End Times 2: Last Judgment
Preached: November 7, 2010
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 focuses our eyes on our returning Savior who comes to judge the living and the dead is 2 Thessalonians 1.
[This is] evidence of God's just judgment so that you are deemed worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer -- if indeed it is just on God's part to give back trouble to those who trouble you and rest along with us to you who are troubled, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire, giving retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They're the ones who pay the penalty of eternal destruction away from the face of the Lord and away from the glory of his strength, when he shall come glorified among his saints and marveled at among all who believe, for our testimony to you in connection with that day has been believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10)
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
Thessalonica was in northern Greece. The Apostle Paul first arrived there on his second missionary journey, probably around the year 50. He came there from Philippi where he and his coworker Silas had been imprisoned overnight for driving out a demon from a slave girl. The jailer of Philippi and his household were brought to faith through it all.
When Paul and Silas were released they headed for Thessalonica, what kind of reception would they receive there? For three Sabbaths Paul went to the synagogue in Thessalonica and showed from the Scriptures that the Christ had to suffer and die and then rise from the dead. He preached, “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ” (Acts 17:3 NIV). Some of the Jews believed and a large number of God-fearing Greeks did as well. But the remaining Jews became jealous. They rounded up a mob and went to the house of Jason, where Paul and Silas were staying. When they couldn't find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the town magistrates. They accused them of defying Caesar by proclaiming Jesus as king. Jason and the others had to post bond.
That night the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea, the next town. The Bereans were of more noble character. They eagerly believed Paul's message and daily searched the Scriptures to see that what Paul said was God's truth. But when unbelieving Jews in Thessalonica heard about this, they went to Berea to stir up trouble against Paul. Yes, dear friends, the opposition against the gospel in Thessalonica was that fanatical.
Can you imagine what the Thessalonian Christians must have faced? The intimidation, trumped up charges, mob violence, The loss of business and social standing. Fear for their families and their future. How tempting to hide their faith or give up on it entirely! Why face the world if it causes such loss? Was their church dying a dying church?
Not at all. Listen to verses 3 and 4 right before the text today as Paul writes this second letter to the Thessalonian Christians. “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecution and trials you are enduring” (2 Thessalonians 1:3, 4 NIV). The faced they world and all its hatred and persecution. They faced it with perseverance and faith. That perseverance and faith in the midst of world's persecution and trials -- that, dear friends, is the evidence Paul refers to in the opening words of the text. That's the evidence of God's just judgment. They faced the world confident of God's judgment.
How well are you facing the world? Compared to the Thessalonians, we have it good, maybe too good. “But Pastor how can you say it's too good. We just had a sea-change election that showed how unhappy people are with they way things are going. You don't know my troubles, my pains. How can things be too good?”
And you're right. We suffer our share of evil in this sinful world. The economic winds blow unpredictably. Disease or disaster strike unexpectedly. The inevitable decline of age brings its pains. And Scripture brings us many promises directing us to our heavenly Father for comfort and strength. His protection and care will not fail. He even watches over the lilies and sparrows, how much more so you, his baptized child. He spreads the wings of his mercy over you. He works out all for the good of his blood-bought people. Trust your heavenly Father. For in Jesus, he is truly your Father.
But what the Thessalonians faced was not just these troubles that can hit anyone, but specifically the troubles that only Christians experience as they face off against the world. Their earthly life would have been so much better if they only would have turned away from Jesus. But instead they grew in faith and persevered. The persecution forced the choice on them: “Do I truly love my Savior and am I willing to follow Jesus facing down the world? Or should I go back to the old ways and escape this persecution?” There was no in between. Either they would be growing in faith or they would give up on Jesus entirely. There was none of this self-deception of coasting along, calling themselves Christians when their hearts were somewhere else.
That's why I said that we might have it too good. We live in a time when it's still usually beneficial to call yourself a Christian. There is no government sponsored oppression. We certainly thank God for such blessings. But it's also easy to wear the name Christian without living the faith. It's easy to fool ourselves into thinking we're pretty good Christians with our hearts on fire when really we're just a smoldering wick unwilling to take the effort to fan our faith into a flame, ignorant of how close we are to having no faith or a wrong faith.
For you see, dear friends, if we're not afflicted by the world for following Jesus, it's not because the world has become Christian but we have compromised with the world. The more we live our faith, the less we fit in. The world says “It's fine for you to be religious, just don't be too religious.” So we do our Sunday morning thing at least some of the time. But we don't want our religion to cramp our work hours, our family time, our sports, our recreation, our entertainment. our sleep, our fun. And the sad part is, we don't even realize how many of our daily decisions and choices are pulled by the world's values rather than by faith. That's not living the faith. That's not facing down the world. And to top it all off, we seem content with that smoldering faith making little effort to fan the flame with God's Word and sacraments. That would be too religious. Just look at our Bible class attendance, as an example. For you see, if we begin to grow in faith, that brings conflict. The internal struggle to follow Jesus and face down the world without compromise grows, and we no longer feel so welcomed by the world. We no longer fit in. Outright persecution, as the Thessalonian Christians experienced, drives the Christian to the Word as our only strength and hope. Maybe we have it too good.
But what encouragement does the word of God before us today give to build up your hearts and move us to live our faith and face down the world? How hard that is! How much we need the strength and encouragement of the Scriptures! For once you start becoming “too religious,” the world penalizes you. No doubt you have felt that first hand. You did what was right. You let your faith in Jesus shine out. You did not compromise. And you suffered for it. That's why it's so tempting not to face the world.
But here, dear Christian, the Apostle Paul offers you comfort, strength, and encouragement. He points us to three aspects of God's judgment. First when you face the world and so suffer for living your faith, God's right judgment is counting you worthy of his kingdom through faith in Jesus. Referring back to the Thessalonian's perseverance and faith in the face of persecution, Paul writes, “All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering” (2 Thessalonian 1:5 NIV). So when the world makes you feel like a loser for living your faith, remember God's judgment overturns the world's verdict. He has counted you worthy of his kingdom because Jesus' worthiness covers you through faith, that faith which world hates. That very faith that suffers at the hand of the world is the same faith that claims Christ's worthiness as your only hope and salvation. Only his worthiness can cover our sinfulness. Face the world, confident of God's judgment that counts you worthy because of Jesus.
Second, even though for the present it appears that the world gets away with belittling Christians, even though it appears that compromising with the world brings success instead of setbacks, Judgment Day is coming. “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power” (2 Thessalonian 1:6-9 NIV).
In a way those who follow the world get their wish. They want to live their own way without interference from God. They want Jesus to remain at a distance. In the end Jesus says to them, “So be it. You don't want me, so I will withdraw my merciful goodness, my powerful blessings, and my gracious majesty from you.” That's what hell is: “Shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9 NIV). No hope, no peace, no rest. That's the everlasting destruction, the unending suffering, for all who do not know Jesus nor trust his Good News. So don't be fooled by he apparent success of those who follow the world. Note their final outcome. Face the world, confident of God's judgment against it.
And finally, the third aspect of God's judgment. Face the world despite the suffering it causes you because of what Judgment Day will bring for you. “On the day [Jesus] comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you” (2 Thessalonians 1:10 NIV).
Sometimes we wonder: How can heaven be so great? Won't we get bored after a while? What happens if I don't like singing to begin with? But look how Jesus is described here: “to be marveled at among all those who have believed” (1 Thessalonians 1:10 NIV). Heaven is a continuous marveling, wonderment, being amazed.
How we love amazement! Whether it's a spectacle catch in the end zone or an astounding work of art or piece of music, whether it's an amazing sunrise on a frosty morning or the beauty and strength of a thoroughbred. Isn't causing amazement the drive behind so much of our entertainment? Think of the special effects in movies and the twists and turns of stories that keep us listening and reading. Although we want to find out how it turns it, we don't want it to end either, because then some of the wonder is gone. Doesn't it all aim to amaze?
The earthly can amaze us only for so much and for so long. The amazement, wonder, and marvel of heaven has no bound, no limit, no end. What is it that's so amazing about heaven? It's being in the presence of the majesty of our God and the glory of our Savior. But words can't describe it. Even with earthly amazement, if you try to tell someone how amazing that catch or work of art or story was, they won't feel the same amazement you do. You have to experience it to really know it. How much more so the wonder, glory, and amazement of heaven! It's beyond all our experience. So we live by faith, not by sight. But this I can tell you. Even the holy angels, who are so much more powerful and wiser than we are, stand in continual amazement of our God and Savior, how much more so won't we? Face the world confident that God's judgment brings you heaven.
That's what awaits you. For you, sinner, are a saint, one of God's holy people through faith in Jesus. For you believe that Jesus' perfect, holy life covers you and clothes you as his bride. You believe that his holy, precious blood pays for your sins. You believe that he has risen from the dead in victory for you and is coming again to judge the living and the dead as your Redeemer. You trust Jesus. “This includes you, because you have believed our testimony to you” (2 Thessalonians 1:10 NIV). You have believed the testimony of the Scriptures. Like those early Christians in Thessalonica, your faith gladly lives for Jesus now despite the world's opposition,. Your faith eagerly awaits the amazement of heaven. Your faith faces the world, confident of God's judgment. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.