November 11, 2018

God is Just (and that's a great thing!)

2nd Sunday of End Times

First Lesson:  Malachi 4:1-2

Second Lesson:  Hebrews 9:24-28

Gospel Lesson:  John 5:19-24

Sermon Text:  Malachi 4:1-2

Years ago, we started filling up our space here rather quickly. Kids were packed in rooms for Sunday school. Adults had to have Bible class in the giant echo chamber - the gathering space. If choir was practicing, a cleaner cleaning, and a group meeting in the West wing, it was nuts. People weren’t angry, but it was a bit annoying at times.  So finally, we talked about adding on.  Lots of meetings followed that.  And one thing I noticed is that due to the fact we were talking about it and coming up with a plan, people handled it a lot better. When we voted to move forward, people were happy and excited.  They knew that better was coming, that some of these problems would be resolved, and they joyfully looked to the future.

You can put up with a lot when you know better is coming, right?  I’m not a lady or a mom, but I’m married to one who is both. When Lori was pregnant, there were times of sickness, aches, tears about clothes never fitting again, etc. But she also had that glow most pregnant women have. I knew why.  All the aches and pains and tears were part of the process of bringing new life into this world.  Moms put up with it because you knew at the end of the road they’ll hold a tiny little person with a tiny little soul in their arms. The same is true for long hours to get a promotion, time spent practicing before solo ensemble, working out for football in 90 degree heat. You can put up with it all because you know better is coming.

This Sunday of the church year is known as “End Times – Last Judgment”.  During this season, yes, we focus on the fact Jesus came once in humility to be our Savior and will return in glory to bring us body and soul to heaven. And the last judgment part is obvious.  We confess in the creed Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead. The basis of that judgment?  Faith or no faith. It’s that simple.  Does a person look to him as their Savior by faith, or do they reject/not care about him? The world as we know it will end, and heaven will be the everlasting home for believers. 

So what does that last paragraph have to do with the first two?  We can put up with a lot when we know better is coming.  The better that is coming for us as believers is heaven. Every sermon I try to reference heaven at least once. Why do we need that reminder on a regular basis/have a season in which we’re reminded what comes after our lives here are over?  

Why? We have to put up with a lot.  Twice a year I do a sermon on persecution so our eyes are open to the fact that many believers in the past and around the world now do suffer because of their faith.  Many are even put to death.  And while it hasn’t reached that level here yet, if history is any indication, it will. Thousands of years of recorded history bear that out.  

But what I just said is looking at things from 30,000 foot. Let’s get more specific. And to do that, think about things you are sick of when it comes to matters of faith.  Are you sick of being called or considered a bigoted, hateful person for simply holding to what God’s Word says?  Are you sick of being called or considered a moron because you believe an all-powerful God created the universe in six, 24 hour days?  Are you sick of the sin of murder being declared a woman’s right to make her own health decisions?  Are you sick of turning on a show and having everything that is immoral biblically speaking jammed down your throat?  Are you sick of political candidates who talk about our faith being called unstable/dangerous?  

Are you sick of the lies out there about Christians? Sick of people talking about how bullying is not OK, but those same people have no problem bullying Christians into silence? Sick of things that purposefully offend Christians – a book, movie, artwork, etc.– being declared edgy/groundbreaking? Sick of laws and regulations – more and more of which are being passed daily – that frown upon you expressing your faith or make it illegal to express certain parts of your faith? Sick of all this?  Isn’t there a part of you that just wants all this to go away?  Unless you are totally different than I am, I bet you do.

Now, I could say better is coming and leave it at that.  But that doesn’t really focus on the fact putting up with all this stuff is a reality, and that we don’t know how long we will have to put up with it.  The pregnant lady knows to the week when she will hold her child.  The student in a sport or music competition knows the big day.  Even the worker knows in general how long it will be until the promotion.  As Christians, we don’t know when all of the stuff we are sick of dealing with will go away.  For the young here, it might be 85 years. Better is coming. But what about now?  How can we keep going with all these things trying to drag us down?  How can we keep our heads up when it is bad and getting worse?

We can because we know God is in control and he is just. God being just simply means he is fair about everything he has said.  If he said something, it is going to happen.  We rejoice that God is just when we think about our salvation.  Since he says that all who look to him in God-given faith will be with him forever, we know that will happen.  He won’t backtrack.  But God is also just on the other side of the coin, a matter to which our lesson speaks. Let’s pick our way through it.

“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace.” Notice the word surely.  Again, God is just.  When he says something is coming, it is coming.  And Malachi uses the word furnace.  Furnaces burn, but they also purify.  Think about smelting gold.  A furnace heats it up and the impurities are removed.  The impurity in this world and everything that lives in it is sin.  Thus everything needs to be purified.  Judgment Day is the end of all sin, all impurities.  The furnace will be stoked.

Keep going. “’All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,’ says the LORD Almighty.” Who are the arrogant?  Those who think they can face life and the afterlife without Jesus and on their own.  They aren’t weak like Christians.  They are strong.  They can do it themselves.  They know best, and they act according to that “knowledge.”  All that stuff we are sick of we mentioned before, doesn’t a great majority of it come from those who will not submit to the Lord and arrogantly think they’re above all this, that they’re in essence their own gods?  Yes. And the Lord Almighty, the one who knows all and can do all, sees this.  For this arrogance, they will be treated as stubble.  

And that word stubble is a powerful one to use.  Stubble is straw which has been cut up into short pieces and split when threshed. It is used in the Middle East today as roughage to help clean out an animal’s insides. They try it mix it with grain, but animals nose it around until the stubble falls to the bottom.  And a few times in the Bible stubble is used to typify worthless inflammable material.  Not wanted, rejected – that’s what awaits the arrogant. But it gets even worse.  Normal stubble is inflammable. Not this. Spiritual stubble will be set on fire. I don’t have to get to specific about what that means.

So am I saying that we should rejoice because we know that all those who are against the Lord and his people will, in the end, “get theirs”?  No.  Like our Lord, we want all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.  But this does back up a point from before.  God is in control, and he is just.  Those who want no part with him in this life will have no part with him in the next.  As our text says, “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.” Complete, utter, total, everlasting destruction.

That includes the arrogant that we just talked about. And Malachi mentions “every evildoer.”  Hold on.  Sure, we struggle with arrogance at times, but we know the Lord is the Lord, the master. But evildoer – isn’t that all of us every day – even if the evil is simply anger or a lie? Don’t we fit into the category evildoer? We do. Alone, we have no reason to look ahead to the end with any sort of joy.  On our own, we would be stubble as well, and all that God says here would apply to us.

But keep going with our lesson.  “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.”  Have we done evil?  But do we, by God’s grace, revere his name?  Do we know who he is and what he has done? We do. What does that mean?  The sun of righteousness will shine upon us, healing us.  Maybe you remember that phrase from “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”:  Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace, hail the Sun of Righteousness, Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his Wings.” Sun in our lesson and the hymn is spelled with a U, but you could also spell it with an O.  Why? Jesus, the Son, is the sun of righteousness/holiness.

And what does he do?  He heals.  We talked about what we are sick of when it comes to the world around us.  But aren’t we just as sick of what is inside/comes out of us? Sick of having doubts even where God’s Word has clearly spoken?  Sick of sinning, then wondering, “How could I do something like that?” Sick of facing temptation after temptation, day after day, and realizing how many times you lose the battle, or worse, give in?  All this is a result of us being sick – sick with sin.

But what does the Son of Righteousness do?  He heals.  That is what the cross was about .  Sin was the virus.  Jesus was/is the cure. Do we still have doubts? Yes. But in healed believing hearts, we know Jesus is our Savior and the Way, Truth, and Life. Do we fall prey to sin daily? Yes.  But in healing/forgiving us, he healed the rift between us and his Father.  We’re part of the family as dearly loved, forgiven sinners.  Do we still face daily struggles?  Yes, but not alone. The Savior who showed the greatest love in washing us clean on the cross walks with us daily, and is there for us when we need him.  We can say it a lot of ways – what we are because of Jesus.  But stick with this text.  Because of Jesus, we are healed.  

If you ask an unbeliever about the end of his life, the world, or what comes after – he can try and muster false bravado.  But deep down, there is fear.  Fear he has it wrong. Fear there are consequences for decisions. Fear that what comes next will be much worse.  But because we as believers know what is coming (heaven) and why (Jesus), what will we be like?  Malachi says we’ll frolic like well-fed calves.  I know that is a phrase lost on most of us who at best only went to grandpa’s farm or at worse have never seen a farm and think meat magically shows up in packages at the grocery store.  Not so.

If you have ever been on a farm, you know what calves are like when they eat and then get a chance to stretch their legs.  They actually look kind of dumb. They are hopping around here and there, legs flying all over.  It’s like they are covered in bugs and are trying to get them off.  If you have ever seen anything like this, the last word you would use to describe it would be fear.  If an animal can have such an emotion, it is joy – a joy so great it can’t be contained.

Isn’t that joy what keeps us going?  We mourn that so many turn from Jesus or want nothing to do with him.  That should break our hearts and cause us to do whatever we can – talk, prayer, support others’ work – that they too may know the truth of Jesus’ love.  But even with that being the case, and even with all the garbage we have to put up with, doesn’t it help us keep going that in time, we will be frolicking calves? Can’t we keep our heads up because we know all that we are sick of will in time fade away, even if it is 65 years from now?  Can’t we rejoice because we know our God is just, that the promise he made to save his people is a promise he will fulfill when the times is right?  Can’t we face anything knowing that the rays coming from the Son of Righteousness, the rays of forgiveness emanating from the cross, heal us, heart and soul, in a way that will last for all eternity?  Get you calf-frolicking shoes on for all that is true.  And all that is a gift from our gracious Lord.

And all that allows us to keep moving forward and looking ahead.  We know that whatever injustices are the order of the day now will be taken care of by our Lord in due time.  And in that same due time, we know complete and total healing will be ours as we are taken from this world of sickness and welcomed to our perfectly clean, perfectly healed home.  Keep your head up, Christian.  It won’t be long now.  Amen.