Martin Luther once said there were two days on his calendar, this day and the Last Day. Why? Because Luther knew the simple truth the Thessalonians knew and that we all know - that the Last Day will come like a thief in the night. Which doesn’t mean Jesus will come at night, but only this: no one can see his coming. No one can look out the window and say, “Look, Jesus is a block away.” Or at the calendar, “Only five more days.” No, he’ll come unexpectedly. No one can predict it.
There’s this shiver in the spine - not fear, not paralyzed by worry - but excitement when you hear that reminder and suddenly you can do the math and put two and two together and put today and the great day of God my Savior together and say with Luther - “Look at my calendar! My Jesus may come today!”
That’s not meant to be scary! It’s energizing. To know he could come at any time is like a lightning bolt not to set the world on fire, but to set you on fire and charge you with energy and focus. All you have to say is “thief in the night”, and who of us doesn’t jump out of bed and turn on the lights?
Today the apostle shows God’s great love and care for souls that we wouldn’t be lulled to spiritual sleep and fall into unbelief in life. Paul is here for us, shouting in the room to keep awake, he pulls back the curtains brings the smelling salts to our noses and a 20-ounce Monster Energy drink in your hand with this pointed, powerful, sober and alert thought: “Jesus is coming anytime. It’s never sleep time. It’s today! Get dressed for the day of the Lord!”
Have you ever seen Funniest Videos where people gather around some snoozing friend, put shaving cream on their hands and tickle the nose with a feather or make a loud blast? You can do that to a snorer. No way you could do that to someone wide awake!
It’s the same with the thief in the night. In our reading, Paul doesn’t talk about time. He talks about people. Because the key issue about the day of the Lord, isn’t knowing the “day” part, but knowing the Lord by faith.
So, Paul tiptoes into the room and waves for you to follow and says, “This is what snoring in life is. This is what it sounds like to go through life asleep day in and day out. It’s not about time, it’s about types of people. Lean in and listen - “Peace and safety.” Think about it - they have hit the snooze button on spiritual worry or concern. They talk about having what they need already. They say “peace and safety” - I already have what I want. I don’t need church. They leave the Lord in the dark, and the Day of the Lord is not on their radar. They are in deliberate sleep in relationship to him. They hit the snooze button on his Word and live how they like. You can be selfish. God isn’t real. God doesn’t affect us. They blatantly deny that they have something wrong about them that should be called sin, that they are accountable to God, that they should listen to the Bible and repent.
They have their peace and so they sleep, while, Paul says, destruction creeps in the darkened environment they’ve made for themselves, and they snore away, paying no attention to it. But that doesn’t stop it from coming, doesn’t stop God’s judgment from being real, shocking them awake and they will not have any options but to perish. “They will not escape.”
But that’s not you, is it? Do you deny God, do you deny sin, do you deny the Word and the reality of Christ the Savior and Lord, and his anytime day? No - it’s not you! You are children of the light, children of the day! You are not in darkness!
Paul knows our struggle to stay awake. Think of the problem today as a problem to keep eyes open. So many things in life want to pull your eyes closed to God, his truth and his love. Paul knows what it’s like to want to snore with the world and quit the struggle with any and all sin. He knows it’s hard to see how near God is when your life feels like it’s never touched by love. It’s hard to not to be anxious with so many threats and dangers to my happiness, health and well-being in a fallen world. It’s hard to stay confident in God’s Word when it doesn’t seem to accomplish what you hoped it would. It’s hard to keep focused when there are so many fronts to life, so many issues to address and areas that need attention - how do they tie together? Or do they? Hard to look at the calendar and see it simple and short - just me and my Lord - today and his day.
But why write chapter 5? The Lord your Shepherd is always first to speak when something needs to be said. First to act, first to inspire, first to love. It’s always been that way in your relationship with God. It is not random that sinners tempted to sleep hear an encouragement today that says, “You are not in darkness. So, let us be sober.” That together we get out of bed and stand awake, and turn on lights and change our clothes and drink our coffee and say, “Let us be the watchful people of the Lord - a people alert amid the slumber, lights in the darkness.’ This is who we are!
So, what do we do? Get dressed for the day of the Lord! This may totally surprise you, but Paul doesn’t say to put on some cozy clothes, does he? It’s not time to snore, it’s time for war! Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. You could stay home this morning with your sins crushing you and defeating you, fall asleep to God. But no, you came to church, got dressed, and say, “Give me the breastplate protection of this faith. Jesus, my very God, came to be torn apart for me. Came to be despised and tortured and cursed and hell-ed for me. Oh heart, you are under spiritual attack! You need a weapon against despair. Do not sleep to that body and blood once for me. Wake up, take it and use it for comfort and joy!
You could stagger around in anger and thirst for revenge against someone who wronged you recently and be senseless to God’s will, but no - let me hear the Word of God and open my eyes to his mercy, that I be alert with weapons of mercy and service for Satan’s loveless temptations and snares. I will not sleep in sin. I will look to the Word, long for its understanding, and follow it forward against my foe and his lies.
You could steer clear of devotional life, growth opportunities in God’s Word, worship refreshment, and sit back as the fear of death grows and the chill of doubts about God go unwarmed by the fire of God’s love. No - God set this down. He determined this, he purposed it and fulfilled it that we would not suffer wrath, but receive rescue, deliverance through my Lord Jesus Christ who died for me that I may life with him forever. Stay open eyes, be alert, be ready, helmet of hope, for the crush of death that will not be an easy blow, take your stand and say, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever!”
Church of God, dear Christian, keep awake!
Could you stay awake by yourself? Could you be vigilant 24/7, monitoring all fronts of spiritual life on your own? Don’t get me wrong, I know God is with us and gives us his Spirit that we might not fall. If you were the only Christian left and kept to his Word, God is faithful and would not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. It’s his grace and glory that we have faith and faith preserved. But let us not tempt God. I also know I’m a sinner and though I know what’s good, it doesn’t mean I do it. I know what’s good to think, but it’s no guarantee I think it.
So, Paul says, “Encourage one another and build each other up” - in the Greek he says, “do this one to one.” Person to person. Christian to Christian. One soul to one soul. When I know it’s good to give an offering of first fruits to the Lord but don’t, I’m grateful that you are my watchtower. Do you look around you this morning and see what your brothers and sisters are doing? Proverbs 10 says that the mouth of the believer is a fountain of life. You want a fountain of with you when your soul is thirsty? Then do not despise the congregation of believers and fellowship of the saints.
Satan loves to split the idea of a church into many things so that you can pick something you don’t like about it and keep your distance. But there’s one thing Paul keeps saying to do - encourage. Here he even adds - one to one. There is not a soul to be overlooked, not one among us left out of the word we proclaim and the ministry we conduct.
Do you see the pastor or elder looking at the friendship register information? You tell me 1 Thessalonians 5:11 is not important if you don’t sign it. Is a friendship register just fun and games? You can go it alone. That you don’t need “together” or “one to one”? That is not the thought of one who is awake in the day, alert to their needs before God, but one falling asleep.
Do you see members whose offerings put these words here? Whose paychecks have been lifted up to the Lord first in thanksgiving and praise, especially for this, to build up, higher and higher those most important things, that great identity - to help you know your name? Do you hear the and see the fruits of their encouragement?
Who keeps the lights on at Grace? Who maintains the security system for our spiritual lives? Who spurs on singles and spouses and siblings to keep awake, to guard the tower of God’s truth and live his love and not Satan’s stumbling selfishness? Answer: By God’s grace and powerful Word, we do. I need you to be a brother and sister in Christ. I need your fountain mouth and watchful eye. And you need me.
And then and there...whether nighttime or daytime...God grant we be a people with a constant party...too loud...too bright….to many eyes, that the day of the Lord come like a thief in the night. Nah. When Jesus comes, we’ll be ready and I’ll race you to the front door. Amen.
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI (www.gracedowntown.org) on November 12, 2017