to receive us, body and soul, into the glory and joy of heaven! Amen.
Bulletin outline:
...on the day He comes to be glorified in His holy people and to be marveled at
among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our
testimony to you. – 2 Thessalonians 1:10
                                    “Comforted by Christ’s Return”
                                      2 Thessalonians 1:1-12; Q&A 52
I.  Q&A 52 teaches that as Christians we are comforted by Christ’s return because:
    1) The Judge is the One who has stood trial in our place before God. He has removed
         the curse of our sin from us (Galatians 3:10-14; 2 Corinthians 5:21)
    2) All enemies of Christ and His people will be condemned to everlasting
         punishment (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)
   3) Christ will take His chosen ones, those who by His grace have believed in Him,
        into the joy and glory of heaven (Matthew 25:34)
II. Our response: Believe (2 Thessalonians 1:10) and always be prepared (Matthew 24:42)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Ted Gray

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