Here’s the manuscript from this week’s sermon. Unfortunately, there isn’t any audio available at this time.
In early July, 1776, 56 members of the Continental Congress took the bold step of announcing that no longer were they going to answer to the wishes and whims of a monarch an ocean away. And in so doing, they pledged their fortunes, honor, and even their lives to the cause of freedom.
I’m not here to suggest this morning that all 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence be nominated for sainthood, but it is fitting to remember that several were well-known, fully devoted followers of Christ.
John Witherspoon was an ordained minister and wrote several books of sermons. He also edited America’s first family Bible in 1791.
Charles Thompson served as Secretary of Congress and was a biblical scholar.
Benjamin Rush, who is considered the “Father of American Medicine,” personally trained three thousand medical students. Dr. Rush also founded “The First Day Society,” which was the forerunner of the Sunday School movement. He also founded America’s first Bible society.
Francis Hopkinson was music director at his church. In 1767, he edited one of the first hymnals printed in America. He also set the 150 Psalms to music.
“Many of our Founding Fathers were motivated by their faith in Christ. They wrote sermons and creeds and hymns. They founded Bible Societies and Sunday Schools. They (sought to serve) God’s purposes in their generation.”
In contrast to a nation led and shaped by faithful followers of Christ, I want to share with you a read a review of a film that is out in theaters right now. Last week, it was in the top-10 in box office gross. It appears that it will be in the top-10 again this week. I must confess it was a little concerning when I read the review of this film. I’m not going to tell you its name because…well…to be honest, I don’t want to give this movie any extra publicity. But here’s what one reviewer had to say about this movie:
“The film’s take on life seems to be that it’s funny to mock the stories of the Old Testament and whatever God or gods might come along with them. I’m sure that’s not exactly how (the) director…and his team would put it, but that’s what they end up doing.
“They literally make a joke out of Cain’s murder of Able, Abraham’s faith in God and God’s promises, and the many sins of corrupt Sodom that earned God’s angry punishment. To be fair, they also mock the gods of Sodom that demand virgin sacrifices for rain right along with mocking the God of Abraham…
“In the film, a doubtful princess sends (one of the lead characters) into the ‘holy of holies’ of Sodom’s gods to see if he’ll really die, as she has been taught all along by the priests. (He) doesn’t die, from which (another lead character) concludes that there are no gods or God, probably.
“The filmmakers seem to be up to something similar, mocking at least the literal idea of the God of the Old Testament (and the idea of faith, in general) just to prove, perhaps, that He either doesn’t exist or doesn’t care to protect His truth and His righteousness. If the movie wasn’t so dumb, those with an anti-God worldview might even call it brave.”
This is just one example of how it has become culturally acceptable to stand up in the public square and not only openly mock God, but to also portray anyone who follows God as intellectually challenged. It seems that those who believe this way have become more bold and brash in recent years. And they belittle and ridicule anyone who sees differently. Many of them refer to themselves as “freethinkers,” implying that those of us who are guided by faith do not have brains of our own. One group of these, quote, “freethinkers” have become aggressive enough that they’ve started a bus ad campaign with quotes atheists and agnostics from history. One sign says “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.” Another sign has a quote that says “I don’t believe in God because I don’t believe in Mother Goose.” These are harsh, mean-spirited words.
How do we respond to inflammatory statements like this? How are we supposed to react? Do we fight back and organize boycotts against the movie theaters or the bus companies? Do we try to shout down opponents of faith with louder voices and with our bigger books of apologetics? I guess you could do those things.
But what about when you encounter a family member or a close friend who looks down on people of faith? Are you supposed to shout them down? Do you boycott them? Do you beat them over the head with arguments for the faith?
This was the situation members of the Thessalonian church found themselves in. If you have your Bibles with you, please turn with me to 1 Thessalonians 2. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. 1 Thessalonians 2 is found on page 1029 in those red Bibles.
The Christians in Thessalonica faced severe persecution. When Paul and his ministry team were in the city, helping to birth this new church in the city, opponents of Christ pushed back. The threat became so great that it was evident that it was better for everyone involved if Paul and his team left Thessalonica.
Christians in the early church endured mocking and ridicule on a daily basis. They were called “atheists” by the popular spiritual leaders because they didn’t believe in the pantheon of gods in the Roman religious structure. Rumors were spread about them, usually stemming from misunderstandings of the observation of the Lord’s Supper. Because the Lord’s Supper is a recognition of Jesus’ sacrifice for us and we symbolically eat his body, rumors started to spread that the early church was practicing human sacrifice and eating their flesh and drinking their blood. The Roman religious system was tolerant of many practices and rituals. But human sacrifice was not one of them.
We also have an artifact from early in church history that is an obvious ridicule of a fully-devoted follower of Jesus Christ. It’s actually a piece of graffiti scratched on a wall. It’s a picture of a man with the head of a donkey hanging on a cross. And then to the side of it is a drawing of a man with his hand raised in worship towards this beast-man on the cross. The inscription on this piece of graffiti says, “Alexamenos worships his god.” It’s an obvious mockery of the Christian faith of this man, Alexamenos.
It is to people experiencing this kind of mockery and ridicule that Paul writes the words found in 1 Thessalonians 2, beginning in verse 13.
Read 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20
Did you catch those words describing the Thessalonians’ situation? Paul says they “suffered,” which is the same Greek word used to describe the sufferings of Jesus Christ on the cross. They were driven out, which is a definition of persecution. Paul and his team sought to come back to them again and again, but they continued to face roadblocks. And how did they respond to all of these difficulties? The answer is found earlier in the letter in 1:6 – they welcomed the message with joy.
How is that? How could these people who were facing all kinds of ridicule, persecution, and even threats on their lives receive this life-changing message with joy? In this passage we just read, Paul lists three divine resources that were available to them. These same resources are available to us in times of suffering and persecution, too.
Responding to suffering and persecution with joy begins with God’s Word within Us. Verse 13 reminds us that we need to allow God’s Word to work in us. The church has been founded on the Word of God, the message of the Gospel: the life-changing message of the good news of Jesus Christ. That same Word that brings us salvation also enables us to live for Christ and to endure suffering for His sake. If we are going to be victorious and joyful in suffering, we must appreciate the Word. We need to allow it to become part of us and to change us from within.
God’s Word is a mirror. It shows us who we are. But it doesn’t stop there. It shows us who we are supposed to be…prompting us to become more like Christ. As we listen to the Word, we cannot do so with just our ears. We must listen with our hearts, allowing it to pierce us in the inner parts of our lives – the parts we’d rather keep hidden from everyone else.
But we cannot stop there. Allowing God’s Word to work within us, we have to put it into practice. James’s letter to the early church reminds us that we cannot be merely hearers of the Word. We must be doers of the Word. The Word of God working within us is a great source of power in times of testing and suffering. If we allow God’s word to work on us, in us, and through us, we will allow ourselves to be controlled by God’s Word. And that will bring us victory and joy.
When suffering or going through trials, it can become very tempting to be self-centered and think that we are the only ones who are going through difficulties. It’s when this happens that it’s easy to want to do things on our own – to become a “Lone Ranger Christian,” as the term has been known. You go off by yourself and throw your own little pity party and sit around and wallow in your own difficulty and suffering. That is the last thing we need to be doing. Yes, there are times when we need to be alone, but we cannot spend all of our times in isolation. God’s people are called to be in community together. And verses 14-16 remind us that our sufferings are not unique. We realize this when we experience God’s People Around Us.
Paul recounts the suffering of Jesus as a reminder that our sufferings and trials are not new experiences. Jesus Christ suffered at the hands of his accusers. Throughout history, other Christians have suffered as a result of following Christ. And Christians around the world continue to experience persecution.
We need to remember this because we cannot give in to the temptation to try to go through this on our own. You can’t do it on your own. As a church, we stand together and rally around each other in times of difficulty, encouraging one another.
Satan is doing his best to isolate us from one another. A lonely believer is much more vulnerable to his attacks. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us that “your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Have you ever watched those nature shows that go out on the African grasslands? Have you seen a lion on the hunt? Do you know the first prey the lion targets? The animal that is away from the pack. It takes a lot less effort to attack and kill the prey that is alone.
The same is true with us as believers. We are much more vulnerable to Satan’s attacks when we try to deal with our suffering on our own. As a church, we need to remember this and rally around those of us we know are hurting. And when you hurt…and we all will hurt at some point…we cannot give up on God’s community of believers, which is the church. It is within this community that we will be encouraged to respond to our trials and difficulties with joy.
And finally, this morning, we must keep things in proper perspective. We need to keep God’s Glory Before Us. When we face roadblocks and obstacles in our lives, it can be easy to focus on those things. We can look back and mourn the death of a dream or the loss of a relationship, allowing ourselves to be consumed by such things. That’s focusing on the roadblock. Paul didn’t look back and give in to regret and remorse. Instead, he looked ahead and rejoiced – because the best is yet to come! We must keep the same perspective, remembering to live in the future tense as well as the present.
We eagerly anticipate Christ’s return. But in the meantime, which really is a mean, difficult time, we need to continue to remember to persevere with joy. We can do that by allowing God’s Word to work within us; living with God’s people around us; and keeping God’s glory before us.
When the Christians in Thessalonica received this letter, it must have encouraged them tremendously. They were going through intense persecution and suffering. Surely some of them wanted to just throw their hands up and say “I just give up.”
Paul is shouting to us, just as he did to the Thessalonian church, “Don’t give up!” Take hold of the spiritual resources you have in Christ. You have the Word of God within you, the people of God around you, and the glory of God before you. There’s no need to give up. He has already given us the tools for victory.
 Examples from Mark Batterson, http://evotional.com/2009/07/founding-fathers.html
 Mark Batterson
 I am indebted to Warren Wiersbe’s thoughts regarding this passage found in Be Ready: Living in Light of Christ’s Return (1 & 2 Thessalonians), pp 48-57.