End Times 2: Last Judgment

Preached: November 9, 2014

Dear Christian, You Are Now a Child of Light
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit prepares us to meet Jesus is 1 Thessalonians 5.

Concerning the times and seasons, brothers, you don't need to be written to. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord is coming just as a thief at night. When they say, “Peace and safety,” then sudden destruction will come on them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

But as for you, brothers, you are not in darkness so that like a thief that day catches you. For all of you are sons of light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to darkness.

Therefore, let us not sleep like the rest but be awake and sober. For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. But as for us, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love and also the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us for wrath but for possessing salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with him. So encourage one another and each one build up the other, just as you are indeed doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Have you adjusted to the time change? After turning the clocks back, night settles in an hour earlier. For the next month and a half the darkness keeps creeping forward.

At one time we belonged to the dark. In John 3 Jesus declared, “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:16 NIV11). A part of me and a part of you objects to that word “evil.” That part argues, “Yes, maybe some people are evil. But I wasn't really that bad, was I?” But listen to what the Scriptures say: “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5 NIV11). We don't fully realize how bad our own stink is.

Conceived and born in sin, we belonged to the darkness. But dear Christian, you are now a child of light. “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8 NIV11), Paul writes to the church in Ephesus. In Baptism you were reborn into God's family. You crossed over from darkness into light. You were washed clean of sin's stink. Through faith in Jesus Christ you are a child of light. How that prepares us for Judgment Day and how that changes our lives until then!

Dear Christian, you are now a child of light. Remember that theme. In Christ, stand ready for Judgment Day. And in Christ, stand alert every day, armored with faith, love, and hope. For you, dear Christian, are a child of light.

A. In Christ, stand ready for Judgment Day

Are you ready for Judgment Day? Just like the Christians in Thessalonica you know that day will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. Jesus himself used that picture. People of the world are focused on peace and safety for their lives here and now. “If we get the right people elected, if we stop the Islamic State, if we contain Ebola, if we lower green house gases, if we reform the tax code, then there will be more peace and prosperity,” they promise. There's no thought that this world will end not by human mistake but by divine intervention. All will be called to account on Judgment Day. They are spiritually asleep. That day will catch so many unawares, surprising them like a thief waking you up in the middle of the night. Sudden destruction will overwhelm them like the sudden onset of labor pains. And just as a pregnant woman cannot run away from those pains, there is no escape on Judgment Day. Are you ready?

Will you have the Judge's approval on that day? For in this court all that matters is the Judge's opinion. He is completely impartial and absolutely holy and just. He searches the dark corners of our hearts and knows our every thought and motive. Nothing is hidden from him. All is laid bare, exposed in shame and disgrace.

Obviously we cannot plead our own record. Nothing we do meets his standard of perfection. All falls short of his approval. Nothing from us can endure his scrutiny that exposes every failure, every selfish inclination, every dark attitude and ambition. Our own record does not make us ready.

What will your defense be before the Judge? Will you say, “But I am God's special creation. He made me and formed me in my mother's womb. He doesn't make mistakes. He doesn't make junk. So he accepts me for who I am.”

That sounds logical. It is true that each and every human being is God's special creation, knit together by him in our mother's womb. And the holy God does not make mistakes. But that defense ignores another Bible truth. This other truth may not logically fit in, but it is the truth because God says so. Here it is: From the moment God created you and me, sin fully corrupted us, but not due to any failure or fault in God. We were guilty from the start, and appealing to God's creative work in us does not remove that guilt. Even though we were God's creation, we began life outside of his family. We were his enemies, not his children. We did not have God's image. For ever since out first parents fall into sin, God's image was lost. “Flesh gives birth to flesh” (John 3:6 NIV11), Jesus told Nicodemus. Sinners give birth to sinners. No one enters the kingdom of God due to their first birth as God's creation. We were darkness. God did not accept us for who we were or approve of us in any way. We were not ready for Judgment Day.

What will your defense be? We cannot deny what we were, but, dear Christian, believe what God has worked in you through the Gospel in Baptism and in the word. Believe what the Apostle writes to his brothers and sisters in Christ, “You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness ... God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that ... we may live together with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:5, 9, 10 NIV11).

Note the words that all this is “through our Lord Jesus Christ.” It's not due to the fact that we are God's creation, but rather that he has recreated you and me in Christ Jesus. He created a new self within us when we were reborn, yes born a second time, not from our mothers but through the water and word of Baptism by the Spirit's power. He created your new self in his image. This is God's appointed plan, not because of anything in us that made us acceptable to him, but because his grace, his undeserved love, freely choose to save an unworthy sinner like you and like me. You were reborn from above as God's child, as a son or daughter of the light, children of the day. That is what you still are through faith in Christ Jesus. Dear Christian, you are now a child of light.

What about the darkness we once belonged to? What about the night of our guilt? Jesus took care of all that. He died for you and me. He nailed our guilt to the cross, shattering the darkness. He is the rising Sun ending the night of our sin. He is our Dawn, our Daylight. For he has risen from the dead. He lives and reigns eternally.

What is our defense on Judgment Day? You, dear Christian, stand ready as you say, “Your Honor, I once belonged to the darkness and so rightly deserve death and hell. But you rescued me. You brought me from darkness into light. You gave me rebirth into your Father's family. For you died for me. You took my place and suffered the death and hell I have earned. You gave me your righteous record to count as my own. In you, dear Jesus, I am a child of light, an heir of everlasting life to live together with you forever.”

With that defense, dear Christian, you stand ready. For in Christ you have God's full approval and complete acceptance. Through faith in Jesus you have that status as God's own dear child and heir, a son or daughter of the light. In Christ, you stand ready for Judgment Day.

Until then, live as a child of the light. In Christ, stand alert every day armored with faith, love, and hope.

B. In Christ, stand alert every day armored with faith, love, and hope

The apostle writes to us believers, “You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet” (1 Thessalonians 5:5-8 NIV11).

Dear Christian, you are now a child of light. Don't return to the darkness. In Christ, stand alert every day. So many things can dull our spiritual senses. It's not just alcohol that makes our souls drunk. Inside of us our own desires of anger, lust, greed, and envy want to cloud our thinking so that rather than showing self-control we indulge our appetites. Outside of us the world wants to fill us with its empty promises and high-sounding reasoning so that we stagger back into its darkness.

Rather, dear Christian, stand alert every day. How do we do that? By putting on the breastplate of faith and love and wearing the hope of salvation as your helmet. And all of this is in Christ, for we can do nothing apart from him.

The breastplate covers the heart and with our hearts we cling to God's promises. That's faith. Faith holds on to God's promises. How his promises bring us strength to live as children of the light! God promises that in Christ you have that marvelous, new status. You are his son. You are his daughter. You are his own dear child. Stand alert, confident that as his child you have received his Holy Spirit so that you can resist the evil appetites that try deaden our souls. Stand alert, confident that the protecting hands of your heavenly Father are stronger than any of the worlds threats. For in Christ, you are a child of light, armored with the breastplate of faith. Not even dark death can separate you from the Father's love, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

From this heart of faith comes love. For faith grasps how great the love of the Father is. He sent his one and only Son as the atoning sacrifice for all the sins of the entire world, including yours and mine. Because he first loved us, we love. So, dear Christian, stand alert every day as you love God above all and love your neighbor as yourself. Such love refuses to give into our own selfish ambitions, but seeks the good of others, even as Jesus did what was good for you and me.

And we are armored not only with that breastplate of faith and love but also with the hope of salvation as our helmet. Our minds are not set on earthly things but on the things above where Christ is seated at God's right hand. He is the Author and the Completer of our salvation. In him we are children of the light; heaven is our home. Our hopes and expectations are aimed there rather than at the empty promises of this earth. Why stagger after what this world offers when the finish line is right there in front of us? What a reason to stand alert every day!

On July 3, 1863, on Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg, First Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing stood alert as Pickett's Charge surged from the Confederate lines. Although severely wounded in his shoulder and abdomen, Cushing stood firm. So few men were left to hold the hill that he refused to fall back for medical attention. He stood alert until a bullet ended his life, and on his headstone are inscribed the words “Faithful unto Death.” This past week, 151 years later, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama.

How much more so, dear Christian, don't you and I have every reason to stand firm no matter how numerous Satan's hoards are! You, dear Christian, are a child of light. Be faithful unto death, standing alert every day armored with faith, love, and hope. Be faithful unto death, for in Christ you are ready for Judgment Day. You won't have to wait 151 years to hear the Judge say, “Dear child of light blessed by my Father, come, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313