Fear the Name of the Lord Now; Fear Not His Return
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“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall” (Malachi 4:1-2).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
“The day is coming,” say the Lord in our Old Testament lesson. And Jesus continues the theme in our Gospel, speaking of a day and the days leading up to it. What day are we talking about? Well, let me give you a hint. It’s in November; we’re in the last couple of Sundays of the church year, where our lessons focus is the end times. And so the day that is coming is the Last Day, the Day of Judgment. What will that day be like?
The first thing we can say about that day is that it will be a day of destruction. Malachi describes it as a blazing, burning day of judgment for the arrogant and evildoer. We just sang about it in our opening hymn: “The day is surely drawing near When Jesus. God’s anointed, In all His power shall appear As judge whom God appointed. Then fright shall banish idle mirth, And flames on flames shall ravage earth As Scripture long has warned us” (LSB 508).
There is a Judgment Day coming, and Christ will be the one who will do the judging. This is the consistent teaching of Scripture. And so we confess in the creeds. In the Apostles’ Creed, after saying that our risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ now sits at the right of God the Father Almighty, we go on to say, “From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.” Likewise, in the Nicene Creed, we confess, “And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.” Our Lord Jesus Christ will come to judge.
And that should give each of us cause to pause. For how sure are we that we are not among the arrogant and evildoers? Could we stand the scrutiny of an all-seeing Judge? Are our deeds, our thoughts, our hearts, pure enough to pass muster? Of course, not! Just based upon the God’s Ten Commandments, I can tell you, I would fail. My words, my thoughts, my motives, do not measure up. The lack of love in my soul is all too apparent. And if I can see these sinful traits in my character, surely the God who reads the heart will know it a thousand times over.
How about you? Are you ready to stand before the Judge? Be careful how you answer. Because, if you’re basing your hope upon how good you are, even relatively speaking, I can tell you the Judge will throw the book at you, and you will be numbered with the arrogant and the evildoer. There is no safety in that route, only devastation, destruction, and damnation on the Day of Judgment.
But, thank God, our text has more to say about that day than just judgment. Yes, on that coming day, the wicked will be like chaff, swept away in engulfing flame, consumed until nothing remains but ashes. “It will leave them no root nor branch.” Judgment, yes! But also a promise: “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.”
This coming day is a day of wild extremes. Yes, it is a fearful and dreadful day for many—but not so for believers across the ages who have been looking in eager expectation for Christ to come. Those who fear the name of the Lord need not fear His return. We await it with eager expectation. Watching the horizon, looking for the Sun of righteousness to appear with His healing glow. And then Malachi presents an image that warms this farm boy’s heart even more—the picture of calves released from their stalls after being penned up all winter. They feel good. They want to run and jump and kick up their heels. That’s the way it is with Christ’s people, who understand appreciate that Christ has set them free.
Behold, the day is coming! But you need not fear! For those who fear the name of the Lord, it will be a day of deliverance, not doom. For those who trust in Christ, it will be a day of redemption, not damnation. This is why we look forward to that day and pray for His coming. It is our great hope. Hope sealed with blood, the blood of Christ our Redeemer. The blood He shed on the cross for you, to set you free from your sins, to pay the price you could never pay. He turns your judgment into joy, your death and doom into resurrection and righteousness. He is your great escape on the Day of Judgment. Trust in Him!
God, in His grace, placed you safe and secure in Christ when He took you from the world and brought you into the Church through Holy Baptism. The Spirit has given you saving faith, so that now you know Christ as your Savior. You are a member of God’s people, the Church. This is where you need to be. For this is the only place where you will hear the message of repentance and forgiveness that brings you wholeness and life, that saves you from the coming judgment.
Jesus foretells the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. He wants them to repent and trust in Him for salvation. He warns His followers that there will be a time of famine and pestilence, terrors and great signs from heaven as that day approaches. They will be persecuted, some even put to death for His name’s sake. But they are to take heart for He will deliver them to everlasting life. Even this dreadful time will be an opportunity to bear witness to His name.
It is likely that many who heard Jesus’ words were still living when this came to fulfillment. The Jewish historian, Josephus, tells us that in 70 A.D., the Romans put Jerusalem under siege. Great mounds of earth were set up to breach the walls, and the entire city was surrounded. The people left inside the walls grew so hungry they turned to cannibalism. Over 1,100,000 Jews were put to the sword and another 97,000 were taken to Rome as part of the triumphal procession into the capital. The great temple and the wall surrounding the city were totally destroyed.
But as terrible as was that day in Jerusalem, the signs of the end of the world are even more unsettling as God begins to withdraw His benevolent hand from the wicked human race. Things will occur that will cause fear and trembling in everyone on earth. And it will be more than the wars and natural disasters that are already plaguing God’s creation. The sun, moon, and stars will be shaken, the seas will roar, as the whole universe begins to come unglued. These signs are a call to repentance, a warning to prepare for that great and awesome day of the Lord.
Sadly, many will not heed the warnings. Only Christians will realize that this is a call to repentance. Only Christians will know that these are not fearful things, but things to be embraced. For Christians, repentance is the way of life. For with repentance comes forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. This is why Christians continually gather to hear the call to repentance and faith weekly through Word and Sacrament. It’s been God’s message ever since the fall, where He called the first couple out from their hiding place, and promised them a Savior in the Seed of the woman, One who would defeat sin, death, and the devil.
God called the people of Israel to repentance through the prophets. We already heard part of His message through Malachi: the Day of Judgment! But Malachi also foretold the coming of one who would prepare the way for the Savior, turning “the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.” John the Baptist went into the Jordan wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance to the forgiveness of sins. His message was simple: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!” “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”
The focus of Jesus’ message and ministry was also repentance and forgiveness. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,” He warned the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. Later, He declared: “I tell you, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
After His resurrection, Jesus opened the minds of His disciples so they could understand His ministry, passion, and death in light of God’s holy Word. The whole message of Scriptures is one of repentance and forgiveness of sins. This is the very reason why He came. Jesus said: “The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations.”
Following Christ’s example and commission, the apostles began to preach this same message. When the crowd at Pentecost were crushed by the Law and asked, “What shall we do?” Peter replied: “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38).
And you and I hear the same message of repentance and forgiveness in our worship service almost every week: “Beloved in the Lord! Let us draw near with a true heart and confess our sins unto God our Father, beseeching Him in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to grant us forgiveness.” Repentance and forgiveness has always been the message of Christ and His Church.
But how long can the Church and her preachers proclaim such things before no one listens any more? Not very long, when you consider what Jesus says next in our Gospel: There will be “people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” And then Jesus adds: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
The signs of the end of the world will cause such awe and fear that even the people of God on earth at that time will be trembling and hiding in sheer terror. But Jesus tells His Christians not to fear, for when all of this comes to pass, we are to know that our redemption is drawing near. Those who fear the name of the Lord need not fear His return.
Yes, the events Jesus describes in our text are terrifying. They are God’s judgment on man’s sin, and beyond man’s ability to control or understand. As the end approaches, the confident become fearful and the fearful become confident. The big difference is faith in Christ. Only the believer will have the right view. He listens to Christ and His Word. In the midst of all troubles he lifts up his head and is constantly watchful. He repents and looks expectantly for his redemption.
This redemption of which Jesus speaks here is not the redemption from sin—this redemption we already have through Jesus’ blood and the forgiveness of sins. We already have such redemption now through the perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus. It is already ours through faith, given to us by God’s grace in the water of Holy Baptism and His holy Word. The redemption that will be drawing near, however, is the redemption from the consequences of sin that remain with us—namely our own sins and death.
As sinners, we still have to differentiate between the now and the not yet. We have now the forgiveness of sins. We have now salvation by grace through faith. We have now the promise of everlasting life. We have such things already through Christ Jesus who comes to us and is present with us here today. But we still await the perfection that will come only when our souls are delivered from this world and the Last Day where our bodies are raised to eternal life.
For now, we will continue to suffer the consequences of sin in the world—sickness, suffering, and finally, death. We are conceived and born in sin, and our bodies must return to the dust from which they came. But be assured, dear Christians, that your redemption from these things is drawing near. The same Jesus, who was crucified and died for your sins and rose again to conquer your death, will return on a cloud as your Redeemer.
The office of Christ as Redeemer illustrates beautifully what He did for you and for me; and it is more specific even than Savior. For He saved you not by simply showing you the way or serving as a mere example for godly living—He redeemed you. He ransomed you. He bought you back! When He came the first time, He bought you back from the power of Satan as He shed His blood and died upon the cross. And when He comes again, He will redeem you from the power of sin and its consequences. There will be no more sin, no more sadness, no more suffering, and no more death.Fear the name of the Lord, fear not His coming. Continue to live in your baptism through daily contrition and repentance. Come often to receive the very body and blood of your Redeemer for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Come each week to repent and hear this Good News: You are forgiven of all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.