The judgment of the Lord is terrifying.
In the Old Testament lesson today, thus says the Lord about His own people: “They hold fast to deceit; they refuse to return. I have paid attention and listened, but they have not spoken rightly; no man relents of his evil, saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turns to his own course, like a horse plunging headlong into battle. Even the stork in the heavens knows her times…but my people know not the [judgment] of the Lord” (Jeremiah 8:5-7).
The English Standard Version has “rules.”
“My people know not the rules of the Lord.”
The King James has “judgment.”
“My people know not the judgment of the Lord.”
And “judgment” is correct.
Because it’s not that the people don’t know or don’t have the rules, the rulings, the sayings, the words of God.
They have them.
But they don’t know the judgment of the Lord.
“Having eyes to see, they do not see. Having ears to hear, they do not hear. For they are a rebellious house” (cf. Ezekiel 12:2).
They say that they’re wise, that the law of the Lord is with them, “but behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made [that] lie…behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord, so what wisdom is in them?” (Jeremiah 8:8-9).
And here is the terrifying judgment of the Lord:
“Therefore I will give their wives to others and their fields to conquerors, because from the least to the greatest everyone is greedy for unjust gain; from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace…Therefore they shall fall among the fallen; when I punish them, they shall be overthrown, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 8:10-12).
The judgment of the Lord is terrifying, and it falls on prophet, priest, and all His people.
We will be overthrown, says the Lord.
So what shall we say, then?
St. Paul addresses the same hard-heartedness as did the prophet Jeremiah, so what did he say then?
“That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness…by faith; [or] that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. [And] why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame’” (Romans 9:30-33).
So there are these two.
There are those who hear the Gospel, trust that Jesus has buried the terrible judgment of the Lord, and live as God has called them to live, unto eternal life.
And—there are those who hear the Gospel and yet retain some thought in their mind that it’s up to them to make the Gospel work, living—burdened with doubt and failure—for the rest of their life.
There are these two—and in today’s Epistle lesson, they’re named: Gentiles and Israel.
The Gentiles did not pursue righteousness in the style of an à la carte lunch.
Rather, they attained righteousness—St. Paul says—by faith, and my heart’s desire and prayer to God is that each one of you hear the Gospel, trust Jesus, and live as He has called you—unto eternal life.
Because upon Israel the terrifying judgment of God falls.
St. Paul writes, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for [Israel] is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own [righteousness], they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Romans 10:1-3).
The judgment of the Lord is terrifying.
But His people know not the judgment of the Lord.
Today—Jesus draws near to the holy city, Jerusalem, and weeps over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (cf. Luke 19:41-44).
That is the terrifying judgment of the Lord.
Jerusalem—the holy city—the city of peace—is destroyed with not one stone left upon another, because they had the Christ but did not know Him.
Hearing all this, we may think ourselves secure.
Because we’re not like them.
Hearing all this, we may wonder why the lessons go to such lengths to terrify us with the just judgment of God.
After all, we’re not like them.
We have the Word of God.
We have the Gospel.
But that’s the point. So did they.
“How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us’?” (Jeremiah 8:8).
They had the Law, the rules, the judgments, “but behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made [that] a lie” (Jeremiah 8:8).
They didn’t know the judgment of the Lord.
And Israel fares no better.
They pursued a law that would lead to righteousness but did not succeed in reaching that law because they did not pursue it by faith. They stumbled over the stone of stumbling, the rock of offense, Jesus the Christ, without whom there is no salvation.
And in the holy city—the chief priests, the scribes, and the principal men beheld God in the flesh—and sought to destroy Him.
God was visiting His people to redeem them, but they knew Him not and so they received Him not.
“God’s people still do not repent and turn back to Him in faith, so His judgment will fall upon them with full force. Possession of the Word couldn’t save them, because their teachers have misrepresented it” (see the footnote for Jeremiah 8:4-17 in TLSB).
The lessons for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity give us the full-sternness of the just and terrifying judgment of the Lord.
Old Testament and New Testament—Israel thought they were God’s chosen people such that they were secure.
The faithful remnant, they thought, would always be their own blood—and not those foreign to their ways.
The faces, they knew, would change—but not the names.
“Having eyes to see, they did not see. And having ears to hear, they did not hear. For they were a rebellious house” (cf. Ezekiel 12:2).
And so are you.
The Tenth Sunday after Trinity is everyone’s reminder not to overestimate his own importance.
The gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church.
Thanks be to God!
But that’s not referring to a building, or a plot of land, or a city, or a county, or a country.
Jesus has just said in Luke chapter thirteen: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-5).
This is the terrifying judgment of the Lord.
And were it not for Jesus Christ, this judgment would fall upon us with full force.
But we have an advocate with the Father, who was punished in our place.
The stone of stumbling and rock of offense, against whom all others are dashed into pieces.
For Christ is the end of the terrors of the law for everyone who believes (cf. Romans 10:4).
This is our hope: the terrible judgment of the Lord is poured out on Jesus—and we are spared.
Reconciled to God.
More than words on a page, we have the Son of God Himself—His Body and Blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins.
We’ve been taught to fall and rise again—to die and rise with Christ every morning by remembering of our Baptism. And—united with Him in a death like His—we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His (cf. Romans 6:5).
We’ve been taught to believe in Jesus, the Word of God, to hold Him fast and gladly hear Him—and we are not put to shame.
We’ve been taught to submit to the righteousness of God—slaves of sin no more, we serve the Living God and love our neighbor as our self.
We know the time of our visitation.
Sunday School’s at 9. Divine Service is at 10.
Every Sunday morning.
And whether it’s here or elsewhere—at those times or others—with the permission of our benevolent dictators or without—we will gather around the Gospel purely taught and the Sacraments rightly administered.
Because that’s the Church.
And the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church.
This is the judgment of the Lord, and it is the perfect comfort for all those spared by the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
The Tenth Sunday after Trinity, 2021
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt