This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on November 26, 2017.
Three specific sermons themes arise out of this text. First, there is a humbling challenge to earthly governments that needs to be proclaimed in the U.S. today. Second, there is a metaphor of a thief in the night representing the Parousia that is an apt reminder of what is coming next. Third, Paul does not leave theological concepts in the abstract giving multiple applications for the church today to prepare for the coming of the Kingdom of God.
In the ancient world, Pax Romana was the common theme. The government established and maintained peace in this world. It was a wonderful time of prosperity for many in the region. Similarly, in the last 250 years, the U.S. has worked to establish a Pax Americana. We like the Romans would tout our stability as “peace and safety” (v. 3). There is great room here for the preacher to talk about all the wonderful things the Romans did for society and all the things the U.S. has contributed. From there it may be worth asking the question how much peace and prosperity we can expect on this earth. What is the greatest hope for society on this side of eternity?
From there the preacher should move into the Gospel. It would be good to look at passages like Psalm 20:7 that acknowledge that so many in this world put all their trust in chariots and horses, or put all their trust in human government when even the greatest governments fail us. There is room to examine how people routinely fail you in all areas of life, but our God will never fail you. You could share how even good friends fail you, or how well-intentioned parents fail you, and lead up to human institutions failing you. Verse 3 is a reminder that all human governments fail, the Roman government did not last and neither will the United States of America. There will be a day when our country no longer dominates the world, and as that day approaches where will we put our faith? All of this points us to the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. God knows humanity failed and continues to fail, but has provided a solution that will redeem us from the failed peace and security of human might.
A second sermon could consider the “thief in the night” language scattered through scripture (i.e., 1 Thessalonians 5, Matthew 24, Luke 12, 2 Peter 3, Revelation 3 and 16). These passages point to a singular truth Jesus taught in Matthew 24:36 that not even Jesus knows the hour that he will come back. The Parousia will be a complete surprise to all of us here. There is an opportunity for the preacher to examine some of the end times calendars and the charlatans that predict the date of the Parousia through their formulas.
An eschatological conversation needs to happen here as to why Jesus will come like a thief. The negative analogy points to the suddenness and unexpectedness of Jesus’s return to our new lives which will end our opportunities for second chances. In the 2 Peter 3:8 passage it notes that God is currently giving all humanity chance after chance for repentance, but there is coming a sudden and unexpected day when there will be no more chances. The preacher could discuss second chances, and how loving God is to offer another chance because there is a final day coming that we cannot predict. 1 Thessalonians 5:9 is a beautiful description of what God desires out of the Parousia, salvation not wrath. If the preacher can help the congregation see that picture of God in the sermon, it will be well done.
The third sermon theme is the practical application of the eschatological truth. Paul lists several ways that the church needs to prepare for the Parousia, and three thoughts stand out as potential sermon points. Paul uses language of light and dark here. The preacher could show how the church looks different from the world because we operate in the light rather than the shadows. Paul uses several concepts to teach this: sobriety, self-control, clear vision, being awake. The thought here is that through the work of the Holy Spirit Christians now live in the world with a clearer vision to make wise decisions in the face of a chaotic world. The preacher could run through any of the ways the world does not see clearly, and how God has helped us to see clearly as Christians.
A second analogy Paul uses for application is the armor of a breastplate and a helmet (v. 8) which is a more concise variation of Ephesians 6. There is a call for Christians to “put on” these things continually. It is worth considering what we normally put on each day. We all wear different hats and prepare ourselves in various ways, but the most important hat we wear and the most important preparation we do is putting on the helmet and breastplate. These are the defenses that protect us from the arrows of the world. The preacher may consider different ways the world attacks warning the congregation of what lies in wait. We cannot keep the attacks of the world at bay on our own, we need the armor of God to sustain us as individuals and as a church.
First Baptist Church San Antonio
Tags: Peace, Government, Eschatology, Thief, Parousia, Armor