Quenched

There is no audio for today’s sermon.

Advent 2
Malachi 4:1-6
December 4, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

1.

Today’s hymn is called the Dies irae, or “Day of wrath.” It’s a medieval sequence hymn, sung during processions, and has proven to be a quite popular hymn inside and outside of the Church. Its poetry is used by Goethe in his story of Faust, who sold his soul to the devil. And as the Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal reports, no hymn book of note in the past hundred years has appeared without it—and that was 75 years ago.

Its music has also been very influential, even in popular music. The tune we have in our book is a little more cheerful than the original, which goes like this {sing a line from ELH Dies irae}. The first line has been used in John Williams’ Star Wars theme, in Howard Shore’s The Lord of the Rings theme, and it continues to pop up in classical and pop music again and again.

2.

It is a bit odd that one of the most popular hymns of the Christian Church in the secular world is a hymn about death and judgment considering that judgment is about the least favorite topic of the Christian faith not only outside the Church, but also inside. Secularists treat nearly every line of the Bible as squishy and malleable and optional with the exception of Jesus’ command, Judge not (Mt 7:1). Of course, they take that statement completely out of context and empty it of all its meaning.

I think the reason why so many people dislike talking about judgment is that deep down everyone knows it’s coming. I haven’t done any research on this, mind you, it’s simply a hunch I have. But there is no other person in this world who knows a person better than himself. And your deepest, darkest secrets and desires are the things that every person knows that he will one day have to reckon with.

Judgment is not pleasant, even if the tune for the Dies irae is rather cheery. Scripture speaks of God’s judgment from the Old Testament to the New, from Prophets to Evangelists. Jesus Himself speaks of the coming judgment. And it’s never an entirely pleasant picture. Malachi ends the Old Testament with a particularly vivid description of the coming judgment. “You see, the day will come, burning like a furnace, and all who defy God and all who do wrong will be straw. The coming day will burn them,” says the LORD of armies, “leaving no root or branch of them” (v 1).

The Day of Judgment is coming, and it will be burning like a furnace. It’s not a slap on the wrist, or a time-out, or washing your mouth out with soap. Those things are all unpleasant; the judgment of God is all-consuming. The defiant and rebellious and wicked will be reduced to ashes. No root or branch. Nothing.

3.

The prophecies all agree that the final judgment will be in fire. But the final judgment will not be the first time the world is destroyed. There was a world-wide judgment in water in the first generations of the world when everything—man, woman, child, plant, animal—was drowned in water and washed away. The deluge in the time of Noah was God’s judgment on a wicked and perverse generation.

We live now in between the two judgments, between water and fire. But where water and fire meet, there is steam. And steam makes clouds. And in the Scriptures, wherever there is a cloud, there is the presence of God. He led His people Israel through the Red Sea by a cloud and by fire. The cloud and the fire enveloped Mount Sinai when God spoke to Moses. The cloud showed God’s presence in the tabernacle and temple. The cloud descended on the mountain of the Transfiguration. And it was on a day wrapped in clouds when Christ died.

On the cross, Jesus suffered the fire of God’s wrath. He willingly bore the sins of the world and became the focal point for the fires of judgment. Everything the earth will experience on the Last Day, Jesus experienced on the cross.

4.

And that means there is not only a deliverance from God’s judgment, but a total transformation of it. “But for you who respect My name there will rise the Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings. You will go out and frolic like calves let out of their barn. You will trample on the wicked because they will be ashes under your feet on the day when I act,” says the LORD of armies. “Remember the instructions I gave My servant Moses at Horeb as laws and decrees for all Israel. “I am going to send you the prophet Elijah before the LORD’s great and terrible day comes. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers. Otherwise I will have to come and destroy the whole country with a curse” (vv 2-6).

Let’s begin at the end. Before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes, He will send His servant Elijah to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the children to their fathers. This is fulfilled, according to the angel Gabriel, when John the Baptist comes preaching the message of repentance. But with that preaching, John was given a sign—the sign of baptism. The washing of water was a washing of repentance unto the forgiveness of sins. And the forgiveness of sins is what quenches the fires of God’s wrath. How can someone be mad at someone he forgives?

For repentance, it is necessary to remember the Law—the Law shows us our sins—but it is also necessary to recall the Gospel, or the Absolution. The Good News of the forgiveness of sins gives birth to faith, and without faith, repentance is incomplete.

The water of baptism recalls God’s mighty acts of deliverance in water: delivering Noah and his family, eight souls in all, through the flood; delivering Israel from slavery through the sea and drowning hard-hearted Pharaoh; the Rock that gushed water in the desert to give Israel a drink. St. Paul writes, For I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, that all of our fathers were under the cloud, and all of them passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. And all of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them—and that Rock was Christ. But God was not pleased with many of them, for they were struck down in the wilderness. Now these things happened as a pattern for you, for you not to desire the bad, just as those ones desired…A temptation has not taken you, except that which is human. God is faithful; He will not permit you to be tempted above what you are able, but He will provide with the temptation a way to be able to endure (1 Cor 10:1-6, 13).

God delivered through water again and again, and St. Paul calls this a baptism. John’s baptism was also a deliverance, in a way, to return to the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the faith of the fathers and the prophets. But those baptisms were all just shadows and types of the baptism that matters. The baptism of Jesus is baptism into the name of Jesus. And,

The Burning Wrath of God Is Quenched with Baptism’s Water

5.

Baptism is respect for the name of the Lord because Baptism is what gives the name of the Lord. Today Kaylee and Jaden were washed with water and the name of Jesus, and God’s wrath and judgment ceased to be for them an all-consuming fire. Instead, the righteousness of God—Jesus Christ—is like the rising of the sun, giving warmth and health and life.

Yes the day is coming very soon. But for us who have been doused with water bearing God’s name, the fires are extinguished. He has provided a way out, and a way to endure the evil of these last days.

In the name of + Jesus.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

Check out this video of the influence of the Dies Irae.