1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 28—Series A)
“We Are Not of the Night”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
November 19, 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 5:
1Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you do not have a need to be written to, 2 for you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord is coming like a thief in the night. 3When they should say, “Peace and security,” then destruction comes upon them just like labor pain comes upon a pregnant woman, and they will surely not escape. 4But you, brothers, are not in darkness in order that the day should overtake you like a thief. 5For you are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor the darkness. 6So then let us not sleep like the rest, but let us keep watch and be sober. 7For those who sleep sleep at night and those who get drunk get drunk at night. 8But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet, the hope of salvation. 9For God did not destine us for the purpose of wrath but for the purpose of obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ 10 who died for us in order that, whether we are awake or whether we are asleep, we should live together with Him. 11For this reason, comfort one another and build up one another just as you are also doing.
Over the past two thousand years, there have been hundreds of predictions claiming when this present world would end. Guess what? They’ve all been wrong. Try and try as humanity might to satisfy its curiosity regarding the end of the world, people will always fail to pinpoint its date and time. The Lord Jesus has given us sign-posts that point to the End and His Coming Again. But these signs make it impossible to compute the exact time of Christ’s return with the purpose of keeping Christians constantly alert.
A tourist was visiting the castle called Villa Arconti in Northern Italy. A friendly old gardener opened the gate and showed the tourist the grounds, which the old man kept in perfect order. “How long have you been here?” the tourist asked. “Twenty-four years,” replied the gardener. “And how often as the owner of the castle been here during that time?” “Four times.” “When was he here last?” “Twelve years ago.” “Never since that?” “Never.” “Does he write to you?” “No.” “From whom then do you get your instructions?” “From his agent in Milan.” “Does this agent come out here quite often?” “Never.” “Who, then, comes here?” The gardener replied, “I am almost always alone—only once in a great while a tourist comes here.” The tourist remarked, “But you keep this garden in such fine condition and take such excellent care of all the plants, just as though you expected your master to come home tomorrow.” “Today, sir, today,” the old gardener promptly replied.
This answer made a deep impression on the tourist. How faithful that old man was to his duty! Day after day his thought was not, “Tomorrow the master may come,” but “Today, sir, today.”
Jesus tells us, “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming,” and “You must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:42, 44). Today, our Lord may return. We must be ready.
If you knew that a robber was going to break into your house at 1:17 a.m., what would you do? You’d stay awake and be ready for him, so as to not let him break in. You’d have the police standing by, ready and waiting to nab the crook! But robbers don’t give us an itinerary. Robbers come in the night (and even in the day) unexpectedly! So will the coming of the Lord Jesus be—“like a thief in the night”—surprising, startling.
The problem is that many, many people are unaware that the day of the Lord’s return is coming in this way, that the day of Christ’s return is going to happen at all. The Thessalonians were not among that group. They knew full well that the “day of the Lord is coming like a thief in the night.” But just like in our day, people saw their lives full of “peace and security.” People were living the way they wanted to live, doing what they wanted to do, and were completely comfortable doing so. Their peace and security was of their own making, the making of their sinful natures influenced by the devil and the world. Not very much different from today.
People live in sin as if living in peace and security. Doing “sin” is very comfortable for sinners. Even as Christians we are not exempt from the desire to return to the comfort of sinful pleasures, those things that are against God’s Word which we nevertheless so desire. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh tell us that it really shouldn’t matter who we move in with and who we have sex with, as long as we’re all comfortable and happy with it, never mind that marriage thing which God set up, in which is the only appropriate place for sexual activity. If someone wants to get drunk, abusing alcohol, the devil, world, and flesh are all for it. Don’t worry about any other people, just take care of yourself and your needs. No need to show love to someone else by helping your neighbor in his or her need. As long as you are happy and comfortable, living in a peace and security of your own making, that’s all that really counts.
Notice what is sorely lacking? Love for God and love for others. Living a life controlled by the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh is living a life that is all about “me.” The individual becomes their own god, that which is put first, worshiped, and from which the person expects all good things. It’s peace and security provided by the self, by the devil, and by the world. There is no knowledge of sin or punishment. There is no concept of disobedience to the God who is Creator and Lord of all. If there are no rules, then a person can do whatever they want without consequence. But that, Paul says, is ignorance. That is not knowing, or choosing not to know, what God has said in His Word.
It’s like living in darkness. Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (Jn. 3:19-20 ESV). Living in the dark, you cannot see what is around you or in front of you. You walk along and everything is fine and all of a sudden, bam! you walk into a wall. You’re moving through life at your pace, feeling satisfied, and in an instant, you’ve walked off a cliff that you didn’t know was there. The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. What happens when the Lord comes? The sinner walks into the dead end of God’s wrath and eternal punishment.
God’s wrath awaits those who do not know Jesus Christ by faith. God’s punishment awaits all who have not received the forgiveness of sins by grace through faith in Jesus Christ who died for all. However, Paul writes, “But you, brothers, are not in darkness in order that the day should overtake you like a thief.” There’s something different about the Thessalonian Christians. There’s something different about you Christians. “For you are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor the darkness.”
You have been taught the Word of God. By the power of the Holy Spirit, through Word and Baptism, you have received the gift of saving faith. That faith apprehends the gifts of forgiveness, rescue from death and the devil, life, and salvation which the Lord Christ won for you with His death on the cross and with His resurrection from the dead. How blessed you are to know this divine truth of grace! How thankful you are that you have received forgiveness and a new life in Christ so that you are no longer in the darkness of your sins. “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8 ESV).
Jesus Christ accomplished your salvation from the devil, the world, and your sinful nature. There is abundant forgiveness for all your sins, including those that you are comfortable with and like to return to. The Gospel empowers you to repent and to trust in Christ alone for forgiveness and the power of the Holy Spirit to amend your sinful life. St. John writes by the power of this same Spirit in his first letter, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:5-7 ESV). That’s the power of the Gospel. That’s the power of Christ’s blood that cleanses you and makes you new through the sanctifying power of God the Holy Spirit.
In His Word, the Lord has given you forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. He has given you the knowledge of His Son Jesus Christ by faith. That faith confesses what the Lord has given you, that Jesus will come again to judge both the living and the dead. He will come suddenly and unexpectedly. And like that castle gardener, you have been given a life of watchfulness and soberness by God through the working of the Spirit that says, “Today, my Lord may come. Today.”
By grace through faith, you have been clothed by God with the breastplate of faith and love. You wear as a helmet the hope of your salvation that is already yours in Christ. Romans 13:12, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” You are not people who lurk about anymore in the darkness of sin. At the zoo in Fort Worth, Texas, is a building where the tropical birds are kept. The hallway where the people walk is dark; the birds are in lighted cases of glass. All along each side of the building is a long case that looks like a tropical rainforest. Among the trees and rocky ledges the small, brightly colored birds fly. As people watch this, they eventually become aware that there is no glass between them and the birds. They could reach in and touch them. Why don’t the birds fly out? A sign above explains that the birds are afraid of the darkness, and when it gets dark, they go to sleep. They love the light and will not deliberately fly from the light into the darkness. You are people of the light, people of the day. You have been called out of darkness. You now love the light of Christ. You, as Paul writes in Ephesians 5, now “walk as children of the light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true)” and you “try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:9-20 ESV).
As Christians, you live a new life here on earth. By the power of the Holy Spirit, you love God and serve your neighbor all the while being ready for Christ’s return at any moment. You are well prepared for His coming again because you live not in the so-called peace and security of your sins, but in the real peace and security of Christ’s forgiveness and the new life of holiness given to you. 1 Peter 1:13, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Amen.