In a few short days, this country will elect a new president. The judgment of the people of this nation will decide who is worthy to run this nation for the next four years. The candidates who are running for the position of President have endured much, they have opened themselves and their families up to scorn and ridicule from the media, comedians, YouTube personalities, and people who think they are bloggers. The candidates have suffered, their reputations have been tarnished, their every move questioned, and their every word analyzed so as to be used against them later. These candidates could have stepped down, they could have quit their campaigns long ago, but they have not, and as a result one of them will be counted worthy of the title President of the United States.
We too, as Christians are looking to be counted worthy, to be counted worthy of the kingdom of God. However, we don’t find this worthiness in the votes of other people. We don’t earn this worthiness by giving big speeches and making grand plans for the future. Our worthiness comes-and only comes-from a righteous judge, who makes us worthy and tells us that the proof of our worthiness shows itself in our sufferings.
It’s right here that we have to ask, “How is suffering an evidence of worthiness?” Imagine! Someone comes to your house one night, takes all your stuff, burns the place down, all because of your faith in God, and then I come up to you later and say, “Hey this destruction of your property proves you are worthy of the kingdom of God.” I think you’d punch me in the face if I said that to you. I think you would.
Yet, this is what Paul tells the Thessalonians at the beginning of our lesson today, “All this” – referring to the trials and persecutions they are enduring “All this, is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.” Paul tells the Thessalonians that their suffering is proof that they are worthy. Proof that they are children of God.
Does this surprise you? It might, but in the book of John, Jesus told his disciples that they will be hated because of him. But that hatred and the suffering attached to it, would remind them that they don’t belong to this world. They belong somewhere else, the kingdom of God. Which is exactly what Jesus said in the book of Matthew, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
As a Christian, being counted worthy of the kingdom of God means being worthy of suffering. Which when you stop to think about it doesn’t make sense. Because the world would say, reason would say, that if our God truly hands out right judgment, then it is unbelievers, it is the world, who will face persecution, trials, and hardships not God’s children, not those counted worthy of the kingdom of God. And yet, throughout the bible, we see God’s people suffering and struggling.
Elijah, God’s prophet, was routinely ignored and threatened by King Ahab. Daniel was thrown into a lions’ den for his faith. And in the New Testament, there are many examples of the apostles and other Christians suffering at the hands of others. Paul being just one example. But to whom did the people I just mentioned turn to when they were suffering? They turned to God. Their hardships led them to call out to God for help, proof of God’s righteous judgment to choose them as his own and call them to that faith. Proof that they had that faith in God. Proof that they were counted worthy of his kingdom.
So how do we react when we suffer for the faith? And, how, how do we suffer for our faith? Have you? Our suffering for the faith may not be the same as those in other countries who are literally dying for their faith, but we still suffer. As Christians we recognize that we are outcasts in society that glorifies sin. We aren’t blind to the fact that Christian values aren’t the norm. Just turn on the TV and you’ll see it. The marriage bed is disregarded, rumors and gossip are applauded, cheating, lying, and stealing are good and right, and if we speak against those things what are we told? Mindy your own business. Who are you to judge? Aren’t you supposed to be loving? But that’s the extent for the most part of our suffering; verbal abuse. But who knows? In a few years, in twenty years, we may have a government that openly opposes Christianity and our suffering will increase. We may be forced to close our churches and meet in secret. We may be arrested or even killed for our faith. But the question remains, in your current sufferings and in future ones, how will you react?
Because we could just hide our faith. We could just be a “closet” Christian and not have to worry about suffering. Often we are tempted to do just that, to have one life here at church were we quote scripture and live like a Christian, and another life in the world where we quote the latest dirty joke and join in the rumors being spread about someone whom we dislike. I hope that isn’t how we react to suffering. I pray we remember that we have been counted worthy; worthy of God’s kingdom and worthy of suffering for that kingdom. In faith you know that the suffering you endure brings you closer to God. It reminds you that this place, the place you are living in right now, your life right now, isn’t all there is, there is more. That more is an eternal place, an eternal rest, an eternal relief with God forever. That is what we are looking forward to. It is that which strengthen us when we are struggling with trials and hardships, it is that which reminds us that we are not children of this world, but children of God. That is the relief we so desperately need to hear.
A relief that comes only through Christ, who suffered as he walked on this earth. He didn’t run from it. He didn’t try to talk his way out of it. He faced it. He refused to be intimidated. He refused to be politically correct about it when he told his enemies the living truth that he is the Christ the Son of the living God, and he suffered dearly because of it. He lost his life. But his suffering, his death paid a blood price that no one else could pay; our suffering Savior paid the price of our sins. It is on that Savior that we fix our eyes, the author and profector of our faith, who for the joy set before him suffered the cross.
It is that Savior, who when we suffer for our faith, keeps us steadfast. This is the final proof that we have been counted worthy, because on our own we would give up, we, like a flower without water, would wilt and die. But our God sustains us, by his Holy Spirit, through the word, he waters us and makes us strong in our suffering and promises to continue to sustain us until judgment day. When we will enter the kingdom that is ours through Christ. Where we will find the relief that we have been declared worthy of receiving through his sacrifice.
That relief will be far better than any other relief we could dream of. If you think again, of our next President. Whoever that maybe, that person might be relieved when he or she wins the election, but it won’t be long before the burdens of that position will drive out any sense of relief that was briefly felt.
But that isn’t how the relief we will receive from God will work. It won’t be something temporary that only gives us a chance to catch our breath. It won’t be like a test you take one week, enjoy the brief happiness that it’s over and then begin studying for the next one that is coming up. Our relief from God isn’t like that week vacation that is a mere escape from reality, before you have to dive back in and the relaxation that you enjoyed is blotted out by the backload of emails and housework that you left behind. No the relief that we will be counted worthy of in Christ is an unending relief. It will be a relief that will free us from all those who sought to turn us and make us unworthy of God’s kingdom. It will be a relief that will bring God’s just judgment on all the people of this world
Paul explains it for us. He says, “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled.” When unbelievers persecute Christians and do evil to God’s people they might think that they will never have to answer for it, but God is clear, they will face his just judgment. They might not be immediately swallowed up by the earth like those who challenged Moses during Korah’s rebellion. They might not face ten plagues like in Egypt, but they will face the God of this universe on Judgment day and his wrath will be swift and complete.
“This will happen” Paul tells us, “When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” On Judgment Day everything that you are familiar with will switch. For us the present age is a time of suffering and trial, but in the end we will receive a future glory. For the people of this world, people who do not know God or flatly reject God, those people who live on this earth and act as if they have no one to answer to, but themselves. For them, their end will be a future of fire.
“They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shout out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” Those who resolutely hold on to their unbelief and vehemently attack the faith of God’s children will not be worthy of relief on Judgment Day, but instead, worthy of eternal suffering. This is both a warning and a comfort for us.
It is a warning lest we ourselves succumb to the idea that we can find relief from suffering in the things of this world, wealthy, popularity, success, or whatever it may be. It is a warning that God is serious about sin and the punishment that sin deserves. May we always be on guard and not let any sufferings or hardships turn us from the only true source of relief that is our fount of forgiveness, our Lord and Savior Jesus. And the comfort? The comfort for us is that God will have vengeance on all those who sought to lead us astray and keep us from him. God will triumph over the enemies of sin, death, and the devil. That triumph happened on the cross as Jesus paid the penalty and crushed the head of Satan. And we as Christians can take comfort in these last days knowing that he will come back to take we who have been counted worthy home to be with him.
On that day, “Jesus will come to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.” At Christ’s return he will be glorified in us. We will reflect his greatness and the splendor for we will be like him, both pure and holy. It is only the grace of God that can lift us from sin and suffering to a position of eternal relief where we reflect his glory. At the same time all of God’s people will marvel at him as they see how he has changed their lives for all eternity by counting them worthy of his kingdom. And “this, this includes you, because you believed,” and continue to believe that Jesus is the Christ, your Savior. Through faith in him, you have been counted worthy.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father — to him be glory and power for ever and ever.