Second Sunday of Advent

Readings: Malachi 4:1-6 | Romans 15:4-13 | Luke 21:25-36

Text: Malachi 4:1-6

Every day, we are reminded that the godless enjoy prosperity and ease. They are the ones getting their way in the senate, gaining favor in school and society. The boastful sneer at the Christians and speak evil of them falsely (calling them bigots for not bowing down toward their god: same sex marriage).

Psalm 73 describes their success:

4         For they have no pangs until death;

         their bodies are fat and sleek.

5         They are not in trouble as others are;

         they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.

6         Therefore pride is their necklace;

         violence covers them as a garment.

7         Their eyes swell out through fatness;

         their hearts overflow with follies.

8         They scoff and speak with malice;

         loftily they threaten oppression.

9         They set their mouths against the heavens,

         and their tongue struts through the earth.

10     Therefore his people turn back to them,

         and find no fault in them.  (Psalm 73:4-10)

You look at the worldly people—those of the queer movement, the anti-Christians, the ones whose consciences are seared—and think how easy they have it! Right now, they enjoy public favor and protections, right now they are at ease in their lifestyle. Their values are celebrated on the news and in the public square, while the Christian is demonized. It’s their dealings that are successful, their barns that grow ever fuller. Sure, they have the same pains as other mortal men, but the gods of their delusion care for them. The life of a pagan is the life of freedom and peace in this world.

Recall the story of Naomi and her husband, Elimelech. She went into the land of the Moabites when unfaithfulness brought famine. Their sons married Moabite wives, and then Elimelech and his sons died in the land of Moab. Upon hearing that the Lord had visited Israel and restored bread to Bethlehem (the “house of bread”), Naomi is poised to return. She tells her Moabite daughters-in-law to stay:

Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!”… “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me?... No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” (Ruth 1:8-13)

Why would anyone choose to be at odds with other men? Who would follow after a God whose path brings such suffering?

But He is also the God who promises life and salvation through His Son. There is salvation from the curse found nowhere else!  So, what will you have? Peace now, in the favor of man and their gods? Or the peace from heaven that you have to wait to see?

To those who hold to the Lord, in spite of the passing promise of worldly peace, He promises, “The sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in His wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” The day will come when the people faithful to the true God will be vindicated. There will be a separation between the righteous and the wicked, and only the righteous will have God’s favor in eternity.

The signs which are given assure us that He is not leading us on:

 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” (Luke 21:25–27)

Notice the biggest things that the worldly people fear: getting sick (especially terminally), that the climate will change and the oceans rise, ominous predictions about clean drinking water going away, that the economy will collapse and cause them to suffer want, and worst of all death itself because they don’t know what comes next.

We’d be lying if we say we’re haven’t shared in at least some of these fears, because we’re human and our sin also clings to the gods of this passing world.

Although the people of the world are in terror because of the threat of the world being destroyed, this should actually encourage the Spirit in God’s children that His Word is true. The fact that people are terrified of climate change and “apocalyptic” events should assure us that the word of the Lord is true.

At this point, they will accuse you of holding to a tradition that makes you right and condemns everyone else. That’s a valid point, because who wants a worldview that can’t serve them? Yet we do not have this truth from ourselves. It isn’t borne out of a self-chosen favoritism that says God loves people like us and condemns everyone else. It is borne from His own Word.

It’s a Word which condemns our sins all the same, because we have desired what is contrary to His will. We have been guilty of sexual immorality, of blaspheming, of neglect and hatred of our neighbors. Yet, in confessing those as the sins which they are, the same Word declares the forgiveness of our sins for the sake of the blood of Christ.

Elijah has come, John the Baptist, who pointed to the faithful and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” All who were struck by their sin heard that and repented of their wicked works and believed in the Lord who works righteousness.

So, now the task of the Church is to proclaim this same repentance and Gospel to all the people of the earth. All who believe in Him will be saved. All who refuse to believe will be condemned (Mark 16:16). So, at last, it is not our opinion of others that counts, just as their opinion and raging cannot do anything more to us than bodily suffering [Matt. 10:28].

The judgment which ultimately has power is that of the Lord, who separates those who fear the Name of the Lord given in Baptism, and those evildoers who spurn His call to turn from disaster. It is they who will seek mercy on the Last Day and will not find it. The time of clemency is now. “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6)

We’re not pleased that people will be condemned. Neither is the Lord, who is the world’s Savior. So let us continue to tell them this truth, in hope that they also will repent before “the day comes upon them burning like an oven.” O Lord, have mercy upon our race, especially upon the souls of those who now proudly reject you. May they be turned from their ignorance and rejection before it is too late! In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Advent Midweek 2 (Malachi 4:1-6)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Wednesday of Advent 2 + December 12, 2017
Text: Malachi 4:1-6
Is it hot in here?  Yes, I do believe it’s hotter than hell in here.  We hear that phrase thrown around thoughtlessly.  But is it really true?
“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.”
The Dies Ire, the Day of Wrath is coming, and the Lord describes it like an oven, like the oven that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into.  The oven of God’s wrath is like a forest fire which will reduce the arrogant and evildoers to mere stubble.
The Lord Jesus also says about that fire,
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.[1]
Here He describes hell as a fire that is never put out.  There are no rains to extinguish it and no lack of fuel to cause it to die out.  That is what hell is—suffering without a shred of hope of reprieve.  There is no more time to turn and repent and experience refreshment.[2]
Just ask the Rich Man:
The rich man…died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.”
But there was no mercy for him.  Abraham replies, “between us and you a great chasm has been fixed”[3]  There is no more mercy, and now the torment is physical as well as spiritual.  The bodies of those in hell will never again know relief and their spirits will never again have their prayers answered.
Hell is unlike what any person has ever yet experienced—because it is an eternal agony, separated from the mercy of God and in the wicked arms of Satan.  Hell is pretty damned hot.  Yes, I mean damned, too.  Damnation is the eternal dwelling place of all of God’s enemies.
So what did these people do to deserve such a hopeless future?  Surely this is reserved for the most wicked among men—child molesters and rapists, murderous dictators and psychopaths.  But this isn’t necessarily the case!  It may be that the most pious and godly in appearance will end this way—popes and pastors, martyrs and pillars of the church.  How can this be?
How can it not be?  All of us have inherited rebellious hearts from our ancestors, and added our own sins on top.  The intention of our hearts—in God’s sight—“is only evil continually.”[4]  And the Psalmist says, “you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil may not dwell with you.”[5]  We have all run roughshod over the Ten Commandments, though we know those who break them deserve death.[6]  Hell is what each person justly deserves.  But there is another way.
But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.
For those who fear the Lord and put their hope in the Sun of Righteousness, they will be healed of their sin-disease!  They will be planted in the house of the Lord and stand tall as cedars in Lebanon.[7]
What about the Day of Wrath?  What about the just wages for our rebellion?
The Day of Wrath has already been borne for all men.  It happened on Calvary, when all the threatening signs of the Last Day centered on the cross:
45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying…“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”… 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. 51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.[8]
The sky was darkened, the foundations of the earth rocked, and Man cried out in despair that God had utterly forsaken Him.  This is the Last Day Judgment against the ungodliness of man.  But you weren’t there.  God’s Son, Jesus, was there in your place!  The burning day of God’s wrath has already been poured out for you.  And if you believe in Him, you “do not come into judgment, but have passed from death to life.”[9]
For you who believe, there is more rejuvenation and refreshment than any of us has ever experienced.  It will be a bodily bliss, a perfect healing.  “You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall”—full of youth and vigor, completely free from the bondage to sin which we’ve always known!
But for those who refused to receive this gift, the already-atoned-for wrath of God poured out on Jesus, then the Last Day will be a terror.  The terror will be against their refusal to repent and believe in the Savior.
51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.[10]
In our bodies, we shall live in the immediate presence of God, no longer veiled by signs and perceived by faith.  But, as Job says, “After my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see him for myself.”[11]  And we will be refreshed to the utmost:
They are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.[12]
That is what awaits every believer when the Last Day comes.  No more sinning, no more enemies, and no more peril of everlasting death.  By the everlasting faithfulness and mercy of God, may He preserve you in the fear and trust of Him.  You have a truly blessed eternal home through Jesus Christ your Sun of Righteousness. Amen.
[1] Mark 9:43
[2] Acts 3:20
[3] Luke 16:22-26
[4] Genesis 6:5
[5] Psalm 5:4
[6] Romans 1:32
[7] Psalm 92:12-13
[8] Matthew 27:45-54
[9] John 5:24
[10] 1 Corinthians 15:51-53
[11] Job 19:26-27
[12] Revelation 7:15-17