The questions in this small group guide relate to the sermon from May 16, 2021. If your group has not had a chance to listen to the full sermon related to this discussion guide, they can find it in our sermon library. Rev. Adam Hamilton preached this week’s sermon.
Lord God, into our dying world you brought life. Into our despairing world you brought hope. Into my darkened life you brought and bring light. Into all our lives you bring purpose and meaning. Thank you for being with us to guide and teach us as we meet to learn together about Paul’s teaching about hope, light and life. Amen.
- Pastor Adam said, “Paul said to the Thessalonians, I don’t want you to grieve like those who have no hope. You will grieve – grief is a sign that you loved someone very much. Grief is healthy. But we’re meant to grieve as people who have hope. Why? Because Christ died and rose again! And he said, ‘Because I live, you shall live also.’ He promised to prepare a place for us and then return for us. We not only believe it, we’re counting on it.” The core pillars of the faith Paul taught those early Christians were 1) Jesus died for our sins, and 2) Jesus rose from the dead, defeating death forever for all who follow him. How does that core faith give you hope even in the saddest, most painful times?
- Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15, Acts 1:9-11. From the beginning of the faith, Christians believed that the Jesus who came once in the incarnation was not gone forever, but would return to earth. The Thessalonians didn’t have to ask, “Will Jesus return?” But they wondered, “When he does, will those who have died miss out?” Paul, like Jesus, spoke of those who died as having “fallen asleep” (cf. Luke 8:52-53, John 11:11-13). He saw death as temporary, not permanent. What was the comforting importance of realizing that, in Jesus, death’s loss and pain are temporary?
- Read 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. In the shadow of the cross, Jesus promised his followers, “My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me” (John 14:2-3). That was why Paul so confidently wrote, “The Lord himself will come.” The central point for Paul (as for Jesus in John 14) was that we will always be with the Lord. Is that the eternal reward you most hope for?
- Read 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4, Matthew 24:36, 42. 1 Thessalonians was, many scholars believe, the earliest written New Testament document. But it clearly reflected Jesus' teaching as the gospels later recorded it. Matthew 24 said that when Jesus told his disciples the Temple would not stand forever, they asked a very human question: “Tell us, when will these things happen?” (Matthew 24:3)? Too often our “when” questions about Jesus' coming reflect the idea that if we just knew “when,” we’d know when to “get serious” about growing our spiritual commitment to “be ready” to meet the Savior. Paul, following Jesus, said readiness is not a short-term, emergency project, but a matter of living continually in the light of God’s grace and love. Do you live today, and every day, as someone who is not “in darkness”?
- Read 1 Thessalonians 5:5-8, Luke 21:27-28. 1 Thessalonians made it plain that the Thessalonian Christians and Paul himself expected Jesus to return to earth very soon (“we who are living and still around”—1 Thessalonians 4:17). After 2000 years, we can see that their sense of God’s time scale was a bit too short. Crucial to thinking about Jesus' coming is not “when,” but “who”—who is coming? And who will be ready to greet him? Using Old Testament prophetic language about the end, Jesus said people would feel confusion, dismay, and fear as everything seemed to be falling apart. But not his followers! For them—us—the end of the world is not cause for fear but hope: “Your redemption is near.” When you think of Jesus' coming, can you “raise your head” and rejoice in God’s coming redemption?
- Pastor Adam said, “When Paul says that we will meet the Lord in the air, the word ‘meet’ is one that was used of delegations of people from a town who would go out and meet the emperor or a king or dignitary on the road to welcome them. This would be a great welcoming party. The imagery is common imagery from scripture and literature from this period–the trumpet sounding, meeting in the clouds. When Paul says that we will meet the Lord in the air, the word ‘meet’ is one that was used of delegations of people from a town who would go out and meet the emperor or a king or dignitary on the road to welcome them. This would be a great welcoming party. The imagery is common imagery from scripture and literature from this period–the trumpet sounding, meeting in the clouds…. And I want to be ready. Are you ready? Being ready is trusting your life to Christ, accepting his love, and then seeking to live faithfully and in love.” Scholar William Barclay wrote, “Waking or sleeping, the Christian is living already with Christ and is therefore always prepared…. The [person] who has lived all his life with Christ is never unprepared to enter his nearer presence.” * When you think of Jesus coming, do you feel confident that you can meet him with joy and trust? If not, what choices can you make to move toward living with Christ every day?
Lord Jesus, we thank you that the Christians in Thessalonica asked Paul about your coming. Two-thousand years later, his answers speak to our hearts, and help us know how to meet you trusting in your goodness, not our own. Amen.
* William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians (Revised Edition). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1975, p. 206.