2 THESSALONIANS 1:5-10
THE LORD WILL COME TO BE GLORIFIED IN HIS SAINTS.
In the name + of Jesus.
Everywhere, people are suffering, and you can't escape it. Regardless of where you live on the map or on the political spectrum, regardless of economic or racial background, whether you pray to God or deny God even exists, all people have endured the pain, grief, and sorrow of living in a sinful world. Neither money nor piety nor intelligence makes a person immune from weeping by a loved one's grave, from keeping vigil with a sick child, from dealing with stress on the job, or from cleaning up after a disaster. How and how much a person suffers may vary, but all suffer the effects of a sin-infected world.
St. Paul, however, reminds us that Christians endure afflictions specifically because we are Christians. Persecution had forced Paul to flee from Thessalonica when he had first preached there. He left behind a fledgling congregation, and wondered if they would remain faithful in the midst of their own afflictions. St. Paul rejoiced to learn that the Thessalonians were willing to suffer for the name of Jesus rather than renounce the forgiveness and salvation which only Jesus supplies. Despite the persecution, those Christians persevered.
The reason that Christians are marked by this world is that we have been set apart from it. Through the preaching of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit has called you to repent of your sins and to despise all that God calls wicked. He has led you to recognize that sin brings wrath, and that the wrong-doer deserves condemnation. Rebels are never ignored, and they are certainly not rewarded. St. Paul warns what sinners bring upon themselves: Vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction... (2 Thessalonians 1:8,9)
You and I are worthy of such a judgment; for we have rebelled as well. But the Lord Jesus set you apart from that destruction and that vengeful judgment. At Jesus' first coming, Jesus submitted himself to your judgment. The eternal Son of God suffered punishment for all sins of all time. At the cross, Jesus was consumed in the wrath of the Father. That is where Jesus suffered your judgment for you. By faith in Jesus, you receive the benefit of his sacrificial death. Through baptism, the Lord marked you off from all vengeful judgment. For, by your baptism, Jesus removed your guilt from you. Since your guilt is removed, you are set apart from all that is cursed. Therefore, no condemnation can come upon you. This is Jesus' glory that you have been delivered from death and damnation and are now marked as his saints.
Just as you have been set apart from the Lord's wrath, so also you have been set apart for the Lord's glory. Just as you recognize that sin brings wrath, so also you recognize that God's Commandments are good. So, you now order your life according to God's will as revealed in those Commandments. Out of love for your Redeemer, you strive for a holy life. You reflect God's glory with words that are honest and decent, not vulgar, deceptive, or abusive. You reflect God's glory by being useful to your neighbor rather than in using him, by having mercy upon him rather than destroying him, and by praying for the salvation of your enemy rather than wishing he were dead. The love that Jesus Christ pours upon you, you get to pour out upon others. You understand that love and mercy do not come with a list of conditions; they are simply given. This is Jesus' glory that you, who have been set apart as a saint, also live as one.
But the world we live in considers godly living foolish. In this world, people take pride in how inventive they are in cheating others. People have no shame about sexual exploits and drunken weekends. They mock people who don't practice these things or participate in the celebration of them. Gossipers cannot wait to tell the next slanderous story, and their stories always find ears which want to share in the destruction of someone's reputation. In our sinful desire to be popular and to be praised, we are ashamed of being decent and chaste. We even wonder what is wrong with us that our stories are not as good as those who revel in their sins. This sinfulness, however, is the reason that judgment is coming upon the world. Do not admire it. Repent and flee from it.
The Lord Jesus Christ has set you apart from this world. The world does not know God; they prove it because they do not fear his wrath. The world does not have any regard for his gospel. They do not wish to be forgiven because they do not believe they have anything to be sorry for. The world notices that you are not like that. You fight against sin and temptation and strive for what is good and holy. You come to church because you crave God's forgiveness and mercy and because you need God's encouragement so that you don't tire of doing what is good. For this, you are mocked and reviled. This is life in the Church Militant. This is what you have been set apart for. Not only do you battle against worldly attitudes, you even battle your own sinful desires which would rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.
The battle is hard. The devil, the world, and our flesh do not quit. The wounds hurt. And we wonder when we will be done with it. We wonder when the enemies of Jesus and his Church will finally suffer any consequences for their prideful rebellion against Jesus. Do not be surprised or discouraged by the Lord's patience. He desires the repentance of all, and he is granting more time for that. Therefore, the battle will continue to rage throughout your lifetime. The world is corrupt, and the Church Militant will always battle her enemies. So, when does deliverance come? St. Paul answers, “Indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire...” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-7) The Lord will come to be glorified in his saints. He will come to render a vengeful judgment on all who despised and dishonored him, and loved their sins. Vengeance is the Lord's, and it will come.
But you—your place is not to clamor for vengeance. Your place is to honor God as those who have been set apart for his glory. The Lord is coming to be glorified in his saints. And you are evidence of God's glory. God's glory is not that he smites the wicked, that he is holy, and that he is almighty. It is true—God is all those things. But those things do not save anybody. God's glory is that he is merciful and loves sinners. God's glory is revealed in Jesus who came to suffer and die for sinners so that we would be redeemed and have eternal life. You, dear Christians, are evidence of God's glory. You give evidence of that glory when you flee from sin and walk in the path of righteousness. And you will be the Lord's evidence of his goodness when he comes again on the Last Day.
The Lord will come to be glorified in his saints. On that Last Day, the Lord Jesus will present you to the world as his beloved redeemed. No more will you struggle with temptations from without or from weaknesses within. You will actually look and act like the child of God which Jesus has declared you to be. And you will be spared from the vengeful judgment of God—not because you are better, but because Jesus Christ has saved you. And we will marvel at the sight of him just as we marvel at his gracious promises now.
The Lord will come to be glorified in his saints who are set apart from the wrath and judgment of God. Until the Lord comes, we remain those who are set apart for godly living, even if the world should mock us, vilify us, or attack us for it. For, while the world rejoices in its sins now, we will continue to rejoice in the one who has set us free from sin, death, hell, and wrath. We find our refuge in Jesus. We partake in the heavenly feast which the Lord provides to his saints. And we honor our Savior as people who are set apart by God's grace, for God's glory and praise, and to be his in the Church Triumphant forevermore.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.