THE GOOD NEWS: Jesus is the mercy of God
In Luke 21:25-36, Jesus says two things about Judgment Day. It can be a trap day of condemnation to eternal death. And it can be a freedom day of redemption to eternal life.
How are we to be certain which it will be?
Jesus warned, “... watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” (verse 34)
“Dissipation and drunkenness” manifest themselves in the hedonism of our nature, the disposition we have to pursue pleasure. “Cares of this life” manifest themselves in the worry of our nature, the disposition we have to conjure fear.
In a certain way, hedonism and worry are two sides of the same coin. Hedonism is about pleasing self. Worry is about preserving self. Which means they both fit the classic definition of sin, that is, “self-curved inward." In other words, hedonism and worry are the spectrum of love of self.
Love of self is the nature we inherited from Adam. With this nature we look to ourselves as the source of all good and the refuge from all evil. And with this nature we leave ourselves vulnerable to the arrival of Judgment Day, perpetually unready, ultimately unable to stand before the Judge.
But we will be perpetually ready, if we watch and pray. Jesus promised, “... stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’” (verse 26)
That is, where hedonism and worry will trip the inescapable trap of condemnation to eternal death, watching and praying will save us from that trap.
So how are we to watch and pray? Watching and praying are not our skill. They are God’s gift. They come to us by the Word of God. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
That is, the Word of God is his means of reproving and correcting us for our sin and all its manifestations, such as in hedonism and worry, even as it teaches and trains us for faith and its manifestations in watching and praying.
In other words, left to our flesh, we will be nothing but carnal and troubled. But brought to faith by the Word of God, we are made to be alert in watchfulness and pleading in prayer. Because faith binds us to Jesus.
Consider God’s response to our infatuation with pleasure and our obsession with worry. He became infatuated with suffering and obsessed with people. People are God’s supreme love. So much so that he sent his only Son who, himself, embraced self-denial and became carefree with his very life. The pleasure of God the Son was to obey God the Father. The worry of God the Son was to provide for people the escape from the trap of condemnation to eternal death. So God the Son took on flesh to be the substitute. So that where the sin of man is rejection of God to assume his place in heaven, God’s response was rejection of his place in heaven to assume the sin of man. To redeem people curved in on themselves, he was crucified to offer himself the blood sacrifice for the world and was condemned to death. On the cross, God thoroughly rejected God. And on the third day God raised God from the dead and accepted him as the sacrifice payment for the sin of the world. Jesus Christ is the mercy of God.
By baptism into faith, God joins us to Jesus. Thereby, the Holy Spirit bends the inward curve of our self-love into the outward curve of Jesus’ love. So Jesus’ refusal of hedonism, his joy in suffering, they become ours through faith.
When it comes to Jesus’ Judgment Day warning, we repent — confessing that our flesh is carnal and troubled and believing that we have God’s mercy in Jesus in whom, through faith, we are kept watchful and praying.
The flesh sleeps. Faith watches. The flesh worries. Faith prays. The flesh flirts with the trap. Faith goes not near the trap. The flesh flees God’s Word. Faith runs to God’s Word. On Judgment Day, the flesh will fall before the Son of Man. Faith will stand.
The Good News is that Judgment Day will be a freedom day of redemption to eternal life – only in Jesus, the mercy of God.
Kevin Wendt is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Destin.