Presented on The Lutheran Hour on November 19, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Dale A. Meyer, Guest Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Nobody Deserves Hell)
Copyright 2018 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Matthew 25:14-30
Oh Holy Spirit, Spirit of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ, help us to know that our Creator and judge is also our loving Heavenly Father. Teach us to live our lives in reverent fear and love, inspire us by your Word to use all that we are and have to further His good purposes in this world. Form us to be dutiful servants. And when the day of reckoning comes, may we rely totally upon the grace given to us in our Savior, Jesus Christ. We pray in His name and for His sake. Amen.
Thank you for listening to today's program. Your time is precious and I want to use these minutes to give you a good word from God and a word of purpose. God has not taken us to heaven yet because He has a purpose for you and me to accomplish. Let's get right down into it. You and I are living in a time of change. Change unlike anything we have seen in our lifetimes. If you have a feeling that things have been spinning out of control, you are right. Peggy Noonan is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal. Here's what she wrote last month. She describes, I think, how many of us are feeling. "I think a lot of Americans have guns because they are fearful and for good reason. They fear a coming chaos and know that when it happens it will be coming to a nation that no longer coheres."
That's the downside. But God has a good word. A word of resurrection and a word of purpose that is filled with living hope. Jeremiah chapter six verse 16 says, "Thus says the Lord, 'Stand by the roads and look and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is and walk in it and find rest for your souls.'" I believe that an important ancient path in our troubled times is the fear and love of God. Our purpose in this world comes from that ancient path. That good way of fearing and loving God. In the Bible, the Greek word for fear is "phobos." It's the root word for all the phobias that have been identified, like agoraphobia, the fear of open spaces, xenophobia, the fear of strangers, necrophobia, the fear of death, and so on.
In the Bible, the word fear is used in a variety of ways. It does not always mean what you might think it means. On the one hand, the Bible uses the word fear to describe the feeling you have when something is coming at you that is bigger than you are, more powerful than you are, can't be resisted, can't be stopped, and it's going to get you. We all have many experiences with fear. The death of a spouse, failing health, a terminal diagnosis, financial collapse. These are some examples of things that come our way and terrify us. I must add one more source of fear. Coming before God. Coming as a sinner before the holy and just eternal judge. We are going to hear a parable about that in a minute. That's why this message is called "The Reckoning."
Remember, I said in the Bible the word fear is used in a variety of ways. A positive meaning of fear in the Bible is when something is coming at you that is bigger than you are, more powerful than you are, is heading right toward you, but here's the big difference. This is coming to help you, not to hurt you. This is coming to rescue you, not the run you over. This is God for you, not God against you. Paul says, "What then, shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" Romans chapter eight. How does that make you feel, that the great God could condemn us for our sins, but does not? How does that make you feel, that God is for you, not against you?
I can tell you how it makes me feel. Wow. Awesome. Dale, bow down in quiet reverence before the great God who loves you and rescues you through Jesus. That feeling is what the Bible means when it talks about the fear of God. One of the best known passages about the fear of God is Psalm 111 verse 10. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. All those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever." Deuteronomy six verse 13 says, "It is the Lord, your God, whom you shall fear. Him you shall serve."
Jesus told a parable about both aspects of fear. Fear as a dread when we are called to give an account and fear as reverence that serves God's purposes. Jesus' parable is in Matthew chapter 25 beginning at verse 14. Jesus begins by saying that "The kingdom of heaven ..." Kingdom of heaven means the reign and rule of God. "The kingdom of heaven will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one, he gave five talents. To another, two. To another, one. To each according to his ability. Then he went away." Some scholars have estimated that a talent was worth 20 years of wages. Others think it was less, but whatever, a talent is a lot of money.
The master is going to be gone for a long time and gives one worker five talents, another two, and another one. To each according to his ability. You understand, Jesus is not simply telling us a story about an earthly master and workers. He is talking about God who graces you and me with different abilities to use on His behalf. Reading on: "He who had received the five talents went at once and trading with them and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more." These were dutiful servants. The master had given them something they had not earned. His generosity entrusted them with differing talents. The master was gone for a long time, so we are talking about dutifully pursuing the master's interest daily, monthly, weekly, and yearly.
Again, the spiritual understanding here is obvious. God has given to you and me so many gifts, undeserved gifts, graces of abilities and treasures He wants us to use for His purposes in this world. Martin Luther described our purpose as dutiful servants of God when he wrote, "Christians live not in themselves, but in Christ and their neighbor. Otherwise they are not Christian. By faith, they are caught up beyond themselves into God. By love, they descend beneath themselves into the neighbor." That quotation comes from Luther's 1520 writing "The Freedom of a Christian."
What about that third servant? The one given one talent? Jesus says, "But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money." This is going to get interesting. "Now after a long time, the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. He who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me five talents. Here, I have made five talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little. I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.' He also who had the two talents came forward saying, 'Master, you delivered to me two talents. Here, I have made two talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little. I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'"
I think you see what's going on. God has so graced you and me that we will want to give a good account when our final reckoning comes. Nothing here about working your way into the master's graces. Nothing about working your way into heaven. Everything you and I have-time, talents, and treasures-has been given to us by God's grace. As the famous passage says, "By grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not your own doing. It is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." Ephesians two, verses eight and nine. Then this passage immediately follows, verse 10, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."
Using what the master has given us is our response to His grace. I am reminded of another passage. Revelation chapter 14 verse 13, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. 'Blessed indeed,' says the spirit, 'That they may rest from their labors and their deeds follow them.'" Follow them. Our deeds are a response to saving grace. But now comes the reckoning for that servant who did not use the talent given to him, who did not have the purpose of serving his master. The parable continues, "He also who had received the one talent came forward saying, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here. You have what is yours.'"
Oh, my! How dare he say that! "I knew you to be a hard man," really? The master who had entrusted him with the gift of a lifetime, the generous master who wants to reap everywhere he rules and reigns. "I was afraid and I went and hid your talent in the ground." His reckoning is going to be filled with fear. The fear that is terror. "But his master answered him, 'You wicked and slothful servant. You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed. You know my generosity and lavish grace. Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers. At my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the 10 talents.'" Then Jesus draws for us the moral. "For to everyone who has will more be given and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away."
Jesus means that when you and I take the grace of God to heart and show our gratitude by dutifully serving His purpose in this world, then we will see the blessings of faith multiply. On the other hand, if we bury the grace of the master and prevent it from multiplying in this world, then we will see even our one little talent taken away. Jesus ends this parable by saying, "And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Hebrews chapter 10 says, "The Lord will judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
Weeping and gnashing of teeth would be an ominous way to conclude today's message. The stable society that we have known for so many decades is disintegrating all around us. Millions and millions of people see the disarray and are afraid. A chaos is coming upon them they cannot handle. But you, dear listener, are on the up side, the resurrection side. You and I await the reckoning because our sights are on heaven from whence we await the Savior. God's love replaces our natural dread with awe, with reverence for the master who so richly blesses us in this pressure time of grace. "Come, O children, listen to me," invites the Psalmist. "I will teach you the fear of the Lord. The Lord redeems the life of his servants. None of those who take refuge in him will be condemned." Psalm 34.
As you and I await the reckoning, we have a purpose in life. Philippians chapter two says, "It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." Our goal is to lay at his feet whatever good we, as dutiful servants have been able to do for him in this chaotic, hurting world. If it happens that you are one who thus far has buried your talent, find it, dig it out, and put it into His service. You are still in the time of grace, and your time is precious. I close with Psalm 115. "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory. For the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness." The Lord has remembered us. He will bless us. He will bless the house of Israel. He will bless the house of Aaron. He will bless those who fear the Lord, both the small and the great. Amen.
Reflections for November 19, 2017
Guest: Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus Title: Nobody Deserves Hell
Mark Eischer: You're listening to the Lutheran Hour and Pastor Ken Klaus joins us now. Pastor, welcome.
Rev. Ken Klaus: Thank you.
Mark Eischer: I think we have a rather challenging question for you today. It's a common question. It's an objection to Christianity that our listeners may have been asked or they may have wondered about this themselves.
Rev. Ken Klaus: I always like one that's going to hit everybody. What have you got for us, Mark?
Mark Eischer: The question comes from a listener. He says, "I like many of the concepts of Christianity, but I just can't get my head wrapped around this idea of God sending people to hell. I might dislike somebody. I could imagine hating someone, but even if I hated a person I would never send them to a punishment which lasts forever. This whole thing seems to me to undercut everything you Christians say about the God of love and mercy."
Rev. Ken Klaus: I can reply to our listener's question in two ways. One, I'm absolutely sure he's not going to like, the other, well, maybe.
Mark Eischer: All right. Shall we start with the least likable first?
Rev. Ken Klaus: Okay. What would happen, Mark, if somebody came up to you and provoked an argument and then for no reason at all, proceeded to slap you?
Mark Eischer: I think I'd want to defend myself certainly. If it got into a physical altercation, I think we'd call the police and try to have this person arrested for assault and battery.
Rev. Ken Klaus: Okay. We've called the police and they've arrived. Rather than going peacefully, the man lands one on the chin of an officer and then tries to run away. What's going to happen, then?
Mark Eischer: Depending on the situation, that could be either a misdemeanor or a felony, and so the situation is escalating, the severity of the crime warrants a greater punishment.
Rev. Ken Klaus: The penalty's going to be worse.
Mark Eischer: I would think so.
Rev. Ken Klaus: Okay. Now we take this fellow, he's been arrested, and he's now in court. Rather than showing a repentant heart, he goes over the top of the table in front of them and tries to get up and beat up the judge. Is the punishment going to get worse now?
Mark Eischer: No doubt.
Rev. Ken Klaus: I would think so. The point of all of it is the punishment increases as you move up the level of the wounded individual's level of importance. Now, let's take it to the religious world. We've got a supreme God, creator the universe, perfect. And we've all sinned, committed crimes against Him. Shouldn't the punishment for that supreme sin also call for a supreme punishment?
Mark Eischer: I think even our listener would say punishment might be in order, but the thing that's getting our listener is this idea of eternal punishment. It's the length of the punishment, the severity, in that case.
Rev. Ken Klaus: The punishment's that long because our souls were designed to live forever. An everlasting soul will receive everlasting punishment or everlasting blessings. The second way is let's do a little bit of mental scenario here. Suppose every man, woman, and child in the world who's ever lived, ever going to live, is locked in a jail cell. They were born in that jail cell. Their sins and their actions have put them there and from this jail there is no reprieve, no escape.
Mark Eischer: Okay. I understand. I got that.
Rev. Ken Klaus: Okay. Just imagine the judge who made the laws up that put people in this jail, for some reason feels sorry for them, wants to get them out. He devises a plan to get them out but it's going to cost the life of his son to complete that plan. Terrible cost. The judge is willing to accept it for these sad people.
Mark Eischer: It's the death of the judge's son that is the key to unlock these jail cells?
Rev. Ken Klaus: Yeah. Taking that over to what we're talking about here, Jesus, God's Son, carried our sins, died our death. His resurrection from the dead is God's assurance we're free. But there's a catch.
Mark Eischer: Ah. And what's the catch?
Rev. Ken Klaus: Those jail cells are unlocked for only a limited period of time. Right now, if you believe Jesus is your Savior, you can walk out. If you don't believe in Jesus, you'll stay in jail. The day is coming, that is the day of physical death, is coming, when it's going to be too late. If that person has not received Jesus as Savior, by then, he will find the jail cells locked and never going to be opened again.
Mark Eischer: Sadly, the Bible agrees that that is the case. First Timothy chapter two verse four tells us, "God desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth." And in first John 11 verses 25 through 27, Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die."
Rev. Ken Klaus: As long as they live, forgiveness and eternal life is possible, but the book of Hebrews says, "It's appointed for man to die once and after that, comes the judgment." To stay condemned is a person's choice, not the Lord's. He wants everybody freed.
Mark Eischer: Next week our listeners in the U.S. will be celebrating the national day of Thanksgiving.
Rev. Ken Klaus: You know, Mark, Dr. Meyer quite rightly applied Jesus' parable of the talents to individual people.
Mark Eischer: Right.
Rev. Ken Klaus: As he was talking, I couldn't help but wonder, though, what would happen if we applied that parable to different nations?
Mark Eischer: You mean if God had given to one nation five talents, to another two, and so forth?
Rev. Ken Klaus: Yeah. Right. What should be their response?
Mark Eischer: Psalm 118 says, "Give thanks to the Lord because he is good and his love endures forever."
Rev. Ken Klaus: In this parable of the nations, the master entrusts us with many gifts and he calls us to give an account in how we use them. Let me ask, how are we doing?
Mark Eischer: That's a tough question.
Rev. Ken Klaus: It is because there's more than one answer. The answer really depends on what time of history we're talking about. In 1789 President Washington said, "Whereas, it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor. I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious being, who is the magnificent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be."
Mark Eischer: What about President Abraham Lincoln? What did he say about Thanksgiving?
Rev. Ken Klaus: In the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln also made a Thanksgiving proclamation. His was a little bit different. It was a confession. He wrote, "We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us. We have vainly imagined in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all of these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own." Lincoln said, "God should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged by the whole American people."
Mark Eischer: In other words, he was calling people back to that proper fear of God.
Rev. Ken Klaus: As far as I can see, if we're talking about Jesus' parable of the talents, many today would say something like, "Talents? I don't remember God giving me any talents." They're the ones who celebrate Turkey Day, rather than Thanksgiving, because their belief system has nobody to thank.
Mark Eischer: Dr. Meyer reminded us today that there is a day of reckoning coming.
Rev. Ken Klaus: At the same time, there are also many other people who still do acknowledge the Lord and His blessings. For many people in the United States, this week marks a time of giving thanks. Next week they will gather will family and friends and together they will say, "Lord, thank you for all your gifts. Help us to use them to Your glory and for the good of our neighbor."
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"The Day Is Surely Drawing Near" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)