December 8, 2019
Jesus speaks again today about his return in judgment. Christ Jesus will return in a cloud with power and great might. And it is clear that when Jesus comes, not everyone will be saved. Our Old Testament lesson from Malachi also points this out, saying that the day will burn like an oven and all the arrogant and evil doers will be stubble. This is an unpopular teaching; it is an uncomfortable teaching. And it is a teaching that is more and more ignored and even rejected. Yet, ignoring something doesn’t mean it’s not there. And rejecting what Jesus says does not make what he says untrue.
Universalism is a teaching that all people will be saved; that God will not condemn anyone. It’s a popular teaching, because no one wants to think about hell or anyone going there. How nice it would be if everyone were saved. Yet, universalism is a false religion that makes obsolete Jesus and his work of salvation. Universalism fails to deal with the problem of sin and evil in the world. Universalism fails to warn people of their own sin and need to repent. Universalism robs people of Jesus and his salvation.
Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead. Satan will finally be banished forever in hell. All sinning will be put to an end. And we will be freed. Yes, we will be freed. The final judgment is a scary thought. Jesus himself says that the signs that accompany his coming will be terrifying. In fact, Jesus says that people will faint with fear and foreboding of what is coming on the world. And for this reason, many do not want Jesus to return. They don’t want to see that day. They don’t want to face condemnation. Yet, we should want to see that day. We should look forward to that day. In fact, we should pray every day that that day would come.
The day should not terrify us, because Jesus will not come to deal with us according to our sins, but according to his mercy. Jesus say, “When you see these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Our redemption is drawing near. Christ Jesus himself redeemed us, that is, he purchased and won us from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. In Jesus’ return, he comes to retrieve that which he purchased with his own blood. Our redemption is drawing near means that He who redeemed us comes to rescue us from this valley of sorrow to take us to himself in heaven!
And, so that final day will be received very differently between those who will receive judgment and condemnation and those who will receive redemption from this sinful world. The big difference is faith. When the waters of the deep broke forth and the rain began to fall for forty days and forty nights, it signaled God’s judgment on the wicked world. The world-wide flood killed all people upon the earth. Yet, for Noah and his family, the waters were a sign of salvation as God kept them safe in the ark along with the animals.
And the flood remains a sign of salvation to you Christians today. Jesus says that his return and the final judgment will come just as the flood did in the days of Noah, people will be eating and drinking, marrying and giving into marriage, that is, people will not expect Jesus’ return to judgment, just as the sinful world did not expect the flood to come. Yet, Scripture also says that Baptism, which corresponds to the flood, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Christ Jesus. (1 Peter 3:21) So, when the end does come, we who are baptized into Christ have good reason to raise our heads, because our consciences have been made clean through Christ. Just as Noah and his family saw in the flood their salvation, so we who have been baptized into Christ see Christ’s return as our salvation.
Likewise, the ten plagues were terrible signs to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Water turned to blood, they were infested with frogs, flies, gnats, hail, and locusts. Their cattle died. Yet, God made a distinction between the Egyptians and the children of Israel. These plagues were indeed signs of God’s judgment upon the Egyptians, but they were signs of Israel’s redemption from slavery. Finally, on the night of the first Passover, the children of Israel slaughtered their lambs and smeared the blood on their doorposts. As the angel of death went through Egypt striking down the firstborn of both man and beast, the children of Israel feasted safely behind the blood-stained doors. And so, we too have confidence that God’s judgment and condemnation will pass over us, who have the blood of the Lamb Christ Jesus painted on our hearts.
This is why we do not need to be afraid. We have faith in Jesus Christ, whose blood sets us free from sin and condemnation. We do not expect the return of any other Christ than he who died to take away our sins, and who upon his rising from the dead proclaimed peace from God the Father. We are waiting for the return of him, who permitted himself to be born of the Virgin Mary and laid in a manger for our sake. We are waiting for the return of him who out of love for us laid down his life, so that he might give us eternal life. We are expecting the return of our great Friend, our Savior, our eternal Brother. We await our Redemption from our only Redeemer.
This is why Jesus gives us Christians such a beautiful picture of the last days by comparing it to trees pushing out their leaves. Are you afraid when you smell the sweet air of spring and see the leaves push forth on the trees? No! Rather, your heart is glad, because the long winter is now over and summer is near. And so, we Christians, when we see the signs of the end times, the turmoil in high places, the roaring of the seas, fear and panic among the masses, we do not lose our hope. Rather, we wait with eagerness for our long-expected Jesus.
It is important for us to understand that we are not at home here on this earth. Jesus more than once calls Satan the ruler of this world. He prowls around like a roaring lion. He puts his hands into all sorts of business to wreak havoc in the church, at home, and in the government. We are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, but our citizenship is in heaven from which we await a great reward to be given to us by the merits of Christ.
Imagine for a moment that you have been captured by terrorists and held hostage. You are locked up in the inner room of a building. But then, you start to hear commotion outside. Gunfire, explosions, doors banging down, your captors screaming in fear. Such cacophony is sure to set you on edge a bit, but overall you would be filled with hope, knowing that the good guys are coming. You’re being rescued. You wait for the door to be opened and your rescuers to come in telling you that all the bad guys are gone.
This is what we are waiting for. We Christians recognize that Satan for a moment is the ruler of this world. Sin reigns for a while. Yet, we hate our sins. We do not want to sin any more. We don’t want to be separated from God. We don’t want to be estranged from those we should love. So, we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.” We pray for summer to come. We look forward to the arrival of our Redemption.
And this is indeed what we pray for whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer. “Thy kingdom come.” We indeed pray that God would send us his Holy Spirit now, so that we would believe God’s holy word and live godly lives according to it. Yet, we also pray that Christ Jesus would come with our redemption. That he would rescue us from our present misery.
And it is important that we do continue to pray this petition and that we continue to hear God’s Word and believe in the redemption he has won for us in Christ Jesus. There is a strange phenomenon that happens to those captured against their will. It is not that uncommon for those held captive to develop a sympathy for their captors. It is called Stockholm syndrome. Captives suffering from Stockholm syndrome develop a bond with their captors and in some cases try to help them. They don’t want to be rescued, but want to remain with those who kidnapped them.
Jesus warns against a similar thing when he says, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” Jesus is saying, “Don’t get so comfortable in this sinful world that you stop waiting for my return.” Yet, this is what happens to many. Christians become more comfortable in the world than they do in the Church. They think and behave more like the world does than how God teaches us in Scripture. They don’t repent of their sins. They don’t gladly hear God’s Word. They don’t keep their focus on the cross of Christ and the forgiveness he won for them. Rather, the cares of this life, what and where they eat, what they wear, where they live, their work, their friends, their hobbies, and so forth until all these cares blur out their faith, so that they don’t keep watch. They become like the wicked masses, who paid no attention to Noah’s warnings. They do not wait for their redemption to come.
So, Jesus warns us now. Stay awake. Watch yourself. Recognize the situation you are now in. You are not yet in paradise. You are in a foreign land; a sinful land ruled by the Evil One. Yet, Jesus promises to return with salvation and deliverance. So, keep watch. Keep the faith. Repent of your sins, so that you are not caught unprepared. Hear the words of Jesus and trust in his sacrifice for your sins. Paint Jesus’ blood on the doorpost of your heart, so that the destruction passes over your head on that great day. Eat today Christ’s living body and blood, which were given and shed for you, so that you can await with eagerness the return of him who gives you his own self to eat and drink.
And pray. Pray that God’s kingdom come. Pray that he would keep you in the ark of the Church. Pray that your heart would be prepared for that wonderful day. And pray for others as well, that we would all turn from our sins and trust in Jesus who saves. And encourage one another with such words. Then, though the earth gives way and the mountains be thrown into the depths of the sea, and the sun, moon, and starts turn black, and all structures in our life crumble and fall, then we will stand on solid ground and look to our Redeemer with great hope. Amen.