Beloved. We did so again a few months ago and will certainly do so again in the not too distant future. And what is that? We heard and lived through somebody’s prediction date of the end of the world. The Church has had to live through these things since the very beginning. In today’s epistle St. Paul writes: Concerning the times and dates, brothers, there is no need to write to you, for you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When people are saying, “Peace and security,” destruction will suddenly come on them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will certainly not escape. St. Paul has no need to write to these Christians then and us today concerning the times and dates because it is neither necessary nor edifying to speculate and predict the secrets that our Lord has hidden. Jesus very clearly tells us about the Last Day/the day of His coming [Mt. 24.36]: Of that day and hour no one knows, no, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.
Then the natural question is: why would we want to know the day of Jesus’ return? What difference would it make? If it were to make a difference—that is, if it mattered when Jesus would come so we could “straighten up” before He comes and so be saved then we have to question ourselves and wonder if we are truly Christians. After all, if we are living now for self, trying to please self, serving our old sinful nature with a life of sin: is there truly faith in Jesus in our hearts? Do we fear and love of God? And even if we knew that day and hour, would our last minute “conversion” be sincere? Wouldn’t we truly rather be living for sin and self? Would we really want to convert and turn to the Lord from our heart?
What, then, is the proper attitude, thought and desire of the Christian? It’s always to be ready for and desiring Jesus’ return/ the Last Day/ the Judgment. It’s living a life in faith in and love of the Lord, striving to do His will—not the will of our sinful self; it’s a life of fighting against sin and of repentance and good works—serving the Lord and neighbor.
Today is the Last Sunday of the present Church Year. And especially today our readings turn our attention toward the Last Day. The Gospel is a parable the point of which Jesus sums up at the end: Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. The parable shows us both that the time of Jesus’ coming is unknown and the finality of the judgment when He does come, that there is no time to repent, no second chances: and the door was shut. So as this Church Year winds down, we again hear that absolutely vital message: the Last Day/ the day of Jesus’ return cannot be figured out: the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night; and it is sudden and certain: When people are saying, “Peace and security,” destruction will suddenly come on them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman. The Last Day/ Judgment Day/ the day of Jesus’ return does not call for a calculating curiosity but for vigilance and sobriety. And why? Because nothing less than our salvation, eternal life with Jesus in heaven is at stake.
But isn’t this all sort of ominous sounding? –The Last Day/ Judgment Day. Then we hear St. Paul write elsewhere [2 Cor. 5.10]: We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Yes, it should sound ominous to us! We need that right and healthy fear of God! Yes, it is ominous and foreboding as we look at ourselves, our own merits and worthiness. And that raises the question: is the Last Day a day I should look forward to? Or to put it differently: How can I live in the hope of salvation? That’s the question St. Paul answers at the end of today’s Epistle: God did not appoint us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as you are also doing. Not by looking at ourselves but looking to and trusting in the Lord can we live in the hope of salvation.
What is the first thing that St. Paul writes in our text? God did not appoint us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Here is the hope for our salvation! God did not create us to damn us eternally in hell; instead, He created us to have life and salvation through Jesus. God wants us to receive this salvation as a gift of His mercy. How can you doubt this, dear Christian? God called you to faith in Him; He created that saving faith in Him in your heart in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. There He claimed you and washed away your sin; there He united you with Jesus and His death and resurrection; there He made you His dear child and heir of heaven. God is sincere. He didn’t do all that for you only to toy with you and with the ultimate intent of damning you. He has given you the Holy Spirit and faith—and that is life, new life in Christ. You know and feel the Lord’s work in you and on you. Even if you feel your faith is very weak—that is still the Lord’s mercy toward you and His work on you. Here, even in what you may think is a weak faith, you can and should boldly say: God did not appoint [me] for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through [my] Lord Jesus Christ.
How this certainty of faith that God did not appoint us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, gives us strength to face both the evils of daily life and the thought at standing before the Judgment throne of God! We don’t faint at the thought of all the evil we see, encounter and suffer in the world because we know that a glorious eternity awaits us—a glorious eternity in heaven with the saints, the angels and the holy Triune God. In the midst of suffering be it even great physical or mental torment, we can look ahead and know that God [appointed] us… for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. When the devil comes and tries to lead us into despair by making us think that our sin is too great to be forgiven or that there’s no way God would let us into heaven, in the boldness of faith—even a faith that is weak and under attack—we say: God did not appoint us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. When we are overwhelmed by our sin, when we seriously ponder our sin and hear again at the end of the Church Year that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, how great is the comfort of faith that holds to this verse of Scripture: God did not appoint us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, we are all going to appear before the judgment seat of God—but what’s happening? We are going before the God who loved us and gave Himself up for us.
This does not lead us into complacency. Instead, we are lead into greater love of the Lord and the desire to remain faithful to Him. Only a sin hardened/ deceived heart would conclude: since God did not appoint us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ then I can sin all I want and in the end God will still save me. Any heart with the even the smallest Christian faith hearing this great promise would jump for joy! And in that joy and love not want to lose this great promise. That faith that receives this promise, the hope this promise gives us and the love for the One who gave us this promise keep us sober and vigilant.
Dear Christian, this promise is for you and me. The Lord, in His mercy, brought us to faith in Him. This very fact of His gracious working on us is proof to us that He has destined us for salvation.
Why else, then, can we live in the hope of salvation? Not only did God appoint us to obtain salvation through Jesus, but He died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. In other words, our salvation is grounded upon Jesus and His work. That’s why it is certain and sure! If God did not appoint us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our works and efforts, our perfectly holy life, then all certainty and hope of heaven would be gone. Instead our salvation is through our Lord Jesus Christ, who did what for us and our salvation? He died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Because Jesus died for us, we can be certain of the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. Why? Because when Jesus died on the cross, He reconciled us sinners to the holy God. When Jesus died on the cross, He didn’t die for His own sins. He didn’t have any! He is holy and sinless. In fact, He came to this earth, became true man precisely so He could obey God’s holy Law for us, as our Substitute. And by that, the very Law that God demands of us to obey—which we don’t, which we daily and often break—Jesus kept/ obeyed for us. God’s righteous requirements have been kept —by Jesus for us.
So when Jesus died on the cross, He took all of our sins upon Himself and there endured all of God’s wrath and punishment for our sins. All of God’s wrath over your sin, my sin, the sin of all people has been poured out on Jesus. His righteous anger over our sin has been stilled. A wonderful thing happens—Jesus takes all of our sin and gives us His perfect, holy righteousness. That’s what faith does—in confession, it gives Jesus our sin; and faith receives Jesus’ holiness. St. Paul puts it this way [2 Cor. 5.21]: [God] made [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Can we live in the hope of salvation? –Absolutely because our salvation is grounded on God’s mercy and Jesus’ work, He died for us, so that … we may live together with him—both now on earth in faith and one day in heaven eternally. So since our salvation was made sure by Jesus’ suffering and dying for our sins, how can we who receive by faith the fruits and blessings of Jesus’ work—namely, the forgiveness of sin and eternal life—not be prepared for death and judgment, for the day of Jesus’ return, for standing before His judgment throne? After all, He died for us; our sins are forgiven and we are clothed with His perfect righteousness. And already now we are alive—spiritually alive—with him. And we go from life here on earth with him, to life with him in heaven. Now, through faith and baptism, by receiving Jesus in Holy Communion we are in a most intimate fellowship with Him. And as He is in us and we are in Him, we look for, long for, watch for His return. We are ready at any moment for Jesus to return on the Last Day or to call our souls to Himself in heaven. We live in that glorious / certain hope of salvation.
And the marvelous thing is that the Lord didn’t just call us to faith and then leave us to our own devices. Instead, He works on us throughout our life to strengthen us in the faith and so to keep us ready and alert for His coming. This too—His continued work on us so that we remain in the faith ready for His return—is to us continued proof that He did not appoint us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, He does so when He gathers us here in Church to give us His gifts of word and Sacrament by which He strengthens our faith as He gives us what Jesus won for us on the cross. But the Lord also works on us through the word and witness of our fellow Christians as together we look forward to His return and encourage each other along the way. Each Christian seeks to grow in knowledge, assurance and spiritual strength and helps the other Christian. Each is not just concerned for him/herself but tries to build up the other. The one who has helps supply the one who is lacking. Yes, dear Christian, we live in the hope of salvation, encouraging each other to be ready for Jesus’ return and helping in trouble. Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as you are also doing. INJ Amen.