Enduring Trials in Light of Jesus' Return: Enduring Trials in Light of Jesus’ Return: You? Worthy of the Kingdom of God?

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on September 16, 2012

2 Thessalonians 1:5-10

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The Lord’s Day Morning


September 16, 2012



“Enduring Trials in Light of
Jesus’ Return: You?
Worthy of the Kingdom
of God?”


2 Thessalonians 1:5-10


The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to 2 Thessalonians
chapter 1. We’re going to be looking
at verses 5 to 10. This is a passage
about persecution and it’s the passage from which the theme of our study of 2
Thessalonians is drawn. We have
called this, “Enduring Trials in Light of Jesus’ Return” and that is exactly
what Paul is talking about in this passage.
And though persecution may be an alien thing to us, affliction and
suffering for our belief in Christ and our testimony to Him, it is not a strange
reality to many of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.
There are thousands upon thousands of Christians who know the reality
themselves, not second hand but first hand, of which Paul speaks in this
passage. And all of us need to be
prepared for the testimony should we be called to give it.
And so I want us to look at this passage together today.
Let’s pray before we hear God’s Word.

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word.
You mean it for our encouragement, You mean it for our benefit, You mean it for
Your glory, so do these things in us as we hear it read and explained and
applied. Work it deep into our
hearts by Your Holy Spirit. Open our
eyes to behold wonderful things in Your Word, in Jesus’ name, amen.

This is the Word of God. Hear it
from 2 Thessalonians chapter 1 beginning in verse 5:

“This is the evidence
of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the
kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering — since indeed God considers it
just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you
who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven
with His mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not
know God and on those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus.
They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the
presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might, when He comes on that day
to be glorified in His saints, and to be marveled at among all who have
believed, because our testimony to you was believed.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.
May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

About the year AD 156, right in the middle of the second century, an eight-six
year old Christian pastor from Smyrna in Asia
Minor, modern day Turkey,
was arrested by the local Roman provincial ruler, simply for being a Christian
and for refusing to worship the emperor, and his name was Polycarp.
He had been appointed to be a pastor in the little city of
Smyrna by John, that John.
He was born about the year that Jerusalem fell, AD 70.
He was probably about twenty-five years old when the apostle John died.
He represents that generation of transition between the apostolic age
into an age where there were no longer apostles; and he loved the Lord.
And when the local Roman ruler said to him, “Unless you deny Jesus and
worship the spirit of the emperor, I will throw you to wild beasts and I will
burn you at the stake,” he refused to recant his love and trust in the Lord
Jesus Christ. In fact, we have
recorded for us, by his congregation a year after he died, the prayer that he
prayed before he was burned at the stake.
And in the middle of that prayer, he said, “Oh Lord, I thank You that I
have been counted worthy to be numbered among Your martyrs.”
Now you recognize that language comes right out of 2 Thessalonians.
What has the apostle Paul just said to them in verse 5?
“That you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God for which you are also
suffering.” Is that how you would
think about it were you called upon to suffer to be afflicted or even die
because of your love and trust in Jesus Christ?

Many of us have been praying for about three years now for pastor Youcef
Nadarkhani from Iran, a Christian minister who had been in prison simply because
he was a Christian, simply because he was attempting to share the Gospel and
live as a belief in our Lord Jesus Christ in a state in which that is against
the law. And we were thrilled this
last week when he was released from prison and when the death penalty was
suspended and when he gained freedom for the first time in many, many years.
But what would have been our reaction had the supreme court of
Iran gone through with the death sentence?
Surely one appropriate reaction would have been moral outrage that,
simply for believing in the Lord Jesus Christ a person could be put to death.
But would part of our reaction have been, “Lord, we thank You that pastor
Youcef has been counted worthy to be numbered among the martyrs”?

At the installation of the new chancellor of Reformed Seminary just a couple of
days ago, I quoted Michael Ramsden’s words from the Lausanne Congress on World
Evangelism, Cape Town in 2010, where he
said, “There’s no such thing as a closed country if you’re willing to die for
the Gospel.” Is that how you think
about it? Is that how you think
about affliction and persecution, possible death, because of trusting in Jesus
Christ and bearing witness to His name?
That view is pervasive in early Christianity.
There was a recognition that it was a very significant blessing and gift
from the Lord to be counted worthy to suffer for Him.
And Paul is talking about that to the Thessalonians in this passage.

And it raises a very interesting question.
Notice what he says in verse 5.
“This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God that you may be
considered worthy of the
kingdom
of God.”
Now that’s a strange statement to make because persecutions and trials
seem to contradict the righteous judgment of God rather than to confirm it.
I mean, think about it. If
God is God and God is sovereign and God is good, why in the world would His
people be suffering and afflicted and persecuted simply for believing in Him?
It seems to contradict the goodness of His judgment that His people would
endure affliction and be persecuted simply because of faithfulness to His name.
But Paul here says that God’s righteous judgment is evidence and
demonstrated and made manifest amongst the Thessalonians in the Thessalonians
even in what they are suffering and what they are going through.
And you have to ask the question, “How?
How exactly, Paul, is God’s righteous judgment manifest through that?
You mean, God’s righteous judgment is manifest through these humble,
faithful, Christians in Thessalonica suffering?”
“Yes,” Paul says.

Now that ought to make you a little bit curious.
What does Paul mean by that and what exactly evidences God’s just
judgment? “Are you saying that
suffering evidences God’s just judgment?”
No. No, Paul tells you.
Look one verse ahead of the passage we just read.
Look at verse 4 of 2 Thessalonians chapter 1 where Paul is talking about
what he boasts about the Thessalonians to the other Christian churches.
What is it we boast about?
“Your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions
that you are enduring.” Paul is
saying that God’s just judgment is demonstrated, it’s made manifest, it’s
evidenced, it’s proven in the Thessalonians staying faithful, keeping on
believing, enduring steadfastly the trials and afflictions and persecutions
which are encompassing them, that God’s judgment is made manifest in that — His
just judgment. Now you still have to
ask the question, “How exactly? How
is God’s just judgment made manifest in believers staying faithful and enduring
through afflictions and persecutions?”
Well Paul tells you two things in this passage and I want to focus on
those things with you together this morning.


BELIEVERS’ ENDURANCE UNDER
AFLICTION AND SUFFERING


JUSTIFIES GOD’S FINAL JUDGEMENT

The first thing is this. Paul says
that the faith and endurance of the Thessalonians under affliction and suffering
and persecution is proof of God’s righteous judgment in two ways.
And the first way is that it justifies God’s final judgment.
Now if you read the Jewish rabbis from this time and a little bit
earlier, they had, in their writings, in a number of places, that the unjustly
persecuted righteous person has a right to rejoice in that suffering because
God, at His final judgment, is going to make everything right.
So that if we suffer in this life we will be liberated from that
suffering in the life to come. But
Paul is actually saying something more than that here.
Paul is saying that the very suffering that the righteous endure, God’s
judgment in the final judgment is justified.
Why? Because sin cannot
triumph in a moral universe and those who unjustly afflict the righteous must be
punished. And the apostle Paul is
saying, “Thessalonians, even as you in faith and steadfastness endure unjust
suffering, you justify God’s final judgment.”
What is one of the doctrines that people today hate the most?
The doctrine of God’s final judgment.
And why do they hate it? One
of the reasons they hate it is because they say it’s unjust, it’s unfair.
God ought to forgive everybody; God ought to bless everybody; God ought
to accept everybody. And it’s mean
and it’s wrong and it’s unfair to talk about God judging the world.
Well here’s the apostle Paul saying, “In the face of unjust affliction,
there is a moral demand that the afflicters be punished.
As they have unjustly punished just believers, justice demands that they
themselves be punished.”

You know, when you walk out of a courtroom, most of the time people walk out of
the courtroom and one party says, “The judge got it right,” and the other party
says, “The judge got it completely wrong.”
On Judgment Day, willingly or not, grudgingly or not, everyone will have
to admit, “The Judge got it right.
It was right for God to judge wrong.
It was right for God to judge injustice.
It was right for God to judge the afflicters of oppression and wrong and
injustice in this world.” Everybody
will have to acknowledge God was right to do it.
And the apostle Paul is saying to the Thessalonians, “The very fact that
you’re enduring under this injust persecution, justifies God’s final judgment on
all wickedness.”

But notice, by the way, that’s not the only thing that Paul says here that the
afflicters had done. Not only have
they afflicted the innocent, they have also, notice the language — verse 8.
They have not known God, they have not obeyed the Gospel, and whereas he
congratulates, if you look down at verse 10, the Thessalonians for believing his
testimony, these afflicters have not believed his testimony.
They have not known God, they have not obeyed the Gospel, and they have
not believed Paul’s testimony. And
the apostle Paul says they will be judged.
“For although they knew they ought to worship God,” Romans 1, “they have
chosen to worship the creature rather than the Creator.”
And though they have heard the command of the Gospel, “Believe on the
Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved,” they have rejected that command.
And though they have heard the testimony of Paul and the other apostles
that “there is no other name under heaven that has been given by which we may be
saved but the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,” they have rejected that testimony
and consequently they will be justly judged.
It is very important for all of us to take that in.
We can sit here Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, week after week, year after
year and not realize the solemnity of this word.
Right now counts forever and refusing to know God and to believe the
Gospel and to accept the testimony of the apostles, carries with it eternal
consequences.

Listen to the language that Paul uses here.
What’s going to happen? “The
Lord Jesus is going to be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming
fire and inflict vengeance on those who do not know God and who do not obey the
Gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will
suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the Lord and from the
glory of His might.” It’s very
interesting that when the Roman official who captured Polycarp questioned him
and demanded that he renounce Jesus and worship the spirit of the emperor, he
said to him, “Do you not know that if you will not do what I say, I will burn
you with fire?” Polycarp responded,
“You may burn me with the fire that lasts for only a while, but if you do not
repent, you will burn in the fire that lasts forever.”
And I want us to take that in.
Paul is deadly serious about the just judgment that awaits all who do not
know God, who do not trust in Christ, who do not receive the Gospel, who do not
believe on the good word of testimony that has been given by inspiration through
him and through the other apostles.
This is so important, young people, for you.
You can hear the message of the Gospel in Sunday school and in Vacation
Bible School and in your homes and family worship and family devotions and you
can read about it and it can fall on deaf ears.
But your response to that Gospel will determine eternity for you.
Paul is warning of that in this passage and we need to take it in.


BELIEVERS’ ENDURANCE UNDER
AFLICTION AND SUFFERING


PROVES, DEMONSTRATES, AND MAKES
MANIFEST


THE JUST JUDGEMENT OF GOD

But there’s a second reason in this passage that the apostle Paul says that the
faith and endurance of the Thessalonians under affliction and suffering have
proven, demonstrated, made manifest the just judgment of God.
And it is this. Paul says
here that through that, through their faith and their endurance of affliction
and suffering, God is using even their affliction and suffering to sanctify them
and so that they will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God.
Turn back with me in your Bibles to Acts chapter 5 verse 41.
This theme, I challenge you to study it; we don’t have time to look at
all of the passages in the New Testament this morning but I challenge you to
study this theme in the New Testament.
I’m going to show you a few passages.
But in Acts 5 verse 41 you remember the apostles have been imprisoned and
then they escape and they go back to preaching and then they’re hauled before
the Sanhedrin again and the council beats them, they torture them, the threaten
them, they tell them, “We’re going to let you go but stop preaching in Jesus’
name.” And what are we told in Acts
chapter 5 verse 41 that their reaction is?
“They left the presence of the council rejoicing that they were counted
worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

Now it’s very interesting that New Testament Christians thought that suffering
for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ was a gift from God.
I want you to think about that for a second.
You remember what Paul says in Philippians?
“For to you it has been granted not only to believe but also to suffer
for His name.” They viewed suffering
for Christ as a gift just like they viewed faith as a gift from God, so
suffering for Christ was a gift. And
here are the apostles saying, “Lord, we’re unworthy men and we accept it as a
gift that you’ve counted us as worthy; even though in and of ourselves we’re not
worthy, You’ve counted us worthy to suffer for Your sake.”
You understand that it was a problem for the apostles that immediately
after Pentecost they didn’t suffer.
They were a little bit worried about that.
You know, we get worried when we suffer; they got worried because they
didn’t suffer and now that they’ve been tortured for the faith they go out
praising the Lord, “Thank You, Lord because You’d already told us in Matthew
chapter 5 that everyone who loves You is going to be persecuted for You.
Thank You, Lord that You’ve granted to us that we could suffer for Your
name!” Is that your attitude and is
that my attitude? And you know why
it isn’t? Because we don’t treasure
the Lord Jesus enough. He doesn’t
mean the world to us. He meant the
world to Paul; He meant the world to Peter; He meant the world to the apostles.
It was a privilege to suffer for Him because He meant more than anything
else in this world.

Just look at how this plays out in the New Testament.
Turn to 1 Peter chapter 4. In
1 Peter chapter 4 verse 13, Peter says, “Rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s
sufferings that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.
If you are insulted for the name of Christ you are blessed because the
spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”
There’s the instruction from Peter who can speak out of his own
experience. He had suffered for the
Lord and his reaction was rejoicing, just like Paul — you remember when Paul is
in the prison in Philippi and the earthquake comes and the gates are opened and
the jailors about to kill himself because he’s afraid that he’s lost his
customers and they’re singing hymns?
They’re rejoicing! Why?
Because just exactly what Peter said.
“Rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings.”

Well think about what Paul says in Romans 5.
Turn back to Romans 5 and look at verse 3.
Paul says, “We rejoice in our sufferings knowing that suffering produces
endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope.”
There’s Paul saying, “Lord, You’re so wonderful.
You use our sufferings to sanctify us!
It’s amazing! Our persecutors
think this is going to break our spirit and it’s going to turn us back from
Christ and it’s going to prove their victory in this world and You use it to
make us more like Jesus! You use it
to grow us up in grace, to mature us in Christ.”

Turn back to 1 Peter again but now just to the first chapter, 1 Peter chapter 1
verse 6. He says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if
necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested
genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it’s
tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the
revelation of Jesus Christ.” You see
this theme running throughout the New Testament?
Suffering for Jesus but rejoicing?
Why? Because it’s a proof of
God’s righteous judgment and it is a gift in which He declares you to be worthy
of the kingdom. No wonder Polycarp
prayed, “Oh Lord, I thank You that You’ve counted me worthy to be numbered among
the martyrs.” And by the way, I want
you to notice the parallel. It’s the
same kind of language that Paul uses for justification, where we’re counted
righteous, not because of our own righteousness but because of Christ.
He says, “I’ve been counted worthy — not, He’s made me worthy; He’s not
declared that I’m worthy in myself.
This is a gift from the Lord. The
Lord has counted me worthy to suffer for Christ.”
You see, it’s a proof of God’s grace just like justification is a proof
of God’s grace. Polycarp’s not
saying, “I’m acceptable to God because I died.”
He’s saying, “The Lord has blessed me with the privilege of suffering and
dying for His name. He has counted
me worthy even though I’m not.”

The Roman official said to Polycarp, “If you will renounce Christ and offer
incense to the emperor, I will let you go.
All you have to do is recant His name, curse His name.”
Do you know what Polycarp said to him?
He said, “I have served my Lord for eighty-six years and He has never
once done me wrong. How can I
blaspheme Him now? Do with me what
you will.” Would that be your
reaction? Do you love the Lord Jesus
that much? Are you that convinced of
His love for you? Does He mean more
to you than this life? My friends,
those are the Christians that change this world by God’s grace.
And who knows how in our own time we may be called, especially those of
you who are younger, how you may be called to give testimony to the Lord Jesus
Christ. It will be my prayer that,
by God’s grace, you are counted worthy to suffer for His name.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for this word, solemn though it be, and we pray
that You would change us by it for our everlasting good and for Your eternal
glory. We ask it in Jesus’ name,
amen.

Well let’s this great hymn by the tune by Martin Luther, “Great God, What Do I
See and Hear?” And Dr. Wymond will
play through it once and then we’ll sing it.

The only way to be prepared to meet Him is by the Gospel.
We need the mercy that’s provided only in Jesus Christ and God does that
amply in Him. Receive then the
Lord’s blessing. The grace of our
Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Amen.

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