Behold, the Judge Is Standing at the Door!
O Lord God, my dear heavenly Father, as I enter Your presence for worship this day, please send Your Spirit to direct my thoughts, to instruct my mind, and to inspire my praise. Help me to apply the truths that I learn to my life each day, bearing any burdens You place upon me with patience, and striving to love You and my neighbors with persistence. I ask for these blessings in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Zephaniah 3:14-20, 1 Thessalonians 5:14-23
The people of Zephaniah’s day faced the challenge of devastation by war and deportation to Babylon in view of their rebellion against God. Zephaniah, after announcing God’s judgment upon sin, encouraged the people to place their faith in the LORD who would ultimately restore them!
Paul concludes this first letter to the Thessalonians with a series of admonitions regarding how they were to live their lives and interact with one another as they awaited the second coming of Jesus Christ. We would do well to heed these admonitions as we await our Savior’s return!
Seventy of Jesus’ followers returned from a mission trip overjoyed that they had cast out demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus cautioned them against getting overly excited about external power. He urged them, even as He urges us, to rejoice because our names “are written in heaven!”
Text: James 5:7-11
Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door! My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
In Christ Jesus, our Savior, Lord, and “the Judge standing at the door,” dear fellow redeemed:
Mark Jeske, the author of the People’s Bible Commentary on James, describes our text as “judgment day therapy.” He suggests that this text serves to remind us (…and we regularly need such reminders!) that Jesus Christ “will return soon, without warning, as judge and Redeemer.” Why is this so important to remember? It is important, because we Christians today face the same two key challenges faced by the first century Christians to whom James originally wrote these words of encouragement and admonition—the challenges of compromise and complacency.
The society in which those early Christians lived was similar to our own society. It was a society focused on this world. It was a society which did not share our Christian values, and which viewed them with suspicion and at times hostility. It was a society which resented what it viewed as the Christian’s narrow-mindedness in clinging to Christ and claiming Him to be the true God and mankind’s only Savior. Consequently, it pressured those early Christians to compromise their faith in order to accommodate the thinking of the world around them. Does that sound familiar?
In addition, those early Christians found themselves confronted by all sorts of additional pressures. They had initially embraced Christ and His gospel message with great joy and enthusiasm, assuming that He would immediately return and deliver them out of this world. As time passed and Christ did not return—as days turned to months and months turned into years—the daily pressures of just making a living led to spiritual complacency. Like the Ephesian Christians described in Revelation 2, they lost their “first love” (cf. 2:4) for their Savior.
My dear friends, we are in danger of these same twin troubles—spiritual compromise and complacency. James approaches us today with His words of admonition, encouragement, and reminder: BEHOLD, THE JUDGE IS STANDING AT THE DOOR!
Therefore, be patient until He comes! “Patience is a virtue,” my mother would say when as a boy I waited for her fresh-baked cookies to cool! It is hard to be patient in our fast-paced and demanding world, yet it is so important! Satan uses impatience to undermine our Christian walk and to decrease our spiritual footprint. Consequently, James advises us: “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient…. My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience.”
James encourages us to open our eyes to the broad view of God’s plan for our existence on this earth. If I only focus on the tasks at hand and what must be done to solve them, I will be very impatient with the people and the problems involved. I can easily lose sight of the fact that these issues, no matter how important, are only temporary. I may well forget that, as a child of God, I have a much greater role in this life and the lives of those around me, than simply finding solutions to life’s problems. I may lose my temper, say things I should not say, do things I should not do, and then, even if I successfully fulfill the assigned tasks, I will fail to achieve the greater good!
Life is more than solving problems. It is all about leaving a spiritual footprint that impacts positively the minds, hearts, and lives of those around you. That requires opening our eyes to the plan God has for us. We are each His special creations. We have been placed in our particular family at this particular time. We have been given our particular talents to use every day where God has placed us, so that we may thereby glorify our God and bring blessing to others. In order to be effective, we need to be patient. We need to be like the farmer, who plants his crop in spring and then waits patiently until the fall for harvest. If a farmer heads out into the field before the beans are mature or the corn has had an opportunity to dry, nothing but problems will arise.
The prophets of old proclaimed the name and message of the Lord. James tells us that they did so at great risk and at times with much suffering, but they knew that they represented God. Consequently, they spoke and endured with confidence, for they knew that God’s word and promises would ultimately prove to be true. Even so, we know that Jesus will return. He cannot fail to do so. We need never compromise His word, nor do we want to become complacent in our faith. Rather, let us be patient until He comes!
BEHOLD, THE JUDGE IS STANDING AT THE DOOR! James encourages us, secondly: “establish your hearts as you wait, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” What does it mean to “establish your hearts”? What does it involve? First of all, it means to lay down a solid foundation for your faith using God’s Word. Jesus told Martha concerning her sister Mary, “One thing is needed (…the hearing of God’s Word), and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:42). Jesus told His Jewish followers: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:31-32). Paul told the Ephesian Christians to build their faith upon “the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20). He told the Roman Christians that God would establish them through the gospel he preached concerning Jesus Christ. Hearing and pondering the word of God is so very important. The Spirit uses the word to instill, to increase, and to solidify our faith. Read your Bibles at home. Consider purchasing a “Book of Concord” mentioned in the bulletin this morning. It will provide you one of the best summaries of Christian doctrine ever devised. Join your fellow believers in Bible study and worship. It will help you open your eyes to God’s overall plan. It will help you establish your hearts on firm, spiritual ground.
Secondly, you “establish your hearts” by living your faith. Paul told the Christians in Thessalonica, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints” (1 Thes. 3:12-13). When we are busy living our faith and exercising it in loving service to others, God is at work within us and Satan does not have an opportunity to lull us into either compromise or complacency. BEHOLD, THE JUDGE IS STANDING AT THE DOOR! Establish your hearts as you wait!
Thirdly, stop grumbling about others! James writes, “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” This admonition hits close to home for many of us, because we tend to grumble a lot. James’ words suggest that his readers were already grumbling and should stop! Their grumbling put themselves in danger of being condemned by Jesus, but why was this the case?
First of all, when we grumble against others, we not only fail to help them, but we hurt them. If someone is doing something wrong, then we ought to go to them and talk to them privately, so that they might correct whatever they are doing. To complain and grumble about someone else behind their back will no doubt hurt their reputation and harm their ability to function in whatever role God has given them.
Secondly, by grumbling we hurt ourselves. Grumbling shifts our attention in a negative way to others. We find it easy to analyze, criticize, and then sit in judgment of others, but then fail many times to examine ourselves, which is something God calls upon us to do. If we focus on ourselves, we will better be able to fulfill our callings—thereby honoring God and serving others.
Thirdly and most importantly, when we grumble about others we are disobeying and offending Jesus Christ, before whom we must one day stand. The Eighth Commandment says that we are not to “bear false witness against our neighbor,” and as Luther explains that means putting the best construction on everything and in a positive way protecting our neighbor’s reputation—something that grumbling never does. Let us remember that Jesus has a plan for everyone. We want to help each other fulfill that plan in the best possible way, because Jesus is returning. We do not know when, but the time may well be short. Let us, therefore, not tear each other down, but build each other up so that the Lord’s will and work may be done! BEHOLD, THE JUDGE IS STANDING AT THE DOOR! Stop grumbling about others!
Finally, persevere in view of the Lord’s intended end! James says, “Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.” This life can be and often is filled with trials and troubles. James’ reference to the well-known story of Job illustrates that. None of us, I dare say, have suffered at the hands of Satan as Job did—losing his family, his wealth, and his health all at one time. The key phrase here, however, is “the end intended by the Lord.” Our God and Savior, Jesus Christ, has a plan for each of our lives. His plan is good and gracious, for He is, as James states, “very compassionate and merciful.”
This truth is difficult to remember at times, especially when we face dark and difficult times. This truth seems to be contradicted at times by the seeming facts that confront us. We face the trials of debilitating diseases. We face the stress of financial pitfalls. We face the agony of family break-ups. Jesus can at those times seem so distant, that Satan’s whispers of divine desertion may ring true in our ears. But they are not! Remember, that just before Jesus died, when to all appearances His enemies had won, He cried out in triumph, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) The outward circumstances veiled “the end intended by the Lord,” which was the completed work of redemption leading to the salvation of our souls.
Consequently, when all appears to be lost, remember that the Lord will never forsake you, and victory is but around the corner. The apostle Paul, when addressing the Roman Christians, stated regarding each believer, that they were “predestined…called…justified…and…also glorified” (8:30). Notice that Paul used the past tense. He does not say that we will be glorified, but that in God’s plan for us, we already are glorified. Heaven, in other words, is as good as ours, because Jesus our Savior has won for us that victory and bestowed upon us that gift!
Therefore, BEHOLD, THE JUDGE IS STANDING AT THE DOOR! Do not allow Satan to lead you into either compromise of your faith or complacency in your life! Be patient until He comes! Establish your hearts as you wait! Stop grumbling about others! Persevere in view of the Lord’s intended end! This was solid advice given to first century Christians, but intended as well and just as fitting for twenty-first century Christians! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting
To God alone be the glory!