End Times 2: Last Judgment
Preached: November 11, 2012
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Holy Spirit points us to Jesus through the words written in Hebrews 9
For Christ did not enter the sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the genuine one, but he entered heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf. And he didn't enter to offer himself many times, even as the high present enters the sanctuary year after year with another's blood. For then he'd have to suffer many times since the world's creation. But now at the completion of the ages he has appeared one time to remove sin by his sacrifice. Just as it's set that people die one time and afterwards comes judgment, so also Christ, who was offered up one time in order to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time not to deal with sin but to bring salvation to those eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:24-28).
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
“Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen” (Revelation 1:7 NIV84) -- Revelation chapter one. The 13th century hymn Dies Irae describes it this way: “Day of wrath, oh, day of mourning! See fulfilled the prophets' warning: Heav'n and earth in ashes burning. Death is struck and nature quaking; All creation is awaking, To its judge an answer making” (Christians Worship 209:1,2 “Day of Wrath, Oh, Day of Mourning”).
What fear and terror Judgment Day stirs up! Many may dismiss it as just stories made up to scare people straight or give the church control. Others just don't think about it much. But that day is coming whether people are watching for it or not. Like a thief in the night, it will come. And what woe and dread for all to whom the kingly Judge says, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 26:41 NIV84).
But you, dear Christian, with your eyes fixed on Jesus and your heart devoted to him, say, “I can't wait! I can't wait for Judgment Day!”
Now our eagerness dare not come from a sadistic, spiteful desire for revenge against those who have hurt us, longing to see them burn. That's not why we say, “I can't wait!” And our eagerness dare not come from a self-confidence that figures we've been better than most or at least tried hard and did our duty so the judgment should go pretty well for us. That's not why we say, “I can't wait!” In fact, both of those mindsets drive out and destroy the true reason for our eagerness and leave us totally unprepared.
So despite the dread and terror of Judgment Day, despite the requirement of complete perfection and holiness, despite our own many sins hidden in our hearts and others not so hidden all fully known by the Judge, why do we still say, “I can't wait!”? The Holy Spirit through the writer to the Hebrews teaches us why. Because Christ's one sacrifice does away with all sin -- part one. And because Christ's second coming will bring us salvation -- part two. That's why, dear Christian, you can say, “I can't wait!”
Do we truly appreciate the greatness of Christ's one sacrifice? So often we use that word “sacrifice” for trivial things, don't we? “I sacrificed watching the football game to get some yard work done. I sacrificed having desert to lose some weight. I sacrificed buying what I wanted because budget was tight.”
The Hebrew Christians had a much better picture of what sacrifice meant. For fifteen centuries the Jews had witnessed sacrifices first at the Tabernacle and then at the Temple. They heard the bleating death-cries of sheep and goats. They witnessed the necks cut and blood poured out. The stench of singed flesh soared to their nostrils. Sacrifice is a messy, bloody, deadly ordeal. Maybe in our modern, sanitized age veterans who have experienced the carnage of war know best the cost of sacrifice.
Yes, the wars and rumors of wars that last until the end remind us of how costly sin is. Such death and destruction is not an aberration, but what we've each inherited in our sinful nature. That death and destruction lurks in each of our souls. That's how serious sin is. How great a sacrifice sin requires!
In the Old Testament, each year on the Great Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the High Priest brought blood into the inner sanctuary, the Most Holy Place. This was not his own blood. For he too was a sinner, who needed his sin paid for by the blood of another. He did this year after year, for the blood he brought was only a shadow. The reality, the substance, the real, true blood that alone atones for sin, was still to come.
Then at the appointed time, at the goal that all the ages of this world had been leading up to, at that end point, Christ “has appeared once for all ... to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26 NIV1984). Christ's one sacrifice does away with all sin.
Consider the greatness of Christ's one sacrifice. He did not bring blood into a man-made sanctuary, like the priests of old. For even the Tabernacle, whose design God himself had given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, was still just a copy of the true, genuine sanctuary of heaven. No! Jesus Christ's sacrifice stands before God in heaven itself. His blood pleads our case before the throne of the Almighty. How great his sacrifice for us!
And unlike the Old Testament sacrifices he did not have to offer himself again and again. But on that cross, once, for all times before and after that moment, he suffered -- oh, how he suffered! -- sacrificing himself that one time to do away with all sins of all times, including all of yours, dear sinner. How great his sacrifice for you!
His sacrifice stands in heaven between you and the holy God. Faith sees Christ's one sacrifice and pleads nothing else. “I dare to make no other claim, but wholly lean on Jesus' name” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 382:1 “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less”). For our faith and hope are built entirely on Christ's sacrifice in our place, which did away with your sins and mine forever. Not our efforts, works, or gifts, but Christ's sacrifice alone is our plea before the Judge. Nothing else counts, only Christ's sacrifice. That alone is what faith pleads in God's courtroom. Nothing else, no matter how good or pious or worthy it appears. Only Christ's once-and-for-all sacrifice.
Dear Christian friends, cherish the greatness of his sacrifice. If we truly appreciated its full greatness, how much more wouldn't we dare to live for Christ showing love to our neighbor rather than living for ourselves? How much less would be sin's power to entice us? How much more devoted to following our Savior and enduring all things for his sake would we be? Yes, we can learn the words that confess how great Christ's sacrifice was, but that's just a start. Even a thousand lifetimes is too short to fully cherish the greatness of his sacrifice for you.
So don't waste the time you have now. As you read the Bible, contemplate how the Lord God prepared all the ages of the world for the sending of his Son as the one and only sacrifice for you. Rejoice how Jesus has sent out this Good News into all the world for you to hear and believe. Ponder how he brings you the intimacy of his sacrifice through the Lord's Supper. His own body and blood that he offered on the cross once and for all, he gives to you, dear Christian, to eat and to drink.
The more we treasure his sacrifice, the more eagerly we say, “I can't wait. I can't wait to see Jesus. Just as a wife longs to see her beloved husband, how I long to see my Jesus. How much he loves me! Look at the sacrifice he made for me. I can't wait.”
Yes, Christ's one sacrifice does away with all your sins, dear Christian. So Christ's second coming will bring salvation to you who are waiting for him.
“He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:24-28 NIV1984).
In the end, how pointless this life is for those who are not waiting for Christ! Oh, I know they are often filled with hopes and dreams. The can have drive and focus to get a lot more out of this life. And they may often feel success and happiness. But where does it all lead? In the end, they all die, rich and poor, the powerful and powerless, the hopeful and hopeless. “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27 NIV1984). Without faith in Christ, life is an aimless, deathward drift from futile birth. For you see, those not waiting for Jesus face a death and judgment that brings damnation, hell, the lake of fire, the weeping and gnashing of teeth, the outer darkness where their maggots never die and their flames never go out. What hopelessness!
That's what lies ahead for those who are not waiting for Jesus. They may know about Jesus. In fact, they may even use that knowledge as an excuse for not eagerly anticipating his return with hope and expectation. “I believe that Jesus' sacrifice paid for my sins. Since he's taken care of the spiritual stuff and reserved my spot in heaven, I can focus on my life now and what I need to enjoy my time here on earth.” That doesn't sound like they're waiting for Jesus, does it? Yet how many who were baptized or confirmed in this building might say something like that or live according to that kind of thinking? Is that faith? It claims to belief, but where is the change of heart and life that faith produces, just as a good tree produces good fruit? Where is that eagerness that focuses on Jesus, waiting for him who died for us? Where is that eagerness that waits for Jesus by showing his love toward others? Without a living faith in Jesus, a person is lost and the judgment will only bring unending terror, whether they realize it or not.
Rather the eagerness of faith shouts out: “I can't wait for my Jesus to return and rescue me from this valley of tears, this world of sorrow and suffering, this sin-corrupted desert drear. I can't wait to be with Christ which is better by far, but until then I want my time of waiting to be filled with Christ and his word, living for him as I love and serve others even as Jesus has loved me and given himself up for me.” Oh that this faith would grow ever stronger and brighter in each of us!
Yes, dear Christian, Jesus is coming. This world will end in fire. But our hopes and dreams are not tied to this world. We don't grab and clutch whatever we can grind out of this earthly existence. Rather we open our hands and generously give of ourselves, for you know who is coming. You know what treasures he has stored up for you beyond what we could ever imagine. You know the salvation that he has won for you, which we cannot full enjoy until his return. So our hearts of faith call out, “I can't wait.”
Yes, dear Christian, your heart of faith says: “I can't wait for Jesus to return. I can't wait because he came the first time, to pay for all my sins. What a great sacrifice he made for me once and for all! I know and believe that I stand before God fully and freely forgiven. I stand justified, acquitted in God's courtroom, declared not guilty but righteous because Christ's blood atones for me. His one sacrifice does away with all sins.”
And your faith continues to say, “I can't wait for him to come a second time -- not to take away my sins. He's already down that. I can't wait for him to come again because he's bringing me the fullness of the salvation he's won for me. Until then sins besiege me, Satan stalks me, death threatens me, tears and sadness trouble me, doubts and despair attack me, the world ridicules and belittles me and my Lord. But as I wait for my King, I will deny myself and take up my cross. I will follow my Lord no matter what the cost. I will serve him by serving even the lowest and the least. For when he returns, he will wipe away every tear from my eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning, or crying or pain for the old order of things will have passed away (Revelation 21:4). And I will hear him say, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world’ (Matthew 25:34 NIV84). Oh, how I can't wait!”
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.