Last Judgment Sunday - 11 November 2018
Rev. John Derme
"The Day is coming!" she said, as she walked down the sidewalk with her husband and son. She didn't have to say what day was coming, because as she spoke, they could see the signs of the day that was coming – wreaths hanging on doors, trees decorated inside homes, houses covered in lights. They knew she was talking about Christmas Day. Her words filled her son with joy. He had already been waiting for Christmas for what seemed to him like a very long time. Her words did not fill her husband with that same joy. As she spoke, he realized that he only had a few more shopping days and he had not yet even thought about a present for his wife. His feeling at this reminder was something more like terror.
"The Day is coming." These four words meant different things to these two different people. Today the Lord speaks these exact same words to us, "The Day is coming." He isn't talking about Christmas or any other holiday. Yet if you look around you as you walk through life, you see signs of the day that is coming – wars, storms, persecutions. He is talking about Judgment Day. His words bring joy to some people. His words bring terror to others. What do the Lord's words say to you?
The Lord speaks through his prophet Malachi: "For indeed, the day is coming, burning like a furnace, when all the arrogant and everyone who commits wickedness will become stubble. The coming day will consume them,” says the Lord of Hosts, “not leaving them root or branches."
To the proud, to the wicked, the announcement of Judgment Day's coming does not bring joy. It brings terror. It will burn like a furnace. Now, it might sound pleasant to sit next to a roaring furnace on a cold winter's night. But the Lord isn't inviting the wicked to come and sit by his furnace and warm up. He is warning them that they will be thrown into his furnace and burned up.
They will burn like stubble. After the wheat and barley were harvested, all that was left was the stubble, the short pieces of stalk that were still sticking out of the ground. They didn't have any use for the stubble, so they often burned it, either by pulling it up and throwing it into the furnace, or simply by starting a fire in one part of the field that quickly consumed every stalk of dry, dead grass. So also wicked people will be consumed in the fire of God's wrath.
Whether you are a Christian or not, this can be a difficult message from the Bible. If you tell people that Jesus is going to return to judge the living and the dead, they'll treat you like you're a wing nut preacher shouting from the street corner that the end is near. Most mainline churches don't even teach anymore that God will punish evildoers for their sins. They say that, since God loves everybody, he would never do something cruel like that. But here God himself tells them that they are wrong.
Throughout the Bible the Lord speaks about his coming in judgment on the last day. He says it through the prophets of the Old Testament, he says it through the apostles in the Epistles, Jesus says it himself in the four Gospels. On the day that God the Father has determined, Jesus Christ will come back to judge the living and the dead. And all those who have rejected him, who do not believe that he is their Savior, who instead were proud and wicked, will be cast out from God's presence to be separated from his blessings forever as they suffer eternally for their sins in hell.
You can see why people would laugh at the thought of Jesus returning on the last day, can't you? You can see why they would convince themselves that hell is a myth! Because unless this is all a fairy tale, they are in big trouble! If they don't laugh at Jesus' words, then they would have to be filled with terror! So they pretend like it isn't going to happen. They don't hear or read what Jesus says in the Bible. They ignore the signs of God's wrath – like hurricanes and fires – in the world around them. They tune out what their conscience tells them about a maker who will hold them accountable for what they've done. So they think they escape the terror that comes when God announces that the Day is coming.
In reality, they escape nothing. They still know that they will die. They still know that there is such a thing as justice for the wrongs that people do. And if they let themselves think about it, they are afraid of what is going to happen to them when they die, because they know that they've done bad things. They can't do anything to escape the terror that will descend on them when they see Jesus return. And that is a terror that will never end.
We've all done evil things. We deserve God's judgment. Are you ever afraid when you think about the wrongs that you have done? Are you ever afraid when you think about where you will go when you die? Do you know what Jesus would say to you if he would return right now? Judgment is coming. Are you going to be among the wicked? Do you want this terror to be yours?
God doesn't want it to be. He continues speaking: "But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings, and you will go out and playfully jump like calves from the stall. You will trample the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day I am preparing," says the LORD of Hosts.
The Day is coming, but that doesn't mean you need to be filled with terror. God wants this announcement to bring you joy. At first, you may not appreciate being compared to a calf. Are you calling me a cow, God? But if you've ever seen how excited cattle can get when they are let out to pasture, especially for the first time in the spring if they've been trapped in the barn all winter, you know that a jumping calf means pure joy!
Joy will be yours on Judgment Day, because you don't have to be afraid of God's punishment. The sun of righteousness – Jesus, our righteous Savior – will give you his own righteousness. He earned righteousness by his holy, sinless life that he lived for you, when he walked on this earth and was holy in your place. Because he also died to pay for all your sins, and because he has credited his own perfect life to your account, God the Father declares you righteous through faith in Jesus. This same Jesus will be your judge on the last day. Do you need to be afraid that he will forget that he has given you his righteousness? Do you need to be afraid that he might change his mind? If your judge is the same Lord who lived and died for you, then you know that he will judge you righteous.
Because the day is coming, joy is ours. It isn't always easy to feel the joy that is ours, though, because we're still surrounded by people, who arrogantly persecute us for holding to the truths of the Bible. They think we're crazy for believing that Jesus is going to return to judge the world. They tell us that we're unloving for saying that God will send sinners to hell. In fact, the opposite is true; we tell them the truth about judgment and hell because we do love them and want them to repent and be forgiven of their sins. It can get discouraging at times, because it looks like everything is going just fine for them, and we who fear God are trampled down. In the end, however, the wicked will be trampled. On Judgment Day, when the Lord judges them guilty of their sins and you forgiven of your sins, he will give you the final victory over them. They will wish that they had listened to the words of Jesus and believed in him as their Savior. Jesus will take you to live forever with him in the new heavens and new earth that he will create for those who have the righteousness that he has won. They cannot do anything to take away the joy that will fill you when you see Jesus return. And that is a joy that will never end.
The Day is coming. Four short words. Loaded with meaning. They are filled with terror for those who reject the Lord. They bring joy to those who trust in Jesus. You don't need to be afraid. He has done everything necessary so that you can look forward to Judgment Day with joy. Jesus lived and died for you! Jesus' his righteousness is yours! The Day is coming!