Sermon: Chosen by God (1 Thessalonians 1)
Order of Service: Divine Service 4
#940, “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name”
#734, “I Trust, O Lord, Your Holy Name”
#719, “I Leave All Things to God’s Direction”
#781, “We Give Thee But Thine Own”
Location: Glory of Christ, Plymouth, MN
For we know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you, because our Gospel came to you not only in Word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5)
It’s a wonderful thing to be chosen. Think back to the playground games of baseball, kickball and capture the flag. Some times the most exciting part of the game was choosing teams. Everyone vying to be the next person chosen. To not be the last one remaining. To have that feeling of belonging and joy because you were chosen.
Paul, Silvanus and Timothy had that joy for the Thessalonians because God had chosen them. Chosen them the same way He chose you. Through the Gospel that comes in Word, power, the Holy Spirit and conviction. We remember from Luther’s explanation of the Third Article: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”1SC II III This is the joy that Christians have about God choosing us to be His children. About belonging to God’s family.
This divine choice came through the Gospel. The Gospel first came in the Word. Spoken for centuries before finally being written down. God’s promises for His people whom He had chosen. One of my favorite Old Testament passages comes from the book of Deuteronomy: “The LORD has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people … for you were the fewest of all peoples.”2Deuteronomy 7:6-7 God chose Israel when they were nothing. Not even a gleam in Abram’s eye. Abram and Sarai had no children, and well past the age of childbearing, when God called them to leave Haran and said, “I will make you a great nation.”3Genesis 12:2 As God unfolded His promises, they were handed down from generation to generation. Parents telling their children the great and wonderful Word of the Gospel. Moses and the Prophets were inspired to write all these things down for more people to hear and believe.
This Word of the Gospel finally reaches its fulfillment and purpose when it becomes incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The wondrous, miracle-working rabbi who went through all of Galilee and Judea teaching the pure Gospel once again. This Jesus who, in our Gospel reading today, was the target of the Pharisees’ jealousy and hatred:
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle Him in His words. And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true and teach the way of God truthfully.”4Matthew 22:15-16
They admitted that they knew Jesus preached the Truth, but it wasn’t what they wanted to hear. They wanted to hear words that scratched their itching ears.52 Timothy 4:3 That placated their over-indulged sense of self-worth. That would prove, once and for all, that their teachers were better than Him. But they were rebuked and marveled at His Word.6Matthew 22:21-22 A Word that doesn’t entangle but releases the trapped from their entanglemen.
But Paul rejoices that “our Gospel came to you not only in Word, but also in power.”71 Thessalonians 1:5 When we think of power, we think of authority. Like that of a king. When I read the Old Testament reading, did an odd phrase jump out at you? It was right at the very beginning of the reading: “Thus the LORD says to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped.”8Isaiah 45:1 Cyrus the Persian is God’s anointed? Yes. Isaiah is prophesying that a foreigner, a Gentile, will be anointed to save God’s people. God was going to use a foreigner to save His treasured possession. A foreigner God calls by name, even though Cyrus doesn’t know or believe in the LORD.9Isaiah 45:3-4
Like Cyrus, God has called you by name. He used His Word of promise to give water the power to wash away all your sins. Again, we return to the Catechism:
How can water do such great things?
Certainly not just water, but the Word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this Word of God in the water. For without God’s Word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the Word of God, it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace.”10SC IV III
The Word of the Gospel gives the water the power to become a Baptism. The power to give forgiveness of sins, salvation and everlasting life. But that power is not just words on a page or spoken aloud. The Gospel’s power comes from the Word incarnate. His death and resurrection. The ultimate affliction that brought peace with God to you. This power gives you the ability to imitate Christ and His Apostles.111 Thessalonians 1:6 This power resounds throughout the world that God has chosen you to be His son or daughter. That He has granted you to be an example not only to your friends and neighbors but to the far-reaching scope of the “friends of friends.” And their friends too.121 Thessalonians 1:7-8 Whether you know them or not. This is the great power of the Gospel.
Therefore Paul tells the Thessalonians, “You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”131 Thessalonians 1:5 Paul, Silvanus and Timothy not only “talked the talk,” but they “walked the walk.” They were an example to the congregation. But they were also an example to the city around the congregation. They showed the love of Christ to Christian, Jew and pagan alike. They imitated Christ in His ministry throughout Galilee and Judea. And they did it not for themselves, to make a better name for themselves. They did it, Paul says, “for your sake.”141 Thessalonians 1:5
Paul established the congregation in Thessalonica on his second missionary journey. Thessalonica was just one stop along the path God laid out in front of them. He went around the Roman Empire under God’s supervision like the Israelites wandered through the Wilderness. Unlike his ancestors, Paul didn’t complain about whether he stayed in one place or moved around. “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”15Philippians 4:11 On the road or sea for days or weeks, or in a city for years, it didn’t mater to Paul. He knew he would one day leave the city. He wanted to make sure he had set a good example for them to continue his work after he left.
But all this is only done by the Holy Spirit. Only the Holy Spirit can bring you to faith in Jesus. Only the Holy Spirit can enlighten you with the Gospel. Only the Holy Spirit can keep you in the faith and in its state of grace. You cannot do this yourself. You must be kept and sheltered by the LORD. “The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. … The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”16Psalm 124:5, 8
Notice the difference in the hands between you and Cyrus. About you God says, “The LORD is your shade on your right hand.”17Psalm 124:5 About Cyrus He says, “Whose right hand I have grasped.”18Isaiah 45:1 He covers and protects you. He is dragging Cyrus along. Big difference! You He protects as His beloved child. Cyrus, even though anointed by God, is merely a pawn of history.
The difference between you and Cyrus is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Cyrus could have come to saving faith through the Word of the Gospel, but “you do not know Me” at the time of his anointing.19Isaiah 45:5 The Psalms calls for all the earth to sing to the LORD.20Psalm 96:1 But it also calls on everyone, believer and unbeliever alike, to “tremble before Him.”21Psalm 96:9 Unbelievers tremble in fear. Believers tremble before Him in “awesome wonder.”22LSB #801.1 Finally seeing the things promised that they had been forced to imagine what they might be like.
This is the “full conviction” of the Gospel.231 Thessalonians 1:5 The promises of God remind us that this choice will not be revoked by Him. His choice of you as His child gives you the great confidence to live your life in His way. You can disown Him, as we do with every sin, but He will always welcome you back with open arms. No matter how often or how far you wander, God will always accept you back when you return with repentance and contrition. That’s the beauty and comfort of the Gospel. That’s why St. Paul and countless others throughout history have been willing to lay down their lives for the Gospel. Fully convinced of God’s gracious promises. Fully convinced that God had chosen them.
The Gospel gives you the courage and power to believe that God has chosen you to be His child. To live in His grace, mercy and peace. To praise and trust His holy name.24LSB #940.1; #734.1 To approach Him, as we will in a few moments, and address Him as “Our Father.” To know for certain that you belong to Him as a beloved child. Better than being chosen for the recess kickball team. Being chosen for salvation and everlasting life. Amen.