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Populus Zion (Advent II)

by Christopher Esget ~ December 4th, 2011

Luke 21:25-36

Miss Gaffer, our wonderful new JK teacher in our school, has a saying: “You get what you get, so don’t throw a fit.” I think it has something to do with crayons and not complaining about what colors you do or don’t have. But it might be something altogether different. Honestly, that world is a bit of a mystery to me.

“You get what you deserve” is an English variant on the idea of karma – that what goes around comes around, and in the end good works will be rewarded and bad deeds punished.

That encapsulates religion for many people, whether they consider themselves Christian or otherwise. Is that what the Bible teaches? The words of Jesus at the end of today’s Gospel make me more than a little nervous: “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” 

“Counted worthy” – what does that mean? Will I be counted worthy? What do you need to do to be counted worthy to stand before Christ in the judgment?

Will it be random or in some other way unfair, so that Miss Gaffer will instruct us all,  “You get what you get”?

Or perhaps the one or two things in my life that might be regarded as good will be weighed against all my many sins, and in the day of judgment, Christ will declare to me, “You get what you deserve.” I know what I deserve. And so do you, if you mean the confession when you say it. “We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment.”

Last week’s Gospel, the humble entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, presented a lowly Christ who suffers for us. The selfsame Word of God proclaims that this same Christ who suffered lowly for us will return in glory, for judgment.

On that Day, all things that are hidden shall be uncovered, the deeds done in darkness shall be brought to light, and none shall stand before the LORD on their own merit. And what will you deserve, on that day?

The holy prophet Daniel, who survived the den of lions, by the Holy Spirit saw the Day of Judgment which all our race will have to face:

As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow … his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A dream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. (Daniel 7:9f)

What will be found in those books? What lies? What blasphemies? What perversions? What lusts? What infidelities? What betrayals of confidence? The deeds done in darkness shall be brought to light.

Before His ascension, Jesus announced to His disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” He has the authority to judge, and on the Last Day, Christ will come to judge the quick and the dead.

Do you think there is no judgment of works? Why then does Jesus say,

[The Father] has given [the Son] authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:27-29)

Woe to you, hypocrites, who smile at your neighbor but speak ill of him behind his back! Woe to you whitewashed tombs, who vie for authority and control when you ought to be seeking ways to serve!

In the time before the judgment, the Lord says that “because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Mt. 24.12). Has your love for your neighbor grown cold? Has your love for God grown cold? Have you decked your halls but not your hearts?

Woe to you hypocrites, who honor God with your lips but whose heart is far from Him!Vain is your worship and your lip service to the Faith! Do you not recall the words of our Lord, that “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak”? (Mt. 12.36)

Woe to you, who pay greater attention to the forecast of the weather than what is forecast for the Day of Judgment! Do you not know that in the Day of Judgment, the weeds, the fruitless members of the church shall be gathered and burned with fire? For

The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Mt. 13.40f)

The season of Advent is the church’s annual reminder that you must prepare for Christ’s Advent, His coming, His return in glory for judgment. Thus the season of Advent is a call to repentance, a call to examine your life, examine your deeds, examine your heart in light of the coming judgment. All of this is summarized in the warning we hear from Christ the Coming Judge today:

But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all thee things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.

“That you may be counted worthy to stand” – what will make you worthy, truly worthy to stand before the Son of Man, Christ the Judge?

My friends, I have spoken harshly to you this morning—or rather, I have repeated the severe warnings of Christ Himself—because we dare never take God’s mercy for granted. It is a damnable lie that we can carry on sinning because God is merciful, that because God forgives we can disregard His Word and live licentiously.

The life of the disciple is a life of repentance, and the Bible’s warning against unworthiness in the day of judgment must become again our concern. This is why the Church takes admission to the Lord’s Supper so seriously, because Holy Scripture warns that

Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord…. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Cor. 11.27, 29).

Thus we are called to examine ourselves before coming to the altar because partaking of the Holy Communion is a type, a foreshadowing of the judgment. This is why the holy apostle Paul, in instructing us about the Eucharist, prepares us for the judgment with these words: “But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.”

What does it mean to judge ourselves truly? It means to stop deceiving ourselves, and be honest about who we are before Christ the Judge, who we are under the scrutiny of God’s holy Law. We are sinners. We deserve His verdict of “guilty.” We deserve His condemnation. We merit His punishment now, and we merit everlasting torment, an eternal dying, a never-ending separation from God’s life and goodness and presence. The modern assumption, by Christians and non-Christians alike, is that few if any will be condemned. But the words of Christ the Judge suggest otherwise: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” Broad is the path that leads to destruction, and there are many who go by it; narrow is the path that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

“But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.” Before that Last Day comes, when we stand before Christ the Judge, we must judge ourselves truly, judge ourselves as sinners. Coming to Confession is to come before Christ the Judge, and hear through His earthly vicar the pastor the words of His judgment on the repentant: “I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” If we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged, that is, judged by God in the Day of Judgment.

So as I often like to summarize the Scriptural message about worthiness: Worthiness consists in recognizing your unworthiness. How can you be worthy? Confess your unworthiness. How can you escape the judgment? Judge yourself now a sinner, confess it, and turn from your sins. And when you stumble, and you will, kneel down and repeat the Lord’s Prayer, earnestly imploring the Father to forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Avail yourself of the great blessing of private confession. Come often, as a sick person, to receive the medicine of immortality in this blessed Sacrament.

So that we are crystal clear: there is a judgment of works. Have you heard that we are not saved by works? That is false. We are indeed saved by works. The question is, Whose works? Coming before Christ the Judge, you will not stand on the basis of your own works. In the judgment of works, only one man’s works avail: the God-man, Christ Jesus, who became man and performed every work perfectly for us, and also suffered our judgment for us.

Christ the Judge Himself stood under the judgment: condemned by the church, that is, the High Priest, and condemned by the state, under the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, and finally condemned by God Himself, witness to by Jesus crying out that the Father had forsaken Him.

Christ the Judge took your judgment, and you receive His. That is the only basis by which you will be counted worthy to stand in the Day of Judgment.

So as the world breaks asunder, with cosmic disturbances and tumultuous oceans, economies crumbling and the church on earth falling into greater and greater apostasy, when the Day of Judgment comes and men’s hearts are failing them for fear, you, lift up your heads and rejoice, for on that day, the great day of Judgment, Christ your redeemer draws near, to speak over you the final absolution. +INJ+

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