1 THESSALONIANS 15:1-11
THE DAY OF THE LORD WILL COME.
In the name + of Jesus.
St. Paul wrote, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2) There is a day of judgment coming upon the world. You may be frustrated and discouraged by all the wickedness you see in the world, and you may even cry out with the Psalmist: “Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve! O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult? They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast.” (Psalm 94:2-4) Fear not, righteous ones. The day of the Lord will come. But you do not need to be warned of this. You know it is coming. St. Paul reminds you: “You are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day.” (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5)
The day of the Lord will come. We confess this each week. “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” (Apostles' Creed) In the Athanasian Creed, it is confessed this way: “At his coming all people will rise with their own bodies to answer for their personal deeds. Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire.” This has led to confusion and has been bothersome for many Christians. We all like to think that we have done good, especially because we want to receive eternal life. But every week we also confess definitively and rightly: “I have done what is evil and failed to do what is good.” All of this might make us question where we stand before God. On the one hand, we know God's promises. On the other hand, we know our reality—that we are sinful beings.
The day of the Lord will come. There is a day of judgment, and each will answer according to his deeds. So, what hope do we have? Jesus answers that in our Gospel lesson. On Judgment Day, all people who have ever existed will be gathered before Jesus Christ for a public judgment. The righteous will be on his right, and the wicked on his left. Jesus will commend the righteous because of the works they did. But the righteous will say, “When did we do these things?” The faith of the righteous is not in their works. We just don't consider our works as we face judgment. Our faith does not focus on what we have done—whether good or bad. Our faith is focused on Jesus.
Jesus has taken away your sins by his crucifixion. That is where the Son of God has dealt with your sins. For you, Jesus was condemned; therefore, you are acquitted. There are no charges against you. As for the righteousness you need to enter eternal life, Jesus has supplied that too. His holy, innocent life was lived in obedience for you. Through your baptism, you are clothed with Christ. You have a borrowed righteousness. For even though you have been declared righteous, your judgment is based on Jesus' merits, not your own. That is why faith focuses on Jesus, and that is why the righteous think nothing of their own works at the judgment. Oh, the righteous do good works, because faith produces good works. But faith does not pay attention to those. Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, and that is why you can be confident of your judgment. Jesus is the judge, and he has already rendered your verdict to you: You are heirs of the heavenly kingdom. The day of the Lord will come, and it will bring you what you long for and confess: “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” (Nicene Creed)
The day of the Lord will come. There is a judgment on all mankind. Many reject this teaching, claiming that a God who would damn so many people is too cruel to be real. But mankind does not get to create the god they want. We honor the God who is. In the Holy Scriptures, God reveals who he is, what he does and desires, what he demands of us, what he sees in us, and even how he will judge all people. If I were in charge of Judgment Day, you should care what I think about it. But I am not, nor are you. It is Jesus who will come again to judge the living and the dead. We are fools if we do not pay attention to what he says. Ignoring or rejecting the teaching of Judgment Day will not make it go away. St. Paul warns, “Sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” (1 Thessalonians 5:3)
Even people who despise the doctrines of judgment, damnation, and hell still hope that they are true to some degree. When murderers, rapists, and human traffickers are sentenced to life in prison, that never seems to be a severe enough punishment. If there is no eternal judgment, then even Hitler ultimately escaped justice. Even people who despise the idea of hell still think some people deserve it. Our sense of justice and vengeance may be selfish, but it is not unreasonable. The wicked should pay for their wickedness. And they will; the day of the Lord will come.
On the other hand, people also have a self-serving idea about good and evil. Most people believe they are good and should be honored for it. But Jesus said that many will be condemned for their failure to do good works. They will reply, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” (Matthew 25:44) The wicked are not ignorant; they know they are suppose to do good. But the wicked are not righteous no matter how much they cite their good deeds. They do have faith, but it is faith in themselves. They believe that they are good people. They insist that they should be rewarded for the times they did good. But outside of Christ, there are no righteous deeds, and there is no forgiveness for wicked ones.
“Without faith (in Jesus), it is impossible to please (God).” (Hebrews 11:6) Apart from faith in Jesus, all works are soiled by sin. Apart from faith in Christ, there is no righteousness, no matter how many works are done. If anyone is condemned, it is for their unbelief, even if they were really nice people. We do not confess this with joy, but with sadness. Like our Lord, we do not take delight in the death of the wicked, but rather that they would turn from their ways to Jesus and live. But if they will not, then they are lost. For the day of the Lord will come, and they will not escape. Only in Jesus Christ is there a refuge.
The day of the Lord will come. Brothers and sisters, you do not need me to tell you about it. You know it is coming, and you already know your verdict. “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:9) This is how you can live in peace, even as the Last Day draws near. But the day has not come yet. “So then,” St. Paul continues, “let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8)
The day of the Lord will come, but many days may take place between now and then. And while pursuing good works won't save you, giving in to sins, neglecting God's word, and being lazy in your battle against temptation may end up condemning you. That is why St. Paul urges us to keep awake and be sober. He urges us to avoid the worldly practice of medicating our fears and guilt by being stoned or drunk. Nothing productive was ever accomplished by intoxication.
But more importantly, St. Paul encourages you to be sober-minded and alert. Satan seduces more people out of the kingdom of God with words than with deeds. Satan employs deceptive arguments so that you might turn your faith to anything other than Jesus Christ. It makes sense to people that they should focus on good works to be saved. How could God have a problem with good works? But here is the lie: Apart from Jesus we are all sinful. There is no one who is good, and even our righteous acts are like filthy rags. That is why our hope and confidence are not in good works, even though God commands them. Salvation is found in Christ alone. Do not be deceived.
Be sober-minded and alert. The day of the Lord is coming. People who reject the teachings of judgment, damnation, and hell often reject them because the thought of hell is terrifying. It is! We agree with that! But we do not get to dismiss is because we don't like the idea of it. Rather than reject the Lord and his word because hell sounds so bad, we rejoice that the Lord has given us an escape from it.
St. Paul urges you to “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” (1 Thessalonians 5:8) In this way, your head and heart are protected and preserved by God's word. God's word exposes the devil's lies, so stay alert. God's word proclaims God's truth so you can remain sober-minded in a world that is intoxicated with greed, lust, and self-glory, or which becomes unglued by politics, disease, or a bad economy. God's word assures you of your place in God's kingdom no matter how the world judges you. When you are seduced by temptation, you get to flee to God's altar where the body and blood of Christ are given for the forgiveness of sins. Here, you will find a refuge against death and damnation. Here, you have mercy, hope, and peace.
So, be sober-minded in the world. Be alert against Satan's seductive lies. And be eager to see your Savior return. Fear not, you righteous ones. The day of the Lord will come.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.