(By Pastor Tim Redfield)
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil.
23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.
During the season of Advent we take a look at the work of John the Baptist. John was given the task of pointing people to Jesus. He pointed out that the baby born in Bethlehem was the promised Savior from all sin. John had such a powerful message that people began to wonder if he was the Messiah that the Old Testament scriptures had spoken about. John was not the Messiah. John did the work of pointing people to Jesus, the light of the world.
The religious leaders of the day were curious about John. Those religious leaders had misunderstood the message of Scripture and they had all kinds of false ideas in their heads about what the Messiah was supposed to be. And yet they realized that there was something special about John the Baptist. Those religious leaders knew that John had a powerful gospel message. However, those leaders did not want to accept his message. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and other Jewish leaders did not think that they needed to repent of their sins. They were not looking for a Savior from sin. They wanted to be commended for their good works rather than falling on their knees to confess their sinfulness. They did not think that they needed Jesus.
1 Thessalonians speaks against that attitude of the Jewish religious leaders. This sinful attitude still infects many people today. People want to trust in themselves rather than trusting in Christ. Many people claim to be religious but what they are really doing is trusting in their own goodness rather than looking to the salvation that only Christ can give. They are actually turning against God and his Word. Paul tells us this, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22).
When people look to themselves and how good they are, they are actually putting out the Spirit’s fire. The Holy Spirit works in us through the gospel message. He tells us about the forgiveness that we have in Jesus. If we trust in ourselves and how well we obey God’s laws, then we are really denying that we need Jesus. If we can get to heaven on our own, why would we even need Jesus? We wouldn’t need the Spirit either. We could just work hard enough and get faith on our own. If we trust in our works, then we are treating the Scriptures and all the prophecies of God with contempt. We would be rejecting all the passages that talk about our need for our Savior.
Especially in our world today it is easy to fall into the trap of downplaying the true meaning of the Christmas season. Think about how much our world focuses on the materialism of Christmas. Stores begin advertising very early to get us into the mindset that we need to get all our Christmas shopping done. It used to be that Christmas would not be talked about very much until after Thanksgiving. Now the stores try to get us thinking about presents way back at the beginning of November. Even the Black Friday Christmas specials keep on happening earlier. Christmas has become all about buying and receiving presents.
Many of us realize the problem with this commercial nature of the Christmas season. Many people put up signs that say, “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Because of the materialistic focus of Christmas, we really do need that reminder that Christmas is supposed to be all about Jesus. God the Father gave us the gift of his son so that we could be saved from our sins. Even Christians can get wrapped up in all the gift buying and giving. We might even have the impression that if we give all the presents that we are supposed to, then we have truly celebrated Christmas. Even that idea can distract us from Jesus. Christmas is not about presents. Christmas is about Christ.
The Christmas season is a wonderful time of year. It is an incredible time to focus on the joy we have. We can have the same joy that the shepherds had when they found Jesus lying in the manger. And yet it is very easy to get wrapped up in the business of the Christmas season. It is very easy to focus on all the things that we need to do. There are many things to check off the list as we get ready for the celebration. We do not want to treat the worship of our Savior as just one more thing to check off the list. If we treat Jesus that way, we are guilty of despising the prophecies that God has given to us in his Word.
The Apostle Peter reminds us that it is sinful to disregard the message of Scripture. Peter wrote this in his second letter, “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15-16). When we disregard God’s Word and trust in our works or even our own understanding, we do so to our own destruction. We need to keep the focus on the truths of God’s Word.
When we take the focus off of the baby Jesus, when we fail to see him as our complete Savior, then we are actually despising the Christmas message. We need to spend time with our Lord’s message so that we truly understand the joy of our salvation. Then we are able to live in the joy of our sanctification.
Paul reminds us that our God has blessed us with the gift of sanctification. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we have been set apart for God. We have been given the proper focus for the Christmas season. Paul says, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). God does sanctify us through and through. He does this by working through his Word. He comes to us through the water of baptism and starts faith in us. He continues to strengthen us every time we focus on his Word. And he strengthens us through the Lord’s Supper.
He keeps us blameless until the coming of our Lord Jesus. If we don’t understand that correctly we might scoff at that idea. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge that we continue to sin every day of our lives. How can Paul say that God keeps us blameless? God keeps us blameless through Jesus. As soon as Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he started obeying God’s law in our place. Jesus perfectly obeyed that law. He was blameless. It is an incredible miracle that we get credit for Jesus’ perfection. God has called us to faith and he keeps us in that faith. God gets all the glory for our salvation.
As we approach another Christmas holiday, we recognize our great need for the baby Jesus. I think about this every time we have a baptism here at church. By nature, all children are born with sin. Scripture even makes it clear that this sinful nature goes all the way back to the point of our conception. Because of this sin that we are born with, we all deserve to be punished forever in hell. God knows about our terrible condition and he gives us a way to receive faith. God works in the hearts of little infants through the waters of baptism. Baptism gives an incredible gift. It gives the gift of salvation.
Think about when a little baby is baptized. Through baptism, that child receives the best Christmas gift. Children receive the gift of faith. They receive the gift of forgiveness and eternal life. Infants receive lots of presents for their first Christmas celebration. And yet, no matter what they receive from family and friends, those presents will not be better than the gift they received in their baptism. God the Holy Spirit brings faith into their heart.
As we approach the 25th of December we need to remember that we can have this Christmas joy with us every day of our lives. This joy is not something that we put away as soon as December 26th rolls around. Yes the stores will put away all their Christmas decorations and the radio stations will stop playing Christmas music on the 26th but that doesn’t mean that we stop our joy. Here in worship we celebrate Christmas for 12 days beginning on the 25th and going up to January 5th. We build up to the Epiphany celebration on January 6th. We continue celebrating the Christmas joy.
We live in the hope that we have. That is really what Christmas is all about. The baby Jesus brings us hope. We have a hope that looks forward to heaven. This hope is more than just wishful thinking. This hope is a certainty. We know that Jesus accomplished everything necessary to save us. We know that he died and rose again. This victory from our Lord Jesus fills our hearts with the greatest joy. We live in that joy and we live for Jesus.