“But What Kind of Day Will It Be?” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
November 13, 2011

“But What Kind of Day Will It Be?” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)

Perhaps you’ve heard of a radio preacher named Harold Camping. He was in the news, this Harold Camping was, earlier this year, when he made a prediction of when Christ would return. He even got it down to the day. After doing all his calculations, Harold Camping predicted that May 21 would be the day of Jesus’ return. Well, May 21 came and went, and Harold and his followers were not all beamed up in the Rapture. So then he revised his prediction. May 21, you see, was the spiritual Judgment Day. After that date, nobody else would be saved. The date for the actual physical return of Christ was now set for October 21. That would be the day when all the true believers would be taken up to meet Jesus in the air and all the rest would be left behind.

Well, I don’t know if you noticed it, but on October 21, nobody got beamed up. This presented a dilemma for Mr. Camping. He had already explained away May 21, but now, what to do with October 21?

Thank goodness, this latest disappointment finally knocked some sense into Harold Camping’s head. I don’t think he’s gotten rid of the notion of a “Rapture” yet, the “Rapture” as popularly conceived, that Jesus is somehow going to come back a couple of times, once for the Christians, and then a thousand years later or so, for the Really Last Last Day. Well, maybe Mr. Camping will get that part straightened out, too, before he’s done. But for now, at least, Harold Camping has given up on setting dates, and for that we can be grateful.

Here is some of what he said after the October 21 date didn’t work–and he actually said some good stuff. He said: “We should be very patient about this matter. At least in a minimal way we are learning to walk more and more humble before God. . . . There’s one thing that we must remember: God is in charge of this whole business, and we are not. . . . God is allowing us to continue to cry to him for mercy–oh my, how we need his mercy–and continue to wait on him. . . .”

Mr. Camping goes on: “Whatever we do, we must not feel for a moment that we have been abandoned by God, that he is no longer helping us or interested in us. . . . One thing we know for certain is that God is merciful, merciful beyond anything that we would ever expect.”

Well, that’s more like it, Harold Camping! Now you’re saying something worthwhile! To be humble about what we know, and what we don’t know, about the day of Christ’s return–this ought to be our attitude. To wait patiently for that day, whenever it may come, however long it may seem to delay–this too is a good thing. And to rely solely on God’s mercy and to know that he is caring for us, even as we wait for that day–again, this is true.

This now is more in line with what the Bible teaches. Our texts today teach us that. Setting dates for the day of Christ’s return is not possible. “For you yourselves are fully aware,” Paul tells the Thessalonians, “that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” Paul here is merely echoing what Jesus himself had once said: “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

“The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” That means unexpectedly. “No man knows the day nor hour.” So date-setting is right out. Instead, the Bible teaches that we are to be ready at all times for the day of our Lord’s return.

Now there’s an opposite problem here. And that is when people think this talk of a Last Day, a day when Jesus Christ himself will come again on clouds of glory and every eye will see him–when people think this is all a bunch of hooey. And I think that is a much more prevalent attitude in our culture today. People dismiss the true biblical teaching of Christ’s Second Coming as old-fashioned religious nonsense and nothing to get worked up about.

This is the same sort of dismissive attitude described in the reading from Zephaniah. At that time, when the Lord was about to bring the hammer down on Judah, and the prophet was warning the people about it, there were those who thought, “Aw, nothing is going to happen. We’ll be fine.” Or, to use the words of Zephaniah, those “who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good, nor will he do ill.’” That’s how people think today, that the world will just keep on going as it is, that there is no Judgment Day to be ready for. There is no God to fear, there is no God to trust in. That’s our culture.

So this is the opposite problem. On the one hand is the date-setting Rapture crowd, who all they can think about is the Second Coming, albeit through the lens of their bad theology. And on the other hand is the vast culture we live in that gives no thought whatsoever to being ready for the day of the Lord. And I think it is more this attitude that can work its way into our thinking. Most of the time, we don’t think at all about the day of Christ’s return.

But the Bible, God’s Word, won’t let us think that way. The Scriptures do teach us much about watching expectantly for the day of Christ’s return. It should be toward the forefront of the Christian’s thinking, not some dim thing you know is in the Creeds but doesn’t really affect how you live.

So far we have established that we cannot know the date of our Lord’s return but we do know that he is coming and that we should be ready at all times for that day. But now we come to an even bigger question, which is, “But What Kind of Day Will It Be?” And to answer that, again our texts today help us.

“But What Kind of Day Will It Be?” The answer is really twofold. That day will have two sides to it, if you will, two very different aspects. One is judgment, the other is salvation.

For some, that day will be a day of judgment. A day of wrath and gloom and terrible, penetrating judgment. The reading from Zephaniah has some of the most famous and foreboding lines describing the Day of the Lord: “A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry.” The reading from Thessalonians calls it “sudden destruction.” In the reading from Matthew, Jesus says that the worthless servant–that is, the one without faith–will be cast “into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Not a pleasant description. Nothing to look forward to.

Friends, the truth of Scripture is this: For those who do not trust in the Savior God has provided but instead rely on themselves, for those unbelievers who reject what God has freely offered and who think, “There is peace and security. God isn’t going to do anything to me. I’m not such a bad person. Besides, I don’t even believe there’s going to be a Judgment Day”–those folks are going to have a rude awakening. For in rejecting what God has offered in Christ, those people are still stuck in their sins, and the wages of sin is death. That is what awaits them, come Judgment Day: Death, darkness, and eternal damnation.

But for us who trust in Christ and not in ourselves, the day of our Lord’s return will mean life, light, and eternal salvation. This is the day we are looking forward to! Again, our texts today make that clear. By God’s grace we will be greeted with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” Joy, not judgment–that is what awaits us! Likewise, Paul tells the Thessalonians, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation.”

And here is why. Here is why the day of the Lord will be a day of salvation for us. Paul writes, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” That’s it! That’s the reason. Our Lord Jesus Christ died for us. That’s how Jesus won the victory. That’s how Jesus guaranteed our entry into his kingdom and our master’s joy. It is because he died for us. And so, whether we are walking about on the day when Christ returns, or whether we have been six feet under for 600 years, it won’t make any difference. We will live with him.

My friend, you may be a poor miserable sinner, but Christ died for you. Your sins are forgiven. You may be dying of cancer, but you have the firm hope of salvation. Christ died for you, and he rose again, and he lives forever. You share in his victory. You may be going through marital turmoil, but Jesus Christ your Savior died for you, and you are secure, you do have peace, a peace that passes all understanding.

You are not in darkness, brothers and sisters. No, you are all children of light, children of the day. The Day of the Lord is coming, and for you who believe in Christ, it will be like the dawning of the most beautiful day you will have ever experienced.

And so, my dear friends, you do have a date set for you, only it’s not one you can circle on your calendar, like “May 21” or “October 21.” But while we don’t know the exact date, the day itself is sure, and the day is coming. And we do know what kind of a day it will be. The Day of the Lord will be the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will return and raise us up and give us everlasting life with him in glory forever. This gives us hope now. It gives us patience as we wait. It gives us faithfulness as we serve our master until the day of his return. “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”

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Published in: on November 12, 2011 at 9:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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