Your father will be home soon.” Imagine how differently that phrase could be taken in two different contexts. Imagine the child who has just thrown a baseball through the window after being told by Dad not to play in that part of the yard. Mother comes out and says, “Your father will be home soon.” Imagine the child who has exchanged letters with his father for months while he was away at war. Today was the day father was coming home. Mother comes out to say, “Your father will be home soon.”
Our Father is returning soon. He is sending his Son to return as judge of all. He will divide between the believers and unbelievers. He will send to hell those who rejected him. He will bring with him to heaven those who trusted in him for salvation. Malachi spoke of that Day in his last chapter, the last chapter of the Old Testament. He describes the different results of the same event. Two results of that one event will be as different as night and day. The Day the Lord returns will be a day for the unbeliever to fear. But for the believer, it will be a day to rejoice.
1. A Day of Fear for the Unbeliever
“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evil doer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire.”
The unbeliever is characterized as arrogant and evil-doing. Paul put it this way: “Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach. Their mind is on earthly things.” (Philippians 3: 18). The world boasts of its sins. On Monday they brag about the weekend activities as though a trophy awaited them for the one who displayed the most evil: the most inebriated, the messiest slob, the most ungodly behavior decision. “Best sinner wins the earthly glory!”
They are arrogant, but only outwardly. They arrogantly try to convince themselves and others that they don’t need God. They don’t need Christianity. They don’t need religion. The worldly unbeliever in arrogance claims a self assurance that God’s Word is a myth or some kind of sissy malarkey.
In that arrogance they live a life of shame and become proud of their wickedness. They claim immunity to justice. Look at what I did. Look at what I can get away with. Look how wicked I have become. All the while they dare the believer to prove this God of justice and eternity. They dare the lightning bolts to strike on their evil behavior. Upon his crucifixion Jesus warned about the Day of Judgment. He said of the unbelieving world: “They will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us’” (Luke 23: 30).
Sad to say, for most unbelievers, the arrogance is just a cover. Deep down, they can’t be sure. Deep down, something is missing. There is no certainty in their arrogance. There is no real assurance that they are right, and have nothing to fear. Deep down it is fear that drives them. Deep down there is still something missing, like the people who made the idol to the unknown god in Athens. The announcement that God is returning soon, is not cause to rejoice. It is cause for alarm.
On Judgment Day there will be no excuse. They will not be saved by their arrogance. They will not be able to claim ignorance. “All men are without excuse” (Romans 1: 20). They will receive the punishment that God created for the Devil: eternal separation from the God of love and life, never to feel relief or end from their pain. Isaiah says, “their worm will not die; nor will their fire be squelched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind” (Isaiah 66:24).
But let us be warned! This message calls for our repentance. Have we been tempted to live in fear? Have we been tempted to be “good” in hopes of earning favor with a just God? Have we been tempted to live our days like the unbelievers do, in arrogance and evil? Are there moments of intentional sinning in our lives? Of course we have. We are sinful human beings who are just a prone to thoughts like that. We can just as easily put of the evil day and dabble with the ways of the world thinking that there will always be time for sorrow and forgiveness, as thought forgiveness was a cheap hand out.
This message also brings redemption. In repentance and in joy we know we have the cross of Christ as our sure defense and forgiveness. Forgiveness does not come cheap. It comes at the price of Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Day by day Jesus abides with us. He lives in us. He gives us power in the face of temptation. He points us to his victory over our sins. He points us to the joy of knowing that Judgment Day is something to look forward to. He says “when you see these things happening, lift up your eyes, for your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21: 28).
2. A Day of Joy for the Believer
Malachi promised the same thing: “To you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.”Paul put it this way: “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20 – 21).
The believer does not live in fear of the end. We know that this place is just a temporary existence. It is a time of grace. It is a time to know Christ, to share Christ, to live in the peace of Christ. It is a time to live out of joy and love that comes from being forgiven, rather than a time to live in fear of punishment, or in hopes of reward for what we do. Now is a time to look forward to the day when God will say, “Come you who are blessed by my father, take the inheritance prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matthew 26:34).
The Sun of Righteousness, Jesus, has come with healing in its wings. He, the Son of God, fulfills the void. “He is the Way, the Truth and the Light. No one comes to the Father except through him.” He lived under the law in perfection, so that we could have perfection. He took away the guilt of our sin by his sacrifice on the cross.His healing is forgiveness. He is the something missing in unbelief. He assures us that as surely as he lives, we also will live.
And when that time comes, he will release us from this world into heaven. Have you ever seen a calf released from the stall? It is such a joyous sight. New birth means new life. He runs out to explore, to jump without fear or hesitation. Long after this world is destroyed and the unbelievers are trampled by God’s justice, we will live in freedom and joy of God’s presence, eternally. There God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning, no more crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:4).
Confident of his grace and confident in our salvation, we live as citizens of heaven. We live according to the Words of our God. We gaze at that Word as a “Lamp to our feet and a light for our path” (Psalm 119: 105). As we wait patiently for judgment day, we realize that we live among the enemies of the cross. It is often troubling to watch the arrogance. But judgment day is a reminder that they won’t “get away with it.” Rather than being troubled, look forward to the return of your Father. As a child welcoming his Father home from war, we welcome the return of our Champion, our Judge, or Savior. We know with confidence that he is coming back to get us, so that we also can be where he is, forever (John 14: 3).
There is the throne of David and there from care release,
The shout of them that triumph, the song of them that feast,
And they who with their leader have conquered in the fight
Forever and forever are clad in robes of white. CW 214:3) Amen.