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A People to Be Glad for and a People to Be Sad For

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Since God first revealed it to mankind, the plan of redemption has been a bittersweet reality. One finds sweetness in contemplating the bliss and glory of eternal life that awaits those who embrace the gospel. By contrast, one finds only bitterness in the endless shame and punishment of eternal damnation that awaits those who reject the gospel. That contrast is never more strikingly seen than when one compares people who have made the most of limited spiritual opportunity to people who have squandered great spiritual opportunity and privilege. Throughout redemptive history, the Jews have exemplified the latter reality, which illustrates the ultimate tragedy of apostasy. On the other hand, the Thessalonians epitomized the former reality and believed God’s truth after only a brief initial exposure to it.

This striking contrast is the object of the apostle Paul’s focus in 1 Thessalonians 2:13–16. He distinguishes sharply between a people to be glad for, the believing Thessalonians, and a people to be sad for, the unbelieving Jews. In just a few weeks, the Thessalonians readily chose the blessing of obedience to the gospel of God, whereas after centuries of revelation from God, the Jews stubbornly chose the cursing resulting from disobedience to the gospel. Such opposite responses to God’s truth and grace prompted Paul to sort out the reasons he rejoiced for the Thessalonians and sorrowed for the Jews.


    • "For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews," (1 Thessalonians 2:13-14, NASB95)
          1. Paul, Silas, and Timothy had ministered only a short while in Thessalonica when they saw miraculous results from their preaching
            • "And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women. But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people." (Acts 17:2-5, NASB95)


          1. like most cities of the Roman Empire, Thessalonica was a community saturated with immorality and strong pagan religious environment
              1. though a large number of God-fearing Greeks had come to faith in Christ, the Apostle Paul had spent only a few months in the city, and he was concerned that the Thessalonians’ faith might have faltered
              2. consequently, after leaving Thessalonica, Paul sent Timothy back there to check on the church’s progress
                • "For this reason, when I could endure it no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be in vain." (1 Thessalonians 3:5, NASB95)
          2. this is the great burden and the heartache of many ministers of the Gospel – witnessing the collapse of a once steadfast faith of believers who began the race well, but who have faltered along the way


    • "But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you," (1 Thessalonians 3:6, NASB95)
          1. that positive report prompted this expression of gratitude for the Thessalonians
          2. Paul was always thankful for the privilege of ministry, and he ceaselessly acknowledged God as the One who empowered the truth through him
              1. he had already expressed this to the Thessalonians when he opened his letter
                • "We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers;" (1 Thessalonians 1:2, NASB95)
              2. in verses 13-14 the Apostle Paul rehearses the reasons he had to constantly thank God for the Thessalonians
          3. Reason #1: The Thessalonians’ Reception Of God’s Word
            • “ ... that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe." (1 Thessalonians 2:13, NIV)
              1. The Thessalonians had been open and receptive in listening to the preaching from Paul, Silas, and Timothy
                  1. what they preached was not some slick message of their own, but the word of God
                  2. the phrase the word of God which you heard from us literally reads, “A word heard from us out from God”
              2. the missionaries spoke the words, but those words came from God
                  1. the word of God, is infinitely superior to the words of human reasoning, opinion, or philosophic thought
                  2. unlike the word of men, the Word of God is not empty, inert, or powerless
                  3. the verb rendered performs its work means to work effectively, efficiently, and productively on a supernatural (divine) level
                    • "So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:11, NASB95)
                  4. God’s Word always performs His purposes in the lives of all who believe
              3. like most large cities of that day, Thessalonica attracted many false philosophers and religious teachers
                  1. its residents had undoubtedly heard a wide range of human wisdom and rhetoric
                  2. but, in contrast to all others, when they heard the preaching of Paul and his companions, they accepted it as truth from God
                  3. the heard the message with their mind, and allowed it to sink into their hearts, embracing the Gospel with saving faith
          4. Reason #2: The Thessalonians’ Honoring Of The Saints
            • “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea,” (2:14a)
              1. the proof of their complete acceptance of the gospel and the Lord of that gospel is that the church in Thessalonica had first, become imitators of the apostle and his coworkers, Silas and Timothy
                • "You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit," (1 Thessalonians 1:6, NASB95)
              2. then, they had become imitators of the believers in Judea, giving him further reason to be thankful to God for His work in saving the Thessalonians
                  1. though the Thessalonians probably had never been to the churches in Judea to see a pattern they could follow, the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work was making the Thessalonian church a duplicate of His work in Judea
              3. wherever God’s Spirit is at work, several characteristics will develop within a local congregation
                  1. Worship
                  2. Discipleship
                  3. Evangelism
                  4. Fellowship
                  5. Ministry
          5. Reason #3 The Thessalonians’ Perseverance In Suffering
            • "... for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews," (1 Thessalonians 2:14, NASB95)
              1. the Judean churches had a history of dealing with severe harassment, and had persevered in suffering – an experience the Thessalonian church was now imitating
                • "But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people. When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also; and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things." (Acts 17:5-8, NASB95)
              2. Paul and his companions left Thessalonica immediately after the mob uproar, but it is likely that the persecution resumed and intensified during the subsequent weeks before Paul sent this epistle from Corinth
                  1. the Thessalonians nevertheless triumphed in their sufferings, being joyful in affliction
          6. these three reason gave evidence to Paul of their true conversion and thus the culmination of his thanks to God for them


    • "who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost." (1 Thessalonians 2:15-16, NASB95)
          1. The Apostle Paul now makes and unusually abrupt transition as he begins his criticism of the Jews
              1. the unbelieving Jews were the tragic antithesis of the believers in Thessalonica
          2. such a harsh, condemning outburst as this against the Jews was not unusual for Paul, in light of their long-standing, persistent resentment of the apostle, which began shortly after his conversion
              1. in Paul’s life, the warnings of Jesus were prophetic
                • "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me." (John 15:18-21, NASB95)
              2. the Book of Acts chronicles numerous examples of the Jews’ hostility toward the Apostle Paul
                  1. In Acts 13, when the Jews observed Paul and his companions effectively proclaiming the gospel among the Gentiles, they reacted with prejudicial hatred
                  2. they were filled with envy and rage over the efforts of Paul, a Jew, to reach Gentiles whom they considered unclean
              3. the Jewish people had a zeal for God, but it was a misplaced zeal
                • "For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God." (Romans 10:2-3, NASB95)
          3. knowing that the Jews’ hateful attitude had not changed but rather had intensified since their original hostility in the early days at Thessalonica, Paul made a strong statement about their spiritual condition
              1. he lists three reasons why they are a people to be sad for they
          4. First, The Jews’ Rejection Of God’s Word
            • "who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out ... “ (1 Thessalonians 2:15, NASB95)
              1. this is a clear contrast to the faith of the Thessalonian believers
                  1. they had an immediate love of the truth
                  2. but the Jews had repeatedly rejected the message and messengers that God had sent them – including the Lord Jesus
                    • “So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. “Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell? “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar." (Matthew 23:31-35, NASB95)
              2. Paul is clear; like it or not, the Jewish nation – particularly her leaders – were culpable for the execution of Jesus
                  1. the Romans executed Him, but only at the instigation of the Jews
                    • "As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.” Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” So they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” So he then handed Him over to them to be crucified." (John 19:12-16, NASB95)
                  2. obviously it is not all Jews of all time who were responsible for killing Christ
                  3. and – theologically speaking – it was sin – the put Jesus on the cross, their sin, and our sin
              3. however, the Jewish mob that insisted Pontius Pilate should carry out the crucifixion of Jesus was guilty of murdering Him
                  1. these Jews represented the historic apex of their people’s unbelief and opposition to God’s will
                  2. sadly the Jews had a long-established tradition of rejecting anyone who brought God’s Word
                    • "They abandoned the house of the Lord, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols; so wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this their guilt. Yet He sent prophets to them to bring them back to the Lord; though they testified against them, they would not listen." (2 Chronicles 24:18-19, NASB95)
              4. the result of the Jew’s rejection of God’s Gospel is that the drove out Paul, and his companions from Thessalonica
          5. Second: The Jews’ Hindrance Of The Saints
            • “They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved;” (1 Thessalonians 2:15b–16a, NIV
              1. whereas the Thessalonians honored the messengers of God, the Jews hindered the gospel preachers by trying to prevent them from preaching their message
              2. by hindering the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles, the Jews thought they were rendering God a service
                  1. no one understood this better than the Apostle Paul because he had once been a hindrance to the preaching of the Gospel
                    • "Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem." (Acts 9:1-2, NASB95)
              3. but just as Paul discovered that his persecution of Gospel messengers was not pleasing to God, so he reminds the Thessalonians that the opposition they are currently receiving from the Jews is not pleasing to God
                  1. the Jews were rife with religious prejudice
                  2. they resented any religion but their own—and especially the gospel of Jesus Christ, whom they rejected as a satanic, counterfeit messiah
                  3. The Jews refused to believe the gospel, and they resented it being preached so that others might be saved
          6. Third: The Jews’ Suffering In Punishment
            • “ ... with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.” (1 Thessalonians 2:16b, NIV)'
              1. the Thessalonians had demonstrated perseverance in suffering and emerged triumphant in the hope of eternal glory
              2. however, the Jews faced an entirely different situation
                  1. they would not be able to endure the fearful, deadly final punishment for rejecting the Son of God
                  2. the result is that they always fill up the measure of their sins
                      1. literally, that phrase says, “They always heap up their sins to the limit”
                      2. there is similar language found in Genesis 15:16 when God announces “The iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”
                      3. it means God brings judgment only when sin has reached a certain limit
              3. there is a point when God says ‘enough-is-enough’ and he allows His wrath to be fulfilled and renders judgment upon an individual, a people or a nation
                  1. Paul points to a truth that ought to make us feel sad – God’s wrath is poured out upon, and damnation comes to people who reject God
                    • “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36, NASB95)
                  2. and that wrath is to the uttermost – it’s eternal, it’s irreversible, it’s extreme


          1. Principle #1: The believer with a heart for God listens to the Bible as God’s Word in order to learn principles for life
              1. the phrase "let him hear" occurs to each of the churches in Revelation
              2. Jesus repeatedly appeals for us to have a heart for His Word
                • "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God." (Revelation 2:7)
              3. if we have an "ear" for God’s Word, we will hear what is important for our lives
                • "Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the word, this one will be blessed in what he does" (James 1:21-25)
          2. Principle #2: It is not enough to appreciate the teaching of God’s Word; we must apply it in our experience to make it fully effective in our lives
              1. there is more to the Christian life than just hearing the Bible’s teaching
              2. many people hear the Bible weekly but it doesn’t do them any good
                • "For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it" (Hebrews 4:2, NIV)
              3. when we make the Word the controlling influence of our lives, then we know we have appropriated God’s Word to experience
          3. Principle #3: There is always a price to pay for aggressive commitment to Christ
              1. every generation of churches that are aggressive with their faith face persecution
              2. the true gospel is not popular because it tells people that they need a Savior because of their sin
              3. this assaults human pride
              4. those who are faithful to Christ will not allow other people’s pride to intimidate them into not sharing their faith
          4. Principle #4: Those who hinder the gospel will get their comeuppance
              1. God will suddenly and surely seal the fate of those who oppose the gospel
              2. the extreme limit of God’s wrath will come down upon them
                  1. we can do absolutely nothing for them then
                  2. unless they repent they will finally get their comeuppance

Today, as in Paul’s day, the choice between God’s blessing and His cursing remains. Those who believe and obey the Word and honor other believers by imitating their lives will persevere to eternal glory, which is good reason to be glad for them. But those who reject the Word and hinder those who preach it will ultimately suffer eternal condemnation, which is good reason to be sad for them.

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