The title of my lesson, as you could probably tell, is “It Happens”. This has always been one of my favorite statements to say, especially when something unfortunate happens. I don’t want you to think that I grabbed this saying from that crude bumper sticker that was popularized in the ‘80s and ‘90s in which the word ‘it’ was replaced with a crude word that many of us here consider to be a curse word, that is not the case. I wanted to go ahead and get that out of the way before any confrontation would be made concerning the title of this sermon.
If you would, please turn in your Bibles to 1 Thessalonians 3. Before you read this scripture, I would like to introduce the organization for our lesson. This is how the lesson is going to flow:
– We will begin with an EXAMINATION OF THE TEXT. According to 2 Timothy 3:16-17, all scripture is breathed out by God, this means that it is inspired. If we truly believe what we are reading to be the Inspired Word of God, then we must treat it as such. Through prayerful examination, we will be able to determine what God is trying to tell us.
– Next, we will look at BIBLICAL EXAMPLES OF THOSE WHO’VE DEALT WITH AFFLICTION. We will look at 3 examples of those in the Bible who have been persecuted against.
– After looking at three examples, we will have a series of questions for us to ponder about ourselves. I like to call this a CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF OUR SPIRITUAL LIVES. I would ask you ask yourselves these questions with honesty.
Let us now look at the first five verses of chapter 3:
“Therefore, when we could no longer stand it, we thought it was better to be left alone in Athens. And we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you concerning your faith, so that no one will be shaken by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. In fact, when we were with you, we told you in advance that we were going to experience affliction, and as you know, it happened. For this reason, when I could no longer stand it, I also sent him to find out about your faith, fearing that the tempter had tempted you and that our labor might be for nothing.”
EXAMINATION OF THE TEXT
This letter was authored during a time of heavy persecution against the Church. In Chapter 2 of 1 Thessalonians, we see that the Jews are persecuting the congregations in Thessalonica heavily. Paul understood the difficulties that they were facing and in verse 17, we understand that Paul had a great desire to return to Thessalonica after they had been forced to leave it. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy desired to return and strengthen the saints. While Paul was in Athens, he grew very concerned for the Christians in Thessalonica, but he did not feel like leaving the work in Athens. As a result, we understand in chapter 3 verse 2, Timothy was sent on behalf of the mission group to go and encourage those who are in Thessalonica. He was sent with the specific task strengthening and encouraging them concerning their faith.
Why do we want to strengthen our faith? Why should we be encouraged to remain in the faith? If the Gospel saves us, why should we want more than just accepting it?
The scripture tells us the reason they needed to be strengthened and encouraged was so that they would not be shaken by afflictions! We are talking about having Spiritual Maturity in our teens class, and we are doing this so that when the world starts to throw stones at our children, they will be able to maintain their faith.
Paul writes that these afflictions are to be expected. Christians are appointed to these afflictions. And this brings us to our main text for this afternoon… read with me verse 4:
“In fact, when we were with you, we told you in advance that we were going to experience affliction, and as you know, it happened.”
They were warned in advance that they were going to experience affliction, and guess what… it happened. We do not know exactly what these afflictions were, but it would be reasonable to assume – within the context of this passage – that these were persecutions that they were facing. Paul wanted to send Timothy to find out if the Thessalonians have remained strong and withstood the temptations of Satan, despite persecutions and afflictions. We see in verses 6-7 that their faith has remained strong.
So the affliction happened. Paul said it would, and it did. And as we have seen, the Thessalonians handled their afflictions well. This brings us to the next part of our lesson.
I will now provide 3 BIBLICAL EXAMPLES OF THOSE WHO HAVE ALSO DEALT WITH AFFLICTION AFTER HAVING EXPECTED IT:
There are many people throughout scripture that we can say “it happened” to them. They seem to have been through it all. They’ve been through the persecutions and they have had to deal with afflictions coming at them in every direction. We will look at 1 Old Testament example and 2 New Testament examples of those who have gone through afflictions.
EXAMPLE 1: I do not think there is one in the Old Testament who had it as bad as Jeremiah. Jeremiah is also known as the “weeping prophet.” There might be some of you here that feel like you have nobody listening to you… but I promise you that you have it much better than Jeremiah did. Nobody, and I mean nobody, listened to Jeremiah. Even the priests and fellow prophets hated Jeremiah. After Jeremiah gave a speech in the temple in Jeremiah 26:1-6, we are told that he was seized and they begged that he be put to death. Thankfully, by God’s providence and by his promise, he was released. However, he went through many afflictions.
Jeremiah went through many afflictions and we cannot say that he didn’t know he was going to face them. In Jeremiah 1:19, the scripture says:
“They will fight against you, but never prevail over you, since I am with you to rescue you.”
He is told that everyone will be against him, but God will be there for him. And you know what, it happened. Everything that God said would go wrong, did go wrong. However, Jeremiah kept the faith and continued to live out his calling.
EXAMPLE 2: In John 4, we see one who did not face physical affliction, but this individual faced emotional and spiritual affliction. We see a woman who didn’t have much hope. For just a few minutes, I want you to put yourself inside the head of the Samaritan woman by the well. On top of being a lowly Samaritan, she has been married four times. She faces spiritual rejection as well as emotional and romantic rejection. I’d like to think that she has faced so much rejection, she’s lost hope. She’s lost hope to the point that she doesn’t even want to be too married to the man she’s living with now because she knows it will lead to only more heartbreak. And she is used to having no hope. She just keeps on drawing water from the same well of heartbreak, sadness, and empty living. BUT THEN JESUS ENTERS THE PICTURE.
Jesus (a Jew) comes asking for water. She is shocked! “A Jew is asking me for water?? (Cf. 4:9)” Jesus then states that he possesses living water. The water she was drinking was just making her more thirsty. Jesus said that those who drink the water he provides would never be thirsty again. This Samaritan woman then asks for some of that water but she thinks it’s all physical… She still thinks she can finally get hope by trusting material water. But Jesus slowly reveals to her that the water he provides is not at all physical, but rather spiritual. This water, though it’s spiritual, can make all of us fully satisfied.
Then, probably the coolest thing happens once she realizes she is talking to the Messiah, the savior. She realizes that she has hope!! Her salvation does not depend on her past sins or her ethnic heritage. It now depends on the water that she drinks!! She sees this and then she tells everyone in town about it! That really brings a smile to my face.
In John 4:13-14, we see Jesus contrasting the two waters. One water will result in further thirst, and the other will result in eternal life. Jesus warns not only her, but us of this affliction. We cannot say that it doesn’t happen, because this spiritual affliction happens to all of us. In Romans 3:22-23, Paul writes:
“The righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Like the Samaritan woman, we each have our own struggles and we fall inevitably into sin. Jesus gave this warning to the Samaritan woman, as well as to us. It is up to us to drink from the water that Jesus provides and that brings me to my last example: Jesus Christ himself.
EXAMPLE 3: When one thinks of true suffering in the New Testament, the first one that comes to people’s minds is Jesus Christ. We cannot say that he has the most gruesome death, and we know that many Christians throughout history have suffered a more painful physical death than Jesus. However, if you were here during my last lesson just a few weeks ago, you might recall that Jesus’ afflictions had one massive string attached. He had to drink the cup of our sins. All at once, he had to bear our sins on calvary. He had to do this because He became our atoning sacrifice.
Many critics of the Bible state that God cannot be real because a real god would not let his own son die. What they fail to understand is that God intended it to be that way. Paul knew of his afflictions, Jeremiah knew of his afflictions, the Samaritan woman came to understand the spiritual battle she would have to fight within herself. Likewise, the prophets such as Jeremiah and Isaiah prophesied of One who would have to suffer afflictions on our behalf. IT HAD TO HAPPEN!!!
Please read with me Romans 3:21-25:
“But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been revealed, attested by the Law and the Prophets. The righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented him as an atoning sacrifice in his blood, received through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed.”
We have set before us such a great salvation. Let us not neglect this salvation that we have through Jesus Christ – Hebrews 2:3. His beaten body, torn to shreds by those who looked forward to his very coming, martyred and slain and hung on a cross… It was for you and me.
Before I close this lesson, I would ask that we consider these few questions. I want you to reflect on these questions and be honest with yourself.
- Are you feeling as if no one ever listens to you, even if what you say is good (Jeremiah)?
- Are you feeling as if no matter what you do, you will never be good enough (Samaritan Woman)?
- If Timothy were to write a report about you, what would it say (1 Thessalonians 3:6-7)?
- Have you neglected your salvation (which comes through Jesus Christ)?
As a Christian, I must understand the cost (Luke 14). The Christian life is not going to be easy and I might slip up from time-to-time, “it happens”. However, God loves me and He sent Jesus as my atoning sacrifice. Therefore, I should start trying to live my life for Him (Phil. 1:21).