The Second Sunday in Advent
December 9, 2012
“Worthy to Stand Before the Son of Man”
“And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” Then He spoke to them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:25-36
Christ’s First Advent was in humility. Christ’s Second Advent will be in glory. He came the first time to redeem the world. He will come the second time to judge the world. Christ will return to judge the living and the dead, as we confess in the Creed. The entire human race will stand before him. The righteous will inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. The wicked will be sent to the hell prepared for the devil and his angels.
The Bible teaches that God justifies us through faith alone, apart from our works. The Bible also teaches that everyone will be judged according to his works. Those who are justified through faith alone will be judged according to their works and they will be judged to be righteous. They will be judged to be righteous because their sins are forgiven. If all your sins are forgiven they cannot be held against you. Those who receive through faith the Christ who came in humility to redeem the world will be ready to meet him when he returns in glory to judge the world.
Those who do not receive in faith the Christ who came in humility to redeem them will not be ready to meet him when he returns to judge. Those who are not clothed in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ will stand before God clothed in their own sin. God hates sin and he punishes sinners. This is no joke. Few religious topics receive more scorn than Judgment Day. It’s as if people think that mocking God will somehow keep him from judging. But make no mistake about it. That day “will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.” That’s what Jesus said. This whole universe will pass away, but what Jesus says will by no means pass away. What he says will be, will be.
Christ will return to judge. Every evil deed that humanity’s wounded sense of justice has ever decried – with complaints that justice has been denied – will be judged fairly. Judgment Day is necessary, not because sinners demand justice, but because God does. Now there are two places where justice is done: On Calvary and on the last day. Calvary is where all sins of all sinners was punished and by that punishment forgiven and removed. This is why he who died on Calvary and rose again is the One who will judge on Judgment Day. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world judges the world whose sin he bore.
The justice of Calvary is received in humble repentance. It is received now. Today is the day of salvation. Tomorrow may be too late. Repentance does not do away with the demands of justice. Jesus met the demands of justice by his vicarious obedience, suffering, and death. But repentance is necessary. It’s not necessary to establish justice because it doesn’t do so. It’s necessary to receive justice now. If you do not receive justice now in repentance, you will face justice on the day of Christ’s return. To receive justice now in repentance is to know Jesus Christ by faith. We confess our sins against God and we trust in Jesus who made satisfaction for those sins. Those who refuse to repent of their sins and who do not trust in Jesus who made satisfaction for their sins will face the justice of Judgment Day. They will face the sin-bearer, but they will not see him as their Redeemer. They will see him as their Judge.
Judgment Day is a day of terror. People’s hearts will fail them from fear. They will see the powers of the universe shaken. The sun and the planets and the stars will lose their place in the sky and the whole world will begin to fall apart. The Power that keeps everything together will be seen, not as an impersonal force of nature that is a part of nature, but as the one and only God, who lives outside of nature and the natural world, who is the Creator of the universe and every human being on this earth, and who has the right to judge the living and the dead. It will dawn on the hearts of those who refused to repent of their sins and who dismissed Christ’s gospel as of little account that the world in which they trusted is falling apart. Their god is dying before their eyes and they must face the true God, not as his children, but as his enemies.
Yes, God’s enemies! Do not be deceived by pseudo-Christian claims that a loving God has no enemies. God’s word makes it clear that his peace and goodwill are located in his Son. The peace of Christmas is not something we can tailor-make to fit into our own worldview and notions of what god must be like. God locates his peace in him who was laid in the manger and nailed to the cross. He who died and rose again is the Prince of Peace by whose blood the world was redeemed. Apart from this Lord Jesus God is angry with us sinners and poised to judge us. We flee for refuge to God’s mercy now, and we flee to Christ, for only in him who bore sin’s curse are we freed from it.
The clouds hid him from sight when he ascended up on high after redeeming the world. And it is from the clouds that he will return to judge. The Redeemer returns to judge. Those who know him now as their personal Redeemer from sin will lift up their heads in joy and see his return as their final redemption. They will not be afraid. Those who don’t know him as their Redeemer now will not know him as their Redeemer when he returns. The day of salvation is now and the day of Christ’s return will be too late. They will be filled with fear, distress, and perplexity.
It is one and the same event. For some it is their final redemption. For others, it is fearful judgment. The difference is Christ. This is why we watch and pray. This is why we gather together as Christ’s Church and take refuge in God’s word. When we have Christ we can stand in the Day of Judgment. When we wear the robe of his righteousness through faith we are worthy to escape the judgment that will come upon this world and stand before the Son of Man.
Our Lord Jesus encourages us. He keeps nothing from us. The day will come. It will come as a snare. You snare an animal by giving him something he wants and when he goes to eat it he is trapped by the snare. Fallen humanity wants what it wants and it doesn’t want God. Oh, it may pretend to want God, but it is not the true God. The true God promises forgiveness of sin and a world free from sin. The true God teaches us that his promises are more valuable than the pleasures that sin provides. Until we find the true God in Christ and in the forgiveness he freely gives us, we look for God where he cannot be found. A life lived without God is a wasted life. Jesus warns us against wasting our lives. He says,
But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.
It’s not that we gain eternal life by avoiding a life of self-indulgence, drunkenness, and the seeking after riches. Christ alone gains eternal life for us. But those whose hearts are set on self-gratification, who live to get drunk, to find pleasure in what’s passing away, and who neglect God’s word, take upon themselves a burden. The things that promise pleasure turn out to be burdens to bear and they rob those who trust in them of the pure pleasure that God alone can give us. As the hymnist puts it:
One thing needful! This one treasure
Teach me, Savior, to esteem;
Other things may promise pleasure,
But are never what they seem;
They prove to be burdens that vex us and chafe us,
And true lasting happiness never vouchsafe us;
This one precious treasure, that all else succeeds,
Give joy above measure and fills all my needs.
This one precious treasure is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It promises me eternal life and I know the promise can be trusted because he who promises it swallowed up my death when he died for me and took away my sin and rose from the dead on the third day. He is the One who will judge.
What a day that will be! Jesus describes the signs of his coming by telling us that the heavenly bodies will be shaken and men’s hearts will fail for fear. But he encourages us to welcome these signs the way we welcome summer with the budding of the trees in the spring time. The Day of Judgment will be the day of redemption. Everything will be made new! We who have known Christ as our Redeemer here in this life will know him by sight and from him we will receive the fullness of joy.
This world will be destroyed. God will create a new heavens and earth. We will live in this new world in glorified bodies that won’t be subject to disease or suffering or death. Best of all, we won’t be subject to sin. There will be no guilt or remembrance of past sins, no regret, and no shame. We will be confirmed in innocence. The righteousness that covered us here in this life will flow through us and cleanse our souls from every vestige of evil. We will be pure in heart and at peace with God and one another. Nothing will ever mar the beauty and peace of this new world because no sin will ever enter it and it will be perfected in God’s love.
The generation of mockers and deniers that rejected Christ will always be with us, laughing at us (politely, of course, for mocking someone’s religion is regarded as bad form). Jesus himself said that this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. But we pay them no mind as we wait in hope, in joyful anticipation of Judgment Day, and when it is obvious to us that this world is literally falling apart our hearts will not fail us but we will lift up our heads and rejoice, knowing that our final redemption has arrived. Amen