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What's in store? - 2 Thessalonians 1

This is a sermon by Malcolm Peters from the evening service on 29th October 2006.

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This evening I want to start by asking you what you think.   Whatís your view?    Is punishment ever just?   And if so, what kind of punishment is just?   

2 weeks ago, as Melvin reminded us earlier we began a new series called 2 Ways to Live.  Or in other words:  whatís the Xian message all about?   And in that first sermon, we touched on the problem of the holocaust.  The problem that 60 years ago, 6 million Jews were systematically murdered.      And this kind of atrocity was nothing new.  It happened before and itís happened since. 

During the first World War, the Ottoman empire massacred over a million Armenians in modern day Turkey.  In the 1970s, we saw Pol Potís Killing Fields in Cambodia.  In the 1990s, there was genocide in Rwanda and the Balkans.  And atrocities continue today in places like Sudan.  

But letís bring it closer to home.  In 1993, a 2 year old toddler called Jamie Bulger was abducted and murdered in cold blood by two 10-year boys.    4 years ago, Ian Huntley murdered two 10-year old school-girls, Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells.    Iíve got a son not much younger than Jamie Bulger was at the time.  And got a daughter a few years younger than Jessica and Holly were at the time.  But even if you donít have children of your own, let me ask you this:  how would you feel if someone you love was deliberately murdered in cold blood. 
Itís not right is it?  Murderís wrong.  Itís unjust.  Why me and my loved ones?  Why the holocaust?     But if there is no God, then ultimately it doesnít matter.  As Richard Dawkins puts it;  ďin a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going got get lucky, and we wonít find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justiceĒ.   

But this isn't the world live in is it?  When an atrocity happens, whether itís the massacre of millions on the gas chambers of the murder of someone close to home, we instinctively cry for justice, donít we.  When justice isnít being done in the courts, the press go mad donít they.  Justice matters, doesnít it?   Miscarriages of justice matter?    Whatever your view of crime and punishment, deep down, you believe in justice.  You can write an essay about it, but you canít actually live in a world without values.  Not when youíre faced with injustice.  So why is that?   

Recap/ Background
God is the sovereign creator of the whole universe.  God is the only being whoís uncreated.  Everything else in the whole universe was created by God.  And the pinnacle of that creation was people.   You and I are created by God.  Created in Godís image.  [slide: 3rd sub point] Which means, we share some of Godís characteristics.  Characteristics like justice. 

1. God is Just   (v6a)
So if youíre not there already, then please turn with me to 2 Thes 1 which youíll find on p[???]  of the church Bibles.  2 Thes 1.    And look with me at v6:    ďGod is justĒ.  Heís a God of justice.    Justice is one of Godís characteristics, or attributes.  Everything about God is affected by His justice.  And this isnít an isolated reference.   Godís justice is a theme that runs from Genesis to Revelation.  The Psalms are full of praise to the God of justice and righteousness.  But hang on a minute, you might be thinking;  I thought the Bible said that God is Love.  And it does. God is also love. God is love   -   and God is just.  Both at the same time. Godís justice is part of His love.  And His love is part of His justice.  

Itís a good and loving thing that God deals with injustice.  Wouldnít it be unloving for God just to sweep evil under the carpet?  To ignore injustice as if it didnít matter?  No, itís because God is love, that He acts in justice.   Itís because God is love, that He wonít let the guilty go unpunished.      Itís because God is love, that one day Heíll punish injustice.      
And that wouldíve been comforting to the Thessalonians christians who first read this ltr.  Look back with me at v4: 

4Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.

In v3&4, Paulís thanking God for the Thessaloniansí perseverance.  Why was that such a big deal?  Well they were being persecuted; persecuted for their faith.  Violently persecuted.  They were suffering extreme intolerance.  Extreme injustice.  Paul had even been hounded out of Thessalonica by rent-a-mob.  And if you want to check out the background, then look up Acts 17 and 1 Thess when you get home.  But the point was, these young Thessalonian Christians were going through the mill.  So Paul thanks God that there were clinging to Jesus despite all the injustice they were going through. 

And because they were going though it, Paul wrote to encourage them.  How does Paul encourage them?  What does God have to say to us when we look at our world as see itís full of pain and injustice?  Well Paul reminds us that God is Just.  And so God will deal with injustice.     It wonít be swept under the carpet.  God is Just.  There will be a day of reckoning. One day, God will sort out every injustice. 

2. Godís punishment is Just   (v6b-9)

And that brings us to the main second heading on the handout. Godís punishment is just. 

So what is a just punishment?  Maybe youíve studied theories of crime and punishment. And if you have then youíll know that there are 4 main categories:

1. reparation:
First is reparation, which is where the criminal repays his victim in some way.  Like when a graffiti artist is sentenced to scrub the streets.  Or in the OT where convicted thieves were ordered to pay back twice what they'd stolen.  Reparation.

2. Rehabilitation   
Next is the v popular concept of rehabilitation.  And rehabilitation is all about re-educating the criminal and weaning them off crime.  And we find this idea in the Scriptures too, like in Heb 12 where God disciplines His children to make them more holy. 

3. Deterrence  
 Third is deterrence.  Sentences are passed in order to deter others from committing the same crime.  And like rehabilitation, this is central to modern thinking on crime and punishment.  If we know that bad behaviour has consequences, then weíre less likely to behave badly.  And again deterrence has biblical backing.  The death sentences in the O and N Testaments had a deterrent effect;  like when Ananias and Sapphire dropped dead in Acts 5 and great fear seized the church.    Deterrence. 

4. retribution  
And finally retribution.    Retributive punishment is about just deserts.    Retribution means thereís a just price to be paid for a crime.  As the old cockney rhyme puts it:  the one who commits the crime, does the time.  Itís why thereís a differing tariff of sentences depending on the severity of the crime. Even if it doesnít help with rehabilitation, retribution demands that a murderer spends many years in jail.   But this is v unfashionable.  Maybe not for Daily Mail readers, but certainly for most students and graduates.  So why is that?  Well centuries of Enlightenment philosophy have weakened the concept of individual responsibility:  thereís always an excuse for crime:  my upbringing, my poverty, my environment. 

But weíre created by God remember.  In Godís image.  And so weíre all accountable to God.  Weíre all morally responsible beings.  And central to the Bibleís concept of justice is that sin must be punished.  Retributively punished. 

Adam and Eve were told in the Garden, that the day they disobeyed God, the day they rebelled against their Creator, they would die.  The NT reminds us that the wages of sin are death.    And of course, the death penalty is the ultimate retributive punishment.  You can be rehabilitated in the grave.  Death is final. 

And thatís the point of v6b-9.   The punishment these verses are talking about is final.  Look with me at the second half of v7:

This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.

And onto v10:

on the day [J] comes to be glorified in his holy people.

The wider context of the letter makes it clear weíre talking about J's second coming.  The end of time.  The final judgement.  And because itís final, you canít make amends by paying reparations.  Itís final, so there canít be any rehabilitation.  And because itís final, it canít be a deterrent. 

Because on the last day, J told us that heíll separate the sheep from the goats.  Itís either heaven or hell.  Thereís noone left to restore or deter.  The very nature of the final judgment means that punishment must be retributive. 

And this becomes even clearer when we unpack the four-fold description of punishment in these verses. 

a. Payback trouble   (v6b)

First in v6, we see that Godís going to pay back trouble to those who are troubling the Thessalonians.  Literally, it says that itís just for God to repay with affliction or tribulation those who afflict or causing them trouble.    And the word translated trouble, can be translated not only as affliction or tribulation, but can also have the sense of anguish and distress.  This punishment is going to be painful.  Itís not rehabilitation.  Itís payback time.  And in Godís justice, the punishment fits the crime perfectly. 

b. Punish  (v8)

Next in v8, we have the word punish.  God will punish them.    The English Standard Version translates this as God inflicting vengeance.  The New American Standard version puts it like this:  ďGod will deal out retributionĒ.     And this spells out that the final punishment canít be reparation, rehabilitation or deterrence.  Itís retribution pure and simple.  Thereís a price to be paid for injustice.    And it would be unjust if that price were not paid. 

c. Everlasting Destruction  (v9a)

But in the justice of God, what form does retributive punishment take.  Are we back to thinking that life should mean life?  Well in a way yes.  Look with me at v8 as we move onto the 3rd of our four fold description of Godís just punishment next sub heading.     
V8:  ďThey will be punished with everlasting destructionĒ

Literally it says that they will Ďsuffer [or come under] the justice of eternal destructioní. 

Just retributive punishment does mean life.  Eternal life that is.  Or rather eternal death and destruction.    God made us for eternity.  This world is not all there is.  We are made for eternity and we will all live beyond the grave.  We will all live consciously for ever.  But for the unjust, thatís a fearful thing.  Because they will suffer the justice of eternal destruction.   So what will that mean in practice?

d. Shut out from the Lord  (v9b)

And that brings us to the 4th subheading on the handout and the rest of v9.  The Lordís just retribution will mean being shut out or being away from or cut off from the Lord.    And that might not seem too bad for some people.  Many people spend their whole lives ignoring their Creator.  So what difference will it make spending the rest of eternity without him?    And thatís where the last part of v9 helps us.  Because to be away from the Lord in this sense, means to be Ďaway from the majesty of His powerí;  to be cut of from all thatís good in this world.    Because remember, God created everything in this world.    And every good thing we enjoy is from God;  our food, our friends, our family, our pets and our hobbies. 
Whatever you like about life in this world Ė itís a gift from God.  To be cut off from God in this sense doesnít mean we escape from God.    On the contrary, it means to experience the presence of the Lord in all His retributive fury;  for ever.  To experience the presence of the Lordís wrath;  to experience a complete absence of all His blessing;  all the good things in this world.  As the book of Hebrews puts it:  itís a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.  A fearful thing, that is if weíre cut off from His blessings and all thatís left is His retributive punishment;  his eternal conscious wrath against injustice.

And that eternal conscious experience of the Lordís wrath, is what the Bible calls Hell.  Hellís no joke.  Itís deadly serious.  And Jesus spoke about Hell more than anyone else in the NT.  He repeatedly warns us to take it seriously.  In His parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Lk 16, Jesus warns us that hell is conscious eternal agony.  In one respect, Jesus warns us that Dante was right:  on entering hell there might well be a sign saying:  abandon hope all ye who enter here.   

Because not only is hell an eternity of conscious punishment.  Thereís no escape.  Itís final.   Thereís no second chance.  No reincarnation.  After you die, itís ether the relief of v7.  Or itís the hell of v9.  For ever.  With no hope of escape.  Itís no divine comedy.  Itís Godís just judgment.  His just retributive punishment of the unjust. 

God is just.  Godís punishment is just.  Those who commit genocide and murder might escape justice in this world.  But not in the next.  Hell is just.  Hell is right.  Hell is the good and loving response of a just God.  Because God is just.  And Godís punishment is just.

3. Who will God punish for Your Sins

Itís good to know that Dawkins is wrong isnít it?  Itís good to know there is such a thing as justice.  Itís good to know that Hitler, Pol Pot and Melosovitch wonít escape justice.  Itís good to know that injustice doesnít pay in the end.   

But thereís also a problem with Godís justice.  2 weeks ago we saw that God created the world.  And because God made the universe, He owns it.  God holds the freehold if you like.  And even as the pinnacle of His creation, weíre simply His subjects;  weíre Godís tenants if you like.    And as the freeholder, God the Creator makes the rules.  Just rules that is.  And as His subjects, as His tenants, weíre meant to obey.  Itís simple:  God makes the rules, and we obey them.    And because Godís perfect, the passmark isnít 40, 50 or even 60%.  Itís perfection.  God requires 100% obedience of His just rules.  Breaking even one of Godís rules is no small matter.  Because disobeying God means weíre rebelling against our Creator.  Weíre trying to usurp His role as Creator.  Every sin we commit is deeply offensive to Godís moral order.  Every sin matters to God.  And God is justly angry about our sin.  All our sin.  Not just the sin of genocide.

And, as we discovered last week, the Bible gives us a reality check.  If weíre honest, the Bible simply reminds us what we all know in our hearts.  None of us have perfectly obeyed Godís rules.   None of us have obeyed God 100%.  None of us are 100% just.  In both our word and actions, weíre all guilty as charged.  As we saw last week:  there is no one righteous, not even one;  there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.  All have turned away.   In Godís eyes, weíre all rebels.  In Godís eyes, weíre all unjust. And deep down, you know it, donít you.

And so as we can see from the next picture in the series, God wonít let us rebel for ever.  Because God is just remember.  And His punishment is just.  So each and every one of us deserves to be paid back for our injustices.  Each of us deserves Godís just retributive punishment;  to be shut out from the presence of the Lord.  To abandon all hope as we settle down to a daily pattern of conscious punishment that will never end. 
And thereíll be no complaining.  Philippians 2 reminds us that every tongue in heaven and hell will confess that J is Lord.  Even if youíre resisting this truth now, one day you will bow the knee to Jesus and agree that you deserve hell;  you deserve it because youíve rebelled against your Creator.  Thatís justice.  Thatís fair.  Thatís what in store.    

And even though itís just, if that were the end of the story, it would be very depressing wouldnít it.     But thankfully, itís not the end of the story.  And to get the rest of the story, you need to come back over the next few weeks.  Come back to discover that there are 2 futures in store;  2 ways to live that is.  Because the great news about the Christian Gospel is that for His people, for the holy people mentioned in v10, for Xians, somebody else has paid the price.  God is just remember.  Injustice and sin must be paid for.  They must be punished.  But the great news of the Gospel, is that, for His people. J has paid the price.  Because on the cross, J took Godís retributive punishment.  On the cross, J faced Godís wrath against injustice;  On the cross J paid the price;  J went to hell on behalf of His people.  And he did it because there was no other way.  How many of you would sacrifice the life of your only child unless it was absolutely necessary?  There was no other way;  no other way Godís people could be forgiven. No alternative than for J to be punished in the place of His people.   It wasnít easy.  It wasnít cheap.  Because justice demands the price be paid. 

And so that leaves us all with this question.  Who will God punish for your sins?    Itís the choice we all face.  Because there are only 2 ways to Live.  God is Just.  So he must punish our sin.  Weíve all rebelled against our Creator.  So we all deserve to be punished.  We all deserve hell.  But Jesus took the punishment for the sins of His people.  And so the question is:  are you one of His people?  Did Jesus pay for your sins on the cross? Or will you pay for them yourself.  Forever, in hell.  Abandon hope all ye who enter here. 
When youíre dead, itís too late.  None of us know exactly how long God will graciously allow us to live in His world.  Today could be your last.  Today is a window of opportunity.  Donít risk your eternal future.   Obey Jesusís command to repent today;  repent by admitting youíre a sinner justly facing hell.  Say yes please to Jesus's offer of forgiveness.  Forgiveness you donít deserve.  But an offer youíd be mad to refuse.   And if you want to do just that this evening, then come and talk to me, or Melvin or Lee, after the service.  But if youíre coming to the realisation this really is true, donít delay.  Repent today. So as we close letís pray to our just Creator and Judge.  Letís pray. 

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