Sunday, November 26, 2023

Joel 2:30–32; The Last Sunday of the Church Year; November 26, 2023;

“And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.” (Joel 2:30–32, ESV)
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

“A great and awesome day” is coming, so says the Prophet Joel. I don’t want to second guess the translators of the ESV, but I think they are pussyfooting around the harshness of the text. If you look at the context, Joel talks about the great day.
Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.
But in context I believe the translation is better stated “a great and fearful day” The word in Hebrew is the same root word that is used in Proverbs 1:7

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7, ESV) While it can be translated awesome or respect, fear is much more appropriate for those who will not be saved. It will be a great day for those who call on the name of the LORD, but decidedly not for those who don’t.

The scene is set,

signs in the heavens and the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun will be dark and the moon blood.
And then comes the judgement. It is in that context we have our gospel lesson for today. Jesus, the Son of Man coming in glory “to judge the living and the dead.”
In this little parable of the Judgement, the sheep and the goats are judged based on what they have done. The sheep, on the right, those who have faith in Christ and the goats, on the left, those who do not. The contrast is a big one.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34, ESV)
That will be a great day for them.
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41, ESV)
That will be a terrible and fearful day for them.

And the judgement seems to be clearly based on what both the right hand and the left hand have done. Jesus goes through the same litany.
I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, in prison.
Those on the right have fed, welcomed, clothed, and visited. Those on the left have not. “Come” he says to the right and “depart” he says to the left. It is Jesus’ sheep who do those things, the goats do not. It is a fair question to ask, “What about me? Which am I?” In fact, I believe that is exactly what Jesus wants you to ask. But we will get to that answer after a bit.

In 1 Corinthians surrounding our epistle reading for today, Paul talks extensively about the resurrection. It is all tied together with the Judgment. His argument goes something like this.

If Jesus in proclaimed as risen from the dead. Then the dead are raised. Since Jesus did rise, everyone will. Because of sin all people die. But because of Christ, his life, his death, and especially his resurrection, all will be made alive again. That is all the dead will be raised from death. And death, the last enemy of everyone, will be destroyed. After the end, no one will ever die again. Jesus was the firstfruits to rise, then those who have died in faith (Paul says those who belong to Christ). Then the end comes. That is where the judgment of the living and the dead happens.

We Christians often miss the point of the judgment and resurrection rather focusing on the in between state. The resurrection is the culmination of all of God’s promises in Jesus. The ultimate Christian hope isn’t to die and go to heaven. It isn’t to shed our sinful bodies and remain with Christ forever. It is to shed our sin, and live with Christ forever in our sin free, perfect, resurrected bodies. The idea comes from the Philosopher Plato. He viewed all things physical and worldly as evil, and all things spiritual as good. We should be very careful to state the Christian hope clearly. We respect the body as a creation of God. Jesus redeemed the whole person, both body and soul. The resurrection promises a restoration of a whole person. If you look at the service of the comital of the body, we carefully place our brothers’ and sisters’ bodies in the ground in God’s keeping until the resurrection. It says this,
May God the Father, who created this body; may God the + Son who by His blood redeemed this body; may God the Holy Spirit, who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be His temple, keep these remains to the day of the resurrection of all flesh.
For those who have faith in Christ, the judgment and resurrection of all flesh will indeed be a great day!

However, there is the other side of the coin. It will be a fearful day for those without faith. For them the resurrection brings a sin free, perfect, resurrected body that will spend eternity in hell. There, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in a physical body.
So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:49–50, ESV)

That brings us back to the question, “How can I assure myself that that fate will not be mine?”

It is at the very end of our text from Joel.
and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.
So, our assurance comes from God’s call. I could go with some Christian traditions that say,

“Look inside yourself to see if you really love God.”

“Look at your life to see the fruit of faith.”

But that would be nothing short of Pastoral malpractice. How many times have you doubted your salvation? How many times have you fallen short of the fruit of faith? The problem is that you are a sinful imperfect person. If you look truly inside yourself, with honesty, you will only find sin. You will not find comfort there.

Rather than looking into yourself and your actions, you should look to Jesus and his actions. … those whom the LORD calls.

Your actions and faith will always fall short. But God’s actions never will. He has called you through Holy Baptism. His work is always sure. In Baptism, God has connected you to Jesus. His life, death and yes, his resurrection is given to you by grace. You will never deserve it. You will never earn it. You will never add anything to it. Your faith in Jesus is the result of only God’s doing.

You will notice in the parable of the sheep and the goats, that the sheep don’t see the fruit of their faith.
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?” (Matthew 25:37, ESV)
In other words, when they searched their hearts, they did not see the good work they did. They didn’t see the proof of faith. They didn’t count what they did as worthy of salvation. The goats on the other hand put all their trust in their works.
Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’” (Matthew 25:44, ESV)
It is the difference between looking inside yourself and looking to the Cross of Christ.

So, for you, who have been called by Christ, the day of Judgement will be a great day. On that day your body and soul will be rejoined. You will see Jesus with your very own, these same eyes (Job 19:26).
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25–27, ESV)
So, with Job, you will live a physical life forever with Jesus. How it will look is beyond our comprehension. That’s why Job says.
My heart faints within me!

But as much as we don’t know, we do know a little part of the joy we will feel. It’s why we did the Psalm instead of the Introit today. It is a song of praise in what God has done. We can place this psalm on our lips at the resurrection. It clearly puts all the credit where credit is due. As I read it take special note of the last verse. Listen to it again.
Psalm 95:1–7 (ESV) 1 Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! 2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! 3 For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. 5 The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. 6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! 7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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