“For Behold, the Day Is Coming” (Malachi 4:1-6; Luke 21:5-36)

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
November 14, 2010

“For Behold, the Day Is Coming” (Malachi 4:1-6; Luke 21:5-36)

“For Behold, the Day Is Coming,” says our Old Testament Reading this morning. And in the Holy Gospel, Jesus goes on to tell us more about that day–and the days leading up to it. What day are we talking about? When? What is going to happen when that day arrives? And what about those days leading up to it? What will they be like? And what does all this mean for us in the here and now? That’s where our lessons this morning are taking us. You see, it’s November. We’re in the last couple Sundays of the church year. And so, naturally enough, the theme of the lessons at this time of year turns to the last days, the end times, and to the Last Day.

“For behold, the day is coming.” The first thing we can say about that day is that it will be a day of judgment. Malachi describes it: “For 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.” Yes, it will be a day of devastation and destruction for those who come under the Lord’s judgment. A blazing, burning day of judgment for the arrogant and the evildoer. What Malachi prophesied we just sang in the Hymn of the Day: “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.”

All the arrogant, all evildoers, the wicked–they are doomed on that day when Christ returns. Jesus tells us more about it in the reading from Luke. What would happen to unbelieving Jerusalem in A.D. 70–complete and utter destruction, the temple burned and leveled to the ground–that day of judgment on Jerusalem serves as a microcosm, a portent and a perpetual warning, of the final day of judgment that is coming on the earth.

That there is a Judgment Day coming and that Christ is the one who will do the judging–this is the consistent teaching of Scripture. Jesus himself says, as we heard, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” And so we confess it in the Creeds. In the Apostles’ Creed, after saying that our ascended Lord Jesus Christ now sits at the right hand of the Father, we go on to say, “From thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.” Likewise, in the Nicene Creed, the church confesses, “And he will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.”

The Day of Judgment, the day of Christ’s return. Doom and destruction for all the arrogant and all evildoers. It’s easy to condemn them. But how shall we escape? Can we stand the scrutiny of an all-seeing Judge? Are our deeds, are our hearts, pure enough to pass muster? Just based on the law of God’s Ten Commandments, I can tell you, I would fail. My words, my thoughts, my motives do not measure up. The lack of love in my soul is all too apparent. If I can see these sinful traits in my character, surely the God who reads the heart will know it a thousand times over. How is it with you? Are you ready to stand before the Judge? If you’re basing it on how good you are, even relatively speaking, I can tell you the Judge will throw the book at you, and you will be numbered and cut down with the arrogant and the evildoer. There is no safety in that route, only damnation.

So it will be on the Day of Judgment, and that day is coming. We don’t know when, but it will come, that much is sure. It could come at any time–today, tomorrow, a hundred years from now. But the day when Jesus comes again, that will be the day of judgment.

But thank God, there is more to say about that day than just judgment. “For behold, the day is coming,” the day of redemption! Yes, the day when our Lord returns will be for us Christians the great and awesome day of our redemption! “Straighten up and raise your heads,” Jesus says, “because your redemption is drawing near.” Your redemption, that is, your liberation, your deliverance from judgment, your salvation is drawing near. Christ is coming, and he is your Redeemer. Do you hear that? Our Judge is also our Redeemer! By him, through the redemption he purchased for us with his blood, you will not be judged and condemned along with the world, but rather you will be redeemed to stand before his throne. “Straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

“For behold, the day is coming.” For those who trust in Christ, it will be a day of deliverance, not doom. A day of joy, not judgment. A day of redemption, not damnation. This is why we look forward to that day and pray for its coming. It is our great hope.

Hope sealed with blood, the blood of Christ our Redeemer. The blood he shed on the cross for you, to set you free from your sins, to pay the price you could never pay. But he could, and did. For he is the very Son of God, the Holy One come from heaven, who suffered and died for the sins of the world, including yours. He turns your judgment into joy, your death and doom into resurrection and righteousness. He is your great escape on the Day of Judgment. Trust in him, for he is your only refuge.

For behold, the day that is coming is both a day of judgment and a day of redemption. Judgment for the world, redemption for those who are in Christ. And that’s you. God placed you safe and secure in Christ when he took you from the world and brought you into the church through Holy Baptism. The Spirit has given you saving faith in Christ, so that now you know him as your Savior. You are a Christian, a member of God’s people, the church.

This is where you need to be. To stand outside the church, outside the community of faith, is a dangerous place indeed. It is dangerous enough as it is, being a Christian living in the world, with all the trials and afflictions we face. But to have no hope, no refuge on the Day of Judgment, nothing to look forward to–what utter lostness and folly and sadness, and people don’t even realize it!

And so the days leading up to the day of the Lord that is coming–these are days of distress, even for Christians. We Christians are not immune to the turmoil and distress that this world experiences in the days before Christ comes. No, tribulation is all around us, and will be so until that day. Wars and rumors of wars, famine, earthquakes, natural disasters, persecution, religious deception, false teachers and deceivers–these are the conditions that surround and afflict the church throughout the New Testament age. One of the false teachings is the notion that the church is going to taken up in a “pre-tribulation rapture,” as it is called, and so will not have to experience the tribulations that Jesus describes. But that is a bunch of poppycock that has no basis in Scripture. No, the church has suffered, and will continue to suffer, distress and tribulation by living in this world. This will continue until the day when our Lord returns at his second and final coming.

And so this calls for endurance. These days of distress are days of watchfulness on our part. Jesus warns us of the danger and calls us to wakeful watching: “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” You see, Satan will continue to try to separate us from our faith and from our Lord. The world will continue to attack the church. Our own sinful flesh will continue to mislead us and deceive us. Temptations, afflictions, fightings and fears within, without–such is life on this side of the Parousia, the Second Coming.

But do not despair. Instead, take heart! God will strengthen your weary knees and lift your drooping spirit. The promises of God are as good and as sure as the words of our Savior. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus says, “but my words will not pass away.” And these promises revive our flagging heart. Days of distress would drag us down, but God’s word lifts us up and causes us to be watchful and wakeful and, yes, even hopeful!

“For behold the day is coming.” The day of judgment, but also the day of redemption. “Straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” For your Redeemer is drawing near, Jesus Christ the Righteous. “For behold, the day is coming,” and, as Malachi goes on to say, for us who know the Lord, “the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” What a day that will be! And this promise, this hope, puts a spring in our step even now, in these gray and latter days of November.

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Published in: on November 13, 2010 at 10:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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