July 9th—11th 2011
2 THESSALONIANS 2:16–3:5
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor Tim Smith
16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. 1 Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. 2 And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. 4 We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. (NIV – 1984)
Pray for the spread of the Gospel
In my own heart
Throughout the whole world
Reread 3:1: Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.
Pray for the spread of the Gospel. That’s what Paul asked of his friends the Thessalonians. Please bow yours heads and pray with me now:
Lord God Almighty, Creator of the Heavens and the Earth and who formed each one of us in the wombs of our mothers, who brought the Gospel of Jesus Christ to each one of us and made us your own, we ask you to bring your gospel everywhere it needs to go into the whole world. Bring it into our own hearts, and bring it to the whole world, through any and every means possible. Make it do your wonderful work wherever you send it; make every one of us strangers in the world so that we will all be natives of our heavenly home. Amen.
Why do Christians pray? If God knows everything in our hearts and if he knows our every need and if he provides for us as the Bible says he does, and if he does whatever pleases him, as the Psalm says, then why do we pray? Why do we need to?
When it comes down to it, there must be one of two reasons: Prayer must either fulfill something that God needs from us, or that we need from God. It’s a pretty easy answer, once we ask the right questions. God does not need our prayers, but he invites us to pray. He even coaxes us to pray. And we even have the example—many examples—of Jesus our Lord praying, at the beginning, middle and end of his ministry on earth. From the day when he emerged from the Jordan dripping with the water of his baptism to the night he knelt dripping with his own bloody sweat in Gethsemane, Jesus prayed. He prayed for the will of his Father to be done. He prayed for the success of his mission, and for the spread of the gospel throughout the whole world.
To help us understand why we pray, let’s imagine a world in which we couldn’t pray. What if prayer were forbidden? What if God had closed off all communication with mankind from the moment Christ ascended? What if he had said: “I’ll be coming back, but until I return, leave my Father in heaven alone; he’s got lots to do and he can’t be disturbed.”
We would begin to wonder whether he were even there. Our faith would be in a constant state of crisis. If we were unable to communicate with God, we would stop listening to God communicating with us through his holy word and through his sacraments.
In fact, our sins do just that. The prophet Jeremiah warns again and again that when people reject God—when people close themselves off from God’s word, then God himself says: “Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.” God doesn’t want us to go through the motions, he wants us to follow him and trust him, heart and soul, body and mind, intellect and spirit. Because through Jesus, we have access to God, we have permission to pray and a commission to pray. Jesus’ blood, shed for our sins, has opened the channel of communication, and he invites us to pray.
So why on earth would anyone ever stop praying? When the danger is the very health of my immortal, eternal soul, why would I ever run the risk of hurting my faith by closing off my channel of communication with my God?
What a blessing it is to be invited to pray!
And so we pray. We pray for the success of the Gospel in our hearts. Paul tells his friends: God our Father loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement. The “eternal encouragement” is the gospel itself. We see it at work changing hearts and turning people back from sinful lives to knowing their Savior. Think of the woman at the well in Samaria. She was a woman who was caught in a tangle of sexual sins and she didn’t know how to get out of it. She had gone from man to man, not knowing what else to do, and when Jesus found her she was living with a guy who wasn’t her husband—she already had the guilt. She only needed to hear the gospel, and when Jesus told her who he was, and what he had come into the world to do, her heart melted in the bright light of God’s grace and forgiveness.
That’s what God has done for each one of us. Maybe you’re a child right now, struggling with hidden sins of selfishness or maybe you’ve fallen into a habit of stealing. Maybe you try to survive with your friends by putting them down just a little bit, or by picking on someone because it makes you feel better. That’s called bullying, and it’s done with words and looks, and not really by fists or kicks.
Maybe you’re an adult with a bad habit; something that you do because you’re bored or because you don’t know anything else that makes you feel better, or because there’s somebody you’re trying to either impress or else you’re trying to show them up. Please—it’s a waste of time. Turn your guilt to the mirror of God’s law and see that it’s a sin, and grab onto the hand of Jesus held out to you in forgiveness and peace. Don’t turn away from your Savior. He loves you, and he wants you in his kingdom, in his family; in his heaven.
Remember the day that you were baptized? Most of us don’t because we were too small to remember. That’s one reason why we like to baptize babies during Church, if possible, so that the rest of us can see it happening again, can see the miracle taking place in that little one there at the font, and know that once, however many years ago, that was us. That was me. And my faith today is the proof.
So we pray for the spread of the Gospel, so that the whole world will be turned away from their sins, and come to faith, and be saved. We pray for the success of the Gospel because we know that the success of the gospel in the world is what God himself wants.
He will take care of how his word works, and where. God’s love is clear in Christ; God’s perseverance reminds us that the road ahead is no easy cobblestone path, it’s a long, often antagonistic and sometimes even hostile road that’s not always clear, and rarely what we think it’s going to be. But God is faithful, and we remain in his word for strength as he prepares us for lives of service.
Do know the difference between the prophets Jonah and Nahum? Nahum lived about a hundred years after Jonah, but both men were called on by God to preach to the city of Nineveh, the capital of Israel’s great enemy the Assyrian Empire. One difference you can probably guess at is that Jonah tried to say “no” to this call from God, got into a storm, got thrown overboard, and was saved from drowning by being swallowed by a huge fish or whale. Nahum, on the other hand, said “yes” to God the first time. But that’s not the difference I’m thinking of. It’s the difference in their messages. Through Jonah, God was giving the people of Nineveh a chance to repent; a chance at God’s grace. There was a chance for the gospel to do it’s strange and wonderful work. And it did. It made a difference. People repented, and people were saved. But when Nahum preached to Nineveh, there was no longer a chance to repent; no longer a moment for God’s grace. There was no gospel for Nineveh anymore.
But both prophets carried out God’s will.
We don’t always know what God’s will is when we proclaim his word. Will the Law work and stop sin? Will the Gospel work and turn hearts back to the Lord? Will the word harden hearts like Pharaoh spitting at Moses or the people of Nineveh caught going back to their old sinful habits? That’s for God to decide, and for the Holy Spirit to carry out in the world.
As for us, we pray. We pray for the spread of the gospel, in our own hearts, and throughout the whole world. And what a privilege it is to be invited to pray, by Jesus Christ himself. Amen.