Sermon for Sunday, July 16th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Jer 1:4-8 ESV] 4 Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” 6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” 7 But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD.”
New Testament reading:
[2Th 2:9-17 ESV] 9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. 16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
[Mar 7:1-13 ESV] 1 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ 8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” 9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”‘ (that is, given to God)– 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
Comfort is sleeping in your own bed.
Comfort is a big plate of nachos. (or whatever is a “comfort food” for you.)
Comfort is presence of family.
And comfort is the removal of anxieties and their replacement with that which is familiar and loved.
But ultimate comfort is only in the Lord. With many anxieties in our world, we need the comfort of the Lord. He, who is known to us through His word and through His Son Jesus Christ is familiar and loved. And He is powerful to protect us against all evil and to bring us comfort and joy.
In our text from 2nd Thessalonians, we’ll be looking specifically at three ways in which we have the Lord’s comfort.
They are “Comfort in God’s Election,” “Comfort in God’s Love (and Gospel),” and “Comfort in God’s Word.” In this we see that God has not abandoned us, but protects us and leads us through all our woes and even through the great rebellion, and the coming of the man of lawlessness, and the very end in the great day of the Lord.
Paul is saying to the Thessalonians, “Take comfort in the Lord.”
I. Comfort in God’s Election
We see first, “comfort in God’s election.”
The doctrine of God’s sovereign election of some to salvation is clear throughout the Scriptures. Yet many people have had great anxiety over this doctrine. They ask “Am I elect?,” “Am I chosen of God?” “How can I know?” “And if I am not chosen, is there no hope for me?”
But the doctrine of election in the Scriptures is always to be a great comfort. It puts away some other questions: “Am I good enough?,” “Have I followed through sufficiently with sanctification?” “Will the Lord who has saved me, one day change his mind and reject me?” These questions are done away with as we read that God has chosen believers for salvation despite their sins. We are to take comfort in God’s sovereign choice of election.
All who believe in Jesus Christ, we know, are saved of God. We know this because you can ONLY confess Jesus Christ if the Holy Spirit dwells in you. And the Holy Spirit dwells only in the elect. So if you believe that Jesus is Lord, you are to take comfort that God has chosen you … both for belief in the truth through the work of the Holy Spirit and for salvation.
Now Paul had previously given thanks to God for the Thessalonians, for their faith was growing abundantly and their love for one another was increasing. Now, he again gives thanks to God for them. And he says “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God CHOSE you as the firstfruits to be saved through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”
Paul is reminding them of God’s comfort in their election. Though they were undeserving, God chose them. Further comforting all Christians is that God works out all of the details of salvation in their order. Paul explains this in Romans 8:30 when he says “And those whom he predestined he also called and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
So take comfort, Christians, if you believe in Jesus Christ, you HAVE BEEN predestined, you have been chosen, you have been called, you have been saved, you have been justified, you are being sanctified, and you shall be glorified.
The truth (a hard truth for many) is that not all are saved. Paul says of those who are perishing “they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” [REPEAT: they refused to love the truth and so be saved.]
While Christ gets the credit for the salvation of believers, those who refuse to believe the truth get the blame for their unbelief and consequent damnation.
It is, as was said in an early church teaching manual, “There are two ways, one of life and one of death.”
And those who follow the way of death, are led by their own sins, and they are spurred on by Satan. When the man of lawlessness comes, it is by the activity of Satan that he does false signs and wonders, deceiving those who are perishing.
And then we find that to the unbelievers “God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false.” This may be a hard statement to hear. God — we’re not talking of Satan here nor the man of lawlessness — God himself sends them (the unbelievers) a delusion, so that they may believe what is false in order that all may be condemned who did not believe in the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
This is indeed in God’s plan. As Paul says in Romans 9 “What if God, desiring to show his wrath, and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.”
So this “sending of a delusion” is for God’s own purposes. For His own glory.
And it is not a new teaching in the Scriptures. It is the same as in the Exodus when we read about the “Hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.” There, we find BOTH that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, AND that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Both are true.
It is the same here in 2nd Thessalonians. To those who REFUSE TO BELIEVE, God sends a strong delusion, hardening their hearts, for his eternal purpose.
But there is comfort for believers, for God has chosen us to salvation. And because it is God’s choice, we then have nothing in which to boast but in him. We don’t walk around with our noses up in the air as haughty individuals believing that we are holier than others, for we know our sin and the fact that we do not deserve salvation. But we also know our savior, and in Him we find comfort.
We indeed have comfort in God’s Election, for it is the only way of salvation. We need the Lord.
There is comfort in God’s Election, and there is also comfort in God’s Love, and in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
II. Comfort in God’s Love (and Gospel)
While election was before all time, in the eternal plan of God, our salvation was carried out the cross, there above all other places showing us the Love of God.
Paul calls the Thessalonians “Brothers, BELOVED by the Lord.” And he says that they are “called through the gospel.”
It is in that gospel – that GOOD (even GREAT) news of Jesus Christ that we see God’s love for His people and so find such wonderful comfort.
Simply put, The Lord loves you.
We hear that so much that perhaps we don’t take the time to let it sink in. Christian, the Lord … loves … you.
We know that is true because has chosen you to believe in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God who was born to the Virgin Mary and lived without sin, who was crucified and died and was buried, but rose in triumph from the dead. This truth went out to the world as Good News because it fulfilled the promises of the Old Testament that such a savior—being God himself—would suffer and die as a sacrifice for the place of sinful people and give them eternal life and peace and comfort.
The Gospel is certainly a message of God’s love. And God’s love for you is to be a great comfort. Though all the forces of evil be arrayed against you, the Lord is on your side.
Take comfort in the Love of the Lord.
Then, we have a third one in our text. Comfort in God’s Word.
III. Comfort in God’s Word
Paul says “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” REPEAT: “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.”
Now, this may seem like he is speaking of the word of man rather than the word of God, but we must remember that the Old Testament, which was written by various men, is the “WORD OF GOD.” And so also the New Testament, though written by men, is the very inspired Word of God.
And so, whenever the Thessalonians are needing encouragement, they are to remember the truth of God brought to them by the Apostles and Evangelists.
We need to look more closely at verse 15:
15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.
Here we have to understand what Paul is NOT saying.
He is not adding something called “traditions” to be alongside the Word of God. That would be the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox view. They believe that various church traditions are on par with the Scriptures.
But we are warned not to add human traditions to the Word of God.
[Rev 22:18-19 ESV] 18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
And Jesus warned the Pharisees in Mark’s Gospel:
[Mar 7:6-9 ESV] 6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ 8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” 9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!
And Paul warned in Colossians:
[Col 2:8 ESV] 8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
There are many “traditions” that are not worth keeping. Errors creep into the church, establishing traditions that have no place in Christianity or in the Christian life. Just as traditions came to overpower the religion of the Jews, so have traditions overpowered the religion of Rome.
But Paul tell us to “hold to “certain traditions; those that “you were taught by us.” Theses are the apostolic traditions, the very teachings that are now recorded for us in the New Testament. The “tradition,” for one, is the Gospel. That Gospel which Paul delivered is that which he also received. He heard that Christ died and was buried and rose again on the third day and was seen by many.
The “traditions” are the “delivered truths” of the faith of the Apostles which was once for all handed down to the saints.
So we are not to add tradition to the Bible, but follow the tradition OF the Bible.
In the traditions of men there is no comfort, only deception. But in the Word of God we have the Gospel which brings great comfort.
We read familiar verses in the Bible and they take away anxieties. We feel “at home” in the Scriptures and in the church where we hear the Word of God. We hear the Gospel in the Scriptures. We hear the Wisdom of Christ. We hear of hope for eternal life. Many great comforts indeed.
So Paul says in multiple places “stand firm in the Lord.”
Though there be a rising storm of apostasy within the church and a growingly powerful evil man of lawlessness outside of the Church, even so, take comfort in the Lord.
Like a soldier standing firm, we fight against the attack of our enemies and defeat them one by one. We stand firm in the Word of God. Whatever evil comes our way, we have God’s truth to combat it.
Comfort in God’s election.
Comfort in God’s love.
Comfort in God’s word.
That is how we can stand firm. We can stand firm only by standing on the Word of God. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.
Be strong and courageous. Take courage, for our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and gave us ETERNAL COMFORT and good hope through grace … HE comforts our hearts and establishes them in every good work and word.
The message today is a call to seek comfort in the Lord.
And to FIND comfort in the Lord.
Nothing else will do.
No one else will provide.
But in Jesus Christ, our election is sure. His love, known to us in the Scriptures brings the greatest comfort.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.