Summer Preaching Series
July 7, 2019
“Last Things = First Things”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church
One of the best things about summer is playing games with your friends. When I was a kid the game that we played with all the other kids in the neighborhood was “Hide and Seek.” Someone got chosen to count to 20 or 50 or a hundred, sometimes skipping a few numbers, and when they were done the warning was issued, “Ready, or not, here I come.” Everyone panicked, or held their breath, or got just a little smaller in their hiding place. Fun times.
Today, in this summer sermon, the similar words are spoken, not by some friend in the neighborhood, but by Jesus, “Ready, or not, here I come.” How do you react to His words, His warning?
Today is the sermon that a few folks asked for concerning last things – end of the world, judgment day, heaven or hell. Jesus spent some time talking about the last things and about being ready for His return and the day when we will be judged. In Mark 13 He likens this event to an owner of a house who leaves and has his servants in charge of their tasks, “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch’.” (Mark 13:35-37) Ready, or not…Right?
Jesus spoke of this when He gave us the Parable of the 10 Virgins. 5 wise; 5 foolish. 5 ready; 5 not. 5 enjoyed eternity; 5 regretted it. “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’ Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25:10-13) Ready, or not.
All around us we are given notice that there will come a day when the world will end and Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. There will be signs in nature, “There will be earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.” (Luke 21:11) There will signs about how people act with each other. People will become increasingly selfish, proud, abusive, disobedient, slanderous and the like. (See II Timothy 3:1-9) And the signs of His return will be seen within the church. There will be false prophets, false teachings, false lives, and within the church the love of many will grow cold.
How do you respond to the sudden and unexpected return of Jesus Christ? Do you know how most respond to this news? They yawn. A big, deep yawn that becomes contagious to others. Matters of eternity, heaven and hell, faith, facing their God on Judgment Day is met with indifference or unbelief by many. I pray that your reaction is different. It has to be different.
Here is the truth, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the deeds done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (II Corinthians 5:10) How do you respond? Fear? Shame? A day that you’re not looking forward to? Here’s a better way to look at that day – “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:27-28) When we speak the Nicene Creed we are not apprehensive about facing God on the day of judgment. We speak, with conviction, “And I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” In today’s reading from II Peter the word of optimism is given, even after such strong words about the last things that are coming to this world. It reads, “So, then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with him.” (II Peter 3:14)
“We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one of us may receive what is due him for the deeds done while in the body, whether good or bad.” That’s bad news, isn’t it? We don’t stand a chance, do we? I found a great quote concerning this truth in one of the books known as the Confessional Writings of the Lutheran Church. In the Preface to the Book of Concord (Paragraph 16) the writers said, “By means of God’s grace we, too, intend to persist in the same confession until our blessed end and to appear before the judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ with a joyful, undaunted heart and conscience.” (Emphasis mine) Ready, or not, here I come. We’re ready.
About thirty years ago I made a trip to North Platte, Nebraska to see Marvin. Marvin was having a serious surgery and his wife told me of it. I told her I’d come to see him prior to surgery. He wasn’t one of my members but I thought I should give him the assurance of God’s word and have a prayer for success in surgery and for God’s strength in recovery.
But Marvin would not see me. In fact, knowing that I had come to the hospital made him greatly agitated. Marvin was Roman Catholic and he thought that I had come to perform Last Rites. He wasn’t ready for that.
Tell me, how can you look forward to meeting your Judge, the one who will have the only word whether you will spend eternity in heaven or hell? How can we be like Peter in his words that we are looking forward to all this, or with Jesus when He says we are to lift up our heads with confidence, or with the early Lutheran writers who were adamant to say that we will appear before the judgment seat with a joyful, undaunted heart and conscience?
How? Grace. Forgiveness. An unbending faith. You’ve heard the phrase, “Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone.” That is more than a phrase, it is the only hope that we have for our eternity. Jesus in John 5:24 says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” Or how about St. Paul when he begins that great chapter of Romans 8, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Verses 1-2)
Who are you going to point at when you see the One “unto whom all hearts are open, all desires are known and from whom no secrets are hid”? Are you going to point to yourself and try to stand on your own? “Look at me, look at all the good I’ve done?” Are you going to shrug your shoulders, proclaiming ignorance or innocence? Or, are you going to point at the cross? Are you going to trust Jesus? St. John gave this word of hope, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness….My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin, but is anyone does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (I John 1:8-9, 2:1-2)
There are too many folks who never address the last things, the final things in life. They don’t make a will, they don’t tell anyone what the wishes are for their funeral service, they don’t tell them how they want their hair to be combed in the casket. But more than that, many more never think about the last things, the final things such as are they ready for death, or how will they stand on the day of judgment or will they be rejoicing in heaven or living with sorrow in hell? They never consider the need for sins to be washed away by the One who came as Savior – Jesus. Too many never ask the questions. They procrastinate. They will take care of such things later. But they never do.
Jesus says, in many ways, “Ready, or not, here I come.” Make the last things, the final things, the matters of your soul, the certainty of your eternity, the confidence to anticipate seeing Jesus, your Judge, and your Savior, primary in your life. “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” (II Corinthians 6:2b)
In many ways Jesus has said, “Ready, or not, here I come.” The last things have to be the first things for everyone, including you, and me. Amen!!