Pastor Sherry’s message for November 8, 2020.
Scriptures: Jos 24:1-25; Ps 78:1-7; 1 Thess 4:13-18; Matt 25:1-13
Oscar Wilde once said: God likes to forgive, I like to sin; it’s a nice arrangement. His statement was meant to be funny, but like a lot of folks, he’s kind of missed the point, hasn’t he? We don’t just stand on our trust in God’s mercy—though He is wondrously merciful. As Paul writes in Romans 6:1-2…shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or as Peterson paraphrases it in The Message, So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? No, our response to God’s mercy and generosity towards us—His faithfulness to us—should be generosity and mercy we express toward others, and faithfulness we practice toward Him.
Our lessons today all revolve around the theme of God’s Faithfulness:
Our OT lesson is from Joshua 24:1-25. In this Joshua challenges the people—3 times—to remain faithful to God. He wants them to renew their covenant agreement with Godat Shechem, before he dies. He especially wants them to be mindful of avoiding idolatry. They did not kill all the tribal peoples living in Canaan, as they had been directed to do by the Lord. (Remember, God had given them the 400 years–while the Israelites were slaves in Egypt–to come to Him but they resisted.) So both God and Joshua realized they would either intermarry and adopt the idolatrous practices of their spouses; or they would be so intrigued with the sensual and often sexual religious practices of their pagan neighbors, that they would fall away from worshipping God.
In V.15, Joshua challenges them: Choose this day Whom you will serve…but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. In V.24, the people, united, say: We will serve the Lord our God and obey Him. However, over time, they prove faithless. They promise fidelity to God, but they fall into idolatry. Just as we promise fidelity in our marriage vows—agreeing to forsake all others—they were promising to forsake all other gods.
Psalm 78:1-7 is the introductory portion of an extended history of the people of Israel, from Moses to King David, from Exodus to 2 Samuel. The people repeatedly fail in their promise of fidelity, faithfulness to God; but God remains steadfastly faithful to them! Amazing! How many of us would remain faithful to a spouse who repeatedly cheated on us?
Our New Testament lesson is from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
Paul, the consummate church planter, is instructing essentially baby Christians on the Rapture! Paul was in Thessalonika less than a month. He left there, on his 2nd missionary journey, for Berea; then he journeyed to Athens; and then to Corinth. At Corinth, Timothy and Silas, who had remained behind in Thessalonika, rejoined him and brought him theological questions from that newly formed church. Since Jesus 2nd Coming had not yet occurred, they were worried that their friends who had died in the faith might have missed the rapture.
Paul had apparently already taught them that Jesus was coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead. They had learned from him that those alive were to be raptured. The word in the Greek is harpazoà it means the following:
 to catch up or grasp hastily;
 to snatch up;
 to lift;
 to transport;
 to rapture.
Paul apparently underestimated the length of time of the Church Age (what we are living in now, the time from Pentecost until now), and taught that the Rapture would be the next great event on God’s agenda for humankind. These sincere Christians were worried that their believing friends and neighbors who had already died were out of luck. “No,” Paul says!
In fact, dead Christ-followers will rise first! They will rise up out of their graves. They will be supernaturally pulled up to meet Jesus in the sky. Then, those of us still alive will meet Jesus in the air as well. It will be a fantastic and joyful “family reunion.”
The Left Behind series came out when I was in seminary. A number of my professors dismissed it, implying it was unscriptural. I read all the volumes and could see for myself that it was scripturally faithful and presented a plausible explanation of what might happen with the rapture. The protagonist is an airline captain flying a cross-Atlantic trip, and considering an affair with one of his stewardesses, when some passengers on his plane disappear. Crew members say purses and glasses and jackets were left behind on seats, but could neither explain nor account for what had happened to them. After all, they are in the air and no doors have been opened. When the pilot arrives home, he discovers his believer wife and son had disappeared as well. He is joined by his non-believing daughter and the two of them make their way to his wife’s pastor—funny that a pastor would not be raptured along with his flock! But I guess someone needs to be available to teach those others who missed being beamed up to heaven. As he searches the Bible and puts together what has happened, the pastor’s faith becomes solid. He is able to lead the airline captain and his daughter to belief in Jesus as well, but they all have to contend with the persecution of the Great Tribulation because they had essentially discounted Jesus.
According to Scripture, when we die, our body goes to sleep until the resurrection. In a sense, we lie down in death and stand back up, like Lazarus, when we are resurrected. Paul taught in 2 Corinthians 5:8 To be absent from the body [our Christian community and/or our flesh] is to be present with God. To truly understand the faithfulness and great mercy of God, we need to remember the cultural beliefs of the day:
- A Roman inscription found in Thessalonika read, “After death no reviving, after the grave no meeting again.”
- The Greek poet, Theocritus, wrote “Hopes are among the living; the dead are without hope!”
- The Persians taught that the dead become gray “shades” who sit about languishing, doing nothing, having no hope.
But, because of Jesus, we believers have hope! Paul writes in v.14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep [died] in Him.
If I may offer an additional point, it appears that the Archangel Gabriel will not be blowing a horn. I could be wrong, but as I read Paul and John, it is not an angel who will announce Jesus’ 2nd Coming, nor a trumpet. Instead, it will be the commanding voice of our Lord Himself, loud as a trumpet. The Gospel of John tells us He spoke creation into existence and, in Revelation 1:10, St John writes, I was praying in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet. When he turned, he saw the glorified Jesus. We also know that when He meets the forces of evil at Armageddon, He will speak a word or words, and they will be destroyed.
Because of God’s faithfulness throughout the ages, we can accept that this will happen as prophesized, as written. Since some 300 prophesies about Jesus have been fulfilled by Him, we can safely assume these end time prophesies will be as well. They also tell us what to expect.
Our Gospel Lesson, Matthew 25:1-13, contains yet another warning, this time from Jesus Himself. He tells the story of the wise and the foolish bridesmaids. The 5 wise ones come to the bridal procession with their own supply of oil. The lamps Jesus was referring to were like current day “tiki torches” with cloth wicks. They tended to burn out of oil in about 15 minutes. Oil, in this parable, is synonymous with the Holy Spirit.
So these wise bridesmaids were filled with the Holy Spirit and had a personal, heart relationship with Jesus Christ. The 5 foolish ones, on the other hand, act like they are with the program, but they lack the Holy Spirit.
They ask the wise maids to share, but it’s too late. They are not prepared for Jesus—the Bridegroom’s—arrival. Jesus says they will be left behind.
But don’t feel too bad for them. There will be time for them to come to accept Jesus in their hearts during the 7 years of the Great Tribulation.
These will be very difficult times, but they will also provide an opportunity for those who simply went through the motions of faith to truly come to Christ. The point of the parable is that we can be asleep (dead) or awake (alive), but either way, we need to be prepared for Jesus’ 2nd Coming.
Our God is faithful. Each of us needs to Choose this day Whom you will serve. Choose Him again each day! He said He is returning to earth again and we can believe it! Our preparation for His return is to remain faithful to the One who is faithful to us.
©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams