Summary: In this introductory message, we’ll look at how this young church was started and we’ll focus on what the believers did to keep their walk with God fresh.
Keeping Your Faith Alive
Two country pastors were standing by the side of a highway holding up a sign that read, “The end is near! Turn around now before it’s too late!” The plan was to lift the sign up high and point to the words as cars came down the road.
The first driver slowed down enough to read the sign and then yelled at the two clergymen, “Leave us alone you religious fruitcakes!” He then sped back up and took off down the highway. From around the curve, the two pastors heard screeching tires and a big splash. One preacher looked at his buddy with a grin on his face and said, “Do you think we should just make a sign that says, ‘The Bridge is Out?’”
As we begin a brand new series called, “Don’t Be Left Behind,” I wonder if some of you are just speeding down the road of life, uncertain about what lies around the corner? At the risk of sounding like a religious nut, for the next 14 weeks I will be preaching from the books of 1st and 2nd Thessalonians to help us see that the end is indeed near.
Our nation is currently captured by the prospect of the world, as we know it, coming to an end. Two months ago, Time magazine ran a cover story entitled, “The Bible and the Apocalypse: Why more Americans are reading and talking about the end of the world.” A TIME/CNN poll discovered that more than one-third of Americans say that are paying more attention now to how the news headlines might relate to the end of the world, especially after the terrorist attacks and anthrax deaths of a year ago.
Last month, Reader’s Digest reported on the phenomenal success of the “Left Behind” series in an article they entitled, “The Paperback Prophecies.” Amazingly, the Left Behind novels have sold over 50 million copies (including the kids’ editions). The ninth book in the series, Desecration, was the best-selling hardcover fiction title of 2001, displacing author John Grisham, who held that spot for five years. The latest book, The Remnant, had a first print run of 2.75 million copies! How many of you have read these books? I’ve read each one. Amazingly, according to an interview I heard on WGN with Jerry Jenkins, one of the authors of this series, only about half of the readers are evangelicals. This shows that there is widespread interest in what the Bible has to say about future events.
As we come to our study in 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, it’s important to understand why these letters were written.
1. To give specifics about the return of Christ. Each New Testament book has a special theme or message, that is uniquely its own. Galatians is the freedom letter; Philippians is the joy letter; and Colossians lifts up the supremacy of Christ. The message of these letters written to the church at Thessalonica is the return of Jesus Christ and how this truth should affect our lives and our churches. Every chapter of 1 Thessalonians concludes with a reference to the end being near.
1:10: “And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.”
2:19: “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?”
3:13: “May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”
4:17: “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”
5:23: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
As we walk through these books verse-by-verse, we’ll see that Paul did not look upon the doctrine of Christ’s return as a theory to be discussed, but as a truth to be lived. Warren Wiersbe points out that these letters encourage us to “live in the future tense” since Jesus is coming when we least expect Him.
2. To instruct new Christians. The church at Thessalonica was filled with brand new believers. The apostle Paul started the church but was not able to spend much time teaching and discipling them. These letters provide very practical instruction on how to live the Christian life. Some of the topics include conversion, integrity, compassion, the Bible, heavenly rewards, suffering, prayer, moral purity, hard work, the second coming, the role of spiritual leaders, and dealing with difficult people. As PBC has experienced numerical growth these past years, it strikes me that many of you are new believers who need to be taught the essentials of the Christian faith. I encourage you to read these books and study along with us each Sunday. If you’re a woman, I hope you’ll consider joining the Women’s Bible Study and interact with the preaching text every Thursday.