2 Thessalonians 1:5-10
How safe do you feel? I saw this joke posted by my dad on Facebook. “’Shhhh. They might be listening. Mark Zuckerberg might hear us.’ He laughs. She laughs. Alexa laughs. Siri laughs.” Two news stories I heard this past that highlight the heightened sense of vulnerability and our desire for safety.
1. There is facial recognition technology at concerts of big musicians that scan the crowd for criminals. Some musicians are fighting back saying they don’t want it because they want their audience to feel safe in coming. But the authorities want to protect people. One artist had it at her concert to find any known stalkers. Right at the end of the news story there was a question, “When does safety overrule privacy?”
2. Apps that track your every move and report back to family. Some children use it to keep track of their elderly parents. Some parents use it to keep track of their maturing children. Some people use it to keep track of their friends or family. My question is not whether you use such apps or not. It highlights our desire for safety.
Whether you agree or not with the premise of someone watching your every more, we all want to be safe. If someone is watching, if they have your best interest in mind, that is a good thing. God is watching. He sees everything. And he has your best interest in mind. So you know that you are safe.
We don’t always feel safe. Persecution made the Thessalonians Christians feel vulnerable. Thessalonica is an important crossroad city, much like Chicago of today. Thessalonica was a port city and the main highway from Rome to the east passed through there. It was a prosperous and booming city with navy and trade. With that came the diverse cultures and disparagement between socioeconomic levels. The trade routes also brought crime and the riffraff. The Jewish opposition to Christianity was especially fierce here. Paul started a church and the Jews were jealous of his moderate success. They started a mob and drove Paul out of town. When Paul was in the next town, the Jews heard he was there and ran him out of that town too.
Timothy, a missionary partner, was the encourager. If I were Timothy, I would be thankful to be out of that city. He returned with a good report of faithfulness. Paul wrote these two letters a few months apart from each other to thank God and build them up. We see specifically here about how the persecution has left them feeling vulnerable.
5 All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. How is persecution evidence that God’s judgment is right? Jesus predicted that it would happen. He told people that they would be rejected and hated. The Thessalonians were losing their jobs, their families, and some even their lives. God sees everything. He saw their faithfulness and how they loved others and were being mistreated for it. But where is the justice?
6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. Everyone has a sense of justice. Like when you see the red car scream past you on the highway and have a sense of enjoyment when it is pulled over on the side of the road with flashing lights behind it a couple miles later. These Christians wanted some justice for the mistreatment they were enduring. The relief they were promised was like a cup of cool water on a hot day. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Here Paul refers to the hell that opposers of Christianity will suffer.
If there were any teaching I wish I could remove from the Bible, it would be the teaching of hell. I wish I could take it out because there are people I know and I don’t know their hearts if they believe or not. It scares and saddens me when I think about it. But I can’t because God wanted it there. It is all over the pages of the Bible so we can’t avoid it or explain it away. So therefore I will share it with you because it is true, whether I want it to be or not. Here’s the truth that Paul shares about hell. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.
Paul told them that the return of Jesus would be destruction and hell for the unbeliever and a day of glory for the believer. The believers will praise Jesus because relief has finally come. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. I wonder why Paul ended with this. Couldn’t he just have stopped at “and to be marveled at among all those who have believed”? I wonder if some doubted which side they were on. Hardship can do that. Hardship can make one doubt whether he is loved or not.
We all experience this in one way or another because of our innate sense of justice. We all want bad things to happen to bad people. And all those bad people should be watched, caught, and penalized until we are watched and caught. If God is just and bad people go to hell, what makes you think you are worthy to be in heaven? Like a criminal in front of a judge can’t use, “I will try better next time.” Or “What about all the good things I did.” Or “I am much better than that person.” you can’t use an excuse before God and you know it. God saw what you said and did. Those who experience hardship tend to believe this and that doubt paralyzes them.
God’s justice isn’t based on what he sees in you but what he saw in Jesus. Jesus absorbed all of God’s wrath for sin. While on the cross, Jesus suffered all the hell that your sins have earned. Being rejected by the Father, Jesus took all your guilt. So when the Holy Spirit sparks faith in your heart, you receive the perfection of the Son of God. You are made absolutely perfect in every way. You are sinless in God’s eyes.
God is watching, but not to see how many times you mess up. He is watching as a proud parent enjoys seeing kids play nicely in the back yard. What he looks through is the cross so he sees you sinless. This is why Paul ends with This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. Insecurities paralyze you. Let the Gospel of Christ free you. When I feel safe, I am secure and bold. When you have no fear of death, what left is to be afraid of.
God sees you also hurting. He promises you relief from all that. There is nothing more secure than knowing someone is watching and able to help. Our Creeds declare a God who is for us and with us. They are more than statements of belief, they are gospel promises that everything we say in there is what God does for you.
There is a man who from age 4 and many years after was sexually abused by his neighbor. It happened over and over again. Imagine what that does to the feeling of security. There was one thing that got him through. When he went to bed at night, his dad would come and stand by his side. The boy would hop out of bed and together they would stand and say the Apostles Creed. There he was safe with his father by his side confessing the beautiful love of his heavenly Father. He became a pastor and now he is a father and has adopted children from central Africa. God took a devastating experience of vulnerability and turned it into security.
God sees everything. He sees your hurts. God’s justice will prevail on the last day. You who have that faith are on the side of relief and joy. Live knowing that you are safe, now and forever.