“It’ll never happen to me.”
“I’ll get away with it.”
“They’ll never go through with it.”
In the annals of history, dumber words have never been spoken. Except maybe when someone says, “No offense, but….” How many times haven’t you prefaced some incredibly poor decision with such poor thinking? You really think you’ll be the one guy who won’t get caught? You think that your parents, or teachers, or police really won’t go through with it?
The reason we think this is because, sadly, in our world it’s true. Plenty of athletes take PED’s and don’t get busted. Plenty of people speed or cheat on a test and get away with it. Plenty of parents back down at a key moment.
So we’ve been trained, trained to think we can get away with everything. We’ve trained ourselves to think we can fall asleep at the switch, perform poorly, and do just about whatever we want with no consequences whatsoever. Modern parenting merits some blame here. Statistics tell us that almost 10% of today’s college graduates take mommy and daddy with them to job interviews. When you’ve never been in trouble, when you’ve never failed, when you’ve never tasted defeat, and when you’ve never been told you’re wrong, you’re in for a world of hurt. As Dean Wormer told one of the Delta boys in Animal House, “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life.”
Jesus confronts such thinking in Matthew 24. He tells His disciples about His coming again and the end of all things and says, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”
In other words: it will happen to you; you won’t get away with it; God will go through with it. Judgment Day, that is. The big fire. Separating sheep and goats. Heaven and hell. For eternity. Sheep do go to heaven. Goats do go to hell. Colin Burpo’s right, heaven is for real. Rob Bell’s wrong, because so is hell.
If you were at least logical and rational, you would use a modified version of Pascal’s wager. If you’re prepared for the end, and it doesn’t come, what have you lost? If you’re not prepared, and it comes, you’re damned for sure. It’s logical. Fat, drunk, stupid, and damned is no way to spend eternity.
Maybe you don’t know Pascal. But you’ve at least heard about Murphy, right? As in, “Murphy’s Law”: “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” That gets overlooked in our planning. We get caught because things go wrong. Usually we screw up.
I’m not trying to be flippant or irreverent about Judgment Day. It’s not something to joke about. God doesn’t joke about it. That rich man begged for a drop of water and couldn’t have it. Jesus calls it weeping and gnashing of teeth. In another parable He compares it to being hacked to pieces. The prophet Isaiah says the worm that eats you doesn’t die; the fire isn’t quenched.
We sang about it this morning and called it a day of wrath and day of mourning. We called it that because Jesus calls it that: “All the nations of the earth will mourn.” In Revelation John says, “All the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him.”
Why mourn? Because it happened. You’re caught. You didn’t get away with it. God did go through with it. He really did roll up the sky like a scroll. He really did burn up the elements with fire. He really did bring the sun, moon, and stars crashing down. He really did end time. He really said, “My patience runneth out.” The end won’t just be near, it will be here.
And Jesus says, “You have no idea when. You don’t know the day. You don’t know the hour. You don’t know the year. Anyone who says different is full of you know what, a grade-A false teacher. No one knows except the Big Guy in charge, God the Father Almighty.” Not even the Son knows. In so far as He is a true human being, He is outside the loop on this one. Scary. Terrifying.
Not so scary that we change our behavior. Some wit invented a trick to make your computer screen look like a spreadsheet while you watch the NCAA tournament instead of work. Press a button, fool your boss. We think we can do that to God. “I’ll sin right up until the moment when God is looking over my shoulder; then I’ll repent right quick and He’ll never know.”
Except, what if you never get to repent? And who says God isn’t already looking over your shoulder damning you for your sins? Just because He holds His punishment in abeyance, or appears to, doesn’t mean anything. He does that because He is patient and doesn’t want you to perish. He graces you with every moment of life He does because He doesn’t want you die in sin and unbelief. And we repay Him with so much dark living, with so much falling asleep at the switch, with so much unpreparedness.
It won’t matter. We can’t plead ignorance. Don’t you think they did that at Noah’s time? Jesus compares us to them: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away.”
That wasn’t accidental ignorance. They worked at it. God waited 120 years to flood the earth. They watched Noah build the ark. Noah preached about the flood, warning and wooing, begging them to join him on the ark. But they would not.
You have no excuse either. You’ve heard God’s promises about Judgment Day. You have God’s Word all around you, sitting on a hopefully-used app on your smart phone more than likely.
It will happen. You won’t get away. He will go through with it. So rather than sin all the more; rather than ignore it and hope it goes away like so many problems in your life, think about the nearly 800-year-old words of our opening hymn, “What shall I in awe be pleading, who for me be interceding when your mercy I am needing?” And indeed you will need mercy and intercession, for Jesus said, “Pray that you may be able to escape.” It’s so bad that you have to pray for escape.
You won’t be able to escape, because you won’t be ready. You’ll be stunned. You’ll be caught off guard. Think of the terror of the 2am fire alarm, and then remember Jesus’ reply to the unprepared, the foolish, the moronic virgins: “I don’t know you.”
On the other hand, think of the joy of waking on Christmas morning. Whether it’s 5am because the kids bounded in, or you hear them tearing into gifts already, or it’s a little later, still you wake up rejoicing. “It’s here. Finally.” Here fit the words of Philip Nicolai from our hymn of the day, “Zion hears the watchmen singing, and all her heart with joy is springing; she wakes, she rises from her gloom.” Why? “For her Lord comes down all glorious!”
What can turn Judgment Day into anything except a day of mourning? What makes Judgment Day, better than any and every Christmas, birthday, or Super Bowl combined? Christ, of course!
Head back to those 800-year-old words, “Think, good Jesus – my salvation caused your wondrous incarnation, made you suffer my damnation.” Christ comes back on Judgment Day: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” Your Lord. Jesus. The One who promised relief for the troubled. The king who came home crowned and rewarded His faithful servants with more money, more cities. The King who comes and says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” The King who says when the End finally comes: “Stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
This results from more than just winning Pascal’s wager or betting on Murphy’s Law. It comes from the great Reformation insight we heard last week in Romans and sang this morning. God sent His righteousness into the world. God the Father prepared us for the end of the world with His Son: “my salvation caused your wondrous incarnation, made you suffer my damnation.” Through faith in that blood, His righteousness, Jesus’ righteousness, becomes mine. His preparedness becomes mine.
Think of it, if anyone was prepared for the end, it was Christ. He was without sin. He knew the Father’s will and did the Father’s will. He was the light of the world, doing the deeds of light even in the darkest night. And then became our darkness, our perversion, our sin on the cross, so that we might become His righteousness, so that we would be prepared. So that we could keep watch, stay awake, look alive – better, be alive, alive in and through Christ, Christ who walked out alive from the tomb!
Best of all God let you in on this secret. You’re not caught off guard. Yes, you know that a day of wrath and mourning is coming. It will be terrible. Billions will die eternally. It’s the kind of thing you’d much rather not see. You’d rather sleep through it. Yet today, Christ says it’s worth staying awake for, unlike so much else. Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve is usually a downer, “I stayed awake for Ryan Seacrest and pre-filmed dancers?”
But that day, when that day dawns, when the King Tremendous comes, all the waiting finally pays off. Then the Lamb who was slain sits on His throne and sends out His angels to gather you and all the elect, and what we right now can only believe in – the Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, life everlasting – will be ours, for real and forever. What God baptized you into – the death and life of Christ – you will finally own, in your hands, not just in your hearts. What Christ puts onto your mouth and lips by the hands of a pastor – His body and blood – you will finally see with your eyes, just as He ascended into the clouds. And then, by faith in Christ, you will be that most blessed on men, not just He whose sins aren’t counted against him, but finally, like Jesus, He who has no more sin, for everything will be made new, including you. It will happen to you. God will go through with that. Because of Christ. Amen.