Despite all our technological gadgets, our toys, the entertainment industry, including sports, and an army of psychiatrists with all their drugs, we live in the midst of millions of very sad people. Despite all the casinos, comedians and carnivals, death still steals away people’s loved ones, and there is nothing we can do to stop it. As science eliminates or limits one disease or problem, two more come along to make people miserable. While 1% of the population rejoices because their team won the championship, the rest are depressed because their team didn’t. Divorce, alcoholism, drug addiction, the nightly news and the jail population explosion tell us that there are a great many unhappy people in the world. And, if we’d admit it, from time to time we join them.
In that light, please notice that this scripture concludes with – “Wherefore comfort yourselves together.” I realize that I preached from this scripture not too many months ago, but my purpose then was different from what it is this morning. I am most interested in that exhortation, Wherefore comfort yourselves.” How often do we hear that sort of thing from the Word of God? Doesn’t its frequency reiterate that there is a great need? Over and over again, it comes to us in different ways and formats. We find it is in the last verse of the preceding chapter – “Wherefore comfort one another with these words” And it arises again three verses from now – “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.”
The Greek word “comfort” is “parakaleo” which is a compound which speaks of “calling along side” or “calling to one’s side.” It suggests throwing one’s arm around the shoulder of someone and drawing him to close. It implies a real or perhaps a virtual “hug” of support and encouragement. It is translated “consolation” in II Thessalonians 2:16 – “Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.” Comfort is a part of the ministry of God – Christ, the Holy Spirit and even God the Father. Salvation involves an “everlasting consolation.” And in association with God, Christians are commanded to carry out this kind of ministry. “Wherefore comfort yourselves together.” Be Christlike, console those who are in need. “Comfort one another with these words.” With what words, Paul?
This takes us back to my message from February – which I must briefly summarize. The Thessalonian Christians had been taught to expect the return of the Lord Jesus. They believed in the imminent return of Christ, just as we do. But they were confused about two points.
First, because of the violent persecution against them, they thought that the Tribulation had already begun. They took a post-trib, or perhaps a mid-trib, position on the return of the Lord and the translation of the saints, because they pictured themselves already in the time of Jacob’s Trouble – the Tribulation. I have no doubt that with lessons from the Book of Revelation sometime in their future, they came to call themselves “Pretribulationalists” – continuing to believe in the imminent return of the Lord. That was one of their problems; their second was a little more difficult for me to understand or justify. They believed that their dead loved ones would be left behind at the return of the Lord. They themselves would be caught up together with the Lord in the clouds, but they would not be together with their pre-deceased loved ones. Paul corrected that misconception in the previous chapter. “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
In this chapter, to emphasize their coming deliverance, the Apostle reiterates the nature of salvation. And it is about that I’d like us to meditate for a few minutes. “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.”
Both in the midst of his discussion and then again at its conclusion Paul says, “Wherefore comfort one another with these words” and“comfort yourselves together.” Again, with what words? First, with what he just said about the return of Christ. And then perhaps even more importantly, comfort one another with meditations on your new spiritual condition – your salvation from sin.
Why do people need comfort? Why especially do Christians need comfort or consolation? There are hundreds of reasons. It doesn’t matter if you think they are legitimate problems, to them they are real. One person feels alone in the world, needing the comfort of a companion and friend. The pet died of someone else died, or her favorite house plant dried up. Another has been told she isn’t as pretty as the average person, and this makes her sad. Someone else is in pain, or his body is filled with disease for which there doesn’t seem to be any help. Another has no money with which to buy the necessities of life. Someone just got unfriended on Facebook; someone lost his internet connection, and another simply lost his phone.
The two aspects to Paul’s theme combine to provide a comforting solution to all of life’s debilitating heartaches. Yes, I know he was thinking of specific depressing circumstances – really serious problems. But can’t Paul’s solutions provide comfort in other areas as well? “Wherefore comfort one another with these words” and“comfort yourselves together.”
One of the most comforting of all subjects is salvation from sin.
Consider the people to whom he was writing – “us.” “God hath not appointed US to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for US, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.” Obviously there are people who are appointed to wrath, but that doesn’t include “us.”
I attended Bible school in Missouri – one of the states considered to be in America’s South. Among the many people I met were two who I will always remember. One was a black man from West Africa who was attending the local secular college. We struck up a friendship, and over a year or so, I was able to lead him to the Lord. Sadly, when I brought him to church, I was politely told that since he was black I couldn’t bring him back. He told me that he understood (probably better than I did), but I’m sure he must have been hurt that he wasn’t considered one of “us” – even though he was a child of God.
The second man was a little more unique. He was a 250 pound hunchback, every bit as deformed and “ugly” as Victor Hugo’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Along with his physical deformities, he had some minor mental debilities. I worked with that man as a dish washer and saw him given the worst possible tasks because of who he was and how he looked. I have over the years forgotten his name, but I’ve never forgotten him. If there has ever been a young man who had a right to be depressed and needed comfort he was that man. He was not one of “us” in more than one way.
As I say, the first man, despite being alone in a strange country, really was one of “us” in the sense of this verse. He may have experienced the disgusting hatred and fear of man, but he apparently knew the love of God. “God (had not) appointed him to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.” If, when he went home, he not only carried a good education, but also the grace of God, he returned a truly blessed and joyful man. But I can’t say the same for my second friend. If he could have been regenerated and provided with a new spiritual heart, the deformities of his body and mind might have become insignificant. There is inexplicable comfort in knowing “God hath not appointed US to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.” That reality has the ability to overcome all the depressing things the world and life can throw at us.
In my earlier message I dealt with the word “wrath” so I’ll only spend a few moments on it today.
I believe the word has two meanings – one a little more broad that the second. In its widest sense it speaks of God’s eternal judgment as ultimately expressed in the word “hell” or in “the lake of fire.” Revelation 20 tells us there is a hell described as a “lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and (where the wicked) shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” Elsewhere Christ describes a self-centered, sinful man who died and immediately in hell he lifted up his eyes in torment. Because he had no faith in the Son of God he did not possess everlasting life, and as a result he did “not see life; but the wrath of God (rested) on him” – John 3:16. Paul says that, without exception, the wrath of God shall rest on the wicked. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” – John 3:36. Someday soon, the Lord will come, “in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. “
In addition to the wrath of God which shall fall upon the wicked for all eternity, there is a special sense in which the word is applied to the wrath which God will pour out upon the earth during the end times. In order to prepare Israel for her Messiah, and in preparation for the blissful kingdom of the Millennium, God will unleash His wrath upon this creation. It will take the form of unimagined disease, unleashed raw nature, and the unmitigated evil of men. The Book of Revelation describes that near-future day in which God’s wrath shall arrive and no man shall be able to stand before it. John says, “And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God. And one of the four beasts gave unto the seven angels seven golden vials full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever. And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth.”
In our text from I Thessalonians 5, I believe that Paul is speaking specifically about the wrath of the Tribulation. But that is just a foretaste of God’s eternal wrath. And the comfort of our text applies to both. “For God hath not appointed us to (any kind of) wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.” There is comfort in the fact that no matter what our problems are in this world, they are not comparable to what will be poured out upon the wicked – both alive at the time and then throughout eternity. By God’s grace some people have been delivered – saved from that.
There is also comfort in the word “appointed.”
“For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.” How many times have you made appointments, for which you have had to make sacrifices to keep? But the other party didn’t comply. Sometimes it is impossible to keep appointments, and we must humbly apologize – that is a part of life. And once in a while there is real disappointment in that broken meeting. Sometimes even a little comfort or consolation is needed.
The Christian can take comfort in the fact that the Almighty God has never missed an appointment. Jehovah cannot miss or break a date because that would be contrary to His God-hood – His nature. Circumstances can never keep our Saviour from the things which He has set in order. He can never be too sick or too busy to attend to a meeting He has scheduled. Satan may try to thwart the Lord, and sinners may link arms in rebellion against Him, but these are nothing before Him.
When God has not appointed us to wrath, there can no wrath approach us. What does brimstone smell like? I image some horrible sulphuric odor of the most offensive variety. The most minute whiff would churn our stomachs and burst our minds. Maybe so, but perhaps we’ll never know for sure, because God’s appointment will keep us so far from it that we’ll not even catch a whiff.
The Bible says that “it is appointed unto men once to die and after this (God’s) judgment.” But that appointment is no more sure than that we are NOT appointed to wrath. Those appointments are guaranteed by the omnipotent God. “Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
Take comfort in that Christ died for us.
There are people of from every tribe, every nation, every race and every economic strata who can say, “Christ died for us” – for “ME.” It doesn’t matter if we are deformed hunchbacks or as black as a lump of coal, if Christ has died for us we are most blessed.
I confess to struggling to bring this message together. It has been a busy and trying week – physically as well as spiritually. I began working on this sermon Wednesday, but it didn’t come together until yesterday. And this point was no easier than any other. How can I express in my limited vocabulary that “Christ died for us” other than to quote scriptures which have been quoted a thousand times before?
The eternal son of God, who cannot die, died for us. The Messiah of Israel, David’s royal Son, died when He should have ascended to the Millennial throne. The only sinless human being since Adam, died under the penalty of sin. The only ever innocent man was put to death as a criminal. While it makes no sense, it makes perfect sense, if we can somehow see the subject from one of the windows of heaven.
“Greater love hath no man that this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” What? Am I a friend of Christ? I have no explanation for this. This must be grace. “Christ gave himself for (my) sins that he might deliver (me) … according to the will of God and our Father.” The Lord Jesus Christ “hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savor” in direct contrast to the odor of burning brimstone which we deserve. He “gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify (us) unto himself.” “When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” “Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many…” “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree” of Calvary. We shall soon sing “a new song, saying, Thou art worthy… for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people and nation.” “Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
That Christ died is a mystery which only the Holy Spirit can adequately reveal. But an even greater mystery is that Christ died “for us.” Never in the history of human vocabulary as the little preposition “for” been so powerful. The meaning of this and so many others scriptures is that Christ died “on our behalf.” Contained in that word is the idea that He pushed us aside and took the bullet which was meant for us. The nails and thorns which pierced His hands, feet and head, were meant for us. As the theologians say, Christ’s death was substitutionary. His was a substitutionary sacrifice, like the ram who died at the hands of Abraham and in the place of Isaac. “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” “Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
And take comfort that whether we wake or sleep we shall live together with Him.
This takes us back to the theological problems the saints in Thessalonica had at the time. They were struggling over their understanding of the future condition of their martyred friends and loved ones. I won’t go to the trouble at this point of proving the meaning of the words “asleep” and “awake.” Suffice it to say, “sleep” is euphemistic language describing the dead. While their souls were with Christ the moment they died, their bodies lay motionless as if in a deep sleep. Sometimes those bodies were dressed in bed-clothes and laid in tombs much like bedrooms. Sometimes they were in coffins not much unlike beds. Many of them appeared almost normal – just like sleep. But they would not awaken no matter how much they were shaken.
But there is a day coming when the dead in Christ shall rise. Christ Jesus said, “The hour is coming… when the dead shall hear the voice of th son of God; and they that hear shall live.” “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” “Jesus said … I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believe in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” Though he were asleep yet shall he awaken.
Not only shall we awaken from our long physical sleep, if it should be God’s will that we die, we shall then live together with Him. “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” And how did the Lord Jesus preface that promise? “Let not your heart be troubled…” Or to put it another way, “Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
Brethren we have a solid positive answer for the depression which afflicts our neighbors. The grace of God’s salvation can lift up any heart, no matter the cause of its depths. We need to secure the answer in our own breast, and we need to share it with others.
But the place to begin here this morning, is with the question of James – “Is any among (us) afflicted?” Is your depression the result of conviction and sorrow for sin? Does your future look dismal because you can see nothing but the wrath of God? Come to the place where God’s grace was most clearly expressed; where joy begins. Christ said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”