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Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13 (NIV)
- Hymn: CW 493 “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers”
- Hymn of the Day: CW 486 “Wake, Awake, For Night is Flying”
- Hymn: CW 713 “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light”
- Hymn: CW 885 “There is a Higher Throne”
24th Sunday after Pentecost (November 12, 2023)
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 Pastor Ryan Wolfe
Seize the Day before the Day seizes you!
1. The Day is Coming
2. We are Children of the Day
A couple weeks ago I got to flex my muscles as a language nerd when we talked about the Reformation. Remember those watchwords: Grace alone, Faith alone, Scripture alone. Lots of Lutherans know them by the Latin terms: Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura. I have one more Latin phrase to throw at you before it’s out of my system. In our text today, Paul describes Judgment Day as a day that will “surprise” some people. Literally it says the day will “seize” them. That made me think of the Latin phrase that says the opposite. Carpe diem. It means “seize the day.” Grab onto the day and do as much as you can because there’s no guarantee you’ll be here tomorrow. Essentially Paul tells the Thessalonians to seize the day before the Day seizes you. As we once again consider this time in between Jesus first and second coming, we remember that we know the Day is coming and that We are Children of the Day and not children of the night.
Scripture’s descriptions of Judgment Day are vivid. In a vision Isaiah saw God seated on his throne, filling the sky. Daniel saw God dressed in white and blazing like fire, sitting in judgement and making public what is written in his books of life and judgment. Jesus told his disciples shortly before his crucifixion that this would be a day of separation, as believers are separated from unbelievers. And unbelievers separated from God for eternity.
The words to the Thessalonians that form our text don’t talk so much about what will happen on Judgment Day, but instead what we as believers do to prepare for it. Paul begins by saying that he didn’t have to write about times or dates because they already knew one important truth. Nobody knows when judgment day is coming. Even Jesus said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Believers know the day is coming. I don’t have to preach on that. We just don’t know when.
That’s why Paul compares the coming of Judgment Day to the coming of a thief at night. The thief doesn’t warn someone he’s coming – he just breaks in whenever he wants. When Judgment Day comes people will be talking about the game coming up this weekend or the vacation they’re taking next month. They’ll be working to take care of things for the future so that they have peace and safety. They’ll even be looking ahead with hope that some of the world’s problems will finally be resolved. People will be working in the fields and celebrating their children’s weddings. And then all of a sudden the trumpets will sound, the heavens will open, and we’ll see Jesus in the clouds.
So if that day is coming, and it could happen any moment, Paul says it is important to be prepared. He knew that one of Satan’s greatest tricks is not necessarily to tell us God’s will for our lives doesn’t matter. We know God wants us to forgive others, to turn from our sin, to live our faith and tell others. No, Satan’s best trick is not to say those things are unimportant – his trick is to tell us they’re not urgent. To convince us to say, “I’ll have tomorrow to forgive and forget. Today I’m holding onto my grudge and my anger.” To get us to say to ourselves, “I know this sin is wrong but after this last time, tomorrow I’ll stop and do better.” To trick us into thinking, “I know I should tell her about Jesus, but it’s not the right time. Maybe tomorrow.”
To counter those temptations, Paul tells us there is no guarantee of tomorrow. It makes me think of a question once put to me that haunts me every time I ask it. “If yesterday was the last day of your life and you’re looking back at it now, are you proud of how you spent it?” Think about it. God graciously gives us life on this earth to praise him for forgiving our sins. To serve others in love and share this good news. We all know this. That’s not the problem. But have we fallen into the trap of not making God’s work urgent? Are we awake or asleep at the spiritual wheel?
We must Seize the Day because the one thing we know for sure is that Judgment Day is coming to us. Now, you don’t have to do anything to be ready for heaven. God has prepared us for heaven himself. Think of this plan God put together to save people. It started with a promise to send a Savior made to Adam and Eve. Thousands of years later that Savior was born and proceeded to live a perfect life, resisting every temptation the devil could throw at him. Then Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins and exchange our punishment for his perfect obedience. Then, 2,000 years or so later, by grace, the Holy Spirit came to us through God’s Word and created faith in our hearts to trust in God. This plan is as old as the universe. Older even.
But God’s plan doesn’t end with your faith. There are others who aren’t ready for this coming Day. It’s for them that we need to be watchful and working. God calls us to show his love to others. To spread his Word to the world. To forgive as he forgave. It is a sacred privilege to be part of this plan. But our time to do it is limited. Wake up and seize the day so that we don’t miss our chance to do what God has planned for us, and for others through us.
Paul describes the world we live in as a place of darkness. People of the world don’t know or don’t believe in the light we have in Christ. And in the dark, even good things can be scary. (Just ask a toddler who’s afraid of her own bedroom furniture at night. Or a not-so-brave pastor if he’s asked to go down to the basement without a light.) Unbelievers don’t have the light of Jesus so they’re afraid of this Last Day. But their darkness affects more than just how they perceive this one day. It affects every day before it too. Those who live in darkness live differently. You’ve probably heard the saying, “Nothing good ever happens after midnight.” That saying generally holds true doesn’t it? There’s a reason why professional sports teams give their players curfews and check-in times. How many “incidents” in the news could be avoided if people simply stayed out of the dark?
We would be foolish to think that the world’s darkness doesn’t affect us. Our sinful nature tells us that it’s nice to live in the darkness. It’s “easier” to get by in the dark because we can convince ourselves no one’s looking or no one’s going to catch us. Our sinful hearts want us to close our eyes to the light and sleep through life without thinking about what God wants for us and from us. There is a part of us that will always want to be just like everyone else. Asleep to God’s will and drunk with the world.
But hear God’s Word today: You are not a child of darkness. No, we’re children of the day. God woke us up from the sleep of sin and he keeps us alert in faith. He gives us life, eternal life in heaven, and he arms us and protects us to stand firm in the light. Verse 8 gives us this tremendous picture of how we defend ourselves against spiritual darkness and faithless apathy. “Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” How do we overcome the world’s siren call of Christian comfort? By taking up the protections God gives in faith and hope and love. That means studying about his love in regular worship and Bible study and devotion. It means flexing faith in regular service in the church and for others. The Christian who has their faith but holds it wrapped tightly in their hand without action is like the verse of the children’s song where one is tempted to hide the light under a bushel. But, no! God calls us into the light so that we can be light for others. The last verse of our text says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
The Greek phrase for “build each other up” is wonderful. Literally it says, “build up, one to one.” The work of being children of the day isn’t something we do as a group or a congregation. Seizing the day isn’t done by church programs or councils or committees. It’s the work of the children of the light. Each of them. This is personal work, done one on one, by every believer. We build each other up, one by one in our homes, at our growth groups, at men’s breakfast, at women’s Bible study. We build each other up as we share life together, not just church pews. This is why church membership matters. Why God calls us together into flocks and families of faith. One to one, we share our peace and restore our hope.
We do it because that’s what children of light do. The Last Day is coming, but brothers and sisters, seize the day before it seizes you. Look with anticipation to the day Christ returns. And make the most of every opportunity to serve God and others while we wait. God has prepared us for the Day. May he move us to watch and witness faithfully until that day arrives. Amen.