Summary: In this introductory sermon, we learn about the beginning of the church at Thessalonica.
A. The story is told of two preachers who were standing by the side of a highway holding up two signs. One read, “The end is near!” The other held a sign that said, “Turn around before it’s too late!”
1. As a car approached, they lifted their signs, pointing to the words, they tried to get the driver’s attention.
2. The driver slowed down enough to read the sign and then yelled out the window at the preachers, saying, “Leave us alone you religious fruitcakes!” Then he sped back up down the highway.
3. A few seconds later the preachers could hear the screeching of tires and a big splash.
4. The two preachers looked at each other and one said to the other, “Do you think we should just make a sign that says, ‘Danger! The Bridge is Out?’ ”
B. Today we begin a new sermon series that I’m calling “Be Ready – A Study of 1 & 2 Thessalonians.”
1. One of the main themes that Paul addressed in the letters of 1 & 2 Thessalonians is the Second Coming of Christ.
2. So, at the risk of sounding like a “religious nut,” I will be talking about the fact that the end is near and that we must be ready.
C. It appears that 1 & 2 Thessalonians were Paul’s first letters, or at least some of his first – the letter to the Galatians may have been his first.
1. 1 &2 Thessalonians were letters written to real people, who had real questions, and were facing real problems in a world that was not friendly to their Christian faith.
2. It sounds like you and I will be able to easily identify with them, right? We are real people, with real questions, and face real problems in a world that is not friendly to our faith.
D. So let’s spend a few minutes this morning being introduced to the church at Thessalonica.
1. Let’s notice some things about the background, the burden, and the blessing of these two letters.
I. The Background
A. Believe it or not, you can visit Thessalonica today, only the travel guide will call it Thessaloniki.
1. It is an important industrial and commercial city in modern Greece and is second to Athens in population.
2. Today it has a population of 400 thousand, and is one of the few cities that has survived from the New Testament era.
B. Thessalonica is an ancient city, originally named Therma because of the many hot springs found there. This picture shows the ruins of the market place in Thessalonica that existed in Paul’s time.
1. In 315 B.C., Therma was renamed Thessalonica after the half-sister of Alexander the Great.
2. In Paul’s day, 200 thousand people lived in Thessalonica.
3. Most of them were Greeks, but there were also many Romans and a strong Jewish minority.
4. Thessalonica was a commercial center for two reasons – (1) it was a seaport, and (2) the Egnatian Way, the major east-west highway of the Roman Empire went through the city.
5. William Barclay, the commentator, wrote: “It is impossible to overstress the importance of the arrival of Christianity in Thessalonica. If Christianity was settled there, it was bound to spread East along the Egnatian Road until all Asia was conquered and West until it stormed even the city of Rome. The coming of Christianity to Thessalonica was crucial in the making of it into a world religion.”
C. The book of Acts contains the story of the beginning of the church at Thessalonica, and during the Scripture Reading you heard those verses read that tell the story.
1. Paul first came to Thessalonica on his second missionary journey in A.D. 49.
2. After traveling west across Asia Minor to the region known as Mysia, the apostle and his entourage reached an impasse.
3. They had been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach in the province of Asia (to the south of Mysia), and their attempt to turn north into Bithynia was similarly blocked.
4. With no other way to proceed, they went to Troas, a city on the Aegean Sea.
5. There Paul saw a vision of a Macedonian imploring him to come to that province and preach the gospel (Acts 16:6-10).
6. Crossing the Aegean Sea, they came to Philippi.
a. The first converts in Philippi included Lydia and her household.
b. Then Paul and Silas were arrested on false charges, beaten, and imprisoned.
c. But God delivered them and they were able to lead the jailer and his household to faith in Christ.
7. After being exonerated and encouraging the new believers, Paul and his friends left Philippi and headed for the important city of Thessalonica.
D. It is about 100 miles from Philippi to Thessalonica.