2008-08-17 (pm) Matthew 25:31-46 What Will the End Be Like?
Sometimes the Christian life can seem full of contradictions. Never mind the Christian life, the Bible itself can seem to be full of contradictions.
One area of confusion, perhaps made worse rather than better during the Lamentations series, has to do with punishment, discipline and the final judgement.
What will the end be like?
Really, though, the contradictions can be fairly easily reckoned, at least for our purposes this evening.
You will recall, hopefully, that a few Sunday evenings ago, we looked at the difference between justification and sanctification. This is an ongoing struggle to understand, as I’ve seen in the lives of people in the church as well as in my own life.
But like the confusion or perhaps even intentional obfuscation, that is deliberate ignorance, between justification and sanctification, we might find ourselves confused by the difference between punishment and discipline.
Thankfully, the Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 19 Q&A helps us get clarification. Punishment is what sin warrants.
If I do the crime, I do the time. The punishment of sin is death.
But with Christ, I did the crime, but He did the time.
The catechism says that Christ, who is our judge, is also the one who stood trial in our place before God. Jesus, the judge, removed the curse from us, and placed it upon himself.
So, therefore, the reality of the situation is this. Jesus Christ, who will judge us, who will separate the sheep from the goats, will he then all of a sudden punish us? Of course not! The whole reason why Jesus came in the first place was to take the curse, the punishment from us.
So, then, what will happen?
First of all, Christ comes. Now, it bugs me to no end when people talk about Jesus coming and no one recognising him because he’d be hanging out in the gay bars, doin’ ministry, you know, hanging out with the sinners that we’re too snotty to stoop down to.
That bugs me because it isn’t at all biblical. Sure, Jesus slummed out with the sinners during his earthly ministry, yes, he was a poor, misunderstood, maligned, marginalised, peasant from the hick town of Nazareth. But that was before. That was when he’d purposely denied himself, humbled himself, took up the cross and died for our sins.
The ascension changed all that. Because of his perfect faithfulness, because of his perfect atonement, because of his total obedience, God the Father glorified his Son, raised him from earth to heaven, seated him at his right hand, and gave him all power and authority.
Jesus is sitting right now on a different throne than the one pictured for us in our passage. Right now Jesus is sitting on the throne of grace. Jesus is sitting not as a judge, but as a priest, the high priest. He’s our advocate with our Father. As we’ll see next Sunday morning, if we sin, Christ pleads our cause before the Father.
But when he returns, he will not be coming to sit a throne of grace, but rather, a throne of judgement. Nor will he come in humility.
No, if people are expecting easy Jesus, they’ll be utterly surprised. Jesus is coming in glory, power, might. There will be trumpets, and angels and reverence! Jesus will be fully revealed and not everyone will be happy to see him. Those who truly believe will be ecstatic! But those who do not believe will be filled with dread.
Think back on all the Old Testament encounters with God. Recall what I read this morning, when God spoke to the Israelites from the mountain they were so afraid, the trumpets set them such on edge, that they begged Moses to talk to God face to face, for they were too afraid to stand up to God’s glory.
Now imagine the return of Christ. Not only will he show up with His glory, he’ll show up himself! He will be awesome! Frightening! Amazing! All-powerful!
The sheep, the believers, the true followers of Christ will be awestruck, yes, but exceedingly joyful! They will see their master and be glad.
But the false teachers, the fake Christians, the unbelievers, they will be frightened nigh unto death! They know what’s coming, but they think they’ll be able to weasel themselves out, somehow.
Now, here is often where the confusion comes in.
Some people believe, and I did to until circumstances forced me to dig deeper, and think it through, some people believe that the judgement will be painful for Christians.
It is not. Here’s why.
First, we’ll be in the presence of Christ. Christ is whom we worship. We long to see Christ. We desire to be with him, honestly, more than anything else. Once you know Christ, you realise that there is no greater thing. Sure, the stuff of this life seems good. There are things that grab our attention, that shouldn’t and we all know what they are, but deep down, we know, we really know, don’t we, that Christ is our hearts desire?
And so, for Christians when we see Christ, we will be in heaven. You know. Do you know? Heaven isn’t the goal. Christ is the goal. Seeing and savouring Christ, being with Jesus, that’s the goal, that’s the crown, that’s what all this is about!
So, when we see Jesus, we will not be filled with fear, but with gladness!
The second thing is this. The sinners will have to give an account for their sins.
The righteous will not.
There will not be a steady stream of sins flashed on Jesus’ Jumbotron, that will bring us shame and horror. That idea does not fit with what our Lord has promised us! He will wipe every tear from our eyes! We will be filled with true gladness, true joy! Right now, we only get tiny glimpses of what those true feelings are like. Think of the best, happiest, most wonderful feeling you’ve ever had, and well compared to seeing Christ in person those feelings will feel like numbness! When Christ returns, we will know, really know!
No, the judgement day will be very different for Christians. Our sins are already erased. They are put as far from us as the east is from the west. So instead of our sins appearing before us, our good deeds will appear before us. Christ will judge what we have done with our lives!
We will be judged according to what we have done with our time. We will be judged according to what we have done with our lives after coming to know Christ.
If we’ve grown up in the church and we’re still not doing much with the gratitude we should have for being saved by grace through faith, if we’re Christians and have been for a long time, but we’re still living for ourselves, well James puts it this way, maybe then we don’t really have faith.
Faith and works go hand in hand. You don’t go from works to faith, but faith without action is dead!
James almost certainly had these very words of Jesus in mind when he wrote his letter. Faith, if it is not accompanied with action is dead.
And if that weren’t enough, look at the two parables Jesus told before giving His disciples the truth of this passage.
First, the parable of the ten virgins. Five were unprepared for the bridegroom’s sudden appearance. They didn’t bring enough oil with them. The other five planned ahead, they brought enough with them, and while the others were trying to get some more oil, the groom showed up and they went with him.
The second parable is also familiar the parable of the talents. The master came and gave thousands of dollars to his servants. Two courageously invested the money, and doubled it. But one buried his money and sat on it.
At the end of time, when the master returns, he will judge us as to what we’ve done with what he’s given us.
What has he given us? Well, he gave us himself, he is the greatest, most awesome, most powerful, most authoritative, holy, righteous being in the universe, attributes which he shares eternally and equally with His Father and with the Holy Spirit.
That’s what he’s given us. And we’re too scared to talk to other people about it? Gimme a break! I hate to admit it but I myself am much more like the third servant. But I desire to be like the first two.
Seriously, though! We have everything, our lives are eternally secure. Why are we hanging onto them?
And why, oh why does Jesus’ church still cling onto the old picture of Jesus? Why do we still depict him as a frail, humble, servant without authority?
Probably because that Jesus is much easier to ignore, yes, even wilfully disobey.
But that’s not who Jesus is anymore!
Jesus is glorified. He’s all powerful! He’s fully in control!
And Jesus is all around us.
Jesus is present wherever His church is.
When Paul was breathing murderous threats against the church, he was in fact, breathing murderous threats against Christ. In Acts, chapter 9:4, Jesus after he’d blinded Paul and stopped him in his tracks asks him a question. He says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me.” Did you catch that? Did you notice that Jesus did not say, “Saul Saul, why are you persecuting my church, my people? No, he said, why are you persecuting me?
Then, in our text he says, “whatever you did for the least of these my brothers, you did unto me.”
This also gets misunderstood and misapplied. Jesus says, clearly, the least of these my brothers. Who are Christ’s brothers? Those who believe! Those who are Jesus’ disciples.
Yes, we are to look out for the poor, yes, we’re to be focussed on alleviating suffering around the world. And yes, we ought to do all those things as Christians. But special attention is given to the church, to the adoptive brothers of Christ.
Our faith doesn’t benefit ourselves alone. It benefits those around us. Our faith, that is, our assurance that all our sins have been forgiven, that when judgement day comes, and it will come, we’ll not pass through the fire unto death, but we’re on our way to perfect life. All those benefits and truths motivate us to live our lives as a pleasing sacrifice to God.
We live, day in and day out, with the full confidence of our eternal destination. No, we do not have to worry about what the end times will be like. For we know that when Christ returns, we will have the greatest desire of our hearts. We will be so full of the wonder of our beloved saviour, that all else will fade away! Our joy will be complete. Amen.