Last Sunday in the Church Year
Preached by the Rev. Scott Porath of Eagle, NE
Trinity Lutheran Church
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“The Distinction between the righteous and the wicked”
If you’ve forgotten that we are living in the Last Days – then the earthquake this past week near Schuyler hopefully shook some sense into you. The signs are all around – wars and rumors of war, earthquakes and famines and pestilence (like cholera). Yes, the day of our Lord’s return draws near – but in these Last Days – we see the same pattern repeat itself over and over again.
What we hear from the prophet Malachi fits hand in glove with our lives today. As it was then, so it is now – that the arrogant are called blessed and the evildoers prosper. So what’s the point of following the Lord? It appears that the smart thing to do is to reject this notion of Christianity and live in whatever manner seems profitable to us.
Into the midst of this spiritual depression and deception comes the Word of the Lord. There IS a distinction between the righteous and the wicked. You don’t see it now – but on the Last Day it will be seen – when Jesus Christ comes again to “judge the living and the dead.”
What you will see is not what you do see right now. And so it was in Malachi’s day. The Lord says: “You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping His charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts?’”
In other words, “what’s in it for me?” Look around – see how it is in the world – the arrogant are “blessed” – the evildoers “prosper” – and those who test God “escape.”
That’s how it looks in our eyes – that there is no difference between the righteous and the wicked – between those who serve God and those who do not. You can’t look around and tell the difference between the believer and the unbeliever.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ – you are those who “fear the Lord” – and yet, you do not fear, love and trust in God above all things. Just because you believe in Christ, doesn’t mean that there is no wickedness to be found in you – that you are without evil – that you are never arrogant or challenge God. Though you are a saint in Christ Jesus – in these last days – you are, simultaneously, a sinner.
You are like everyone else. You are by nature spiritually dead, blind and an enemy of God. You are not inherently righteous. You have gone astray. And so, if we are going to try to distinguish between people on the basis of who they are by nature – and what they do, or do not do – then we can make no distinction. For all people are the same – all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
And yet, in our text the Lord says that there is a distinction between the righteous and the wicked. So what is this distinction?
What distinguishes you from the wicked is the source of righteousness. Your righteousness does not come from you – it is external to you – outside of you. It is a righteousness that is given to you – from the One who alone is Righteous, Jesus Christ.
So that you may be righteous in God’s eyes, the Son of God came from heaven to earth – He took on your human flesh and blood – and in so doing, He has taken your place under God’s Law. Jesus came to live for you – to do all that the Father commanded you to do – and to refrain from doing all the things that the Father forbids.
This He has done. “It is finished” – for you. Jesus IS righteous in God’s eyes. He is innocent, pure, holy, without sin.
Those who “fear the Lord” do not flaunt their own pseudo-righteousness – but rather, they confess their unworthiness, their unrighteousness – and they trust in Jesus alone for their standing with God. They trust that Jesus stands in for them before the heavenly Father – and that it is because of Jesus that the Father is merciful to them – that all their unrighteous acts are indeed forgiven, for Jesus’ sake.
That is the distinction between the righteous and the wicked – a distinction of faith. It is a distinction between those who live in Christ by faith, and are adorned with the robe of His pure righteousness – and those who live apart from Christ, clothed in their own filthy rags.
And since faith cannot be seen – we cannot see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked. So in these last days, we listen to their confession. Do they look to Christ alone, or do they trust in something else, for their standing with God?
What you cannot see today – will be seen on the Last Day. On that day, you will see who the righteous are, and who the wicked are, in God’s eyes.
For today, and all of the remaining Last Days, we listen to what God says. “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.”
To you, the baptized, living in the turmoil of these days, He gives the Body and Blood of His Son for the forgiveness of all sin – thereby draping you in His righteousness – declaring, “you are mine.”
And on the Last Day, He will raise up all the dead, and give to you and all believers in Christ eternal life – gathering you to Himself, that you may live with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – in glory which knows no end. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, guards your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.