1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 (Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 24)
“Turn from Idols”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
October 22, 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Epistle lesson recorded in 1 Thessalonians 1:
1Paul and Silvanus and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, grace to you and peace. 2We give thanks to God always concerning all of you, constantly making remembrance in our prayers, 3remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and your labor of love and your patient endurance of the hope of our Lord Jesus Christ. 4We know, brothers, loved by God, that He chose you, 5because our Gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and in full certainty, just as you know what sort of men we were among you for your sake. 6And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, when you received the word in much affliction with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8For from you the Word of the Lord has not only sounded forth in Macedonia and in Achaia but in every place, your faith in God has gone out so that we have no need to say anything. 9For they themselves report concerning you what sort of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus, the one who rescues us from the wrath to come.
Paul wrote in his letter to the Church in Rome, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). This fact is wonderfully illustrated for us when we see what the Gospel word accomplished during Paul’s and Silas’ visit to Thessalonica in Acts 17. “Now . . . they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ’” (Acts 17:1-3 ESV). In about three weeks’ time, the preached Gospel was used by God the Holy Spirit to persuade “some of them.” A great many devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women also came to saving faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
However, the story does not have a happy ending at this point. “But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus’” (Acts 17:5-7 ESV). Paul and Silas were sent away in the night.
Can you imagine? You are a missionary along with Paul and Silas. You’ve had a mere three weeks to share the Gospel. Incredibly, the Gospel power of God has done what it promises to do—create saving faith in the hearts of those who hear! But there is great turmoil. This new-born congregation of Christians exists in a totally hostile environment. You’ve been run out of town because it is no longer safe for you to be there. What will happen to this little flock? Will persecution be their undoing? Will they abandon the Gospel of Jesus Christ to save their own lives?
This is the burden Paul and Silas carried with them in the weeks and months following. There were no Facebook statuses or Twitter updates to keep the Apostle informed. But at some point, Paul received news—good news—from the Thessalonians. Their faith in Christ, despite persecution and affliction at the hands of their neighbors, was the talk of the whole region! The Thessalonians had followed Christ’s and the apostles’ examples by suffering persecution gladly for the sake of their faith. They had not returned to the worship of idols. By the working of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, they had been turned from idols to serve the living and true God, waiting in faith for the Son of God, who was raised from the dead, to come again in glory to rescue them from God’s wrath because they stand now in His righteousness and in His forgiveness. As a comment in The Lutheran Study Bible puts it, “The Thessalonians became model Christians in words and deeds due to the impact of the Gospel in their lives and the fruit of the Spirit demonstrated in their faith, love, and hope” (note on 1:2-10, 2052). Can the same be said of us?
The Gospel has turned us from idols to serve the living and true God. The Gospel has created within us saving faith in Jesus Christ as God’s Son, our Savior. This faith receives the gifts of Christ’ saving work—forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The Gospel is then our power source for living the Christian life as we have been called by the only true God to live, according to His commandments. And first and foremost of those commandments is that we have the Triune God alone as God.
Just like the Thessalonians, we too have “options” when it comes to our choice of a deity. The Thessalonians could have returned to the worship of the Roman gods—Zeus, Aphrodite, Ares, and so on. But they did not. They turned to God from idols to serve Him who alone is the one true God. Now, the gods of ancient Rome really don’t float anybody’s boat today. So as far as deity’s go, we’re perhaps more limited in “options.” There is the god of Islam, Allah. There are the gods of Hinduism. There are always the god of the sun or the god of the rock or the god of the tree. But those are not likely to be where you and I would turn. Rather, whatever we set our hearts on and put our trust in is truly our god.
Idols, false gods, do exist today and they vie for our attention, our trust, and our worship. “Many a person thinks that he has God and everything in abundance when he has money and possessions. He trusts in them and boasts about them with such firmness and assurance as to care for no one. . . . So, too, whoever trusts and boasts that he has great skill, prudence, power, favor, friendship, and honor also has a god. But it is not the true and only God” (Large Catechism I.5, 10). What, then, are your idols from which you must be on your guard and be turned away from by the power of the Gospel?
In other words, in what or whom do you trust above all else? If it is not the one, true God, repent and believe the Gospel; receive the forgiveness of your sin and serve again the living and true God. In what or whom do you trust most for financial security, physical safety, or emotional support? If it is not the Triune God, repent and believe the Gospel; receive the forgiveness of your sin and serve again the living and true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Do you expect only good from God in every situation, or do you worry, doubt, complain, or feel unfairly treated when things go wrong? If you do not expect only good from God, then repent and trust in the Gospel; receive the forgiveness of your sin and trust ever more firmly in the living and true God who richly and daily provides you with all that you need to support your body and life. And is your love for and trust in God evident in your daily living? If not, repent and trust the Gospel, the power of God for salvation, which empowers you to live with true fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Receive the forgiveness of your sin and live for God in Christ in the power of the Word and “in the Holy Spirit and in full certainty.”
Your certainty is the gift of Holy Baptism. Your certainty is the cross of Christ, whose gifts you receive in Baptism. Jesus, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true Man, born of the Virgin Mary, is your Lord. He redeemed you from your idolatry. He purchased and won you from all sins, from death, and from the devil’s power with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. Through the water and word of Baptism, Christ has claimed you as His own. He has poured out the Holy Spirit into your hearts so that, by means of the Gospel, you might live and serve the Father through the Son in the power of the Spirit as the only living and true God.
That’s the Gospel, the Good News message, that the Thessalonians received from Paul and Silas. That Gospel changed them from sinners to saints, from idolaters to those who fear, love, and trust in the only true God alone. News of the Thessalonians’ faith, love, and hope rooted in the Gospel spread far wider than their immediate environment. And I believe that the same can be said about us. By the power of the Gospel, we have been turned from idols to serve the living and true God. We have been given saving faith, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. We have been recreated by the Gospel Word through Baptism to be servants of the Lord in what we say and do and in how we say it and do it! Even though we might never hear it personally, we can be confident that, because you as individuals and together as a congregation share the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen again, that your Gospel witness makes a difference in the lives of others. God’s Word never goes forth in vain. It always accomplishes the purpose for which He sent it (Is. 55:11). And that purpose is always the saving of people, rescuing them from the wrath to come, by bringing faith, forgiveness, life, and salvation to everyone in Jesus’ name.
By His grace, the Lord gave to the Thessalonians a victorious life empowered by the Gospel of our Savior, Jesus Christ. He has turned us from idols, forgiven us our sins, and created within us a new life of faith, love, and hope. Continue to pray that our Lord would make us exemplary witnesses for the Gospel so that His name may be glorified far beyond our community and many more people be turned from idols to trust in the living and true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.