No audio this week as church was cancelled due to the blizzard.
Dear Friends in Christ,
The old WELS Evangelism training booklet, “Talk about the Savior” borrowed a lot from D James Kennedy’s “Evangelism Explosion.” They encouraged the use of two key questions, after talking about the weather, or sports, or whatever the comfortable topic might be. You have probably heard or learned those questions. The first is, “If you died tonight do you know for sure where you would be?” And, especially if they answered, “I hope I would be in heaven,” the second question is; “If God asked you why he should let you into heaven what would you say?”
Those two questions tell you a lot about what a person believes. Once in a while someone would answer, “I don’t know where I would be,” or even more rarely, “I would be in Hell.” But, most of the time people will answer, “I hope I’ll be in heaven.” But they weren’t sure where they would be.
The second question reveals the reason for their first answer. The most common answer to the question about what reason they would offer that they should be accepted into heaven is, “I try to do my best.” “I think I do better than most. At least I haven’t killed anyone.” And a generation ago they often added that they hadn’t been sexually immoral, but almost no one makes that claim anymore.
As Jesus describes the last day and his coming again in glory we are forced to ask similar questions. If Jesus were to return right now, and he very well could, do you know where you would stand? Would you be a sheep or a goat? Would you be on the right or the left? Are you sure? If not, why aren’t you sure?
As we have seen over the past few weeks, through our study of the Last Days, the return of Jesus and the end of the world as we know it is not an “if”, it’s “when.” Jesus says, When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence. This is something that is going to happen. And when it does, all the nations will be gathered before him. No matter what you believed, no matter how much you denied the resurrection and proclaimed that death is the end, no matter what you tried to do thinking that God couldn’t raise you, like having your ashes scattered over the seven seas, no one will escape. Everyone will appear before the judgment seat of Christ.
Now, that second question is a little misleading because it implies that God might ask you a question and based on your answer you will be a sheep or a goat, on the right or on the left. We use that question to lead a person confess what they believe. But, when the last day comes no questions will be asked. God already knows what you believe, and based on his perfect knowledge of what is in your heart he will separate the sheep and the goats, and he will place you on the proper side, the right or the left. No questions need to be asked. No defense is allowed. The verdict is final. The only thing we hear those on either side saying is their response to the sentence that has been decreed for them. It is that response that gives evidence of what was in their hearts and why they are where they are.
As Jesus speaks to the goats on his left and decrees that they will spend eternity separated from him in the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels, they seem surprised. Jesus explains, I was hungry and you did not give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you did not give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, lacking clothes and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not take care of me. In amazement they declare, when didn’t we do these things? In other words, “we were good people. We tried our best to do the right thing. We volunteered at the homeless shelter. We demonstrated against injustice. We took meals to our sick neighbors. We did a lot more to help the helpless than most people we know. How can you say we didn’t?
What was Jesus’ answer? Amen I tell you: Just as you did not do it for one of the least of these, you did not do it for me. There’s the clue. “You didn’t do it for me. You did it for yourself. You did it for those you thought would repay you, or because you thought you would be repaid either by 15 minutes of earthly fame, or by earning credit from God to cancel out some of your sins, or because you wanted to be able to pat yourself on the back for having done more than others. Your actions might have been outwardly good and praised by people, but they came from your selfish sinful nature, not from faith. You didn’t do it for me. As Paul says, everything that does not come from faith is sin.
Now here’s where it can get a little confusing. Those on the right hear the wonderful verdict that they will get to spend eternity at the wedding feast of the Lamb, in the glorious eternal kingdom prepared for them by God that we heard described in our readings from Isaiah and Revelation today. As they hear the reason for the verdict they have received, they too seem surprised. Jesus says, I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was lacking clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’ And their response is “when did we do these things?”
Their response shows their heart, just as the response to the question, “Why should God let you into heaven?” shows your heart. God can’t lie. They did these things. So how can they be unaware? Were they sleep walking when they did them? No, they were unaware because they didn’t do them for themselves, they did them for Jesus, as a fruit of their faith. They weren’t seeking to be noticed, or to be repaid for what they did by God or by their neighbor. Their new man of faith led them to show love for God and for their neighbor because of the love that God had shown them. The things that they did didn’t earn them anything from God, but God could point to them as evidence of faith because he knew their hearts.
We can’t be sure where someone else will stand on the last day because we don’t know their hearts. Two people may do exactly the same things, care for the homeless, feed the hungry, care for the sick; but one may be doing it for themselves, and the other for Jesus. We can’t tell. The only person we can be sure about is ourselves.
As we look at ourselves in the mirror of the good deeds that Jesus lists, we probably think – “I haven’t done those things, and when I have, I had a least a passing thought that I should get some credit for what I did, so I did them for myself, not for Jesus. I should be a goat, standing on the left of Jesus in the judgment, receiving that horrifying verdict, “Depart from me you cursed.” Yes, even our righteous acts are like filthy rags in the eyes of God. Everything we do is imperfect, tainted by sin.
So then, how can we, how can anyone, be sure that they will be a sheep standing on the right of Jesus in the judgment? Doesn’t Jesus say that his sheep hear his voice? You hear his voice as you hear, read and study the Bible. You hear him say to you in connection with the bread and wine, this was given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. In the word you hear him say, whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved. You hear him say, whoever believes in me is not condemned, and Paul proclaims that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Jesus chose to be cursed for us, he took our condemnation on himself, so that there is nothing left for us to suffer. Every sin has been paid for in full. The filthy rags of our righteousness have been cleansed with the blood of Jesus and made pure and white in the sight of God.
How can anyone be sure of where they will stand on the last day? How can you be sure that you will be taken by the angels to his right hand? If you look at yourself you will never be sure. In fact, you will see your failures and imperfections. You will ultimately despair of standing at the right hand in the judgement. But, if you look to Jesus you will be sure. You will see his blood and righteousness cleansing and covering all your sins. You will see forgiveness. You will see grace and mercy. You will learn to say, “I know I don’t deserve to stand at the right hand in the judgement, but by God’s grace, because of Jesus and all he has done for me, I will stand at the right hand, that’s his promise. If I were to be asked why I should be there I know I could not point to anything I did. I could only point to Jesus and say, “Because of what he has done for me.”
Because of Jesus you can be sure of where you will stand in the judgment. Because of Jesus you will be invited to enter the New Jerusalem and live in the place where there is nothing to fear, there is no night, there are no criminals, there is no death or mourning or crying or pain, only joy and peace in the presence of the one who gives light forever.