Read: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 with your family.
5 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 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. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. - 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (ESV)
When news first broke about a novel coronavirus, few of us expected it to lead to the situation we face today. What does the Bible say about how Christians should respond in uncertain times? In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Paul writes concerning the “day of the Lord.” Many commentators say that Paul is talking about the resurrection, which he had just mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Another possibility is that Paul refers to the impending judgment against Jerusalem and the temple.
Whether Paul refers to the resurrection or the destruction of Jerusalem, this passage has much to teach Christians, here and now. This is because, in one sense, the day of the Lord has already begun with the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. The Bible tells us that Jesus is the “light of the world” (John 8:12) At the transfiguration, Jesus’s face shines “like the sun (Matt. 17:2). Revelation calls him the “Morning Star” (Rev. 22:16). Luke says that “the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).
We could go on citing examples like these, but the point is that the “night is far gone; the day is at hand” (Romans 13:12). God is bringing us out of the darkness of the old creation, broken by sin and death, and into the light of the new heavens and new earth. In fact, the one who has turned to Jesus is already a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). And whomever God has made a new creation has passed from the darkness of sin and death into the daytime of eternal life (John 5:24).
On the other hand, to remain in unbelief is to be in the darkness. One sign of being in the darkness is when we find our peace and security in things other than God. Sometimes, we satisfy our desire for peace and security in ways that are clearly evil – for example, pornography or materialism. But often, the darkness is more subtle. We may try to find security in going to college or in a career. Or, we might find our identity in a spouse. In themselves, these are good things. But if we allow our desires for these things to supplant God and rule over us, then we are in the darkness. It is as if we are spiritually asleep or drunk.
But the darkness can only offer false peace and security. This false peace and security can be exposed in personal trials, but there are also moments in history when God shakes entire nations and even the whole world. Indeed, the present crisis seems like one of these moments. If we’ve been finding our peace and security in things other than God – if we worship the gifts rather than the Gift-giver – then we will feel as if we’ve been caught by a thief in the night.
Discuss: Where do you find your peace and security? What are the things that make you feel comfortable? What are the things that make you think that “all is well”? What challenges your sense of peace and security?
As Christians, our peace is not found in things that are shakable or in things that are passing away. This doesn’t mean that Christians never suffer loss or hardship. But it does mean that when the world is shaken, we are not caught off guard like someone who has been robbed. When God shakes the world and casts out the darkness, we aren’t overtaken as if by a thief. Why? Because we don’t find our identity, our peace, our security in the darkness nor in worldly desires.
Instead, we find our identity in Christ. Whereas the unbeliever is at home in the darkness, the believer is at home in the light of the Lord. Paul says that we are children of the light, children of the day. Note the connection: the day of the Lord is coming, but we are already children of the day. And because we are children of the day, we are called to live in the light.
How do we do this? Paul tells us. To live as children of the light means putting on faith, love, and hope. In 1 Thessalonians 1:2, Paul commends the Thessalonians for their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Faith, hope, and love are the hallmarks of a people who have been brought out of the darkness and into the light of Jesus.
What kind of faith, hopes and loves have you been putting on in the past few weeks? Take some time to reflect on these three areas:
Faith: Where are you putting your faith? Who are you paying attention to the most? Which voices are you allowing to shape the way you think, feel, and act? Faith is not just believing that God exists, for even the demons believe this (Jas. 2:19). More than that, faith is personal trust in God. It’s trusting him, just like you’d trust your parents, but you wouldn’t trust a stranger. Specifically, faith means trusting the message of the Gospel – that the living God has sent Jesus his Son to die and rise again for our salvation (1 Thess. 5:9-10). During this time, have you been anchoring yourself in God’s Word? Are you trusting God more than online articles, social media, politicians, the news, or even friends and family?
Love: What desires are you currently indulging? What pleasures are you pursuing? What gets you through the day? Ask yourself how your current behaviors reveal what or whom you love. Are you pursuing Christ, or do you find yourself reverting to sinful habits?
The first great commandment is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. The second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:37-39). When our loves are rightly ordered towards God, they will also be rightly ordered towards other people and other things. But when our loves are directed away from God, that is when our desires get distorted and blown out of proportion. That is when ungodly lusts and desires hijack the throne of our hearts.
Hope: What are you looking forward to once this crisis is over? Are you simply hoping for things to get back to “normal” – going back to school, or college, or your job? Or is your hope to emerge with a deeper commitment God’s kingdom? Is your hope the “hope of salvation”?
At the end of our passage, Paul says that God has not chosen us for destruction, but to obtain salvation. This means that we will surely enter the newness of life, which has been promised to us by God and purchased for us by Jesus. Through Christ, we have an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:4). Have you set your hope on temporary things or on things everlasting? Since our hope is in salvation, we can live with Jesus by trusting him and keeping his commandments, even through changing times and seasons.
Read: John 20:19-31 with your family.
John 20:19 says that on the evening after Jesus was raised, the disciples were locked inside for fear of the Jewish leaders. In some ways, our current Easter season is like that first evening of the resurrection. We’re all in our homes in a statewide lockdown. Many of us are afraid of the virus that lurks outside – afraid of what might happen to us personally or what might happen to our communities as the virus continues to spread.
Jesus is the one who brings peace in the midst of fears. Twice, Jesus says to the disciples, “Peace be with you.” He shows the disciples his wounds, proving that he really has been resurrected. Death could not keep Jesus out. The tomb could not keep him out. Neither locked doors, nor the threats of religious and political leaders, nor the disciples’ own fears could keep Jesus out. No obstacle is too great for the one who has conquered the grave.
Discuss: What do you think Jesus means by “peace”? How would you define peace?
We don’t have space to go through everything the Bible says about peace, but we can see what the Gospel of John says. In John 14:27, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” Then, in John 16:33, Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.” Along with John 20, these passages show us that peace is nothing less than the personal presence of Jesus. It is his peace. It comes from him. In him, we have peace. Thus, when the disciples see the risen Lord, standing in their midst, they rejoice. Where Jesus is, there is peace.
We all want peace, but often, the peace that we want is peace on our terms. We want peace without laying down our lives. We want peace without giving up the things that we hold onto for our security and identity. We want peace without the cross. Ultimately, this means that we want to have peace without having Christ. But that is an impossibility. We will either have Christ (and his peace) or we will have chaos.
So, if we find ourselves lacking peace, then perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is not, “How do I get peace?” but, “Is Jesus there?” Is Jesus in your marriage? Is he in your finances? Is he in your relationship with your kids? Regardless of what fears are outside, is Jesus in your home?
Now, you might say, “The disciples saw Jesus. But how can he be there for me if I can’t see him or touch him?” The rest of John 20 gives us the answer.
In verse 21, Jesus proclaims peace a second time, but he adds this: “As the Father sent me, even so I am sending you.” Then, he breathes the Holy Spirit onto the disciples. This scene reminds us of how God created Adam by forming him out of dust and breathing the breath of life into his nostrils (Gen. 2:7). Like God, Jesus is making the disciples a new creation. He gives them his Holy Spirit empower them, to make them truly alive, to send them out into the world. The peace of Jesus is not inward facing; it’s a peace that spreads, a peace that sends us out into mission.
This brings us to Thomas, one of the original twelve disciples. At one point, he was ready to die with Jesus. But now, Thomas isn’t even with the disciples. John doesn’t tell us why. Perhaps he had given up. Perhaps he was afraid. In any case, the other disciples find him as soon as they can. They’re like Jesus, the Good Shepherd, going out after the one lost sheep.
Their first attempt at sharing the Gospel doesn’t go so well. Thomas refuses to believe. Perhaps you’ve felt like Thomas before. Perhaps there was a time when you used to be excited about the faith, but now, it seems childish to you. Maybe you lost your faith after a difficult experience. Maybe you’d believe if God offered some empirical proof of his existence. Or, perhaps what you want is a feeling or experience so that you can genuinely claim that you’ve “owned” your faith.
Of course, Thomas eventually gets to see Jesus. However, Jesus doesn’t show up to Thomas right away. He waits until the disciples witness to him first. And when he does come, Thomas isn’t alone. Instead, he’s with the disciples once again. Jesus works through the witnessing of his people.
According to verse 26, Jesus appears to Thomas after eight days. In the Bible, the eighth day is a symbolic day. It is a “new creation” day, since it is the beginning of a new week. Israelite boys were circumcised on the eighth day of their life, suggesting that Israel is a new humanity (Lev. 12:3). Aaron and his sons were consecrated as priests on the eighth day, showing that they are new Adams serving in God’s sanctuary (Lev. 9:1). And of course, Jesus was raised on an eighth day (the first day after the seventh day).
So, when Jesus appears to Thomas, he is about to make him a new creation, just as he made the other disciples a new creation. Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the disciples the first time. He wasn’t there when Jesus breathed out the Holy Spirit. Does this mean that he lost his chance or that his joy will be lessened? No! Instead, we see that the new life that began on Easter continues to be available even to those who weren’t there.
In fact, Thomas confesses something about Jesus that none of the other disciples say. He cries out, “My Lord and My God!” Though he doubted, Thomas is the first to speak what John has been showing us all along in his Gospel – that Jesus is the Word become flesh, the Word who was with God, the Word who is God (John 1:1).
Now, you might be thinking, “Thomas might have missed the first appearance, but he still got to see Jesus.” He has an advantage. However, look at Jesus’s response to Thomas. “Have you believed because you have seen me?” asks Jesus. Thomas should have believed the disciples the first time. But, in his next words, it’s almost as if Jesus begins speaking to us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Like most of John’s original readers, we have not seen Jesus with our physical eyes. Like Thomas, we were not there on that first Easter. But we are no more disadvantaged than Thomas was. As we read these words of John’s Gospel, and as we receive these words in faith, what happened to Thomas is also happening for us: Jesus is presenting himself to us. When we receive the Gospel, we are receiving what was also given to Thomas and the rest of the disciples. We are receiving Jesus himself.
Jesus says, blessed are they who do not see and believe. John says he writes to us so that we can believe and have life in the name of Jesus (John 20:31). This means that we can really have what the disciples had, even though we are separated by thousands of years. The presence of Jesus in his Holy Spirit is just as real for us as it was for Thomas, as it was for the other disciples. We, too, have that same peace. We, too, can rejoice. We, too, have the Holy Spirit. We, too, have life in his name. If that’s true, then it means that we are also sent, even as Jesus sent the first disciples. We are called to be witnesses, to tell others, “We have seen the Lord!”
Discuss: John 20:31 shows us that the Word of God is sufficient for belief, and yet so often, we seem to think that it’s not enough. Why do think we do that, and what are some of the things that we use to try to replace or add to God’s Word? How have you seen Jesus in your reading of God’s Word?
Read with your families - Psalm 1; John 15:1-11; Revelation 22:1-5
Dendrology is the study of trees. By paying attention to the dendrology of the Bible, we can learn a lot about ourselves. Some people are fruitful, like the man of Psalm 1. Others are like thorns (2 Sam. 23:6). Sometimes, the difference is not so clear. For example, Jesus cursed a leafy fig tree that looked fruitful, but had no fruit (Mk. 11:12-25). Here, he was really pronouncing judgment on the temple, which was supposed to be a house of prayer, but had become a den of thieves.
Another example of a “tree” bearing false fruit is Absalom. Absalom was one of the sons of King David. Outwardly, he had the characteristics of an ideal prince. He was handsome and charismatic, drawing praise from all of Israel. It seems that Absalom was well known for his crown of hair. 2 Samuel 14:26 says that he would cut his hair once a year and weigh it. In the Bible, hair is an image of glory. Based on appearances, then, Absalom was a glorious man.
Yet, Absalom’s glory was a false glory, for the glory that he sought was his own. Although his name means “father of peace,” Absalom was anything but that. Like Cain, he murdered his brother. 2 Samuel 15:6 says that Absalom “stole the hearts of the men of Israel.” Instead of bringing peace to David’s kingdom, Absalom rebelled and conspired to tear the throne away from his father.
Absalom’s glory-seeking led to his own demise. 2 Samuel 18 tells how Absalom’s armies were defeated by David’s men. As Absalom rode away from the battle, his head was caught in a tree, possibly because of his long hair. So, he was left hanging “between heaven and earth” (2 Sam 18:9). There, David’s men found him. Although David had commanded that Absalom be spared, David’s commander, Joab, did not listen. Instead, Joab killed Absalom as he hung from the tree.
Here is a striking image. Absalom hangs on a tree, almost like fruit. He may have had the looks of a glorious tree, a tree of life, but he really was a tree bearing fruit for death. Paul reminds us that the fruit—the wages—of sin is death. We were once slaves to sin. “But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things which you are now ashamed?” asks Paul. “For the end of those things is death” (Rom. 6:21).
Humans are like trees. Some are fruitful for God’s kingdom; some are withered; some seem lush, yet really have no fruit or bear deadly fruit instead. How can you tell what kind of tree you are? The answer is by looking at the fruit you bear. Jesus says that a diseased tree bears bad fruit, but a healthy tree bears good fruit (Matt. 7:17). What fruit does your life bear? What food do you give to others? Are you jealous, full of anger and lust, seeking after your own glory? Do you spread fear, or gossip, or bitterness? Do you sow division in your family or in your church? What kind of tree are you?
The problem is that we cannot bear fruit for life, anymore than a fallen branch can bear leaves or fruit on its own. Absalom’s death reminds us of the Fall, which also occurred at the foot of a tree. Adam was given a garden, a kingdom, a world filled with God’s good blessings. But instead of learning obedience to God, Adam seized forbidden fruit. He rebelled and sought to rule according to his own terms. This same, basic pattern of sin is repeated in us every time we are angry at our children, or disobey our parents, or lie against our neighbor, or bow to an idol. Every time we sin, we show that we are just like our father Adam, bearing thorns and thistles instead of fruit. We are like Absalom, seizing a kingdom for ourselves, seeking after our own glory.
Generations after Absalom’s death, another son of David died in a similar way. This son was also hung from a tree and cursed with many curses (Acts 5:30). But unlike Absalom, he was the true Prince of Peace, for by his sacrifice, he has brought peace between God and man. I am speaking, of course, about Jesus. On the cross, Jesus bore the curse of the Fall on our behalf. Paul says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone hanged on a tree’” (Gal. 5:13). On the cross, Jesus experienced exile and separation from God in our place. Jesus, the faithful Son, died on a tree for faithless Absaloms like you and me.
Jesus’s death, however, is a fruitful death. By raising Jesus from the dead, God has turned the tree of cursing for Jesus into a tree of life for us. In John 12:24, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus died and rose again. But Jesus’s resurrection is not for him alone; it is for all sons and daughters who die with him. This is what we celebrate on Easter.
Thus, if we are to bear the fruit of eternal life, we must be grafted into the One who is the tree of life. Jesus is the Righteous Man of Psalm 1, planted by rivers of water, yielding his fruit every season. He is the true vine and we are the branches. Jesus says, “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4). Those who are in Christ no longer bear fruit for death; instead, we yield the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). Jesus died and rose again so that we can share in his life, and in sharing his life, we become fruitful even as he is fruitful.
At the end of the Bible, John sees a vision of the glorified Church—the New Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lamb (Rev. 22). It is a garden city; it is Eden transformed, surpassed, glorified. And in this city, a river flows from the throne of God and the Lamb. On either side of the river is the tree of life, with twelve kinds of fruit, yielding fruit every month. Here is a vision of God dwelling in the midst of his people, watering them with his Holy Spirit, making them fruitful (see John 7:38-39). This Easter, let us look to Jesus. Let us celebrate and abide in the one who takes fruitless, withered trees and makes them fruitful again.
Read Matthew 10:26-31 with your family.
26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
In the past couple of weeks, we have been talking a lot about trusting God. But in order to trust God well, we need to know something about the God that we are trusting; you can’t trust someone you don’t know.
In this passage, Jesus is preparing the disciples for the opposition that will come as they proclaim the Gospel among the towns of Israel. But what he says about fear applies to Christians in all generations. Jesus says that we shouldn’t fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, we should fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. By the way, Jesus mentions hell more than any other writer in the New Testament. The doctrine of hell wasn’t invented by the church; Jesus himself taught it.
There is something worse than the death of the body – the eternal death of body and soul in hell. This has been forgotten by secular Western culture. It is even forgotten by Christians when we are more concerned about personal comfort and social standing than we are about our spiritual condition.
Why have we forgotten? I think there are two reasons: we don’t take God seriously, and we don’t take our sin seriously. First, we don’t honor God as holy and truly worthy of worship and fear; instead, we prefer to treat him like a buddy or like Santa Claus. We’ve domesticated God. Second, we don’t see our sin as a personal offense against God. To us, sin is nothing more than an honest mistake, rather than rebellion against the goodness and love of a holy God. If we think that God isn’t that great and our sin isn’t that bad, then of course we won’t fear him.
In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy asks about the lion Aslan:
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
That is the kind of fear we ought to have for God. God cannot be tamed; he cannot be domesticated. We fear God because he is good. This is the answer to all our other fears. Why are we afraid of what other people think of us? Why do we fear failing to get into college? Why do we fear sickness and death? The answer is: because we do not have the fear of God in us. If we are to have boldness in the face of evil and disaster, then we must learn to fear God once again.
Now, Jesus could have stopped with fearing God, but he doesn’t. He wants to show us how fearing God casts out all other fears. Look at what he says next: “29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
I used to think that Jesus was emphasizing the value of human life – of course, you and I are worth more than a sparrow. Genesis tells us that human beings bear the image of God, which is not said of any other creature in creation. All of that is true.
But notice that Jesus places just as much emphasis on the kindness and goodness of God. He says that the death of a single sparrow will not escape the attention of God. How many sparrows have died today? Do you know? Do you care? God even knows the exact number of hairs on your head. When was the last time you counted how many hairs you have?
Job 38 & 39 make a similar point (take some time this week to meditate on these two chapters):
39 “Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
40 when they crouch in their dens
or lie in wait in their thicket?
41 Who provides for the raven its prey,
when its young ones cry to God for help,
and wander about for lack of food?
God looks after things that we would regard as irrelevant or insignificant – sparrows, ants, lion cubs, baby ravens, the hairs on your head. He comprehends things that we cannot even begin to understand. He is personally involved in upholding every detail of creation. As Mr. Beaver says, God is good and he’s the King.
So, we see that God is not only more understanding and more powerful than we are. God is also more compassionate. He is kinder than we are. God’s love is greater than our love. Therefore, Jesus says to us, Do not be afraid; do not fear. When we fear God, when we are in a right relationship with him, the fear of God casts out all other fears.
1 John 4:18 says, “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Does this contradict what we’ve been saying about the fear of God? No. For John, the fear that is cast out is the fear that has to do with punishment. This is the fear that makes demons shudder before God (James 2:19). This is the fear that comes upon a sinner when he is first convicted of his sinfulness. But John says that this is the kind of fear that is cast out when we come to know God’s love.
What is the perfect love that casts out fear? 1 John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins.” We do not need to fear punishment for our sin because Jesus has offered himself as a sacrifice for us, in our place. That’s what it means for Jesus to be a “propitiation.” God forgives us and accepts us for the sake of his Son Jesus, who died and rose again. This is the perfect love that casts out fear. If God gave his Son to save us while we were still in our sin, how much more will he deliver us from all things, even death itself?
Discuss: What are some of the things you currently fear? How does the fear of God (rightly understood) address those concerns?
The challenge for Christians in a time like this is to continue thanking God even in hardship. Yes, we must pour out our hearts to God, even as Hannah did with much anguish and tears. We must mourn with those who mourn. But even as we do this, our hearts must be filled with gratitude.
Job said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21, ESV).
Some of you are facing the loss of the rest of your school year – plans to celebrate with friends, graduation, maybe vacations or trips. Though I pray that this is not the case, some of you may know friends or family members who have lost their jobs or are even losing their health. Are you still able to say with Job, “Blessed be the name of the LORD”?
Discuss: What’s something that you should be thanking God for right now?