Rev. D. K. Schroeder
2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 Sermon
November 11, 2007
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
556 “Rise Ye Children Of Salvation”
298 “That Day Of Wrath”
485 “Jesus Lord And Precious Saviour”
419 “O Saviour Precious Saviour”
THINKING ABOUT THE HEREAFTER
TEXT (vs. 5-7): “All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels."
This morning, I’d like to share a humorous little story with you. It seems there was this pastor who was out visiting a widow in his community, living by herself. She hadn’t attended church in years, so in the course of their conversation, the pastor says, “You know, at your age you need to be thinking of the hereafter.”
She replied, “Oh yes pastor, I think about that often. Every time I go into a room in my house, I have to ask myself, ‘Now what am I here after?’”
If we search the internet or any number of different joke books, we would find that there’s a lot of jokes and humorous anecdotes people have made up or created about heaven and the afterlife. Especially popular are the so-called “St. Peter Jokes” which depict someone dying and standing before St. Peter at the pearly gates of heaven. Those jokes usually involve St. Peter asking some sort of question, and the person having to give an answer or do something to get in.
Thankfully these jokes are just bits of humor and nothing more. And most importantly, they don’t accurately depict the final judgment and what will happen after we die.
Today is a Sunday on the Church calendar which is referred to simply as the “Last Judgment.” And with this in mind, I’d like to direct our thoughts today to the same topic that the pastor did in my opening story, namely the hereafter.
Our text for today is our Epistle reading, which a small portion of the opening of Paul’s second letter to the Christians at Thessalonica. In just a very few sentences, Paul describes the last judgment. Jesus will come on the last day, and he will judge the righteous and the unrighteous. The unrighteous will be doomed to everlasting destruction, while the righteous will find eternal peace and joy in heaven for all eternity.
This is a very true thing, and it is something that we are to believe whole-heartedly. It is part of the creeds of the church that we recite regularly. The Nicene creed puts it so well: “And he will come again with glory to judge both the quick (or living) and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.” But even though we recite these words so readily and automatically, do we ever give thought to exactly what they mean? How much time to we really devote to thinking about the hereafter?
Even though I introduced this topic in a rather humorous way, it is something that is serious and affects each and every person in the world without exception. Everybody has a hereafter, or an eternity to think about. Whether or not a person wants there to be an eternity, it will still be there. It can’t be wished away, or denied, or ignored.
So the question isn’t whether or not there is an eternity. That fact has been established. The only question which remains is where people will spend that eternity. There are only two types of people in the world: believers and unbelievers. And there are only two places where eternity can be spent: heaven or hell. It’s just that simple.
So we begin with the judgment. Our text for today says that: “God’s judgment is right….God is just….” That’s one thing about God we need to fully understand. When the last day happens and Christ is sitting there like a judge in a courtroom, we need to realize that his judgment will be fair and impartial. A verdict will be rendered without any partiality or prejudice at all. The division will be between the unbelievers and the believers, and the verdict will either be hell or heaven for eternity.
These are words of terror for the unbeliever. There can be no comfort for them. There is no hope for the hereafter, only fear of the judgment to come. The unbeliever has rejected Christ and his saving work. The unbelievers have decided to appear before Jesus on that day by themselves. For them, each and every sin will be recounted, and answers will be demanded. The words: “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!” will ring in their ears. And the appropriate penalty will be decreed: damnation for all of eternity.
Those are very unsettling words. Those words are full of fear and absolute horror. And this isn’t just some scene from an old B movie on late night television. This is reality, and therefore needs to be regarded as such.
Now this would be the most horrible sermon in the world if I were to end it right here. If I were to leave you with a picture of hell burned in your mind, and a fear of the judgment in your heart, then you would have no comfort and peace at all. This is not where God wants you to be.
If we look at our text for today, the Apostle Paul is giving us the assurance of hope and promise in those words. Paul doesn’t want to scare people with a dreadful judgment, but rather assure the believers that their faith is well placed, and that the final judgment for the believer will result in a glorious and happy reward.
That’s why we need to focus on Jesus and him alone. Jesus himself paid the punishment for sin, which means all of the sins ever committed by human beings. He took those sins of ours, yours and mine, upon himself. Jesus paid the penalty for sin in full. Nothing more is owed, and no more punishment needs to be carried out.
So when we, as true believers in Christ appear before the righteous judge, we know already what the verdict will be. We know this even now, today, while we are still on this earth. We know that because of Christ and his work, and because of our faith in him, that God will look at Christ’s righteousness instead of our sins. He will look at our record and find nothing wrong there at all.
And so, as true followers of Christ, when our verdict is announced, it will be even more than a “not guilty” verdict; it will be “completely innocent of all charges.” It will be like we never sinned at all. Faith in Jesus our Saviour sounds like such a simple thing; but when the final judgment is brought into the picture, it is the difference between eternal death and eternal life. Certainly the faith is simple—the Bible calls it “childlike;” and it can be as small as a grain of mustard seed. But the results are huge indeed.
There was a sign outside of a church close to a university campus one time which read: “Come on in; we’ll help you prepare for your finals.” It was a play on words, of course. University students think of “finals” in terms of their final exams. They spend hours in study and preparation.
However in terms of the Christian faith, “finals” refers to that final judgment we’ve been talking about. And the only preparation needed is a faith which trusts in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.
As I think back over the hundreds of sermons I’ve written and preached in my ministry, there have been a wide variety of topics. I’ve preached about living a Christian life in numerous aspects, or about various Biblical figures and how their message and life apply to us, or about various aspects of Christian doctrine and teaching.
But there is a bottom line to it all, and that is preparing people for their finals. Certainly there are many topics and important issues which need to be discussed for the journey in getting there; but when all is said and done, the only thing that matters at the final judgment is a person’s faith in Christ.
That’s why it is my primary duty as a pastor to be continually pointing everything to Christ and what he has done for us. For without him, everything else is meaningless. We can help feed the hungry, or do charity work for the poor and needy, or even bring a thousand people through the church door; but if Christ isn’t our main focus, or if faith in him gets replaced with good works, then the ministry is meaningless.
When we focus ourselves on Christ Jesus, then we find something else which is very important. That something else is love, and the tremendous love that God has for us. The cross which is so proudly on display in Christian churches is a symbol of that love. It was out of love for us that Jesus gave his life on that cross, so that our sins would be forgiven and we would be declared innocent and righteous in the final judgment.
Sin has an ugly part in the topic of the final judgment. It is because of the sin in our lives and the influence of Satan that we still have fears of God’s judgment. Jesus tells us not to fear, because he’s done it all. Satan tells us that we haven’t done enough. So when God’s wrath replaces God’s love in our lives, and the fear of damnation replaces the hope of heaven, then we’ve allowed Satan to take control of us.
It’s been just within the last couple weeks that Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas have been in the news again. They’ve been up to their old tricks of spreading messages of hate at military funerals. They carry signs saying how much God hates different people and the United States in general—even going so far as to prompt a little boy to desecrate an American flag. They delight in informing people of God’s wrath instead of God’s love, and they vehemently tell everyone that they’re going to hell. These people imply that they’re going to heaven because they’ve hated the things they have, and that everyone who disagrees with them will go to hell.
I’ve talked about these people before. Their leader, Fred Phelps is no more a Christian pastor than a barnyard goat, and his message proves that. He believes that his misapplied message of wrath and condemnation are the most important thing. If left to him, nobody would ever know the love of God in Christ Jesus. He most certainly is a black eye in the face of Christianity.
When we think about the hereafter and the final judgment, it would do us well to pay attention to the words the Apostle John writes in his first epistle, chapter 4, verses 16-18: “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the Day of Judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
Do you hear those words? Confidence on the Day of Judgment…God is love…there is no fear in love…love drives out fear….fear has to do with punishment.
So when we think about the hereafter, we know that God loves us and wants us to be with him forever. We have nothing to be afraid of, because through faith in Christ Jesus we are guaranteed a place in the eternal mansions of heaven.
In our text for today, Paul talks about what awaits those who are unbelievers, those who have rejected Christ and his saving Gospel. Those words aren’t written so much to scare people, as they are to present us with a realistic picture. Furthermore, it reminds us, as believers as to how important our task is in bringing the Gospel message to the world. When we pray “Thy kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer, we are praying that the Lord would use us to bring his Gospel message to the people on this earth. The Gospel message isn’t one of hatred and fear, but a message of love, forgiveness, and hope.
Yes, there are lots of jokes out there about the hereafter, and St. Peter and the pearly gates, and so forth. Even though they are humorous, still there is some grain of truth as to how people mistakenly perceive the final judgment. People still think of heaven as something attained by good works, and not by grace.
We know however that faith in Jesus is the only way in. Therefore we can replace the fear that sin has created in our lives by the love God has placed there. And we can replace any uncertainty about the judgment we might have with the certain knowledge we have that we will be declared innocent and righteous through faith in Christ alone.