Pastor Chris Matthis
Epiphany Lutheran Church, Castle Rock, Colorado
Pentecost 26 (Proper 28), Series C
Saturday, November 16, 2013
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Sermon: Joyful Judgment
Text: Psalm 98; Luke 21:28
Focus: On Judgment Day, all believers will be saved from the evil of this wicked world.
Function: That they would look forward to Judgment Day with joy and hope.
Locus: “He will come again to judge the living and the dead” (Apostles’ Creed).
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room
And heav’n and nature sing, And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing.1
Now I know what you’re thinking: “Pastor, why in the world are you singing a Christmas song in the middle of November? We haven’t even had Thanksgiving yet!”
Yes, “Joy to the World” is a Christmas song. But it’s also a good hymn for any Sunday. “Joy to the World” is Isaac Watts’s hymn setting of today’s psalm: Psalm 98. This hymn is part of the “new song” of God’s people (v. 1) and the “joyful noise” of all creation (v. 4) as we celebrate the coming of our King on Judgment Day (vv. 6-9).
Now just a minute, Pastor! Did you say that we celebrate Judgment Day? Here’s something even more surprising than Christmas hymns at the wrong time of year! Nobody celebrates Judgment Day! Nobody looks forward to Judgment Day! Judgment Day is scary! Judgment Day is a day of doom, “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick
1 Isaac Watts, “Joy to the World,” in Lutheran Service Book (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 387:1.
darkness” (Joel 2:2, ESV).2 Judgment Day is when God punishes the wicked. Judgment Day is the day when we’ll be glad if we just barely escape by the skin of our teeth (Job 19:20)! Judgment Day is fire and brimstone, war and blood, famine and earthquakes, and all that other nasty business that Jesus describes in our Gospel lesson (Luke 21). Judgment Day is a day so terrible that people will actually cry out for the rocks and stones to fall on them so they won’t have to look Jesus square in the eye (Rev. 6:16). Judgment Day is the end of the world!
Exactly! Judgment Day is the end of the world as we know it, and—to quote the band REM—we feel fine. In fact, as Christians, we feel more than “fine!” We look forward to it with eager joy. For Judgment Day is when Christ returns to set things right and make “all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Judgment Day is what we ask for whenever we pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Psalm 98 looks forward to the fulfillment of that prayer. So we celebrate! “Joyful Judgment” is my sermon title and the Psalmist’s theme:
“Oh sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
The LORD has made known his salvation;
He has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel”—the Church—
“All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God” (Ps. 98:1-3).
“The Lord has made known his salvation.” When Jesus was lifted up on the cross, drawing all men unto himself, his righteousness was revealed in the sight of all the nations. Salvation has a name: Jesus, which means “the Lord saves” (cf. Matt. 1:21). His right hand worked salvation for him—for us! And who is seated at the right hand of God the Father other than Jesus Christ, our Lord?
2 All Scripture references, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
Jesus saved us from our sins by his death on the cross and rising from the empty tomb. Because of his sacrifice, we are saved from our own sins. But we are still waiting for him to save us from the rot and ruin of a fallen, wicked world. We still need to be saved from the sins of other people, especially our enemies. We still need to be saved from war and violence and injustice from our oppressors. We still need to be saved from sickness, hunger, homelessness, death, and disease. We still need to be saved from cursed ground (cf. Gen. 3:17-19).
And that’s why we look forward to Judgment Day. Because Judgment Day is the day when Christ comes back to set things right. “In this hope we were saved…” (Rom. 8:24). And not only we, but the whole creation groans with eager expectation for the coming of the King and the revealing of the King’s kids (cf. Rom. 8:19-23). (That means you and me!)
That’s what Watts is talking about in his hymn:
Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ,
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.3
As forgiven sinner-saints, we—and all creation—joyfully look forward to Judgment Day. Judgment Day is when the cursed ground no longer suffers because of our sin. (That’s why the river, seas, rocks, and trees all cry out for joy in Psalms 98 and 96. It’s a joyful judgment!) Judgment Day is when God separates the wheat from the chaff (Luke 3:17), and the sheep from the goats (Matt. 25:32-33). He will say those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father…” (Matt. 25:34) and “Well done, good and faithful servant…. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21). 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” (Matt. 25:41). And they will be thrown into
3 Watts, “Joy to the World,” 387:2.
“the outer darkness,” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 25:30), where the worm never dies and the never is never quenched (Mark 9:48).
But the believer has nothing to fear on Judgment Day because Jesus already took the punishment for our sins. God poured out all his righteous anger on Jesus, who died in our place, and so he saves us from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10). On the Last Day, when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, we will stand tall and lift up our heads because our redemption will be at hand (cf. Luke 21:28). When God looks at you, he won’t see “a poor, miserable sinner.” He will see only a forgiven saint because Jesus’ blood covers all your sins! Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, your guilt is forgiven, your sins are washed away, and your life is forever after. You have nothing to fear on Judgment Day—and everything to look forward to!
Judgment Day is the fulfillment of our Christian hope. Judgment Day is the day when Christ returns to sort out everything wrong in the world and set things right. Judgment Day is when the Lord comes to judge the wicked and give justice to his saints, those who have been declared righteous and made right with God by the blood of Jesus. It’s when God will finally let his enemies have it, unless they repent (which is what we pray for). Judgment Day is when our bodies will be raised from the dead and reunited with our souls to enjoy new life in the new heaven and new earth. Judgment Day is not a day of doom for those who hope in Christ. For the believer, Judgment Day is the day of salvation! That’s why, in our Gospel lesson, Jesus tells us not to be afraid of the signs of the times. “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:27-28).
When the End is near, do not cower in fear or hang your head in shame. Straighten up and lift your head. Smile and sing and shout for joy! “Your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). Jesus is coming! (That’s a promise, not a threat!)
“Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
… Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands;
let the hills sing for joy together
before the LORD, for he comes
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity” (Ps. 98:4, 7-9).
In the meanwhile, we take courage and hope, not because life is going to be easy—it isn’t!—and not because the Lord is going to come and whisk us out of this world, but because the Lord is going to come back someday and set this world right. What a joyful judgment that will be! And so we sing:
He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love, And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders of His love.4
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Now I know you’re itching to sing “Joy to the World,” so turn to it in your hymnals, and we’ll give it a go as we sing Psalm 98!
4 “Joy to the World,” 387:4.
Pastor Chris Matthis