Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”” (Revelation 14:6–7, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
There is a little problem in this text. It's the clash of two phrases that hit our ears in a very difficult way. First, there are the words "eternal gospel". We know that the "gospel" is "good news". But how can it be "good news" when the "hour of judgment has come." It doesn't sound like good news at all to say that it's time for judgment.
For you and me, those who live in repentance and faith, we have no reason to fear judgment. It is "good news" that our Savior is coming to bring completion to all that he has begun. His life, death, and resurrection are all put together to restore the whole creation when he returns. It is the full goal of the Christian life to see that day. But for those who do not listen, those who have rejected the Savior, those who do not live in faith, the time for repentance will end. And in fact after this text the description of God's judgment is stark. The pronouncement of judgment on those who reject him is full. So again, how can that be "good news"?
God's announcement of judgment leaves no middle ground. There is no wiggle room when the angel's voice booms out of the sky. Jesus doesn't talk about separating the sheep from the goats and having another nice little category of people who are really nice but don't quite believe. (See Matthew 25:31-46) It just sounds pretty harsh. It seems a little bit overly judgmental. Especially to our modern ears that hear from every other source that "Love Wins" and "Who am I to judge?" And these days, when everyone seems to be divided, we don't really want to hear another voice added with that kind of separation. What we'd rather here is "God is the God of second chances." Is the church just another voice urging separation and division?
The truth is the world is broken by sin.
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:22–23, ESV)
We groan because the world is in need of restoration. We groan because our bodies deteriorate because of the effects of sin. We groan looking forward in eager anticipation of our redemption. We groan because something is wrong and Jesus Christ is the only solution. The redemption only happens in Jesus Christ. Those who reject him only have eternal separation and condemnation. There are no second chances when the end comes. There will be no time to say "Oops, I didn't understand." The sickle is about to be sent to the fields. The harvest will happen. The weeds will be separated from the grain. The weeds will be burnt in unquenchable fire. Then, the time for repentance will be ended. So again I say, how can that be "good news"?
Well, the "good news" is that the day is at hand, but it has not yet come. Today, in your hearing, The Word of Grace is being proclaimed. Today, the sun still shines, the night has not yet come. The ax is laid at the root of the trees. The trees are not being cut down, yet. Today, there is still time.
The stark reality of eternal separation from God and eternal punishment in hell is a frightening proposition. Especially in light of an honest appraisal of our own sinfulness. If we brush away our protective shell. If we look beneath the mask of goodness that we present to the world. And we see the sin that lurks in our hearts. And we compare it to God's righteous demand of perfection. There is little we can do but turn to God for mercy. With the judgment coming on our own, in our own condition there is no hope. We say what St. Paul says,
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24, ESV)
Where is our confidence? It is in Jesus Christ alone. He has changed our judgment from hell to heaven. He is the one who saves us from our body of death. His death on the cross removes the punishment we deserve. We cling in faith to Jesus promise that all that he has done is ours. Faith alone in Jesus Christ. It is not what we deserve. It is grace, God's undeserved love. In the face of pending judgment there is no place to turn but the cross, and Christ, and the forgiveness that he gives to us there. This is the "good news."
And there is more. This is not only "good news" for you and me. It is good news for the whole world that the time is coming but is not yet here. We have time to do what we have been called to do.
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:11–12, ESV)
St. Paul is not just urging us to do good things. He's urging us to proclaim good things, "good news". The judgment is at hand. Now is the time to wake from sleep. Satan and his agents are working full force in the world. They are determined to drag all creation into the abyss that was created for their eternal punishment. And the only weapon available is Christ himself. He is God's promise that he has not forsaken the world. He is God's promise that in the end all that is evil will be destroyed.
It is the very thing Jesus told his disciples to do. To proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name. (Luke 24:45ff) There is no time to delay. This is what the Reformation is all about. A clear, concise, truthful proclamation of Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. A clear, concise, truthful proclamation that God has done everything necessary to avoid the coming judgment. We have this message to proclaim from God's Word alone. God is gracious and merciful. He saves us in Jesus Christ alone. He gives us this gift by his grace, that is his undeserved love, alone. It is ours when we cling in faith alone to Jesus Christ as our only means of salvation.
So the angel's proclamation of judgment is "good news". It is good news because God is faithful, he forgives sin through Jesus Christ and his life, death and resurrection. And it is all done for you. In it is all here for you now. Repent! Believe the Gospel. Cling to Jesus Christ alone. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.