Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday of End Times: Last Judgment (November 8, 2015)

2 THESSALONIANS 1:3 – 2:2

LOOK FORWARD TO 
THE DAY OF THE LORD.  

In the name + of Jesus. 

     In the book of Revelation, there is a scene described by John in which the souls of the martyrs in heaven cry out, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:10)  Though these martyred saints dwell with the Lord in heaven, they still long for God to vindicate his glory against those who neither honor him or believe in him.  The martyrs pray for the day of the Lord in heaven, just as the Church on earth prays for the day of the Lord to come quickly.
     When St. Paul had first brought the gospel to Thessalonica and God gathered people into his church, others persecuted the church.  In fact, St. Paul had to flee from Thessalonica in the middle of the night to avoid arrest or perhaps even martyrdom.  The Christians at Thessalonica, however, did not flee.  They stayed in their city.  They also stayed in the church.  And they remained victims of ridicule and persecution.  The ridicule they endured did not quench their love for each other.  They continued to worship together, to pray together, and to encourage one another.  The persecution they faced did not destroy their faith, either.  By God's grace, they persevered.  In fact, St. Paul even noted that they grew in the faith: We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.  Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4)
     Although God had sustained the Thessalonians in faith and love, they echoed the prayer of the church in heaven: “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:10)  The answer for the church in Thessalonica was the same as the answer for the church in heaven.  Look forward to the day of the Lord.
     Now, we don't face persecution as intense as the Christians in Thessaalonica had to endure, and certainly not to the extent that the martyrs had to endure.  We do not face fines,  imprisonment, or martyrdom.  Nevertheless, we may find it exhausting, at times, to remain faithful to the Christian faith in a world that revels in its immoral behavior.  We strive to be merciful, but mercy gets abused and we get taken advantage of.  We see immorality being praised and promoted so much that we are re-trained to think that perversions are normal and wholesome.  Pray for the young Christians in college who are shamed because they do not give themselves over to drunkenness or who feel like they have to apologize for not sleeping around.
     Sadly, even Christians have gotten to the point that what is right is no longer determined by what God says in his word, but by what the government says is legal.  To call evil what God says is evil is considered hate speech.  Just as St. Paul could not know how long the Thessalonians would have to endure the persecution they were under, I don't know how long we will be spared from real persecution in America.  Our faith is challenged by the world, and Christians may get weary from the fight to remain faithful.  We are also struggle because we want the wicked to love us and praise us.  We are not as concerned about God's praise as we are the world's praise.  Beware, and repent.
     Though you and I have not suffered to the point of shedding blood, perhaps we are close to echoing the prayer of the martyrs in heaven: “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:10)  The answer for the church in Thessalonica, the answer for Church in heaven, is the same answer as today.  Look forward to the day of the Lord.
     Everything that we long for and pray for will come in its fullest measure on the day of the Lord.  Just as God did not forget the saints in heaven who were martyred, just as God did not ignore the Thessalonians Christians who were suffering, neither does God fail to see that Christians today are beleaguered and berated for the sake of Jesus.  Look forward to the day of the Lord.  For, God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints.... (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10)
     Now, of course, our prayers are not for people to be damned.  We are not motivated by revenge, but love.  Revenge seeks to harm your neighbor; love seeks his good.  So, we pray for all to repent—for that is what God wants.  We confess our faith as we have opportunity—for that is how God works through his Church.  We confess and show the love of Jesus so that if people do perish, it will not be because they were ignorant of God's word.  If we bear the name of Christ, our words and actions will give that away, just as it was among the Thessalonian Christians.  And if we should suffer for that, we also know that God does not overlook our afflictions nor those who afflict us.  If they should attack you, they are also attacking Christ.  The Lord will vindicate his people and avenge his saints.  Meanwhile, we cling to the Lord for comfort and hope in the midst of any afflictions we must endure.  He who suffers for the sake of Jesus is blessed.  He who denies or despises Jesus also denies and despises forgiveness and salvation and will be cursed.  Do not fear.  The Lord will grant you relief from your enemies and rest from your struggles.  Look forward to the day of the Lord.
     St. Paul reminds you why that day will be glorious.  When the Lord comes on that day, he will be glorified in his saints… (2 Thessalonians 1:10)  There is a question with the phrase “to be glorified in his saints.”  Does it mean that the saints will be glorified as they are exalted by Jesus Christ and taken to everlasting glory?  Or does it mean that Jesus will be glorified because of the saints whom he has redeemed?  While translators are forced to make a choice for the sake of their translation, both are true.  How does God reveal his glory to us?  By saving sinners.  Jesus Christ has revealed the glory of God as one who does not count men's sins against them.  But since he cannot merely dismiss sins—because God does take his Law seriously—he sent Jesus to deliver us from the curse of our sins.  Jesus went to the cross and suffered as a God-forsaken sinner for us sinners who should be God-forsaken.  Jesus offered himself up as the holy, innocent sacrifice which atones for our iniquities.  Therefore, God is both just in condemning the guilty one, which was Christ, and in pardoning us, who have been cleansed in Jesus' blood.  This is God's glory.  He will be glorified when he comes again as he gathers those he has redeemed into heavenly glory.  Look forward to the day of the Lord.
     He will also glorify you on that day.  When Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead, all people who have ever had life will be gathered before the holy judgment throne.  The Lord Jesus will divide all people as righteous and unrighteous.  Jesus will personally declare you to be his very own redeemed saint in the presence of all people, even of those who despised you or mocked you.  He will transform your lowly body to be like his glorious body.  He will bring you into everlasting glory, peace, and rest.  You will be glorified by Jesus; for Jesus has redeemed you.  And Jesus will be glorified in you; for you are his redeemed.
     Look forward to the day of the Lord when you will finally and forever be delivered from all your troubles and trials, from being afflicted by sinners and by your own sins.  Look forward to the day of the Lord when you will finally and forever be delivered to peace and rest, to being glorified by Jesus, and to glorifying him for his gracious salvation.
 
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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