Be Ready: Facing Judgment

Because of the choices they’ve made, people around us are doomed for destruction. Because of God’s grace, it doesn’t have to be that way. We are called to do whatever it takes to make sure that as few people as possible face that destruction.

Here’s the audio from Sunday’s sermon. The manuscript is behind the jump.

And for the record – I promise I wasn’t the seminary student in the opening illustration. Although Andy Stanley argues you aren’t an effective preacher unless you’ve memorized your sermon, I don’t memorize mine. Partially because I’d do exactly what this guy did on a weekly basis.

A seminary student nervously preached a sermon one Sunday morning. About ten minutes into the talk his mind went completely blank. He couldn’t remember a single thing about the rest of his message. Because he’d committed his sermon to memory, he didn’t think to bring a manuscript or even an outline with him to the pulpit. His palms began to sweat and he felt the collar around his neck begin to tighten.

Then he remembered what one of his seminary professors had taught him to do when a situation like this would arise: simply repeat the last point. The concept was similar to re-tracing your steps when looking for something you’ve lost. This exercise would often help a preacher remember what was coming next.

The seminary student couldn’t allow his message to consist of 10 more minutes of silence. So he thought he’d give it a try. “Behold, I come quickly,” he said. (pause) His mind was still blank.

So he tried it again. “Behold, I come quickly.” (pause) Still nothing.

His message was quickly becoming derailed. The student’s palms were more sweaty and his knees were knocking and he desperately needed to get the sermon back on track. He tried the exercise once more. This time with gusto. (shout) “Behold, I come quickly!” This time he shouted it with such force that he fell forward, knocking the tiny pulpit to one side, tripping over a flower pot and falling into the lap of a sweet, little old lady in the front row. The seminary student was horrified. He apologized profusely and tried to explain what had happened.

“That’s alright, young man,” said the little old lady.  “It was my fault. I should have gotten out of the way. You told me three times that you were coming!” (pause)

Jesus Christ is coming! And we’ve been told more than three times, haven’t we? Time and time again, we’re reminded in the New Testament that when Jesus returned to the Father’s side, it wasn’t the end of the story. Although we don’t know when, we do know that Jesus is coming back. And it is our responsibility to be ready when he does return.

Last week, we looked at the conclusion to Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church, focusing on how we should be living expectantly in anticipation of the return of Jesus Christ. “The Christians in Thessalonica were grateful to God for Paul’s letter, but it did not immediately solve all of their problems. In fact, the persecution grew worse…Then a letter arrived claiming to be from Paul (when it actually wasn’t), stating that the Day of the Lord was actually present. Needless to say, the (church) was confused and frightened by this prospect.

“Some of the believers concluded that since the Lord’s coming was so near, they ought to quit their jobs and spend time waiting for him. This meant that the other members were under an extra burden to care for them. Satan was working overtime; as the lion, he was seeking to devour, and as the serpent, he was seeking to deceive.

“It was in response to these needs that Paul wrote his second letter” to the Thessalonian church.[1] If you have your Bibles with you, please turn with me to 2 Thessalonians 1. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. 2 Thessalonians 1 is found on page 1032 in those Bibles.

Remember, Paul and his companions had established the church in Thessalonica during one of his missionary journeys through the Roman world.  The good news of Jesus Christ was accepted early on in the city by a core of believers and it quickly began to spread. The increasing numbers of those who came to faith caused a backlash from the heathen culture surrounding them. And they began to persecute the church because of their faith. It got so bad that the missionaries decided it was best that they leave the city and continue to minister to the Thessalonian Christians from a distance. As time went on, the faith of the Thessalonian Christians remained firm. As they remained firm, the persecution continued to increase. And this trend continued, even after Paul’s initial letter to the Thessalonian church.

With this in mind, let’s look at the opening chapter to 2 Thessalonians.

Read 2 Thessalonians 2

You’ve heard the old proverb, “What goes around comes around,” haven’t you? It’s the idea that “A person’s actions, whether good or bad, will often have consequences for that (same) person.”[2] In other words, you always wind up getting what you deserve. There’s a hint of this proverb in what Paul is saying this morning. Those who persecuted the Thessalonian Christians ultimately had to give account for their actions…and face judgment.

This is nothing new about God’s character. God is a loving God. His grace goes far beyond any of our own ability to forgive. But God has given all of us a choice. We can choose to follow Him. Or we can choose to ignore His direction, buying in to Satan’s lies. There will be a day where we face the judgment of a righteous Heavenly Father. The decisions we make today about who is Lord over our lives will impact the decision of the Righteous Judge. “What goes around comes around” rings true in life because choosing to live a life of sin outside of God’s direction will result in destruction.

Look at Pharaoh for a moment. The Egyptians had enslaved the children of Israel, forcing them into generations of hard labor. As the family of Israel began to grow, Pharaoh became threatened by the potential power of his slaves. If they became big enough and strong enough, they could organize themselves and revolt against their captors; throwing off the chains of oppression. Pharaoh wanted to protect his power and ordered the drowning of all male babies born to the Jews. When God used Moses to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt, Pharaoh’s own army was drowned in the Red Sea.

What goes around comes around, right?

In the 1st chapter of Judges, we learn about a Canaanite king named Adoni-Bezek. Over a long period of time, he had terrorized the region, conquering 70 kings. And when he captured these kings, he cut off their big toes and thumbs. Now, this is a nasty picture and is considered barbarous by most people’s standards today. But the loss of your thumbs meant you couldn’t hold on to a weapon. Losing your big toe meant you wouldn’t have steady-footing during combat. Since the major function of a king was to lead in battle, this mutilation was not only painful and humiliating, but it also disqualified him from having any royal title. It forced them to beg for scraps from the king’s table.

When the nation of Israel captured him, they cut off his thumbs and his big toes. Even this ungodly king understood that the Lord was punishing him, saying “Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off have picked up scraps under my table. Now God has paid me back for what I did to them” (Judges 1:7).

What goes around comes around, right?

There’s the example of Haman, who plotted to wipe out the Jews. He even had a gallows built especially for the execution of Mordecai. In the end, he was hanged on those very gallows.

What goes around comes around, right?

The advisors to King Darius forced him to arrest Daniel and him into the lions’ den because of his dedication to the Lord. God shut the mouths of the lions and protected Daniel. In the end, the advisors to King Darius themselves were thrown to the same lions. And they were torn apart.

What goes around comes around, right?

We hear these stories displaying the righteousness of God and it is tempting to sit back and think, “Well, they got what they deserved.” And that’s true. They got what they deserved. And when we hear stories about Christians being persecuted and murdered, we remind ourselves that those who oppose Christ’s kingdom will eventually get their just desserts. There’s a temptation to think about their coming punishment with delight, right? After all, they’ll get what they deserve. What goes around comes around, right?

Our perspective changes when we think about ourselves, though. God isn’t giving me what I deserve. At the moment I first chose to disobey God’s Law, I chose sides. I proclaimed my allegiance to the Enemy of God. That willful disobedience is sin. And the punishment for sin is death. Because none of us has been able to live the perfect life demanded by God, we were destined for the death penalty. Because what goes around comes around…right?

But because of God’s amazing grace and His unending love, He doesn’t want to leave us in the pit of despair and destruction that was our destiny. Because He loves us so much, He wrapped Himself in flesh and became a man, showing us the Kingdom of God. And in the ultimate display of love for His creation, He willingly spread his arms and was hung on a cross…taking on our sins…our punishment…so we can be called friends of God.

It may be true that what goes around comes around, but God has decided to put an end to that by pouring out His own blood as payment for the debt we owed but could not pay. And it’s all because of God’s grace.

When Paul shares the fate of those who will continue to persecute the Thessalonian believers, he doesn’t do so to give them a thrill. Yes, it’s encouraging that the persecutionwill one day end. There will be a day where there’s no more tears, pain, and fears. And we long for that day. But because there are people who are destined for destruction, Paul is reminding us that we still have a job to do. Because these people, the very ones who are persecuting believers, need to know the life-changing message of the good news of Jesus Christ. That’s what God has called us to be, it’s what God has called us to be.

And in many ways, the church worldwide is failing at this. In the Muslim world, there is onlyone Christian missionary for every one million Muslims.[3] Putting that into something more tangible, if we followed that pattern here in the US, there would be only 6 preachers in the entire state of Indiana. They need Jesus. Even those who want to kill us need Jesus. They need the life-change that comes from the power of the resurrection. And God is calling people like you and me to bring it to them.

That’s what Paul is saying at the conclusion of this chapter. In verses 11 and 12, he’s reflecting on the fact that there are people who are destined to get their “just desserts.” Remember what he says that his hope is “that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. 12We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Although each of us has an individual calling full of God works that God has planned in advance for us to do, He has also called all of us to make disciples…to be the kingdom of God in a fallen world…to love those who hate us…to bless those who curse us…and to forgive as God has forgiven us, living lives of grace. And when we do that, we point others to the cross, bringing Him glory with our lives.

There will be a day when evil is destroyed. And we will celebrate the triumph of the victorious Jesus Christ over all his enemies. But until that day, it’s our calling to do whatever it takes to make sure as few people as possible face that destruction. It’s not up to us to decide who is worthy of God’s grace or who should hear the good news.

Think about the prophet Jonah, for a moment. God told him to go to Nineveh, the home of the enemies of Israel and call for them to repent. He refused. Because he knew that God’s grace is big enough that He will even forgive the likes of the hated enemies of Israel. So Jonah ran the other way. And when God brought him back through a pretty remarkable series of circumstances, he still refused to accept God’s grace on their lives. Even after he finally obeyed and told them to repent, he sat around and sulked because God’s grace is bigger than he wanted it to be. The Ninevites were not going to get their just desserts. They weren’t going to get what was coming to them. What goes around wasn’t going to come to them.

For far too many of us, I think this is a tempting perspective to have. But because of the life-change that has happened in us because of God’s grace, we should also celebrate the changed lives of others – even those we don’t think should be part of God’s kingdom. The grace of our King is available to all of us. And He has called us to share that grace with a world that is destined for certain destruction.

Because what goes around comes around unless you’ve allowed God’s grace to take hold of your life. And as people of God, we’re called to be instruments of God’s grace, not the judge, jury, or executioner of the wicked. That’s up to God. In the meantime, let’s live our lives dedicated to rescuing others from the fire, just as we have been rescued.

[1] Warren Wiersbe, Be Ready: Living in Light of Christ’s Return, p. 123.


[3] I realize Twitter is hardly the place to go for authoritative sources to cite, but I’ve heard this statistic before and this was the most recent reminder I’d encountered.

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