Christ the King Sunday, November 24, 2013
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
I Thessalonians 5:16-24
“Three Commands, Two Prohibitions, and a Royal Wish”
“O God, our King and our Glory, set Your seal upon our hearts. Fashion our lives into a song of Your justice and goodness, so that the world might know of Your righteous reign. And when our earthly songs are spent, bring us to the throne of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Today holds the special honor of being the last Sunday on the Christian liturgical calendar. Today is called “Christ the King Sunday”. Next Sunday is the beginning of the Christian Church Calendar with the 1st Sunday of Advent, the season that helps us prepare for the coming of Jesus – as a baby in Bethlehem some 2000+ years ago, and His return as the King of kings and Lord of lords at His 2nd coming.
So the Church year begins with Church people commemorating and celebrating Christ’s life – preparation for His 1st and 2nd comings, a time of remembering His life and ministry, the season of Lent helping the Church repent and receive God’s gift of eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (the Easter weekend), celebrating Christ’s ascension, followed by several weeks of being the Church under His Lordship, culminating in recognizing Christ’s ultimate reign as King of the universe (today), and then we start all over again.
But today is also the Sunday before Thanksgiving, an American holiday to stop and give thanks to our Creator for the ways He has provided our freedoms and liberties.
For Jews, and Jewish Christians, this week also is the beginning of Hanukkah, an 8-day celebration of God’s providential care to His people.
It’s a full week! I hope you are able to slow down enough this week to take advantage of celebrating who you are as a child of God and what God has done and continues to do for you every day (and I suggest that that means do not going Christmas shopping on Thanksgiving Day!).
If you look at today’s Sermon title, you might be able to guess that I tried to come up with a poker hand title, like: 3-of-a-kind, a pair, and a royal flush; or a full house and a royal flush – but I’m just not a poker player, and so I couldn’t figure out how to make that make sense. Instead, I simply described what today’s Bible passage contains: 3 commandments, 2 prohibitions, and a royal wish. Today, as we continue in our series on the Bible’s teachings about prayer we read these words from Paul to the Church in Thessalonica, I Thessalonians 5:16-24…. —-
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.
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. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
Some of you, way back when you were children, had to memorize a Bible verse in order to win a VBS contest, or to finish your confirmation class, or just to impress a Sunday School teacher – and so you memorized John 11:35, which says … “Jesus wept.” Why was that the verse you memorized? Because it’s the shortest verse in the whole Bible!
But, for those who opened your Bibles and followed along, what did you notice about I Thessalonians 5: 16 and/or 17? Also only two words long – and much happier words than “Jesus wept”!
Verses 16, 17 and 18 contain our three commandments. I want you to hear that these are biblical commandments! When we do not obey a commandment, what do we call that? A sin! Right. So let’s take a quick look at these commandments, and learn how to obey them better. If you are a note taker, write down Commandments 1, 2, and 3.
Next to #1 write down: Rejoice always
Next to #2 write down: Pray continually (this is our “prayer verse” for the day)
Next to #3 write down: give thanks in all circumstances (this is a typical Thanksgiving verse).
And then notice that, for the careful exegete, and the grammarian who reads well, these commands have a rationale statement attached. The end of verse 18 applies to all three verses.
16 Rejoice always (WHY?) – for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
17 Pray continually (WHY?) – for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
18 Give thanks in all circumstances (WHY?) – for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
A couple of weeks ago when we read Philippians 4, we had some of these same commands:
Command #1 is REJOICE always. Sometimes, rejoicing is the easiest, most natural thing we can do. When healthy babies are born! When difficult exams are passed! When chronic or terminal diagnoses are declared clear! When we marry the perfect mate! When we put a down-payment on our first house; or make our last payment on our mortgage!
Sometimes we do not rejoice at all. We find it nearly impossible to rejoice.
Sometimes we rejoice only because we try to be obedient to the Scriptures – we don’t really feel any joy at all, but the Bible says to rejoice, so we just fake it.
Sometimes we are able to rejoice even in the midst of the most difficult circumstances – because of something much deeper in our souls than the mere happy or dreadful situation we find ourselves in. This might be easy, but it is definitely the most super-natural, God-gifted, response our spirits can make.
Do we rejoice always? We need to find our strength and our comfort in God through Jesus Christ under the influence of the Holy Spirit for this to even be possible – that’s why this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Because He loves us.
Command #2 is PRAY continually. Did you hear? This is God’s Word telling us that nothing is too insignificant or too big a problem for us to bring to God in prayer. In every situation – every situation, from new cancer diagnosis to a hole in the sole of your shoe – Pray continually! Again, in Philippians 4 it said to pray continually with THANKSGIVING – why would we pray with thanksgiving? Not because of the doctor’s diagnosis or the pink slip or the final warning; but because we trust God to be God Almighty, All-Knowing, and All-loving, which means, even when we don’t like what the answer is, it’s the right answer, so keep on praying with thanksgiving!
This is the “Sermon Series on Prayer” verse of this passage. We are all reminded to pray with thanksgiving. Do we bring every concern to God – with thanksgiving already on our lips? Or do we hesitate to bring some things to God, because they’re just too small for God to care about, or too big for God to handle? Start today; pray continually with thanksgiving in your hearts – that’s why this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Because He loves us.
Command #3 is Give thanks in all circumstances because God loves you so much, He wants you to trust Him even in the hard circumstances – that’s why this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Because He loves us.
The next four verses contain our two prohibitions. What’s the difference between a commandment and a prohibition? There really is no difference, except the prohibitions are negative commands, like “Thou shalt not”. To disobey this is just as sinful as disobeying the “Thou shalt” commands.
If you are a note taker, write down Prohibitions 1, and 2.
Next to #1 write down: Do not quench the Spirit.
Next to #2 write down: Do not treat prophecies with contempt.
For many people, these prohibitions require a little explanation or description. What does it mean to “quench the Spirit”? Who here knows who Debbie Downer is? She’s a sketch character on Saturday Night Live, and everywhere Debbie Downer goes, she’s a wet blanket. She always sees the pessimistic possibilities of every situation; and she always has a story to bring everyone else in the room down with her. She “quenches the spirit” of any party she goes to. That’s sort of what Paul is talking about in this passage, but notice that in our English translations the word “Spirit” is spelled with a capital “S”. He is talking about “quenching the Holy Spirit”, not just the over-all feeling or atmosphere in a room. Warren Wiersbe describes this as “an admonition to Christians not to resist and reject the ministry of the Holy Spirit.” He says, “The image is that of fire. Just as fire brings light, heat, and cleansing, so the [Holy] Spirit enlightens, enables, and purifies His people. Paul reminded Timothy to ‘stir up the gift of God’ (II Tim. 1:6), which means ‘get the fire burning again’.”
And, “Do not treat prophecies with contempt” is Paul’s way of reminding the Church to listen to God’s voice, in Scripture and through mature and gifted Christians.
How do you know if you are “quenching the Spirit” or “treating prophecies with contempt”? Paul tells us in verses 21 and 22: Test the Spirit and test the words of prophecy, and in your testing against what the Word of God says in Scripture and the what the character of God calls us to be like, hold on to those things which line up well, and reject everything else as if it were evil – because it is!
About 15 months ago, I sensed the Holy Spirit guiding me into an extended sermon series on prayer, with a once-monthly extended prayer-time, and this guidance was confirmed by some prophetic words from a mentor – and so we have been exploring different aspects of prayer and prayer-life for over a year. I held on to what seemed good and rejected that which seemed wrong. And I have heard from many of you that your personal prayers have become more powerful and that our corporate prayer-times have been more meaningful. For that, I have been rejoicing always, praying continually, and giving thanks every week. I trust you have found deeper meaning in your prayers as well.
Finally, on this Christ the King Sunday, there is one Royal Wish in verses 23-24: 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. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
If you’re a note taker, write down One Royal Wish: May your whole being, spirit, soul, and body, be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord King Jesus!
Next Sunday we start the new liturgical year with the first Sunday of Advent celebrating the coming of the new-born King of the Jews in that Bethlehem stable, and we commemorate His coming again as King of all kings and Lord of all lords.
How do we be “blameless”? Not by trying harder. We’ll never make it! No one ever has. We become “blameless” in spirit, soul and body, simply by receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior. If we confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, we shall be saved – for God so loved the world that any and all who believe in him shall not perish but have everlasting life!
And remember, the one who calls you, God Himself, is faithful, and He will do it.
Do you believe that Good News?
If not, do you want to? Let’s pray: Lord God, we gather here today, rejoicing that You have called us into fellowship with You, praying from the depths of our beings, and giving thanks for today’s Word from Your Bible, that we just need to confess our own sin and sin-fulness, and we ask You to enter into our lives and take over as Lord. As we officially enter into the season leading to Christmas this week, open us, open me, to the real reason for this season. I love You, Lord; and I want to live in Your Kingdom. In Christ the King’s name we pray, Amen.
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Faith Alive Resources; 2012; P. 278.
Wiersbe, Warren; With the Word; Oliver Nelson; Nashville, TN; 1991; P. 792.