It’s another day. We all go through days. Days happen every day. Some of us have gone through many days, others of us fewer, and some very-very few. This earth has seen a lot of days. Many like to argue about how many days it has seen. I have a different thought though; which day has had the most impact or changed the most history? I came across an article from 2013 that sought to answer that very question. In it several scholars shared their thoughts. One said, the day, in 1675, when Anton Van Leeuwenhoek invented something. What did he invent? He invented something that has allowed for more discoveries and for more people to become famous. He invented the microscope. Another went back further claiming the day Johannes Guttenberg finished the printing press in 1440 that day impacted forever the spread of information changing the world as we know it. Some though didn’t pick a day of an invention but the day of an event. For instance, June 28, 1914. The worst wrong turn in history was made and Franz Ferdinand was killed setting off what we now call WWI this would ultimately also lead us into WWII. What a day!
If you’re a student of Bible history, you might offer up some different dates. Maybe the day Adam and Eve first fell into sin, Genesis chapter 3. If that day did not happen, think of how everything would be different, no sin, no death. Maybe a different day, a day we will celebrate in a little over a month, the day of Christ’s birth. Another day that changed everything and is still used as a marking point in history as everything is either Before Christ (BC) or After Christ (AD) as a Savior was born for all people. Maybe the day you’re thinking of was when that same Jesus walked to a cross or rose from a grave. It becomes hard to pick one day that had the most impact.
But you notice something common about all these days? They all look back. Yet, today, Paul makes a strong case that the most important day of this earth is still coming. And he put forward this day hoping that it would do two things: first that it would show how God is truly just and second that it would bring relief to God’s people in moments of suffering. It was this day then that Paul offered up to God’s suffering people in Thessalonica. These believers were being punished for being, of all things, followers of Jesus. And their suffering was beginning to lead some of them to question if their faith in God was worth the trouble, the pain, the hardship.
Now, we don’t see it in these verses, but it is there just prior to this section. Do you know what Paul did with the persecution and suffering of this church in Thessalonica? He boasted about it. He bragged to the other churches in the area, he boasted not that these fellow Christians were getting just beaten down, no, listen to his boast, “Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith.” Paul was in awe. He stood amazed at their dedication to their Lord. And notice what he said about their faith, their perseverance, verse 5, “All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right.”
Now you tell me, does that make sense? Does that seem fair? God, I trust you. I rely on you. I believe in you, and yet here I am hated. Despised by the people around me, shunned even. Author Larry Crabb once wrote, “There is more to life than solving problems and making pain end.” That’s the same line of thought God through Paul is giving us here. “Look,” Paul is saying, “we aren’t here as Christians to win a popularity contest. If we insist on dressing like the world, living like the world, talking like the world, acting like the world, it’s going to be very difficult to convince the world that we have anything better to offer them. But you know what the world sees right now in you? The thing that is better – though they don’t know it yet. They see faith. Trust in a God who up to this point has allowed you to hold on to that faith and persevere even while facing incredible persecution. This is proof that “God’s judgment is right” because you are, right now, still his.
Here is why that is so important: because a day is coming, the most important day and on that day “you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.” That’s why Paul could boast. But now you know, that still might leave us a little hot and bothered. Because God, you know, could make life here a little easier for his people. Well, Paul has an answer for that too. “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven.”
God is just. Do you believe that? Sometimes we might wonder if he is. How could a just God tolerate the evil we see in this world? I think of such things as are said and done to children, I think of those families just recently in Mexico, the senseless death (three women and six children) …and I want God to care. I want him to be outraged, to remember. To do what Paul says here and pay back trouble, especially to those who trouble me. If God is just, then he must care about the way we are living and the things people do to other people.
So, we read those words again, “God is just.” Good! But now where is his justice? It’s here in verses 8 and 9 and a day is coming when we will see it…God’s justice. “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel…They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” God’s good justice…where does it send people? Hell. That is justice? We might think some deserve that punishment, but surely not everyone. Those unbelievers in my life? My cousin? My best friend from high school? That innocent child? Hell…for them…my mind recoils at that thought of some eternal punishment for sinners who never repent. That’s not fair. That’s not right. But “God is just.” And don’t I want him to be?
(because) I think we would all agree there are things wrong in this world. There are things that deserve punishment – and God should punish those things! – but at the same time we want to still make that distinction between “really bad terrible people” and others, even ourselves. But that is the funny thing. We make ourselves the standard bearers of what is right and wrong. Sinners judging sinners. Sinners determining what should happen to other sinners. We might not be the best choice to pass judgment on God’s justice. In our lesson, we see who is, Jesus.
It’s Jesus, the Savior of the world, who will return on that day in blazing fire. It’s Jesus who will punish. Jesus clearly has no problem with the thought of hell. He saw its necessity. Yet, that is also why he walked on this earth. He saw the real and awful danger looming ahead for all of us apart from him, and he wanted to save us. He wanted to bring us relief, and we needed him to because we are just as bad as those “really bad terrible people” we compare ourselves to. Our every sin, our smallest act of defiance against God’s law – when he says don’t and we say why not? – is a very real rejection of God himself. Yet, God in his justice, didn’t reject us.
The real reality of hell allows us to marvel at the heart of Christ, who carried a beam of wood up a hill to take that very real disaster on himself. Without hell, everything Jesus did makes no sense. But knowing what our sins deserved…makes what Jesus did for us, for you…so personal. Every action leading up to his death. Every cry of pain, every drop of blood, his anguish, was all for you. It was him crying out: “I don’t want you to go there! I don’t want you in hell! I won’t let you go there! And in his justice, he saved you. He saved us all.
That is why Paul held up this future day to these beaten broken Christians from Thessalonica, not so they could look forward to the demise of their enemies, but so they could see the relief that was waiting for them. These were the ones who believed in the Savior. These were the ones who did not reject but were counted worthy of the kingdom of God. Worthy because God’s judgment of love and patience held them firm. Paul wanted to see those believers bonded to Christ forever on that great coming day of judgment. God wants the same for us.
But that means this: we need to see Jesus as more than just a best friend and nice guy who helps us in tough times. He certainly is those things, but find him first where he found you, at the gates of hell. There you see him clearest. He is your rescuer. He is your deliverer, and when we see what he delivered and rescued us from we will never forget. Instead, we will marvel. We will marvel as “he comes to be glorified in his holy people.” That’s us. We are God’s holy people. We are the ones who have found relief from the trouble of this world, and it all started with a little sorrow. A sorrow over my sin, a sorrow that was shared by my God who in his justice knew my sins cost. And then he left his throne to pay it. What a relief.
Now a day is coming when Jesus will step off his throne one last time to bring one last judgment. The history of all things is leading to this one day. On that day, those who trust in Jesus will be able to stand confidently knowing that God’s judgment is right as they are counted worthy of his kingdom. And guess what? This includes you. What a day then it will be. Amen.