The Coming Wrath
2nd Last Sunday of Church Year
November 17th / 18th, 2013
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
The day is surely drawing near
When Jesus, God’s anointed,
In all his power shall appear
As judge, whom God appointed.
Then fright shall banish idle mirth,
And flames on flames shall ravage earth
As Scripture long has warned us.
(The Day is Surely Drawing Near LSB 508 st. 1)
Imagine with me a young man, just returned home after his first year of college. His parents go out of town to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, a 10 day Alaskan cruise. They leave on Friday morning, and their last words before heading to the airport are, “NO PARTIES while we’re gone.” Well, you know what happens next . . . the son throws a party . . . that night, in fact. He’s not wasting any time. He invites as many friends as he can think of, and those friends invite their friends, who invite their friends, until in almost no time at all the whole thing spirals wildly out of control. When his parents call that night to tell him they arrived safely at their destination, they hear the music and carousing in the background and know that there is a party going on. Their response? “We’ll deal with you when we get home.” That whole weekend the boy is sick to his stomach, dreading the return of his parents and the punishment that awaits him. But, his parents aren’t coming home for more than a week, and he has to go to work Monday. And Tuesday. And Wednesday. By Thursday, he’s pretty much completely forgotten about the coming punishment, busying himself instead with work and summer classes. At the back of his mind somewhere he knows this is just the calm before the storm, but it is calm nonetheless, and he is comfortable, and so he pushes it farther and farther out of his mind.
ll today’s readings deal with the end times, with God’s final judgment. In fact, we are in a time in the church year where end-time themes run rampant, in the weeks just before Advent. The texts at the end of the church year deal with the end of the world. This is not a coincidence, and neither is it an accident that these end times texts are followed directly by Advent and the beginning of a new church year. In two short weeks Advent will be here, and we will begin once again to prepare for the Savior who comes as a baby in a manger.
But now, here, today, as the fall turns to winter, and the world around us begins to look more and more dead, we prepare for the Lord’s coming in the final judgment. Are you ready for it? Are you prepared to meet your maker?
Sometimes thoughts of the end of the world are at the front of our minds: after a typhoon in the Philippines, for instance, or after a hurricane on the Gulf Coast or along the Atlantic Seaboard, in the aftermath of any particularly horrific natural disaster of any kind. But then, life doesn’t stop. The bills don’t pay themselves, the kids don’t drive themselves to afterschool activities, dinner doesn’t make itself. There are quarterly reports to prepare at work, Christmas Trees to decorate, and the ominous Tax Forms looming on the horizon. There’s life to tend to. It’s so hard to think about the end times when we still have to live in the present. But don’t let Satan use everyday life to distract you from reality. The end is coming. Are you prepared? You can just ignore it or push it to the back of your mind if you’d like, hoping it goes away. But it won’t go away. Ignoring the problem is not a solution.
And there certainly is a problem. God is coming to judge sin, whether we’re prepared or not. God demands payment for sin, He demands punishment, for he is a righteous and holy God, and sin cannot survive in his presence. Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah when God came into his presence, “Woe is me!” he said, “For I am lost; I am a man of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the king, the Lord of hosts!” Don’t ignore the warning the Lord gave Moses, “man shall not see me and live.” Darkness is annihilated in the presence of light, and sin cannot exist in the glorious presence of God. When God comes again, sin will be punished, and we are a sinful people, who live in a sinful world. When God comes, he will destroy this sinful world, crushing it under his mighty hand.
But this is not a particularly popular view of God. This is not the God we see in all those cute inspirational pictures on Facebook. Satan tempts us to think of God only as a good friend rather than the master of the universe. Certainly our best friend wouldn’t be mad at us! “He knows that I’ve tried my best, right? He doesn’t really expect perfection, does he?” So instead of seeing God for who he is, righteous and holy, demanding that all sin be punished, they recast him as they see fit, making minor adjustments here or there. It’s the sin of the Old Testament Israelites, who were so comfortable with their notion of the Lord and their place as the chosen people of God that they lived as if his judgment would never actually come.
In the beginning God made man in his own image, and man has been returning the favor ever since.
Mankind simply won’t tolerate a righteous God who demands righteousness. We won’t be bothered with words like sin, damnation, vengeance, or hell. That’s not how we want to see God. We’d rather focus on those passages in scripture where Jesus is being nice; those make us feel warm and fuzzy. We’d rather speak of victory and triumph and glory. Passages that deal with God’s judgment make us feel so cold. So we tend to ignore them. We want the Lord as our Shepherd, not as our judge.
But, dear Christians, God will not be mocked. He will not be ignored. Whether you think about it or not, this is reality. Whether you’re ready for it or not, judgment is coming, and it won’t be pretty. Remember the words of the prophet Micah, “Behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” Neither root nor branch. Total destruction. Absolute devastation. Are you ready?
The Lord is coming with a mighty vengeance, demanding payment for our sin. Demanding payment for every time we’ve lost our temper, demanding payment for every time we’ve lied, told half-truths, or assumed the worst about someone else, demanding payment for every time we’ve ignored someone in need, demanding payment for the way we’ve misused and abused his creation, exploiting the weak for our own personal gain. Are you really prepared for the coming wrath? Or like the boy whose parents were out of town, have you put it out of your mind, busying yourself instead with the chores and responsibilities of everyday life?
Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand!
God will not be mocked. His righteousness demands that the debt be paid, but here’s the thing: our Lord in his infinite mercy knew it to be a debt that you or I could never pay for ourselves. So he paid it for us. Jesus Christ has set things right with God by dying on our behalf, paying our debt, taking our punishment upon himself. Through Christ’s death we are right with God, at peace with God. It is Jesus, as Paul says, who saves us from the coming wrath.
In his death, Christ was reconciling the world to the Father. Make no mistake, God will not be mocked. He still punishes sin, but he punished it on the cross. On the cross, he who knew no sin became the sin offering for us. God took his wrath out on sin by taking his wrath out on his own Son.
Taking all of God’s righteous anger, all of God’s hatred of sin, all of God’s holy judgment upon himself, when Christ was beaten at the hands of angry soldiers it was as if God himself was swinging the club . . . crucified as if God himself drove in the nails . . .condemned on our behalf, screaming out in agony, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?!” Why did God forsake him? Why did God forsake his own Son?
So that he wouldn’t have to forsake you.
God put his own Christ forward as the atoning sacrifice, the sacrifice that sets all things right. When Jesus was crucified, all your sin was crucified with him. Now, you are right with God. Jesus, through his death, saves us from the coming wrath. Through your baptism you have been clothed with Christ, so you can proclaim with Paul “I have now been crucified with Christ, I no longer live, Christ lives in me.” Are you prepared for the coming judgment? Yes. For when God comes in righteous wrath to judge the sin of the world, when he lines everyone up and lays their life’s failures before them, when God looks at you with all your sinfulness and ugliness and rottenness, he sees none of it.
He sees only Christ living in you.
His righteousness. His purity. His holiness. You might say that God sees you through Jesus-colored glasses. He doesn’t see us for the sinners that we are, he sees only his Son. You have no need to fear the coming wrath, for Christ who lives in you saves you from it, and he takes you as his own precious child to be with him in paradise. In the words of the prophet Malachi, “for all who fear [the name of the Lord], the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” When that last day comes, we will not enter into it like a group of prisoners on a chain gang, heads hanging low in shame, feet shuffling along as we inch closer to our judgment. No, when the day of the Lord comes, we “will go out leaping like calves from the stall,” like baby calves prancing in the wide open meadows, so we will enter into the joy of our Lord on that day.
And until then? What do you do as you wait for this glorious day? In the words of the Apostle Paul, we avoid idleness. We go to work in our jobs. We support the needs of our families by providing food, clothing and shelter. We decorate Christmas trees and make dinners. We remain faithful in our teaching as we pass the Word of God on to the next generation. We remain diligent in prayer, both for our own needs as well as for the needs of the world around us. We return to our Lord a portion of whatever wealth he has given us so that the voice of proclamation might not go silent in this place. In other words, we do not grow weary in doing good, for we know what our future is.
Are you prepared to meet your maker? Yes!, for you belong to Christ. You need not live in dread of our Lord’s return at the end of the world. When the end does come, do not cower in fear, but as Jesus says, stand up straight and raise your heads, because the arrival of the end means your redemption is drawing near.
O Jesus Christ, do not delay,
But hasten our salvation;
We often tremble on our way
In fear and tribulation
O hear and grant our fervent plea:
Come, mighty judge, and set us free
From death and ev’ry evi.
(The Day is Surely Drawing Near LSB 508 st. 7)
In Jesus’ Name. Amen.