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Now is the time for battle. Now is the time to prepare and be ready to defend ourselves from the onslaught of evil.
It seems that if there’s ever been a time in our life when evil is winning, it’s right now. Political conflict continues with no end in sight. The conflict between political parties is alive and well, and more than ever, it seems ready to boil over. The pandemic is starting to intensify again, and the diverging sides on how to deal with it only seem to be widening as either side hardens its position. The moral character of our country continues to spiral out of control as what used to be unthinkable is now considered normal and even taught in our schools as good and right.
If there’s ever been a time for battle, it seems that now is the time. Now is the time to prepare and be ready to defend ourselves from the onslaught of evil.
It’s time to put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. That’s probably not the armor you were thinking. But the battle is not between liberals and conservatives, or masks and no masks. The battle runs much deeper than that. The battle is for our heart, mind, and soul—that we don’t lose the hope we have in Jesus Christ and get swept up by the darkness of this evil age.
In our epistle reading today, Paul gives the Thessalonian Christians a gentle and encouraging warning: don’t fall asleep!
“The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” Yes, the world is filled with evil. But God won’t put up with it forever. The day is coming when the Lord will remove and destroy all sin and root out all causes of evil. As Jesus says in Matthew, “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire [at the end of the harvest], so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
And when will that day be? We don’t know exactly. As Jesus says, “Concerning that day and hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” But what we do know is that it will come suddenly when no one is expecting it. It will be like a thief who comes in the middle of the night and catches everyone sleeping. And those who think “peace and security,” as if their sin were no big deal, will be surprised when the wrath and judgment of God suddenly appears. And there will be no escape. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Those who think “peace and security,” “eat, drink, and be merry” will be caught sleeping in the darkness and won’t have the chance to escape the wrath and judgment of God.
But you’re not in darkness for that day to surprise you like a thief in the night. “You are children of light, children of the day.”
You’re children of the day because you belong to Jesus. Out of love for us, Jesus gave all of himself to rescue us from the present evil age. Jesus marched right into the heart of sin and evil, and there on the cross, he took on the world’s hatred, violence, and injustice, and triumphed over it. It didn’t look like a victory, but there on the cross, the powers of sin and evil did their worst, only for Jesus to rise again on the third day, victorious over everything this present evil age could throw at him. In the death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s victory over sin and evil has dawned, and in your baptism, the light of that day has shined on you. Through your baptism, you have been joined to Jesus on the winning side. Destruction and condemnation are not your fate; your future is resurrection and the life of the age to come. Yes, sin and evil still rear their ugly heads. They still create chaos, strife, and suffering. But their days are numbered. Jesus has won the victory over them in his cross and resurrection, and it’s only a matter of time before he returns and puts an end to sin and death once and for all. The light of the day has broken into this evil age of darkness and shined on you.
We belong to Jesus. We are not in darkness for that day to surprise us like a thief in the night. We are children of the light, children of the day.
So don’t go back to sleep! Sure, everyone else is walking around in darkness as if sin and evil are no big deal. And when the day of the Lord comes, it will catch them all off guard and there will be no escape. But you’re not in darkness. You are in the light. So don’t go back to the darkness as if Jesus never died and rose again, or as if you were never baptized, or as if you had no hope. Arm yourself. “Put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet, the hope of salvation.” The great danger is to forget that we belong to Jesus. So we stay awake by arming ourselves with faith, that reassures our hearts that God has chosen us; love, that puts the darkness to flight by doing good no matter the evil around us; and hope that reminds us that we have something to look forward to because Jesus is coming again. Faith, love, and hope arm us against the darkness.
And that helps us understand what the real battle is right now. Yes, the world is full of wrongdoing and evil. But the temptation is to forget that Jesus is coming and that we belong to him, and so to return evil for evil. If someone posts an inflammatory Facebook comment about politics or the pandemic, then we respond in kind, thinking that we’re fighting the battle against evil. Or when we see rampant immorality in the world around us, we act outraged and burn with anger, thinking that our anger is justified because we’re standing up for what’s good. But when we do that, we’re not fighting sin and evil, we’re joining in. We’re giving in to the passions of the flesh and the works of darkness.
And all of that is coming to a swift and terrible end. God will not put up with it forever. The day of the Lord is coming when he will destroy all sin and root out all evil. And, what’s more, we’ve been delivered from that. We belong to Jesus, whose death on the cross has delivered us from the wrath to come. So why would we go back?
Instead now is the time to arm yourself with the real weapons of defense: the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. Now is the time to take up the breastplate of faith: to be constant in Bible study, and the Lord’s Supper, and devotion and prayer to reassure our hearts that when all is said and done, we belong to God in Jesus Christ on the winning side. Now is the time to take up the breastplate of love: to do good whenever the situation arises, to put the best construction on the actions of others, to think about the needs of others more than ourselves, to repay no one evil for evil, but to give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all, and so overcome evil with good. Now is the time to put on for a helmet the hope of salvation: to hold onto the promise that despite this world of sin, despite the evil that’s done, it will not last forever. Jesus is coming to make all things new.
Now is the time to arm ourselves and be prepared. But the battle is not between liberals and conservatives, or masks and no masks. The battle runs much deeper than that. The battle is for our heart, mind, and soul, that we don’t lose the hope we have in Jesus Christ and get swept up by the darkness of this evil age. “So then let us not sleep, as other do, but let us keep awake and be sober.”
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
1 Thessalonians 5.1-11
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.