Have you ever noticed how one person’s big moment of absolute joy is another’s worst nightmare?
Think about it. June 28, 1919: Victory for the United States, surrender for Germany. Sept. 2, 1945: Victor for our country, humiliation for Japan. Sept. 11, 2001: Victory for the Taliban, devastation for us. Same event — very different reactions.
That’s the reality of the truth we are forced to deal with when we talk about Judgment Day. We don’t know when, but we know it’s coming. So here’s the question — which side will you be on? Will you be celebrating a victory or mourning a loss?
Listen to how Jesus describes that day in our text: "Do not be amazed (troubled) at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out — those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned."
The shocking part of this is that he tells us not to be troubled at this. Think about that. This is the same God that told us that the standard for entry into heaven is perfection, the same God that said, "Be Holy, because I the Lord your God am holy," (Leviticus 19:2) the same God that said, "Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it" (James 2:10). Now he says those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. That means that for your felony, you deserve hell; for your divorce, you deserve to be separated from God; for your abuse, you deserve to be abused; but even for your selfishness, you deserve God to keep all good from you; for your anger, you deserve his wrath; for your one less than perfect thought, you deserve God never to think of you again! I know — I’m right there with you.
But wait, we’re missing something. In verses 24-25, Jesus calls our attention to something we absolutely must understand before we even begin to try to grasp what he’s talking about here. Twice in two verses, Jesus uses his famous call to attention: "Verily verily, amen, amen." Listen up! "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" (John 5:24)
"But what about the standard of perfection?" we ask. That’s why he had to get our attention. He says it’s all about hearing his word and believing. That word changes things. So believe it when Jesus says he lays down his life for the sheep. Believe when he says that his blood washed away the sin of the world — our sins. Believe when he says that he is clothing us with his perfection. Believe when he says that his word gives us the power to believe. You have crossed over from death to life.
Do you see what this reveals about our God? Yes, he is the One in control who made us and demanded perfection. And he is the one who provided that perfection for our record. Our God — the one Jesus was explaining — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — accomplished this situation where the death we deserve is gone because Jesus died it already — and the life we can’t even imagine is ours because Jesus lived it and gives it to us.
So Judgment Day is not scary. It’s exciting, because victory, eternal victory, is ours in Christ. Amen.
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.