“He Will Surely Do It” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24)
This has been an Advent series about the Second Advent, the Second Coming of Christ. Each Wednesday we’ve looked at the Epistle reading from the previous Sunday, and the connecting theme that runs through all of them is the idea of “Waiting for the Day of the Lord.” We began two weeks ago by unpacking the biblical teaching about the day of the Lord, that it is “A Day of Judgment and Salvation.” Last week we saw that when the Day of the Lord finally comes, God will bring about “New Heavens and a New Earth.” Now today we close out this series on waiting for the day of the Lord by looking at how God will sanctify us as we wait and keep us blameless at Christ’s coming. Yes, God is faithful, and “He Will Surely Do It.”
Our text is the reading from 1 Thessalonians 5, focusing on these words: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” But this passage comes at the end of 1 Thessalonians, and St. Paul had a lot to say about the second coming of Christ prior to this. So let’s review that a bit, to deepen our understanding of what it means to be waiting for the day of the Lord.
In chapter 1 Paul recalls how the Thessalonians “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Like the Thessalonians, we too are waiting for God’s Son, the risen and ascended Lord Jesus, to come from heaven and to save us, to deliver us from judgment at the Last Day. He will make the Day of Judgment a day of salvation for us.
But now how to live in the meantime? In chapter 2, Paul reminds the Thessalonians how “we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” How we live while we wait is important. We have transferred kingdoms. We have come out of the domain of darkness, and God has called us into his kingdom of light. So let us live like the children of God we are.
To do that we need God’s help. So in chapter 3 Paul breaks into a prayer for the Thessalonians that is also a fitting prayer for God’s people in every age: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” God would have us grow in love for others and in holiness of life throughout our days, until that day when Christ comes again.
In chapter 4 Paul encourages us to set our hope on the coming resurrection and rapture–the rapture properly understood, not the “rapture” falsely taught by the millennialists–the rapture of the living and the resurrection of the dead that will happen on the one and only Last Day: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” My friends, this is our great hope, both for our loved ones who have died in the Lord and for us who may still be alive on that great day when Christ comes again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.
As we come to chapter 5, then, at the beginning of the chapter Paul alerts us to be ready and prepared for the day of Christ’s coming, lest it catch us off-guard: “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. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. . . . For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”
This review of 1 Thessalonians gives us perspective now to hear these words from our text: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” Notice, this passage includes both setting our sights on the great hope to come, at the Last Day, and living as God’s people now, as we wait for that day.
So let’s start with the “living now” part: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely.” What does it mean for God to “sanctify” us? It means to make us holy. It means that God will help us to live as his holy people, set apart to live for him alone. That’s a tall order, though, isn’t it? For as I look at my life, I see that I am not sanctified completely. I am still a work in progress, with unsanctified thoughts, unholy words, and ungodly deeds. I need God’s forgiveness to cover all of my unholiness.
And that is just what Christ has won for us, by his holy precious blood shed on the cross. Forgiveness, righteousness, holiness–his holiness covering our sins. That is his gift for you. The blood of Jesus forgives you all your sins and cleanses you from all unrighteouness.
For God to sanctify us, to make us holy, means not only that he forgives our sinfulness but also that he enables our living in holiness. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, the Spirit you received in your baptism. God made you his new creation in baptism, giving you a new will, new life, new impulses, a desire to live for God–to live not according to the ways of the world but to live for God–and the power to love other people. That is who you are now, baptized child of God. This sanctification is already in work in you. It is the daily life of the baptized, dying to sin and rising to righteousness each new day. The power, the nourishment, comes as you feed on God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament constantly, to strengthen you in faith toward God and fervent love toward one another your whole life long.
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely.” This is God’s will for you. And notice that it is God who will do it. You can’t do it yourself. You do not have that power. But God does. This ongoing sanctification rests on God’s power and promise. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
So that’s the “living now” part. The other part of the passage, the “waiting for the Last Day” part is this: “And may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” “Blameless? Me?” Yes, you! Blameless! There will be nothing in you to blame on that day, the Day of Judgment. No guilt, no accusation, no condemnation. That’s how great God’s forgiveness is. He remembers your sins no more!
But it’s not like the blame and the guilt did not have to be dealt with. It’s not as though your sins could just be swept under the rug. No. Indeed, it cost God greatly to remove your guilt and to free you from blame. It cost the life of his own dear Son, Jesus Christ, who let the blame fall on him on the cross. By Christ taking the blame on his shoulders and suffering the righteous judgment against sin that you deserve, the holy Son of God atoned for your sin. He freed you from a burden that you would never be free from on your own.
And now God is committed to keep you in the faith, trusting in Christ your Savior, strong and secure until that day when Christ returns. This is how you will be “kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It all rests on God’s power and promise: “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
Dear friends, if there’s one thing I want you to remember from this series about “Waiting for the Day of the Lord,” it is this: Christ’s First Coming, as the Babe of Bethlehem who would go to the cross of Calvary to win our salvation–it is Christ’s First Coming that will enable us to stand on the day of his Second Coming. And in the meantime, as we wait for that great day, God will sustain us in the faith and help us to live as his holy people.
Or to put it in the form of a prayer and a promise: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”