Presented on The Lutheran Hour on November 9, 2014 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker (When Will Judgment Day Come And What Will It Be Like?) Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Christ is risen, He is risen indeed and faith in Him says, "If God is for us, nothing can stand against us. Amen."
Do you realize there are only eighteen days until Thanksgiving? And in forty-six days it will be Christmas! You are probably well aware of that. Christmas decorations and items have been on display in some stores since Labor Day!
Am I getting you nervous? Is this countdown stressing you out?
Well, it may be. Holiday stress seems to be one of the most common feelings in our culture. The joy of the holidays gets mingled with lists of things to do, anxiety about family gatherings, calendars that start filling up fast with more holiday activities than you can handle, worries about spending money, and hearts that start feeling blue. That's right. This joyful time is also a time of worry and sadness. Maybe that's what you're feeling right now.
You're wondering how you're going to pay for the extra food for entertaining and the amount of gifts you'd like to give.
You're remembering loved ones who have died and are wondering how you're going to make it through the holidays this year without breaking down in grief and sadness.
You're dreading having to get together with people who you're not getting along with all that well. It hasn't gone very well in the past. How will it go this time?
You wish you could escape to a sunny, warm, desert island somewhere and avoid the crowds, the hassles, avoid the whole thing!
If you feel any of those feelings, you're not alone. This can be a stressful, and sad, and worry-filled time of year and we're good at being stressed, sad, and worried, aren't we? You may look back at last year and see that God brought you through, that He was faithful and helped you every step of the way, that the only way you've made it to today is because God has been your gracious and faithful Friend. But with every new day comes new doubts. We are a broken people who veer toward unbelief and who slide into sadness so easily.
But God does not write us off or cast us aside because we are weaklings and sinners. No, He helps us. Over and over and over again, He comes to our aid with His undeserved grace and mercy.
Consider the Christians in the city of Thessalonica. They had a close relationship with the Apostle Paul. Even though he spent just a short time with them, the message of Jesus Christ crucified and risen was received well. People's lives were changing. They received the blessings of eternal hope in their Savior.
But, in their weakness, they still had some worries. They worried about their loved ones who died in the faith. What would happen to them when Jesus came again? Would they be forgotten? Would Jesus remember them? Like a cascade of holiday stress, the believers in this city began to fret. So Paul offered some helpful words, Good News from the Savior Jesus. He told them: "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:13-15).
The Apostle Paul comforted these worried and weary believers with the fact that their loved ones who died in the Lord would not be forgotten. There was a much better plan than they were imagining. God was gracious and would take care of every detail. Indeed, blessed are those who die in the Lord!
That's great to hear, isn't it? But isn't it also true that you and I unfortunately tend to be like those Thessalonians as well? It is easy for us, even when we know and trust in God's grace, when faced with trouble, we still tend to doubt God's goodness.
How many times have you experienced a blessing and, suddenly, as you reflected on it, you wondered "well when is the other shoe going to drop"? You looked at your beautiful sleeping child and immediately began to dread losing him or her. You celebrated your wedding anniversary, but thoughts of losing your spouse came swooping in. You enjoyed an invigorating walk or run and immediately started to worry about losing your health. "This can't last," you think to yourself. "If things are good, I better prepare myself for the worst."
We so easily doubt that God is for us, and that is one of the most seditious results of our brokenness and sin.
But the Apostle Paul proclaims even more emphatically what we daily need to hear, that God is not against us. In and through Jesus Christ, He is actually on your side. Paul unfolded God's beautiful plan for those who trust in Christ in verses 16-17. He said: "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Who could have imagined a better chain of events at the end of the world? God would not only take care of their loved ones, but He would be sure that they were given priority treatment when Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead.
That's the truth about God for you, dear listener. He is on your side. Let me say that again so you don't miss it. Because of Jesus Christ's work on the cross for you, God is really on your side. He wants what is eternally best for you! Even though you live in stressful times and in the midst of so much that is unknown, the eternal truth is that God loves you, He cares about you.
Have you ever seen that television show, "Undercover Boss"? The TV series has a company CEO disguise himself and get a job in his own company working with the everyday employees. The undercover CEO experiences the organizational culture in the trenches. He does grunt work and gets his hands dirty. He meets employees, hears their stories, and sees how hard they work. After laboring for a week, the CEO invites certain employees of the company to the headquarters. The big reveal happens! The everyday employees see that they were working side by side with the head of the organization. Instead of being afraid of him, they see that he is here to listen to their suggestions, to make the company better, and to make their lives better. Some employees have been given the gift of a college education. Some have been given better equipment, local helpers, and even help with difficult life circumstances. The boss was not the enemy sitting on high! He became their best friend and the helper of the person in the trenches.
Sometimes the person you think is against you, the one you believe is your nemesis squeezing work out of you with little reward, is actually the one who is your greatest advocate, supporting and empowering you in ways that you can't even imagine at the moment.
That's who God is. This is God, in Christ, for you, in your life. This is how God wants you to know Him by faith.
Remember the powerful words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 8: "If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?"
Wow. In Christ, because of Jesus' work on the cross for you; God is not against you, dear friend! He is for you. As the Bible reminds us, God the Father, sent His own beloved son, Jesus Christ, so that you could be delivered from sin and death, and be given the gift of eternal life and hope that lasts forever. It can't be any more clear than that. God is for you!
Oh, but as holiday stress gets stirred up, as pre-Thanksgiving and Christmas pressure builds, as wounds and worries rise to the surface of our lives, we doubt. We wonder. We ask, "Is God really close to me in these hard times? Does He really care? Is He for me or is He against me?"
Do you remember that event in the Bible when Jesus was dining with Simon the Pharisee in Luke, chapter seven? A woman who lived a sinful life approached Jesus. The woman began weeping. She washed Jesus' feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed His feet, and poured perfume on them. We hear that Simon said to himself as he watched this woman, "If this man (Jesus) were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner" (Luke 7:39).
Simon thought that Jesus would have to be against this obviously sinful woman. Why would this miracle worker, this holy Man, be favorable to such a lowly and undeserving person? But Jesus replied by lauding the woman's faith, her faithful spirit and self-sacrificial heart. Clearly, she had come to Him with a repentant spirit, seeking His mercy. Jesus said to Simon, "Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven-for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, he loves little" (Luke 7:47).
It's so easy for us to doubt Him. We tend to question God's care for us. Even the devil will whisper, "God doesn't care about you." But God says, "I am not against you! I am for you!
But you may say, "Pastor, I'm even worse that than that woman in that text and I'm more clueless than that guy Simon. How could I be a child of God? If you really knew me, you'd know that I don't deserve God's kindness. How could He ever be on my side?" But, dear friend, that's the main point of the Bible, that's the main point of Jesus' work in the world. Jesus came for sinners, like you, like me, for all people; even the worst of the worst. There's all kinds of events in the Bible that show this.
One, in Matthew, chapter eight, a man with leprosy approached Jesus. That in itself was against the law. People who had the highly contagious disease were supposed to stay away from others. People treated them as outcasts. Those with leprosy had to shout out if anyone was near, "Unclean! Unclean!" But this one leper approached Jesus. He said to the Savior, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean" (Matthew 8:2 NIV).
Everyone else would have run, but not Jesus. Others wouldn't even consider befriending him, talking to him, but Jesus came for all. So, what did Jesus do? He demonstrated that God is for all! We hear that Jesus stretched out His hand and He touched the man! He touched him, a man with leprosy! Jesus said, "I am willing. Be clean!" (Matthew 8:3 NIV)
And with us, Jesus Christ didn't just touch our unclean bodies for temporal healing, no, He literally took the sin and rebellion of our hearts and souls upon Himself to reconcile you, to redeem you, to make it possible for God in heaven, the Holy One, the righteous One to be for you, for your forgiveness, your life, and salvation.
So, remember, God didn't invent the holiday season (I think Macy's and Gimble did that). And He sure doesn't want this time of devotion and preparation to drag you down or make you sad. In fact, it's here to lift you up. It is here to focus you on the gifts of God that alone give you hope and joy. In fact, this time of year is my favorite because it cuts through the nonsense and focuses me on the reason to rejoice and give thanks.
Jesus Christ has come. God has made His presence known in this world. God has taken upon Himself the judgment deserved for our sin and rebellion to make His gift of life possible for all who believe.
That was the powerful message to the believers in the city of Thessalonica as they faced the realities of funerals past and judgments to come. Paul told them about a God whose care and grace matters most then. Paul said in verse eighteen: "Therefore encourage one another with these words" (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
So, I want to invite you today, this day, to be encouraged by the words of God in the Bible. God did all this for me; I believe it. But, God did all this for you too. Believe it! This is the Word of God; it's calling you, inviting you, empowering you to believe it for yourself! This message of God's grace in Jesus isn't just to soothe souls for the moment; it brings you the Good News of His love and care eternally.
Jesus Himself wants you to be confident of His favor and grace in your life through His gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation. God the Father even wants you to know that in Christ, you can be confident for your loved ones who have died in the faith too. As you face the holiday season, as stress or sadness levels begin to climb, be assured that God is on your side. He is not against you. He is for you.
A friend of mine told me a story about a new recruit at boot camp in the military. When this young man arrived, he encountered the forceful presence who would be leading him through the rigors of training. It was the drill sergeant. At first, it seemed like this man was my friend's worst enemy. The drill sergeant shouted. He pushed my friend beyond his limits. He drove him relentlessly. But as boot camp progressed, my friend realized that his drill sergeant was not his greatest enemy. He was his advocate, his friend. The drill sergeant was shaping him for success. He was walking with him for a greater purpose. When graduation came and awards were being presented, the drill sergeant was seen not as an enemy, but as a beloved mentor. The drill sergeant, the one that he first thought was truly against him, was not only not against him, but was there to see him through.
Sometimes we forget that God is our greatest advocate. When we run from Him or rebel against Him, we're cutting ourselves off from the only One who can truly help! The Apostle John, who endured suffering and experienced the difficulties of life said, "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1). God is not the enemy. He is our Advocate. He is our greatest Friend.
The writer of the book of Hebrews quoted Proverbs when he assured his listeners of God's favor and goodness even in the midst of struggles and difficulties. He said, "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord.... the Lord disciplines the one he loves...He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:5-6, 10-11).
Even in the difficult times of life, God is using them for our good; either drawing us closer to Him, preparing us for service, or protecting us from the things that would ultimately do us eternal harm. God disciplines, God disciples you. He shapes you. He is not against you.
So, right now, no matter what is swirling around you because of the pressures of life, or the craziness that's beginning concerning this time of year, God is the One who is inviting you to come to Him.
That's what this season is about. It's not ultimately about us, our preparations, our aspirations; it's about God for us and all that this means for our life, now and forever. Whether you are reveling in the joy of the season or whether your heart is breaking at the moment, let this be the time when you realize that God comes for you in Jesus to multiply joys, to mend broken hearts, to forgive, to reconcile, and to give hope that only He can deliver. Let this be that time for you when you come to realize that in all things your Savior, Jesus Christ, is God for you! God bless you always with faith in Him.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for November 9, 2014 Topic: When Will Judgment Day Come And What Will It Be Like?
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, when we look at all the craziness going on in the world today, it makes us curious about what might happen at the end of the world and what will Judgment Day be like; when will it come?
SELTZ: Mark, a lot of people, even today, they're concerned about such things. But people have always thought about it. Even back in the first century, as the disciples walked with Jesus before His death and resurrection, they asked Him, "Tell us when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming at the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3 ESV) But, when it came to the timing of Judgment Day--also known as Jesus' second coming--Jesus said this, "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only" (Matthew 24:36-37 ESV).
ANNOUNCER: So, we can't predict when Christ will return.
SELTZ: Yeah, but people try to do it, don't they, Mark? But no matter what system we develop or what signs we try to use to discern that, Jesus made it clear: we do not know, we can't predict it; in fact, we weren't meant to.
ANNOUNCER: Jesus also said: "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come" (Matthew 24:42 NIV).
SELTZ: Right, that's our job. Our job is not to know the timing, but to be prepared for Christ's arrival whenever it will come.
ANNOUNCER: But He gave us some signs to watch for, didn't He?
SELTZ: There are signs. In fact, Jesus was up front about what the days following His ascension into heaven would be like. By the way, that's what we mean by the last days and end times. The Bible says it this way in Hebrews, "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son..." (Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV). Notice that the first-century writer even called his time in history "these last days." The time between Jesus' ascension and His return, that's the end times.
ANNOUNCER: So for the last 2000 years we've been living in the end times.
SELTZ: We certainly are. And Jesus and His apostles were very explicit about what the end times would be like. In fact, Jesus said that the world would be a turbulent place. He talked about "wars and rumors of wars," famines and earthquakes. He mentioned the persecution of the church and the rise of false teachers. He even talked about the love of people growing cold during a time of great tribulation.
ANNOUNCER: And that sounds a lot like today!
SELTZ: It sounds frightening, doesn't it? Jesus reminded all believers that before His return, these days are going to be filled with heartbreak, violence, and difficulty; but He wanted to make sure we don't let those scary parts of those last days be that dominant message; because, amidst all that reality, Jesus offered great hope. He told us that the Gospel of God's Kingdom would be proclaimed throughout the world and that whoever endures in faith to the end will be saved. Jesus even promised that the days of suffering would be cut short because of God's mercy.
ANNOUNCER: But why do we have to endure all these terrible events before Jesus comes back?
SELTZ: With Jesus, there always is a reason. The Apostle Peter reminded all Christ's followers who worried about that question, he said, "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9 ESV). God doesn't want to lose anyone, so that's why we are here to spread the Good News of salvation in Jesus even amidst all this stuff. We are here to shine His light in a dark and difficult world.
ANNOUNCER: What will it be like when Jesus does return?
SELTZ: In the Apostle Paul's first letter to the believers in the city of Thessalonica, he outlined what the return of Jesus would be like. He said, "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then those who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air," here's the key, "so we will always be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 ESV). Throughout the Bible we hear that these events will happen suddenly, when we least expect it.
ANNOUNCER: And it sounds like an amazing spectacle.
SELTZ: We will be amazed, that's for sure, Mark. But as we wait, we are called to watch, to be ready each day by trusting in the mercy and grace of our Savior, Jesus; so, living in ways that glorify God and share His Good News with people in our lives right now.
ANNOUNCER: So even though it's something that we cannot predict, can't pinpoint, don't know when it will happen, it will come like a thief in the night; it's still something we can look forward to.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
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