Presented on The Lutheran Hour on July 27, 2014
By Rev. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
(Q&A Topic:What Happens on Judgment Day?)
Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Romans 8:38-39
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Spoken by the angels almost 2,000 years ago those words are the Lord's announcement that your life can be different. Because the risen Redeemer has lived, died, and risen to win humanity's forgiveness and salvation, we can live our days in joy and thanks for God's great grace. May God grant such a blessed life be given to each of us. Amen.
This Lutheran Hour Message begins with a recent conversation I had with one of my young grandsons. We were watching the story of a fellow who had been dropped into the wilderness and was trying to survive long enough to make his way back to civilization. The man spoke into his hand-held camera, "I will follow this stream. The stream will take me to where I need to be." My grandson asked, "How does he know there will be people at the end of the river?" My explanation began, "Well, we know that water always flows downhill...." It was my intention to continue with, "water flows downhill and when it is powerful enough, it can be harnessed and people can use the river's power for travel, to produce power and the like."
My explanation never got that far. As soon as I had said, "We know water always flows downhill..." my grandson started jumping up and down. "Grandpa, Grandpa," he said. "Grandpa, I know a place where water doesn't flow downhill. In outer space water doesn't flow anywhere." Of course he was right. I was going to tell him that if the survivor guy had been dropped in outer space, he would have had bigger problems than finding civilization. Yes, I was going to say that, but I didn't. Instead I sighed and rephrased my explanation, "Here on earth, where gravity exerts its influence, we know that water always flows downhill." I finished my explanation, but I could have saved myself the effort. As soon as my grandson heard that word always, I could see him mentally leave me as he tried to think of a place on earth where water DOESN'T flow downhill. Unless I miss my guess, right now, many of you are doing exactly the same thing. If so, please, let that go and stay with me for the rest of the message. You can think of water unaffected by gravity later in the day.
The point I am trying to make is that we live in a world where there are no absolutes and everything is decided on the basis of situation and circumstance. Even my grandson, who has not yet reached the teenage years where everything must be challenged and questioned, knows that there must be an exception to every rule. Still, if you really want to talk to an expert on exceptions to rules, sit down and visit with a highway patrolman. You see, these keepers of turnpike safety know their state has spent a great deal of thought, time, and money placing signs in strategic locations along the roadside so every motorist will know the law's maximum speed.
The highway patrolman knows those signs are the law; but every motorist believes that while those laws are good, right, and should be followed; they also believe every law has an exception... and they are sure that they are that exception. That's why a Colorado officer recently heard a driver from the East Coast explain he was speeding because his speedometer didn't work at such a high altitude. And there was an Arizona officer who heard the explanation, "I was speeding because I forgot my glasses and couldn't see my dashboard." Then there was the elderly lady from New Hampshire who was doing 85 in a zone posted for 30. She said, "I'm speeding to see if my muffler is leaking." I feel sorry for the teen who was pulled over and when he was asked, "Do you know how fast you were going," replied, "No, officer, I was going way too fast to read the signs." I guess my favorite exception is the person who explained, "Sorry, sir, my gas gauge says my car's tank is on empty so I was speeding to get to the gas station so I could fill up."
Every rule has an exception. Now those of you who are sharp or view this world logically, are wondering, "Is there an exception to the rule which says 'every rule has an exception.'" Well, I am pleased to tell you there is. Almost 2,000 years ago, St. Paul wrote a letter to the church in Rome and he spoke about that exception. He said, "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Now I went over that list rather quickly and I really didn't give you time to fully digest the Apostle's meaning. He was saying the good and bad things of this life cannot separate you from God's love. He was stating there is nothing in your life right now, and nothing which will ever come your way, which can disconnect you from God's love. He was informing us that nothing in the visible world and nothing from places supernatural can pull you from God's merciful hand.
Climb the highest mountain, descend to the deepest sea, and you can never encounter anything with the cunning, the capacity, the capability which can rip you from God's loving embrace. That's what St. Paul said. Then, when Paul was done, he thought, "You know, I'm pretty sure those folks in the 21st century are going to try and find some loopholes in what God promises." That's why the Apostle made a statement which would eliminate all exceptions. He wrote, "nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus." In these few verses, Paul assures us that no matter how difficult your circumstances, no matter how hard your life, no matter under what situation you may happen to find yourself, the all powerful blood of Jesus Christ still cleanses and keeps you. In these verses, all those who have Holy Spirit given faith are assured that the gift of heaven is certain. For as we have clearly heard, NOTHING shall separate us from the love of God which has been given to us through the sacrifice and substitution of Jesus Christ, God's Son, our Lord.
Now when you and I hear the word nothing, that is usually a bad thing. Not so long ago a banker in the Midwest had to tell a customer that she was the victim of identity theft. Her accounts had been cleared out and her credit cards had been maxed out. Her world was terribly, tragically rocked when she heard she had nothing left. Have you ever been loved? How would you feel, how did you feel when that individual coldly, cruelly commented: "I feel nothing for you any longer?" Some of you have gone to the doctor, others have accompanied a dear family member or a friend to a consultation and heard the trusted physician say, "I'm sorry, but there's nothing medicine can do for you." In such situations the word nothing makes us feel hopeless and helpless.
What a contrast is brought about when the Apostle tells us, "There is NOTHING which can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus." Under God's guidance this word, which once was filled with sadness and sorrow, is given a new meaning, a different and an opposite meaning. The despair and despondency served up by this sinful world is replaced by delight as we depend on the Savior's blood-bought forgiveness. Those who were once overwhelmed by a feeling of lostness and aloneness are transformed as they realize the crucified and risen Redeemer is by their side. The Spiritual Physician of our souls is there providing the healing medicine which erases every sin and heals every heartfelt hurt.
But I speak in generalities. Let me ask, "What is the cross which lays so heavy upon you today? What burden weighs you down and robs you of the joy which you feel ought to be there, which should be there?" Is it a family or a financial difficulty? Perhaps a friendship has soured or a dream has been shattered? What is it that makes your future seem so dark and dismal, so undesirable and uninviting? From the Lutheran Hour studios I cannot begin to grasp the pain you have been carrying. Even so, without fear of contradiction, I can tell you this: that, in Jesus Christ, there is an answer. There is no pain or problem which His nail-pierced hands cannot remove or help you carry. There is no tomorrow which is so dark that His loving light cannot penetrate. There is no sin which is too great which He cannot remove. Nothing... and that includes your great grief, nothing in all creation can separate people of faith from the love of God which is theirs in Christ Jesus.
If my grandson were listening to this message, and I can see his face even now, he would immediately try to think of the exception to what I have just said. Even though he is young, he knows all about false claims and unkept promises. He knows that the toy which appears lifelike on the commercial will be stripped of those animate qualities when he gets that toy home. From personal experience he knows that his toothpaste, no matter what the ads might imply, is unable to guarantee that every visit to the dentist will end up with him being told he has no cavities. He knows that he can't always trust his friends when they make him a promise; he knows they will not always keep his secrets when he opens his heart to them.
You and I, with the wisdom of years, are forced to agree with him. Indeed, we know that drinking the right beer will not make us more interesting; we know that a fast-food place can't give us the break we need; we know that, in spite of our provider's claims, our cell phone is still going to drop calls and there will be times when the folks at the other end of the call won't be able to hear us now. We know that if every auto insurance company can save us money, there ought to come a time when they will end up paying us. We know credit cards which offer to give us cash back can only do so if they have more cash coming in from us.
Now St. Paul has no problem with you being skeptical of the world's claims. He was trained as an ancient lawyer; things weren't any different back then. He knew that you had to be careful when you bought somebody's used camel and you ought to be a bit doubtful when a physician said he could cure you of that which was incurable. Even so, when it comes to claims made by the Savior, Paul had no hesitation or reservation. As a man who had once participated in the persecution and execution of Christians, Paul knew there is no sin stain which cannot be erased by the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ.
Now, it is at this point in the message when I have to stop for just a few minutes and speak to my listeners who are Christians, to those of you who have had your sins washed away by the blood of your Savior. I want to say a few words to those of you who know Jesus, but who sometimes, possibly even now, feel that what I've said doesn't apply to you. Yes, you know the Savior and you love Him, just as you know that He loves you. Even so, there are times when you still feel weighed down and burdened by the events which are swirling all around you. Indeed, there are times when these sorrows and sadnesses make you despair of your faith and salvation.
Let me share an event which recently took place in my life. A few months ago I was scheduled to make a presentation in Wisconsin and took an early evening flight to Milwaukee. As the plane flew north, I looked out the window to the east and saw that darkness had settled upon the countryside below. Then having seen nothing to the east, I turned and looked out my window which faced the west. There the sun was shining, and in unbelievable contrast, against the blue sky the clouds were painted in vivid shades of golds, and pinks, and purples. It occurred to me that all of us in that plane were headed to Milwaukee. If you looked in one direction, things were in deep darkness and if you looked in the other direction, it was quite different. What you saw depended on which direction you chose to look.
So it is for all you who believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior. The Lord Jesus Christ entered this world for you. During the course of His life He fulfilled the laws which you have broken. So you might be forgiven He rejected all of Satan's temptations. So you might be assured that not even the grave can separate you from God's love He rose from the dead. Now, with the faith which God has given to you, you are going to go to heaven. Your arrival at that eternal destination of joy is not dependant on anything you do or don't do. On the other hand, as you travel to that final spot for your soul, it does make a big difference which way you look and where you focus your gaze.
If you see things as the world does, that is, in a very short-sighted way and as if you were at the mercy of events terrible and tragic, you will find that things appear to be dark, very dark indeed. Such a dark and depressing picture can make you feel as if your life is devoid of joy, and happiness is something which will never come your way.
On the other hand, if you allow yourself to be turned 180 degrees, you will see things quite differently. If you look to where the Son is shining, you will be given a perspective which allows you to live your life in awe at the great love of God. When the early Christians were martyred, some in ways too cruel to describe on a family radio program, those who were there said these believers went to their deaths singing songs of joy. They were able to do that because they knew they were headed to heaven and they trained their eyes on the light which comes from the Son of God. They held fast to the faith which said, "Nothing can separate you from the love of God which is yours in Christ Jesus."
You should know that, if you allow the Holy Spirit to redirect your gaze, that vision can be yours. Not so long ago I heard of a pastor who went to visit one of his shut-ins. The lady seemed to take great delight in sharing all the pains she had suffered during her life. In visit after visit she told the preacher about how, years before, her husband and her son had died. One day she finished her litany of woes by saying, "Preacher, I can tell you right now, it's enough to make a lady lose her religion." After a quick thinking pause, the minster replied, "My dear, there is no doubt that you have had many pains and problems, but it seems to me that such things are enough to make you use your religion."
And for those of you who do not know the Savior, those of you who are still trying to tackle life's madness and misfortune on your own, let me say, "There is a better way. Today Jesus extends an invitation, a promise which says, 'Repent, believe, be saved, and know that I am with you. No matter what happens, I will never leave you or forsake you. I have redeemed you. I have called you by Name and I did all this so you might be mine.'" If this sounds like a better way to you and you desire to know more, we are ready to help you. That is why we extend this invitation, please, call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for July 27, 2014
Topic: What Happens on Judgment Day?
ANNOUNCER: What will happen on Judgment Day? And, does God hold us accountable for sins He's not even supposed to remember? That'll be our questions today for our Speaker Emeritus, Pastor Ken Klaus. I'm Mark Eischer.
KLAUS: Hello, Mark. Good to be here.
ANNOUNCER: Pastor, over the centuries, artists have created striking and perhaps even terrifying depictions of Judgment Day.
KLAUS: That's right. They often show Christ sitting in judgment with a lily in one hand and a flaming sword in the other. Angels welcome the righteous into paradise while devils drag the damned kicking and screaming down, down, down into the unquenchable fires of hell.
ANNOUNCER: I hear you say that and I understand that image influenced British journalist Peter Hitchens in his conversion to Christianity. Back when he was an atheist, he visited a cathedral and he saw such a painting of the last judgment. He was shocked to see that those bound for hell looked just like his friends! It made the prospect of eternal damnation all too real.
KLAUS: Because he realized that he also stood condemned under God's Law.
ANNOUNCER: Many religions talk about the last day as a time of judgment, a time when a person's good deeds and bad deeds are weighed in the balance.
KLAUS: Yeah, there is considerable confusion about this. Some people maintain nothing is going to happen, because there is not going to be a Judgment Day. Others believe God's a good Fellow who's going to let everybody in through the pearly gates--with the possible exception of Adolf Hitler.
ANNOUNCER: Other religions don't even have a final judgment but they imagine a cyclical approach in which the soul is reincarnated over and over again until it achieves nothingness.
KLAUS: Yeah, but, Hebrews 9 lays that notion to rest when it says, "It is appointed for man to die once and after that comes judgment." Reincarnation is not compatible with biblical Christianity.
ANNOUNCER: However, it's commonly believed that if you do enough good while you're living, it will cancel out the bad.
KLAUS: Yes, but how much is enough? The Bible teaches that a person who breaks the law in just one point is guilty of breaking all the laws. It's like having a levee that's fifty miles long. If it breaks in just one spot, everything behind it ends up underwater!
ANNOUNCER: It seems like this would lead one either to despair or self-delusion.
KLAUS: The Bible also says the wages of sin is death and the soul that sins shall die. All in all it's a pretty hopeless situation if we have to stand in God's court of justice all on our own.
ANNOUNCER: But for Christians, aren't we saved by grace through faith in Christ? The Bible says God remembers our sins no more. So, if our sins are forgiven on account of Christ and at His expense, do we still have to answer for them?
KLAUS: Picture a courtroom scene. In this trial, God is the Judge and the laws we are accused of having broken are the 10 Commandments, the moral law that's written in the hearts of all human beings.
ANNOUNCER: Okay, a proper trial must have a prosecutor.
KLAUS: And standing against us is the most tenacious and ruthless prosecutor of all: Satan--his name means "adversary"-he's the one that's bringing the charges against us. Satan will point to the laws of God and say, "Your Honor, before you stands a sinner... someone who has frequently and obviously violated Your laws in thought, word, and deed."
ANNOUNCER: Of course, those accusations against us would all be true. We are sinners and we can't pretend we're not.
KLAUS: Yes, when we hear those charges, we ought to hang our heads in shame. We are guilty and must give an account... but there is no explanation or excuse which will help. We have messed up and the verdict should justly be that we are condemned to hell for eternity.
ANNOUNCER: But, thank God there is another Person in the courtroom that day.
KLAUS: Thank the Lord! That other Person is our Defense Attorney, Jesus. On our own we were lost, but Jesus says, "Your Honor, it's true--this person has done many sinful things and should be punished. But, from what I can see, the penalty for these sins has been paid. I have taken his place, her place. For them, I resisted temptation. For them, I lived a perfect life. For them, I paid the penalty price for this sin and for them I conquered death. You must release this person. Through faith in Me, they stand before you innocent. There are no debts left unpaid."
ANNOUNCER: And our Judge will then declare us innocent, on account of Christ.
KLAUS: And free to enter heaven.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Klaus. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"New Songs of Celebration Render" arr. Kevin Hildebrand. From Hymns for All Saints: Psalms, Hymns, Spiritual Songs (© 2011 Concordia Publishing House)
"Who Trusts in God, a Strong Abode" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)