6.11.16 – What Happens When The Gospel Comes? – Peter Cheyne

READ 1 Thessalonians 1

At some point in this sermon there is going to be a wee test but I am going to make it easy for you. The test is going to consist of one question only and I am going to give you the answer. The question is going to be: What is the gospel?

Here is the answer (based on 1 Corinthians 15:3-5): Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again. We can look at that as three blocks of three words: Jesus Christ died. Why? For our sins. What was the result? And rose again.

Today I want us to look at the story of what happened when the gospel came to Thessalonica. We have two ways to know what happened. Acts 17 records Paul’s visit to Thessalonica and his preaching. But, Paul later wrote a letter to the Thessalonians in which he talked about what happened when the gospel came. So, we actually have quite a bit of information and we can piece the story together.

I want to look at it under four headings:

  • What did Paul do?
  • What did God do?
  • What did the Thessalonians do?
  • What did God do?
  1. What did Paul do?

In Acts 17:2-3 we are told that he reasoned with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead and that Jesus was that Messiah.

OK, test time. What is the gospel? Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again. Isn’t it interesting that that is exactly what Paul preached: Jesus is the Messiah who suffered and rose from the dead?

In Acts it sounds like it was a very cerebral approach. It was about reasoning and proving. It was rooted in the scriptures. Paul went back to the scriptures to show what they said and that Jesus was the one.

But, in the letter to the Thessalonians we get a bit more information. This brings us to the second heading.

  1. What did God do?

1 Thess 1:4-5       4 For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.

The gospel came not simply with words. It wasn’t just a case of trying to win a debate. There were words. The gospel has to be spoken. Acts said that Paul explained and exhorted. He did try to persuade. But it wasn’t just words. There was power; there was the Holy Spirit and there was deep conviction (see v.5).

What do you imagine that looked like? What was the power? Were there miracles? Were there signs and wonders? Almost certainly. In Romans, Paul later reviewed his ministry this way…

Romans 15:18-19       18 I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done – 19 by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way round to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.

So, signs, wonders, healing, deliverance, the Holy Spirit poured out. And there was deep conviction. People were cut to the heart. People saw the truth of this message and were convicted of their own sin.

Paul, of course, had to be willing to be used by God in those ways but essentially Paul wasn’t doing it. God was doing it. There was no way Paul could heal people or deliver them. There was no way he could command the Holy Spirit to turn up. He couldn’t even produce conviction. Yes, he reasoned and explained but conviction is a God-thing. This was also about the power of God.

  1. What did the Thessalonians do?

They believed it. They recognised that this was the word of God. It was truth.

1 Thess 2:13        And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.

When they heard these words, they knew that they were hearing God. This gospel (What is it?) was the word of God. Notice those last few words; this gospel that they believed was at work in them. I asked what the Thessalonians did but God was doing more. The gospel was changing them.

Secondly, they welcomed it. They recognised its truth and that took it on board and accepted it and believed it… even though that would be costly for them.

1 Thess 1:6          You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

There was persecution in Thessalonica from day one. So there was pressure not to accept the gospel. But they did anyway. The gospels was more important to them than their safety. By choosing to accept the message even though it would mean suffering, they followed the example of Paul and of Jesus Himself. They became followers of Jesus, learning from Him and imitating Him.

But in choosing to follow Jesus, despite suffering, they also had a joy that came from the Holy Spirit. That is the power of God. That is what happens when the gospel comes.

In v.6, Paul says that they became imitators. In v.7 he says that they became a model to all of the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. Only weeks after their conversion, their faith in God had become known throughout two whole provinces. They became imitators and, in hardly any time at all, other people were imitating them. It is an absolutely wonderful story of transformation by the gospel.

It is so wonderful that we cannot talk about it in terms of what they did. It is what God did. This wasn’t human effort. This was Holy Spirit-empowered, radical transformation. I say that even though the passage talks about what they did. It was only as a result of the power of God.

  1. What did God do?

Everybody was talking about what had happened in Thessalonica. This is what they were saying.

1 Thess 1:9-10     They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

The radical reorientation of their lives consisted of three things:

  1. They turned from their idols
  2. They turned to serving the living and true God
  3. They waited for Jesus to return.

Idols, by definition, are the most valued things in our lives. Their whole security was probably tied up in their idols. They had to appease certain gods to ensure their crops grew and so on. And yet they turned their backs on their idols. They repented of their past. Now the most valued thing in their lives was Jesus and their security was in Jesus.

They turned to serving the living and true God. Their new focus was on serving God. This was not just lukewarm. They are not just waiting to go to heaven. The purpose of their lives now was to serve God.

What do we imagine that looked like? What does serving God look like? There is a very big clue in v.3.

1 Thess 1:3          We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

The gospel gave rise to faith, hope and love. They are nice concepts, aren’t they? They sound very airy fairy and internal; things of the heart. But, in fact, they have very practical, down-to-earth implications.

Faith produces work. When they heard that Jesus Christ had died for their sins and risen again, they knew they could trust a God who loved them that much. Trusting God meant that they would do what He asked of them. Faith is not internal. Faith is always visible in the lifestyle of trust and obedience. Faith without works is dead. The Thessalonians’ faith had produced action. They were living out their faith.

Love had produced labour. Labour and work sound similar but labour suggest hard work; maybe sacrificial work. Their love for each other, and for those outside the church, meant that they served sacrificially. Love is costly. They cared and that was apparent in the way they laboured for each other.

Hope produced perseverance. They were being persecuted and yet, they had a hope. They believed in the coming of God’s Kingdom. They believed Jesus was going to return and they would, one day, be in heaven. And so, with their eyes on that prize, they kept going. Hope is motivation to persevere – even though faithfulness to Jesus will mean they have to suffer.

They had broken with their past. Their present lives were dedicated to serving God and they awaited the future return of Jesus.

It is a story of radical life change. They were turned around 180 degrees. This was so extraordinary two provinces were talking about it. They had new beliefs, new priorities, new values, a new hope. That is what happens when the gospel comes.

At least, that is what happened on this occasion but is it always that way? Is this exceptional or is this normal? Here is a question: Is it possible for a person to be converted by the gospel (What is the gospel?) and these things not be true of them?

Could someone be converted and not turn from their idols – not repent and break with their past? No, repentance is a fundamental part of our response to the gospel.

Could someone be converted and not serve God? That is possibly tricky because in our culture many “Christians” have not dedicated their lives to serving God. But is that biblical? I don’t think the Bible includes Christians who do not serve. If we become citizens of the Kingdom, we serve the King. Or putting it the other way around, if we are not serving the King, are we citizens of the Kingdom?

Could someone be converted and not have a longing for the return of Jesus? No, that doesn’t make any sense at all. Christians do not really belong to this world. We are strangers here. We long to go home. We long to be in the presence of God and to have a more intimate relationship with Jesus. We long to be free of the pain and limitations of this world. More importantly, we long for God to receive the glory that is rightfully His. We long for God’s perfect Kingdom. Every Christian does.

If a person came to church but their lifestyle hadn’t changed, they were not serving God, or longing for the coming of God’s Kingdom, would you conclude that he/she had heard the gospel and had believed it? If there wasn’t faith that produced work, hope that inspired endurance and love that prompted labour, would you say that person had believed and welcomed the gospel and been transformed by it?

This is not just the Thessalonians experience of the gospel. This is what happens when the gospel comes. Let us reflect. Is that a picture of your life?

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