Wherever the Word of God is preached, inevitably there will be opposition. But adversity may bring thanksgiving and joy. The opposition St. Paul encountered in Macedonia resulted in thanksgiving and joy whenever people came to faith in spite of the opposition.
In an age when churches are shrinking and the world has ramped up its opposition, it is a joy to see that there are still some who believe. It is a source of joy for me, as it is for any pastor, to come before Christians who have taken the time to assemble to hear the Word of God, joy to stand before you who have believed the Gospel of God, the Good News that in Christ our sins are forgiven. You, like the Thessalonians and Christians of all ages, have received St. Paul’s Word as what it is: the very Word of God. You are on the receiving end of a great chain that reaches back all the way to our Lord. You heard the Word from your pastor who had been entrusted with that Word by pastors who had gone before him, who in turn had received that same Word from pastors who had gone before them, and so on, right back to the Apostles who received that Word from our Lord Jesus Himself. The transmission of that Word, from our Lord to you, is a great chain of life. And you have received that Word with faith, treasured it, and held on to it, and now, it is effectually at work in you. So you are blessed. Our Lord’s words are Spirit and life, and you have received them. You are blessed, indeed.
Of course, this is not always the case. The Word of God is often dismissed. We do it ourselves when we ignore the parts of it we don’t like. We do it when we reject a word of exhortation or rebuke from our pastor or another pastor who speaks the truth. We do it when we are tempted to turn our back on him and seek out a more congenial word, one that does not make us feel uncomfortable. And it is easy to do that. “That’s just your opinion, pastor.” If you haven’t heard that sentence yet, you probably will some day. But Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke Him. If he repents forgive him.” That’s not my opinion. That is the Word of the Lord.
Then also, the Word of God is often dismissed as a man-made word, a message devised by credulous Christians to deceive the gullible and superstitious. That’s the way it was framed by Paul’s enemies; that’s the way it was framed by the enemies of the prophets; and that’s the way it was framed by the enemies of our Lord. But, this should come as no surprise to you. You know how Paul was driven from Philippi and Thessalonica to Athens and Corinth. You have read the Scriptures. You know how much he suffered for the Gospel. And our Lord said this would happen. Our Lord Himself was persecuted, and if the enemies of God were bold enough to persecute our Lord, we should not be surprised if they also persecute us. But Jesus says we should not worry if that happens. He says, in fact, we are blessed when that happens. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
If you are a Christian, you should not be surprised if people revile you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely. In fact, if you think you have not been reviled, and are worried about it or are wondering about yourself because of it, I have good news for you. You have been reviled. If you were in church on Sunday, you will know that I mentioned that the National Post reported that the new Governor General has taken a “jab at the two thirds of benighted Canadians who believe in God.” You will also know that another prominent Canadian is reported to have said that “evangelical Christians are the worst part of Canadian society.” Those are strong words given the competition. And if you don’t think people will object to your being a Christian, all you need do is stand in front of Trinity Lutheran Church in Toronto during the Pride Parade on a Sunday and someone will revile you and insult you. Have no fear. It is unlikely that the Governor General will be able to belittle you personally, but someone will. And when you find that you are reviled and insulted, then rejoice and be glad. Remember our Lord’s words: “great is your reward in heaven.” If you find that you are suffering for the sake of Christ, you are no different than countless Christians who have gone before you and the myriads of martyrs who, even now, suffer for the sake of Christ.
St. Paul says that the Thessalonian Christians became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus which are in Judea when they suffered persecution for the sake of Christ. They were persecuted for Christ; thus, they were imitators of Christ.
There are different kinds of imitation. The enemies of Christ practice an evil form of imitation. For example, they pretend that same sex unions are marriage. They don’t want what God has given so they create their own imitation. Now they have begun to call it “equal marriage.” But they assume what they attempt to prove. Their presupposition is faulty. There are not different kinds of marriage. There is only marriage. And marriage is “a two-in-one-flesh communion of persons that is consummated and actualized by acts that are reproductive in type, whether or not they are reproductive in effect (or are motivated, even in part, by a desire to reproduce)” [Robert George]. Those who despise God’s order substitute an evil imitation. They do the same with compassion. Now midwives are petitioning the government for the right to perform abortions under the guise of compassion. Such things are evil.
St. Paul says we should be imitators of him as he is of Christ. Christ sets the pattern for us, not the world. But what he says here in 1 Thessalonians is different. Here he speaks of an imitation that is given. He says that the Thessalonians became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus which are in Judaea when they suffered for the sake of Christ. He says that the Thessalonians suffered the same things from their own countrymen that the churches in Judea suffered at the hands of the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove out the Holy Apostles. This is not something one can seek oneself. The churches in Judea did not seek this. They did not seek to suffer persecution unto death. But in this evil world, such persecution happens. It was rare in North America until now, but, as those poor people in Texas discovered on Sunday, All Saints’ Day, it is no longer unknown. People who claimed the name Christian were gunned down as they assembled for worship.
In such evil times, one wonders why the Prime Minister of Canada should seek to introduce into the House of Commons Bill C-51. Currently, the Criminal Code of Canada protects the rights of Christians to assemble for worship. It states that “Every one who (a) by threats or force, unlawfully obstructs or prevents or endeavours to obstruct or prevent a clergyman or minister from celebrating divine service or performing any other function in connection with his calling, or (b) assaults or offers any violence to him, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.” Likewise, “Every one who wilfully disturbs or interrupts an assemblage of persons met for religious worship…is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.” One wonders why, at a time like this, the Prime Minister would contemplate removing this provision. There is no good reason to remove it; it will not harm anyone if it remains. As the Honourable Rob Nicholson said, in the letter he sent our congregation four months ago, “the government will be removing the only provision in the Criminal Code that protects the rights of Christians to worship peacefully at a time when news stories are increasingly reporting attacks on religious communities in Canada.” One would almost think the Prime Minister does not value work of the Christian Church in Canada. One would almost think the Prime Minister does not value the proclamation of the Word of God. Given his support of immoral, anti-Christian activities that is not a great leap.
There is much opposition to Christ in the world today. But St. Paul says such actions displease God and actually oppose all men because they hinder the proclamation of the Gospel; they hinder us from preaching the Good News to those who do not know Christ that they may be saved. Thus they fill up the measure of their sins, and God’s wrath has come upon them.
Already we see that “the wrath of God has been revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth.” If you look around at the world today and then read the first chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, you cannot help but conclude that the wrath of God has been revealed against all ungodliness and wickedness of men. St. Paul says, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.”
“Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct.” St. Paul says they are haters of God and inventors of evil. “Though they know God’s decree that those who do such tings deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them.”
This is nothing other than sin, hard hearted sin and opposition to God and His Word. God’s wrath is the result. The hardening which had befallen Israel, to which St. Paul points in 1 Thessalonians, was God’s judgement on Israel’s unbelief and a foretaste of the final judgement, the wrath to come. And just as Israel’s unbelief was a foretaste of the final judgement, so the western world’s unbelief and rejection of God’s offer of salvation in Christ is a foretaste of the wrath to come.
Make no mistake God’s wrath will come, but thanks be to God Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10). Christ died for the ungodly. “God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.” All this is yours in Jesus whom you have received through the Word preached to you.
“Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and treasure it” (Luke 11:28). Amen.