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Author:Rev. Rinze IJbema
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Title:The night watch of the Lord
Text:1 Thessalonians 5:8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's faithfulness

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

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

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

international terrorism sure has reached one of it’s goals, when personal safety and national safety is priority number one for people all over our planet. Because when safety is such a priority, people show they are frightened. They are terrified because of the terrorism They are looking for a well-protected personal life. Where I live, if your neighbour is someone who speaks another language, you don’t feel at ease. And you want to be sure your family is safe. But not only on an individual level: whole nations are spending huge amounts of money on national safety. Soldiers from many different nations operate worldwide in order to guarantee peace and safety. And every now and then new weapon systems are introduced to enforce peace. Safety.

The Bible itself offers us a new weapon system, to protect you completely. Or better: the Bible tells us there is Someone who is able to offer you real protection. Who can render you invulnerable. His name is Jesus Christ. He wants to protect you against the Terror itself, the devil. Or should I say: He wants to protect us against ourselves? Because it is for a reason we begin every Sunday morning service with a confession of sins. We thereby admit: it is dark in this world of ours, not because Satan made this world a dark world, but because we ourselves are responsible for the disappearing of the light of the Lord. But this is the good news: daylight will return, and until it returns, you can find safety, and you can find peace, in Him. That’s what the sermon is about, this afternoon.

It’s going to be kind of a military sermon, about soldiers and warfare. You probably expected something like that, when we red 1 Thessalonians 5 verse 8. It is a picture of a soldier, drawn before your eyes. A soldier, like a Roman soldier you might know from your history-books. Or a soldier, like from the army of Alexander the Great. That great king was born near Thessalonica, some three or four centuries before Paul wrote his letter to the congregation in that city. So it will be a military sermon. Yet, it is not only about might nor only about power, but about the Spirit and about your spiritual attitude and attention. Because your attitude is more important then your gear, and being in attention, being vigilant, more important then your weaponry. Just take a look at what the weapons actually are: faith, hope, and love. Be vigilant, that’s the message of Paul for the congregation of the Thessalonians. Be vigilant, that’s my message to you.

We live in a dark world and we have to stand guard. It is night and you are the watchman of the Lord. So this sermon is about us, being the night watch of the Lord. It is night, Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5. And we have to stand guard during that night.

The theme of the sermon is: the night watch of the Lord.
  • First point of the sermon: Salute!
  • Second point: Present arms!
  • Third point: Stand easy!

Theme of the sermon: the night watch of the Lord. Salute, present arms, stand easy.

1. Salute: everybody knows what a military salute looks like. A salute is a sign of respect for someone higher ranked than you. Salute, the general is coming! Or, in Roman times: salute, the Emperor is coming! In Paul’s days, an Emperor ruled the Roman Empire. And every citizen of the empire saluted the Emperor. Because every citizen was well aware: the Emperor in Rome was in person the guarantee for peace in the Roman Empire. And peace there was, in the days of Paul. The peace of Rome, it was a concept with it’s own name: the ‘Pax Romana’, the peace of Rome. And after the yearly State of the Union/Throne Speech the people had to say: it will be a year of peace and safety again. Peace and safety. These exact words were used to describe the state of the empire, and Paul uses those words, because everybody knew what they meant – but Paul criticizes the concept: ‘While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly.’

Destruction? Indeed: destruction. The peace and safety of the Roman Empire are not real peace and safety. That is the message Paul has for the Thessalonians. Even Roman peace is not true peace. Human peace is not for real. That already was the message of the prophets of the Holy Scripture throughout the Bible. Listen to the words of Jeremiah: ‘They [the untrue prophets and priests] dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace.’ Listen to the words of Ezekiel: ‘Because they [the false prophets] lead my people astray, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace.’ This is an ongoing warning in the Scriptures, the warning against false, human, peace. Apparently, that is what people are like: they are too easy to satisfy, with peace that is not peace for real.

If that is true, we should be able to recognize this attitude in our own times, and even in our own lives. Well, in our days, people are not saying ‘peace and safety’. They talk about danger and war. Any State of the Union/Throne Speech of our days is about the threat and instability of the world. It truly is night in our times. Yet, where do people look for safety? Where do nations look for stability and peace? You see individual people buy a weapon to protect themselves. You see nations form international coalitions for a war on terror. Now I am not a politician, so who am I to judge what nations do or what people do. But I am a minister of the word of the Lord and the Bible tells me about our human race looking for peace and safety – yet they only find shallow peace and unstable safety. Human peace and human safety.

But pay attention now. And salute our general, our king, the Lord Himself. In the light of His eyes our well planned strategies for peace and our human measurements to guarantee safety disappear like morning clouds. Salute, because He is coming and His day is coming. Pay attention to the signals of the coming of that day. Because He is coming, like Isaiah says, in chapter 58: ‘He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene.’ And again: ‘From the west, men will fear the name of the LORD, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory. For he will come like a pent-up flood that the breath of the LORD drives along.’ Pay attention, for He is coming. Salute Him, when He arrives.

Salute Him, but do not fear. Because we who belong to Christ, we belong to the light.
That day of the Lord, that is to come, that day will be our day as well. When you find shelter near Jesus Christ now, you may know you will be safe when the Lord comes and when His day comes. Just like Rahab in the Bible. You probably remember her. She lived in Jericho, this strong city of peace and safety. But then the Lord came and turned this stable city upside down. Yet Rahab was truly safe, because she had found shelter near the Lord. Stand at attention, salute Him, and fear no more.

2. Then we come to our second point: present arms! Present arms? I just proclaimed the power of the Lord – how come I now speak about a show of our weapons? What power of human beings can exist alongside the might of the Lord Himself? You are right, our weapons have no strength at all, compared with the holy power of the Lord. And that is the exact reason why Paul in 1 Thessalonians mentions those specific weapons: the breastplate and the helmet. Those weapons are weapons of defence. Weapons of protection. A breastplate, an armour, is meant to protect you from deadly injuries. A helmet you wear to prevent your head being severely wounded. Indeed, when I say: ‘Present arms,’ I cannot speak of our power, our readiness to come into action, as if we have to mobilize ourselves. These Bible words speak of weapons of defence.

Of course we know somewhere else the Bible speaks about those weapons of faith. In Ephesians chapter 6 those weapons are also mentioned by Paul. And not only those weapons; he also mentions aggressive weapons, in Ephesians chapter 6. But right now we are speaking about Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, not about his letter to the Ephesians. What we see is that Paul in this letter purposely chooses to talk about weapons of defence only. There is a tactical reason for him to do so. You have to be well protected, before you go into action. But there is also a theological reason. That is: justification goes before sanctification. The Lord has to be merciful to you, give you forgiveness, give you His Spirit, before any good action can come out of your hands.

So first come the weapons of defence, of protection, of mercy. Just look at the names Paul gives to both weapons. The breastplate is the breastplate of faith and love. The helmet is the helmet of hope, hope of salvation. Here we are. If my defence depends on the protection of my faith and love, I would have been killed a long, long time ago. Of course I don’t know the state of your faith, but isn’t it weak, often? No problem for the enemy, to shoot his flaming arrows right through it. Just like my love, my love for the Lord and my love for my neighbour: it is so vulnerable. Not to mention this helmet of hope. Of course we hope on the Lord, but often our hope is this small. With such a helmet, I’m virtually unprotected. Present arms? I have nothing to show…

Let us again pay attention to the only One who is our strength. Let us look for protection near the Lord, take shelter close to Him. Let us look at His weapons. Maybe our weapons will become stronger in the light of His power. Let us listen to what the prophet Isaiah tells us about the weapons of the Lord. Isaiah says: ‘He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head.’ Those are the exact weapons Paul mentions in Thessalonians, the weapons that should protect us. But we have to understand that these words, these weapons fit the Lord first, before they are carried by us. The Lord Himself is carrying these weapons, when He comes into action. This breastplate. This helmet.

It is a pity we cannot see the image Isaiah saw. But by his words, we can still feel the power of his vision. Something really powerful is happening. He sees the Lord, the holy God Himself. His righteousness is His breastplate. No arrow, no missile can harm Him. Because the Lord is righteous in all His deeds; there is no weakness in anything He does. His righteousness, it is a matter of His heart. He will be righteous at any cost. And salvation is a matter of His head, His helmet. We know: where the enemy appears, destruction is near. But when the Lord arrives, He comes with peace, with salvation. When the Lord presents His arms, the Satan has lost already.

So what is then the connection between these arms of the Lord and the weapons we have? This is the most important part of the message I want to bring to you this afternoon: your breastplate of faith and love reflects His breastplate of righteousness. Your helmet of hope reflects His helmet of salvation. When the Lord comes, He comes as the righteous one. We are not righteous in ourselves. But in faith we find shelter in His righteousness. Our love for Him is the love for Him who saves us. So your breastplate may be thin or almost non-existent. He protects you with the breastplate of His righteousness. Just like this helmet. My helmet is a helmet of hope. Hope of what? Hope of His salvation. ‘He put on the helmet of salvation on his head.’ I am protected by the hope of His salvation. Do you understand? ‘Present arms.’ Don’t think you have to show your own power. His righteousness and His salvation are your protection.

And now I want to tell you how to keep your weapons ready. You know, when you have a gun, you need to clean it, you need to keep it in good condition. And you know that when you go hunting, you need to be alert. This counts for the spiritual warfare too. You have to keep your faith, your hope, your love in good condition. First by reading and studying the Holy Scripture. That’s the only way to understand what faith and hope and love is in the eyes of the Lord. And your weapons are useless if you don’t know how they work. Scripture tells you what faith and hope and love are like. Now, to study the Scripture, you have to come here, you have to attend church services. And the ministers of the Holy Word have to instruct you. Not drill instructors, but faith instructors. Instruction. And you have to instruct one another. That’s the point of bible study, within your families, within your Bible study groups. Instruction. That’s one thing.

I must admit, I am worried sometimes about the quality of this instruction. Of course I don’t know what it is like in Chilliwack/Winnipeg, but I know the situation of some other congregations. What I mean is: during summer, there are no catechism classes, less bible study groups, so there is less instruction. On Sundays there is, of course, in the Sunday services. But that’s it. Now I have to be fair. I also know that a lot of families use the summertime to spend more time together, to talk together, also to talk about faith, to study the Bible. I have to be fair: I know of several Bible study groups of younger church members, who keep coming together bi-weekly. I hope you understand my point: when you have a summer break, enjoy it, but don’t let it interrupt your Biblical instruction.

Instruction is one thing, practice the other. How to keep your qualities as a soldier in good order? By practicing. Practice your faith, by constant prayer. Practice your hope, by singing the Psalms and praising the Lord. Practice your love, by loving, loving the Lord, loving His Church, loving your neighbour. Your love, your hope, your faith, needs practicing. So keep practicing.

3. The last point of this sermon. The theme of the sermon is: the night watch of the Lord. First point: salute the King. Second point: present arms. Third point: stand easy. Stand easy. This is important, because I don’t want to send you home with the idea that you have to do it all by yourselves. This war you can’t fight by yourself, much less, win it. You have to start with surrendering yourself, your life, to Christ. Stand easy. Find the peace and the safety of your life within Him. Start every week of your life with Him. Start every day of the week with Him. Only then you can stand guard. Only then you can be a part of the night watch of the Lord.

But do you know there once was one night, when none of us stood guard for Him? Do you remember there once was a night, when He kept watch alone? It was the last night before His death. His disciples, His closest friends, had fallen asleep. But He was awake and well aware of the war He had to fight. Look at Him, how vulnerable He was. Nobody there to put faith in Him anymore; the love of the Lord seeming far away; no hope for light at all. Unarmed, He appeared, no breastplate to see, no helmet, to protect Him from the attacks of the Satan. His night watch: to be awake all alone during the pitch dark night.

But do remember that daylight returned. The devil with all his might tried to destroy our Lord Jesus Christ, yet he failed. Why? Well, you know our Saviour. ‘He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head.’ How Satan wished to crush His head, to wound Him in His heart. But he could do no more harm, than to hurt His heel. And the day will come, that Satan’s head will be crushed. Than things will again be the way the Lord always wanted. The night will disappear. ‘”Let there be light,” and there was light.’


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

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