I would have loved to visit the early church in Thessalonica! They seem at least on some level to have been a church full of the joy of following Jesus. They were faithful workers for Christ – sharing in the commission given to us by Jesus to make disciples of all nations. Their love for God (and from God) found plentiful expression in loving deeds: this was a place where love was more than just a word – it had feet on! And their hope was firmly set on the return of Jesus. What a church. Oh – they had problems… every church does. But, at least here in chapter 1 of his letter, Paul focusses in on all the good that there is in this congregation.
In fact, we learn that Paul and his co-workers made a habit of thanking God for the Thessalonian Christians. Why? Because whenever they thought about them, that was what they felt: thankful to God. Thankful that God had done and was still doing so much.
Paul writes to them convinced that these were 100% dyed in the wool Christians: loved by God; chosen to be his own people. What makes him so sure? Their conversion. When Paul preached the gospel there, it wasn’t just with words, but with power. God was at work. The Thessalonians that believed were given “full assurance” from the Holy Spirit that what was being preached was true. God had opened their eyes to the truth of the gospel, and they had enthusiastically embraced it – with joy from the Holy Spirit. And this despite the fact that becoming a Christian in Thessalonica was a shortcut to suffering, to persecution, to being despised by many. But despite the “cross”, the Thessalonian Christians were convinced that trusting Christ was the best decision that they could ever make.
And having started well, they continued well: to the point that their lives and story were the talk of the water cooler! Paul kept getting told about the Thessalonians by others who had encountered them. And what was he told? How they had become Christians! And how they were looking forward to the return of Jesus. Looking forward because, as Paul reminds us, it is Jesus Christ the risen one who has rescued us from the terrors of the coming judgement.
This weekend, I’m preaching from Matthew 16:13-28. God reveals to Peter that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Jesus speaks about his church, and notes that he will soon suffer and die in Jerusalem. But, he adds, after three days he will rise again. At the end of the passage, Jesus challenges his disciples and us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him, reminding us that he will return in judgement.
I can’t help but see the parallels to the Thessalonians. God reveals to them that the gospel they hear preached is the truth. And they accept it – despite the fact that doing so brought suffering for them. They live in imitation of not only Paul, but also Jesus. They have denied their self and picked up their cross to follow Jesus. And they look forward to his return, because they know that in so doing they have found – paradoxically – life.
What about for us, for me? Have we been so captivated by the good news about Jesus that we are willing to endure anything for the sake of following Jesus? Do we trust that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God? Are we willing to deny ourselves to follow him? Does my life reflect his – to the point where people talk about it to others? I hope so – I pray so – Jesus, make it so.
Father – thank you so much for all that you have done. Thank you that you sent your only Son – Jesus to die for us. Thank you that you raised him to life again. Lord, thank you that you are coming back. Thank you Father that I have already been judged in Jesus, and therefore need not fear the return of Jesus. I pray, Lord, that I would know the same joy that the Thessalonians felt for the gospel. I pray that my life would reflect yours. Help me to deny myself, pick up the cross, and follow you. May my hope for your return be strong, one of the hallmarks of my life.