“A Day of Judgment and Salvation” (1 Corinthians 1:3-9)
In thinking about a theme for our three midweek Advent services this year, I decided to go with the Epistle readings for the first three Sundays in Advent. For there is a common theme that you can see in all three. There is a phrase, a connecting thread, that runs through these readings. See if you can notice what it is.
First, from the Epistle for the First Sunday in Advent, 1 Corinthians 1, the part where it says: “as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Then from the Epistle for the Second Sunday in Advent, from 2 Peter 3, phrases like these: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. . . . waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God. . . . we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth. . . .”
And from the Third Sunday in Advent, 1 Thessalonians 5: “may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Did you catch it? What is the thread running through these lessons? It is “the day of the Lord,” the coming and revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, his second coming, and how we are to wait for that day. Thus our theme for this Advent series: “Waiting for the Day of the Lord.”
We think of Advent as primarily waiting for Christmas. We’re getting ready for the celebration of Christ’s first coming, his birth at Bethlehem. We’re busy putting up Christmas trees and Christmas decorations. And that is all well and good. It’s fine that we do so. So one theme of Advent is getting ready for Christ’s coming at Christmas.
Then there is another Advent theme, that of repentance. John the Baptist shows up every Advent, calling us to prepare the way of the Lord and to make his paths straight. Repentance is a second theme.
But in addition to these two, there is a third Advent theme, the emphasis on getting ready for Christ’s second coming. Christ will come again at the Last Day, “the Day of the Lord,” and we are to be ready for that day. That’s what the Epistle readings this year are about.
But really, all of these themes, all of these “comings” of Christ, fit together. Christ’s first coming, at Christmas, was in order to win the salvation that we’re waiting for at his second coming. And even now Christ comes to us through his Word, calling us to repentance. Christ is calling us and enabling us to lead holy lives as we wait for his second coming, that great and glorious day. For that day, the Day of the Lord, will be “A Day of Judgment and Salvation.”
You know, this phrase, “the day of the Lord,” did not spring up brand new, out of the blue, in the New Testament. No, “the day of the Lord” has a rich background in the Old Testament. The prophets used that phrase many, many times. For example, the prophet Joel: “Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming; it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!” Or again, from the prophet Amos: “Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?”
Whoa! These passages make the day of the Lord sound like something very dark and gloomy, something to be dreaded and feared, not a great and glorious day to look forward to. And that is true, as far as it goes. In the Old Testament, the day of the Lord often is portrayed as a day of judgment, God’s wrath coming down on sinful humanity, beginning with God’s own people, Israel. The prophets preached the day of the Lord in order to call Israel to repentance. To those who presumed upon God’s grace and their status as God’s chosen people, so that they could feel secure in their sins and avoid repentance, to them the prophets preached stern judgment, coming on the day they called “the day of the Lord.” For Old Testament Israel, that day would come in the form of particular historical events, in which the Lord would visit calamity and destruction upon the nation–the Assyrians conquering the northern kingdom of Israel, the Babylonians overrunning Judah, the southern kingdom, and destroying Jerusalem and the temple. This was “the day of the Lord” as near historical judgment upon Israel.
But the day of the Lord also pointed to something bigger, something more long-range. The historical judgments on Israel, on Judah and Jerusalem, were a “type,” a microcosm, if you will, of the judgment to come on the whole world at the Last Day. Jesus himself speaks this way in his end-time discourses in the gospels. He prophesies the destruction of Jerusalem that would come forty years later, in A.D. 70, and moves from that to talking about the final judgment that will fall on the unbelieving world.
And that day is coming, people of God. Make no mistake about it. Judgment Day is coming. As surely as the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed–a perpetual sign of God’s judgment on the unbelief that rejects the Christ–as surely as the Jerusalem temple was destroyed, so surely will the Last Day destruction fall upon this unbelieving world. Take heed, lest ye fall! Do not treat as a light and casual thing the coming of the Christ, who comes to you even now, calling you to repentance and faith. What shall we do, how shall we stand, if we neglect so great a salvation? We cannot. So heed the voice of God as it comes to you now, for that is the only way you will be able to stand on the day of the Lord.
But, dear friends, you will stand on that great day! God is speaking to you now, calling you through his Word, precisely so that you will stand. The day of the Lord is not only a day of fearful judgment. The day of the Lord will be a day of great salvation! A day of deliverance, when our Lord will deliver us from all evil, once and for all! For the salvation won by Christ in his first coming–the forgiveness of sins purchased by his blood on the cross–this blood-bought redemption will have its outcome, its consummation, at Christ’s second coming: the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Life with Christ and all of his people, in glory forever! That is what is coming, and it will be revealed at the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore the day of the Lord is a day to look forward to, and with eager anticipation! Look forward to that day with confidence, knowing that the God who has saved you by the blood of Christ and who gives you faith in your Savior–this same God is intent on keeping you in that faith, firm unto the end.
This, then, is how St. Paul speaks of the day of the Lord. In our text from 1 Corinthians, he says we are waiting “for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” You see? You will be guiltless, because of the atoning death of Christ, who has taken your guilt from you and replaced it with his perfect innocence. Christ’s righteousness, given to you as a free gift, will turn the day of judgment into a day of salvation! And until that day, when Christ returns and is revealed in glory, God will sustain you to the end. He will keep you strong in the faith and in hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word and Sacraments.
Yes, our “Waiting for the Day of the Lord” rests on the grace and faithfulness of God himself. You and I can wait, confident in the sure promises of God: “as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”