The Gospel Opposition
I saw an impressive video clip going around Twitter this week again…I have seen this one before but this time someone had captioned it, “The way the church is supposed to work.” I have no idea in what country it was recorded…it is definitely not Michigan. In the video there is a large python snake…looks to be around 10 to 12 feet long and with a good 3-4 inch diameter; this is a big snake. This snake as has wrapped itself around a dog. In the video three kids come running, probably upper elementary to junior high age. One of the kids uses a branch with leaves to beat at the snake’s head. Pretty quickly the snake uncoils around 3 feet so that it can face the kid attacking it, but still has the dog tightly wrapped a couple of times. Another kid takes a larger branch and pins the snake’s head down and quickly moves in and grabs it right behind the head and starts pulling the snake away from the dog. The third kid immediately grabs the snake’s tail and unwraps it one loop and starts pulling the other direction so that snake can’t loop itself around any of them. The second kid then drops his branch, moves in to the dog and grabs twists the snake/dog combination until another loop comes free…at which point the dog is able to finally kick free and escape.
These three kids, taking on an overwhelming opponent to rescue that dog is a good picture for us to have in mind as we approach our text this morning.
We are returning to our series through 1 Thessalonians, picking up with verse 13 of chapter 2. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we have been following the celebration of the gospel life cycle as Paul has been unpacking it in this letter. Paul, along with Silas and Timothy, came to Thessalonica for the purpose of communicating the gospel to the people there. In the short time before they were driven out of town they were able to plant the seed of the gospel. see it sprout up on the lives of these new believers, and observe a new church come into existence. Having traveled back to the city to check in on them, Timothy has discovered that the gospel has continued to grow in their lives and is reproducing itself through them in other places throughout the region. This report has brought great joy to Paul, prompting this letter to the young church.
While Paul has been rejoicing in what the gospel is accomplishing in Thessalonica, he also took the opportunity in this chapter to refute some slanderous charges that had apparently been leveled against him by those enemies of the gospel who drove him out of town in the first place. Of course, even in the process of refuting the false charges, Paul’s passages are still rich with vibrant instruction for the church in Thessalonica…and because of the divine inspiration under which he wrote; these passages remain vibrant for the church throughout the ages, including for us here in First Baptist Church of Sterling Heights in 2019.
In the first 12 verses of this chapter, Paul has focused on the gospel message itself, the role that believers have to be messengers of that message, and the behavior that should exemplify these carriers of the message.
In our verses today, Paul segues into what messengers of the gospel should be prepared for as we carry the gospel message forward, faithfully doing our sacred duty.
Transition from introduction to body:
Let’s begin by reading our verses together…<read>
I am going to break this paragraph that we just read into three points this morning, but today I want to actually begin with a point found in verses 14 and 15…we will circle back to verse 13 later. The point that I want to begin with from verses 14 and 15 is that…
I. The Gospel provokes opposition, vv. 14–15
The Gospel provokes opposition. This is the first idea that I want us to lock on to this morning.
Sometimes we use the imagery of war in rather flippant ways. Someone plays a joke on us and we say, “This means war!” My wife is currently engaged in one of these types of battles at her workplace. One of her co-workers has been playing pranks on her through messing with her locker. For example, Grace went to the locker room one day at the end of her shift and found a large number of magnets—the flat kind that have an advertisement for pizza or something that we are to hang on our fridge so that we get hungry for that item every time we open our fridge. Anyway, she came to her locker at the end of her shift and found a solid row of these magnets running down the side of her door sealing it shut. She had to move all the magnets before she could open her locker. So…in retaliation, Grace brought in some early Halloween cobwebs and plastic spiders and decorated her co-workers locker. A day or two later, Grace discovered a plastic spider in her lunch bag…and the war continues.
We can use the idea of war in such a light-hearted manner, but I want us to be clear that when we are talking about the opposition that the gospel provokes it is not in any way this type of affair. Look again at verses 14 and 15…<reread>.
The Thessalonians were enduring real persecution—persecution that that little word “for” at the beginning of the verse ties directly to their faith in the gospel. Now, Paul doesn’t detail exactly what the persecution that they were suffering entailed. Rather, he reminds them that they are far from the first to have such an experience. In fact, by enduring their own persecution they were simply imitating the behavior of the earliest churches in Judea…they were not alone in their hardships. In fact, the persecution that they were experiencing aligned them with their Lord Himself as well as the prophets of old and even Paul, Silas, and Timothy who were violently driven out of town.
Yet, I want us to notice a few things beyond the individuals to whom their experience links them. First of all, notice the magnitude of the persecution. Paul doesn’t give any details but we can certain make inferences from the fact that he associates their experiences with others who were “killed.” The association to the Lord and the prophets only makes sense if they are experiencing the kind of physical threat that could result in death…after all that is what the church in Judea as well as Paul and company had experienced more than once. We are talking about serious danger here.
Secondly, notice that the source of the persecution. In the following verses that I plan to cover week, Lord willing, we will see that the ultimate source of this persecution is Satan—persecution is always the visible evidence of the spiritual warfare that Satan is engaged in against God, but here we see the immediate source of the persecution—their own countrymen—their neighbors, people whom they had known their entire lives in all likelihood. Such suffering is most disheartening when hand producing it is attached to one formerly considered an ally and friend.
Thirdly and most significantly, notice why this opposition was being experienced. These opponents hated the Thessalonians…as well as from a theological level, all men…because they were in rebellion against God—they had rejected the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.
Folks, the Gospel provokes opposition. We need to learn to accept and even expect that truth. We have talked about it before but it is worth stating again; here in America we have lived in a weird historical bubble for that past 200+ years…a time when Christianity has not been persecuted. It does certainly appear that that bubble is starting to pop as I think most of us are finding our heads spin a bit at the rapid culture change sweeping America that appears to be ushering in a sudden open antagonism to Christianity.
For example, Mattel has announced that it is coming out with a new line of gender-neutral dolls. The old, overly sexualized Barbie doll is now unacceptable because it assumes that young girls will desire to grow up to like beautiful Barbie. Instead, a new line of dolls is being launched which is designed to be completely gender-neutral so that the child playing with the doll can assign its gender during play. Of course, this doll will be much younger than the traditional Barbie as that is the only way in which the goal of appearing gender-neutral can be met.
We may be surprised by such a blatant move by Mattel, but let’s remember, their goal is to make money and not just a social statement; Mattel clearly believes that there is a market for such a product. In a society that is willing to buy this doll, what kind of reception do we expect to find when we boldly proclaim that the concept is completely nonsense? Yet, proclaiming the gospel message requires that we do exactly that because the gospel must communicate that God is holy and such a rejection of His image in His creation is a direct affront to His holy nature.
Still, we must remember that our persecution-free experience is the historical aberration, not persecution that might start to come. Throughout history, the church has been persecuted because of the message of Jesus Christ. All around the world today, believers continue to lose their freedoms, have property taken from them, and even lose their lives. We really have no reason to expect anything different since we carry the same message. And we too should expect the opposition to come from our countrymen: our neighbors, our co-workers, even our family-members when they reveal their rebellion against God by rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In verses 14 and 15 we see this first point, the gospel provokes opposition. Continuing on, in verse 16, the second point that we need to see, though, is that…
II. The Gospel determines eternity, v. 16
The Gospel really is a matter of life and death but it is not our life and death as Gospel messengers that ultimately hangs in the balance; it is those to whom we are carrying the message and it is not physical life and death that hangs in the balance; it is eternal.
Look at verse 16 with me again…<reread>
The point of expressed in this verse is so critical…eternity hangs on the gospel message. For those who hear and receive the gospel message, there is salvation. For those who resist and oppose the gospel message there is nothing but wrath to come.
Now, allow me to pause for just a moment to make sure that we have a complete understanding of what Paul is talking about here. When he says “wrath” Paul is referring to the end-times judgment which will be God’s divine wrath poured out upon all those who have rebelled against Him. Let’s boil this down to simple terms—Paul is talking God’s wrath upon sinners which finds its final expression in sending every person who has not accepted the gospel message to an eternity in hell.
Notice, the act of opposing the gospel message is the way in which these individuals are “always” filling “up the measure of their sins.” What means as one commentator carefully phrased it is that there is a well-defined limit of sin appointed by God’s divine decree at which point wrath becomes inevitable. So, when God does pour out His wrath it will always be upon those who fully deserve it because of their own sinful activities. In the case of these opponents in Thessalonica, Paul states that their opposition as brought them to the point were “wrath has come upon them to the utmost”…that’s how we have it translated in the NASB. This means that they have come to the point where he can speak, under divine inspiration, of this coming judgment in past-tense terms; they have progressed to the point where judgment can no longer be adverted.
Now we don’t have access to inspired pronouncements today, but we do recognize that Scripture teaches throughout that there comes a point where God renders a divine judgment upon people so that their doom is fixed—they will experience His divine wrath; they have filled up the measure of their sins completely. Now, we never know when that limit may be met, but the gravity of it is real.
Let’s pull up our point again. The Gospel determines eternity. Those who hear the gospel message of Jesus Christ and accept it may be saved; those who do not will face God’s wrath. Paul’s particular opponents in Thessalonica were Jews who were infuriated at the gospel message from two angles: 1) they rejected Jesus as their Messiah, agreeing with their brethren that His crucifixion was justifiable, and 2) they rejected the idea that God’s saving grace could ever be extended to the Gentiles apart from going through Judaism. Still, their rejection simply boiled down to rejecting God’s unique way of salvation, demanding rather the right approach God on their own terms…a rejection that worthy of God’s wrath.
Looking around this room I believe that every person here has heard the gospel message. You have heard that God is holy, but that you are not because you are a sinner. You have heard that God is just and must punish sin. You have that God is loving and sent Jesus to die for your sin. And you have heard that God is gracious and will forgive you if you accept in faith that Jesus did this for you because you could not save yourself. In other words, you have heard the gospel message…most of you many, many times. And yet, as I look out I am confident that some of you are heading for the wrath of God…you are heading for divine punishment.
Friends, eternity hangs in the balance. You may try to convince yourself that God does not exist; that you are too sophisticated to believe in such nonsensical myths. You’re a fool…the Bible says all you have to do is look around you to see that God exists. Call it what it is, you are opposing God. You may try to argue that you have never persecuted anyone. Yet, you scorn the message that all of us hold dear, mocking our faith. That may not be harsh persecution, but it is damnable opposition to the Gospel, nonetheless. I beg you to listen to these words and turn from your sins before your measure of sins if full.
Friends, eternity hangs in the balance…and the gospel determines eternity. Who are you going to beg to listen to the gospel message this week? Who are you going to plead with to recognize that Jesus is the only way to be saved? What are you willing to risk to share the Gospel? What are you willing to sacrifice so that someone can hear how to be saved? Some time? Some money? Some meaningless respect? We should be willing to risk it all, even life itself because the Gospel determines eternity.
The gospel determines eternity. That is the point that comes out of verse 16. Now, let’s loop back to verse 13 for one final point; that is,…
III. The Gospel invokes God’s power, v. 13
The Gospel invokes God’s power. I saved this verse for last this morning because when we think about the magnitude of the opposition that we can expect to face as we proclaim the gospel message and when we couple that with the eternal importance of the message, I fear that we could become so overwhelmed that our natural instinct to crawl into a hole and hide may kick in. Before that happens, it is absolutely essentially that we always remember what the Gospel is and what it does.
Let’s to this verse again and look at it closely as we reread it…<reread>.
Paul has faced the opposition that we have talked about…remember, he was driven out of Thessalonica by it, but rather than finding someone licking his wounds, here we find someone rejoicing. He is rejoicing because it is obvious that the gospel message had done its glorious work in the lives comprising this young church. In fact, it was obvious because these new believers had remained faithful to the gospel, unshaken in their new faith and even replicating that faith in other through proclamation of the gospel, even while experiencing persecution themselves.
Now, just to be clear; persecution itself does not prove that someone has saving faith in Jesus Christ. In the neighborhoods around us here in Sterling Heights it is easier than we might expect to find individuals who have been physically persecuted and driven from their homelands because they are associated with Christianity—big umbrella Christianity as a religion. That does not mean that these individuals know Jesus as their own personal Savior; that they have accepted the Gospel message.
What we need to see in this verse, though, is one very important fact about the gospel message. Two times in this single verse Paul makes the point that the gospel message that he and Silas and Timothy brought to Thessalonica was the “word of God.” The message was not their own words it was God’s words. And the Thessalonians recognized this truth and accepted the message for what it really was…the word of God. It is this word of God that had worked in them because the word of God invokes the power of God.
And look at the last phrase…the word of God always works in those who believe. Paul and the other men communicated the word of God as the messengers of God and these readers received and accepted that message as the Word of God because the Word of God is what performs its work…it performs it with God’s power.
The Gospel invokes God’s power. This is so absolutely important for us to truly and fully grasp. The granting of spiritual life to an unbeliever through the acceptance of the Gospel message is an absolutely impossible task for us to do. Yet I fear we are prone to forgetting that we are not the ones doing it.
Sometimes I like to check out a Twitter account called Darwin Awards…it shows some of the really stupid things that people attempt that somehow get recorded. One of the videos that has made its way around again is of a man who has to drill a hole into a thick doorframe. This man appears to be in a third-world context, but he is handed an electric drill and told where to drill the hole. He looks at the drill a moment and then he starts pushing the drill against the wood and rotating his arm to swivel the drill…but he does not turn on the drill. He is allowed to do this for a short time, but obviously makes no impact on the wood at all…using that tool in that manner makes drilling the hole impossible. Pretty soon someone steps up to him and shows him how to push the button to make the drill work. He appears quite embarrassed but he does begin to make progress drilling his hole.
We must remember that we are not the ones providing the power that makes the Gospel message; God is. And God has determined that it is through His message that His power is invoked to save lives. Much like the simple button on the drill the gospel message seems too simple or the task of simply speaking it seems too minor. And yet like the drill button, communicating the Gospel is what invokes God’s power and only God’s power is able to save sinner; only God’s power produces believers. We are to communicate the message and thank God for the work that He does through it.
The Gospel invokes God’s power. That is our third point that actually comes from our first verse this morning.
We have seen three points about the gospel that we are to carry as its messengers. One, the gospel provokes opposition. Two, the gospel determines eternity. And three, the gospel invokes God’s power.
So, what is the overall lesson that we should take away this morning from this passage and these three points. Well, I actually think that there are two ideas that join together as our overall lesson.
First of all, We are to engage in the gospel battle. It is not optional. There is a spiritual battle underway and we are called by God to enter that battle through the gospel. We are to carry that message forward as it is the message by which the battle is fought. We can expect opposition, but we carry on because souls hang in the balance and we know that we are ultimately invoking God’s power through the gospel message. So, we are to engage in the gospel battle.
Secondly though, we are to also call others to the gospel battle. That is really what we are doing as we are proclaiming the gospel message. Paul is doing that through these encouraging words to the Thessalonians. We are to call for all of those who have accepted the message in faith as the word of God to help us carry that word forward regardless of the cost. Yes, they too will face opposition. But souls hang in the balance and they too have the message that invokes the power of God. We are to call others to the gospel battle.
Putting these two points together, I would express the overall lesson from our verses this morning as We are to engage ourselves and call others to join us in the gospel battle. There are the two parts: We are to engage ourselves and we are to call others to join us in the gospel battle.
Transition from body to conclusion:.
We are to engage ourselves and call others to join us in the gospel battle.
Remember those three kids who rescued that dog from that massive python? That is indeed the way that church is meant to work. Except instead of rescuing dogs we are to be communicating the message that saves souls through the power of God. Yet, we must not underestimate the size of the opponents; it is a task that we are to undertake alone. We are to engage ourselves and call others to join us in the gospel battle.