Monday, November 24, 2014

Last Sunday of the Church Year (A) 2014

Text: Matthew 25:37
Theme: Royal Surprises

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God has no plan to keep this fallen world in perpetual motion. In fact, it is winding down. Christ did not come to keep the world on life-support; that’s not what redemption means. The door will be shut. The window will be closed. The curtain will be dropped on human history. The Father has determined an end to Satan’s opportunities. Christ will come in magnificent glory and overwhelming power and all will be subject to Him.

Yet, even now, Christ is always seeking the lost sheep. Today we come to the conclusion of another Church Year and prepare to embark on the season of Advent. Could there be any more relevant motive to move people to honest repentance than knowing the Last Day is imminent? All of our pursuits and dreams, our ambitions and passions, our challenges and fears must be viewed from the angle of how they relate to our status before God. Come what may, prosperity or adversity, the one thing we cannot suffer is to face the judgment with the uncertainty of whether sin is left unresolved. These are the most pressing matters of the heart.

Thankfully we are in the right place to address the question. The house of God is a surgical theatre for cardiac patients. The Holy Spirit is a heart specialist. He knows what ails you. He knows where you have blockages. He knows what causes your heart to race and what throws it out of rhythm. He knows how to heal and fortify our souls with divine gifts.

The pertinent question today is: Will we be judged by what we believe or how we have loved? It is a question that often vexes many people. But, you see, the one cannot be separated from the other. Faith and love should never be pitted against each other. The Lord does not judge by outward appearance. The Scripture says, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”1 Salvation is accomplished by Christ alone and we receive that salvation by faith- itself a gift of the Holy Spirit. But faith is always active in love. Otherwise it is shown to be sham. Love cannot be contrived; a show put on in order to make a good impression. Any ‘good work’ done with false motives is actually a sin. Because good works flow automatically from faith we find today that the righteous, the sheep, are surprised to be commended for serving the King. In serving those in need we are serving Christ.

The sheep and the goats aren’t necessarily easily discerned by the human eye. The sheep are surprised to be commended. The goats are even more surprised that the judgment goes against them. They don’t see where they’ve failed. They don’t recall disregarding any summons to serve the Lord. They want to know specifics. Yet in unbelief, they had neglected to serve others. There was no faith active in love. They were focused on other things.

Imagine if the most influential in society put as much effort into preventing the world from falling into moral collapse as they do trying to keep it from economical or ecological disaster! Imagine if people were encouraged to conceive children within the bounds of marriage instead of advocating for abortion on demand to secure the convenience of casual sexual relationships. Imagine if people were taught they are valued because they are made in the image of God instead of being appraised by how useful they are to the ambitions of others. Material affluence cannot substitute for strong relationships. Godliness and integrity in our vocations is more important than financial success. Attending to those in need is more important than building status or gaining popularity.

Christians learn to despise and detest sin even though they are continually tempted toward it. The unbelieving heart, by contrast, embraces sin and when that sin is not accepted publicly even in the secular culture seeks to justify its actions. Only fear of punishment or hope of reward, not love of God, motivates or restrains the unbeliever. Believers understand chastisement as the just and loving discipline of the Heavenly Father always intended to purify us. Still, we are, by nature prone to be angry with God, accusing Him of being unfair. The baptismal life involves the constant struggle of taking God at His word and trusting He has our best interests in mind. That is no small challenge. God allows afflictions to come upon us for the purpose of drawing us closer to Himself.

Don’t entertain, even for a moment, the idea that at the final judgment there is even a remote possibility that God will ‘come around’ and recognize your life’s effort as being worthy of His admiration. Shun all false humility, abandon all na├»ve hope, and cast yourself at His mercy. Neither your greatest sacrifices, nor your most generous acts of charity, nor your most steadfast obedience, nor moral integrity will win the argument in the divine courtroom. Christ hung from a cross and you did not. Not that it would matter if you had. Only His life was worthy of the ransom that was required. Christ “gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.”2 For Christians the sentence against sin was already rendered at the cross therefore we do not fear the judgment.

Things will, on the Last Day, appear significantly different than they do now. No false appearances will be maintained. No secrets will be kept. No offences will remain concealed. No crimes will stay unsolved. No wool will be pulled over God’s eyes. Believers will be filled with joy and amazement when the full nature of God is revealed to them in Christ. The Scripture says, “We are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”3

How astounding it will be to see Christ as He is; face to face! That’s why Paul says today, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.”4 That kind of prayer is wholesome spiritual food. It feeds our souls. And hidden under bread and wine we already do meet God ‘face to face’ as we take His body and blood unto our lips. His glory remains veiled in the sacrament but the promise acquired by His sacrifice makes us citizens of heaven already now.

Dear friends, the promise of Christ coming again almost seems too remote to be real. The repetitiveness of the world’s activities dulls our senses. But the Holy Spirit breathes fresh life into our souls. We are baptized for a purpose that far exceeds these earthly limitations. The resurrection awaits us. The dead will be raised and the curtain of history will be drawn. Satan, the demons, and the wicked will be forever separated from the triune God, the angels, and believers. Christians will experience complete joy in the presence of God for eternity. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

1 1 Samuel 16:7
2 Galatians 1:3-4
3 1 John 3:2
4 Ephesians 1:18-20

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