Visions of the End: The Coming King
Do you have anyone coming over for the holidays? Family? Friends? Third cousins twice removed? Ever notice how your preparation for guests depends on who the guest is?
For instance, if my mom is coming to visit I’ll deep clean the house, strategically place photographs of my family on all of the walls, and make sure that there are only organic, Gluten free, healthy food choices lining our shelves.
It's different with my college buddies. No cleaning required, a couple of old WWF DVDs on hand, and a bunch of bags of Doritos ready for supper—and lunch.
What if Jesus was coming to your house? What would you do? Throw out your explicit rap CDs? Dust a few Bibles off their shelves and place them opened on the tables? Print off some inspirational Scripture verses and hang them on your wall? ("I always have these up Jesus!") Train your live in boyfriend to say, “No, I’m just stopping by for a visit. I don’t live here.” What would you do if Jesus was coming?
Guess what? Jesus is coming. He’s coming for you! Take a look at Revelation 22. It’s our final vision and in this vision John sees and hears Jesus saying this, “Behold, I am coming soon!” Listen to the words that John hear from Jesus himself:
Take a look at that first phrase. Notice that adverb. “Soon.” That’s very nonspecific, isn’t it? The Packer game will happen soon. Thanksgiving is coming soon. Christmas is coming soon. This sermon might get done…’soon.’
Since it is so general, I fear we can often delay getting ready. But that's not smart NOR is it what Jesus wants us to do. The word implies urgency. Jesus is very specific. He is coming soon. Not later. Not after a while. Not after a delay. “I am coming soon.” Whether he comes for you specifically to take you to heaven OR whether returns on the Last Day – Jesus wants you to be ready, because either one of those things could happen at any time.
Now you might be thinking, “So what? Why should I prepare to see Jesus? What’s the big deal? What makes him any different than preparing to see my dentist?” The next part of the text gives us three reasons why Jesus coming is a big deal. Look at verses 12-13, “My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”
1) Jesus is Bringing an Awesome Reward
Whenever my grandma visits, she always brings gifts. Specifically, she always bring Chex Mix. It’s delicious. So…when I know she is coming, I get excited for such an awesome gift.
What is Jesus’ gift? It’s better than Chex Mix. It’s heaven! Remember last week’s sermon – Heaven is a pretty sweet gift. Heaven means no more evil. Heaven means no more sin. Heaven means Jesus is completely and absolutely victorious forever. Heaven means Jesus wins. Heaven means no more temptation, no more fear, no more guilt, and no more pain! Heaven means that Jesus rules and we are servants in his kingdom. Heaven means people of all races, nations, and cultures joining together in one loud continuous Hallelujah to the King!
Heaven is awesome. It’s the awesome gift Jesus brings. Since he is the Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, Jesus is in control of all things. He's the start of all things. He is the end of all things. He alone is the reason that you have life on this earth. He alone will be the reason that anyone has life in heaven!
Heaven is not too difficult of a gift for Jesus to produce.
2) This Reward Depends on What You have Done
Look at what verse 12 reminds us, “I will give to each person according to what they have done.” Simply put. God will give you heaven if you have earned it.
Remember the old Raisin Bran commercials? They said, “You deserve to scoops of Raisin Bran.” And maybe you do. Maybe you smile enough to deserve two scoops of oats and raisins. But…what about heaven? Have you done enough to earn it? Have you done enough to earn an eternity of evil-less, joyful existence with the perfect and all holy God?
Look at what happens if you haven't done enough to earn heaven in verse 15, “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”
Being outside of heaven isn’t where anyone wants to be. Time to rethink your actions.
3) This Reward Depends on The King’s Opinion
Now it’s real easy to hear that declaration and think, “I’m fine. God and I are good. I’m in a decent position to get to heaven.”
But consider verse 13. Jesus says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega. The First and the Last. The Beginning and the End.” There is no one else who has the authority he does. No one ever has. No one ever will. He is the one who always has ruled. He is the one who is ruling right now. He is the one who will rule into eternity.
Despite what the world wants you to think: YOU ARE NOT IN CHARGE. You never have been. You never will be. You aren’t in charge of your life. You aren’t in charge of whether your morality was good enough. You aren’t in charge of if you should be let into heaven.
If that were the case, we'd have hundreds of billions of different standards of morality each being declared by one person (the one who lived that morality) as "good enough."
Your opinion doesn’t count when it comes to whether you should get into heaven or not. That matter is decided by God himself.
Brothers and sisters, do you see the urgency? You don’t know when Jesus is coming and when he comes he will only hand out the reward of heaven to you if you have done enough good in his own eyes!!!!
So, stop putting this off. Stop waiting to get ready for Jesus "until I get older, have kids, and it's important for them." Get ready now!
How? How do you get ready to meet this Eternal, all Holy King when he returns? It has nothing to do with cleaning up your house or making a nice pie. It has everything to do with making sure your spiritual self is right with God. And there is only one way to do that. Look at verse 14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city."
Certain places enforce a strict dress code. Private schools might require students to wear a polo and khakis. A fancy restaurant might require a tie. Most gas stations require you to wear shoes and a shirt.
What do you need to wear to get into heaven? A clean life worn like a beautiful robe. As you might have noted, our sins sully our clothes. They set in deep. They are impossible to remove. Our clothing is filthy and grimy like the clothing of one of those Spartan Races who trudges through a mud obstacle.
But blessed are those who wash their robes.
Jesus' robes weren't white. Not on Good Friday. On Good Friday, they were stained by the blood of brutal beatings, the dirt of falling on the ground, and the sweat of a failing body.
But what happened to His clothing on the outside, is nothing compared to the staining that happened to his soul on the inside.
He took on your guilt.
He took on your sin.
He took on your impossible to get out stains.
And He got rid of them.
Blessed are those who wash their robes. Not in Tide. Not in bleach. Not in their own efforts. But in the blood of the Lamb. The blood of our Savior. Because in Jesus, the dirtiness of our sinful addictions is washed off. In the waters of baptism, the slime of sexual sin is removed. The blood of our Lord penetrates even the deepest stains of pride and completely clean us off! Then, with faith in Jesus as your Savior, you wear Jesus’ perfect life as your clean, white robe. You are dressed appropriately “You may go through the gates into the city.”
How is that last statement so confident? Through faith in Jesus I will be in heaven!?! How can anyone possibly say it so confidently?
Because they have been cleaned to the specifications of the one in charge of setting the cleanliness specifications for heaven!
Think about it: In your household, who does the best job on the dishes? It’s usually mom, right? Mom is picky about those dishes being clean. She doesn’t want any smudges on the glasses or an crusty food in the corner of the oatmeal bowl. So when mom does the dishes, there are no send backs. Every dish is clean. Every dish passes her inspection and specifications.
Similarly, the one who determines whether you are ‘holy’ and able to enter heaven – is also the one who promises in Scripture to clean up your sin filled life and makes it Holy. He promises “I really hate sin and I really demand perfection. So I’m gonna do this myself. I’m going to live perfectly. I’m going to die innocently. I’m going to rise triumphantly. Then, you will put your faith in me. And with your faith in me, all of your sin will be removed. You will fit my standard of cleanliness…You will be perfect.”
By the way, THIS IS ALL TRUTH!
Look at what Jesus says next in verse 16, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches.” It’s important that Jesus says this. It’s so easy to doubt the message of sins forgiven and the promise of Jesus’ righteous robes covering our sinful flesh. But look at these words again! This isn’t something the pastor made up. It is a message from Jesus himself. Remember: Jesus gave this message to John who wrote it down and who had his scroll copied at which point a translator translated it, then printers printed it, Biblegateway put up a web page, our church secretary copy and pasted and then printed, I presented and you read it. But it still came from Jesus! Your King! The Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End…the one who has the authority to make such powerful declarations again and again: He is the One who speaks this message to you!
Get Ready! Consider what the last couple of verses mean for your preparation:
1) He is The ROOT…so stay connected to Him. Just like a root sucks up nutrients and passes them on to the rest of the plants, so Jesus nourishes all who are connected to him. And the connecting point? That’ s faith. Through faith he nourishes you for your everyday life. He strengthens you with the peace of sins forgiven, the love of God the Father, and the promise of eternal life.
2) He is The Offspring of David…so say prayers to Him. David was a king. So was Jesus. Kings listen to requests. Jesus will listen to yours too. Whatever your requests may be, feel free to lay them at the feet of your king. He is always in charge. Always on the throne. Always accepting these requests – no matter when, no matter how much, no matter how great! Keep talking to your King – and you’ll stay ready for Jesus’ return.
3) He is the BRIGHT MORNING STAR…so gaze on his beauty. See the aurora borealis of salvation. Look at the bright sunlight of salvation. Gaze at the beauty of his bloodstained brow. Marvel at the joy of the cross. Take time each day…take time later this afternoon to appreciate just what Jesus had done for you. Don’t look away from Jesus and you’ll stay ready for his kingly return.
4) Come. Come. This is a message not only from Jesus, but also from the Spirit – the Holy Spirit himself, also true God – and the bride, that is the church, all the saints in heaven cheering down to you – say, “Come!” But come where? Come to Heaven, certainly! But heaven comes through the message of Jesus. Thus, again, the Bible – Jesus – the Holy Spirit—and the Christian church encourages you – come and learn at the feet of Jesus. Come to Bible study. Come to devotion. Come to church. Come to the radio. Come to WELS Daily devotions. Come to our website to check up on sermons. Come. Come anywhere you can hear the message of Jesus!
5) Tell others to Come! Literally it says, “Let the one who hears say, “Come!” Did you hear? Good. Then say “Come!” Tell your family. Tell your friends. Literally tell them to come to church with you next week. Do it! The message that Jesus is literally that fantastic!
In fact, now that I think about it, why wait? Why wait for Jesus to come? His gifts are so awesome – forgiveness, peace, love, and joy. Why wait for him to come?
Why not come to him...now?!?
Jesus says this, “Let the one who is thirsty come" – thirsty for forgiveness? Come. Thirsty for peace? Come. Thirsty for purpose? Come. Thirsty for love? Come. Thirsty for salvation? Come. Come…and take, "take the free gift of the water of life.”
So what are you waiting for? Jesus is coming soon, but why wait?
Why not come to Him now!?!
Visions of the End: Heaven
Last week we took a glimpse into the future. We saw that every human being will have to face the Ancient of Days – God himself as judge – a judge who absolutely hates sin and absolutely punishes it with eternity in hell. But we also saw that because of our awesome lawyer—Jesus Christ, we will be acquitted—pronounced guiltless and sent to heaven!
So…are you excited? Are you excited for heaven?
Maybe you’re thinking, “Sure, I guess. I mean…it’s better than the other options, but...I'm certainly in no hurry to go. I like life here. I’d miss building my career. I’d miss Pumpkin Spice Lattes. I’d miss Sunday afternoon football. I’d miss the sweet deal I got on Hulu Plus. Can you connect to the internet in heaven? I know it's in the clouds, but does it have The Cloud? Otherwise how am I going to keep my iPhone apps updated?”
But seriously, won’t I miss my friends? Won’t I miss my job? Won’t I miss my family? I don’t see how dying and going to heaven can be all that great of a thing to look forward to.
It’s too sad a thought.
What's heaven like? Today let's take a look at our second vision of the end. It’s from Revelation chapter 19. It’s actually, literally, a glimpse into heaven. See if you can decipher the tone:
"After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.
“Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.”
4 The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried: “Amen, Hallelujah!”
“Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!" (19:1-6)
One word echoes throughout that section. “Hallelujah!”. It’s a Hebrew word. It literally means, “Praise to the Lord.” And this should give you a clue as to the atmosphere of heaven. Because “Hallelujah,” is not a word that you shout on sad occasions. It’s not appropriate when your football team gets blown out or your girlfriend breaks up with you.
Hallelujah is a word of the utmost excitement and praise and notice who’s saying it? A great multitude! That’s a lot. Think of all the football stadiums in America being filled to the brim with people and then some. That’s how many people are geeking out excited to be in heaven!
Ok. So why? Why is this heaven so great? Why is everyone so excited?
Look no farther than our text for the answer. Because these verses list 4 separate Hallelujahs for 4 different reasons – each one is so awesome, it’ll make you want to shout Hallelujah on this earth!
Verse 1 gives the reason for it, “Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments." This is something that we heard about last week. God is holy. He is just. He punishes evil. But this part of Revelation gets specific: "He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants!”
Who is he judging? “The Great Prostitute.” And this isn’t referring to an actual person. Literally in the Greek it says, “The Great Porn!” What an awful nickname, huh? It’s disgusting really.
The Great Prostitute desserves that disgusting nickname. Because it refers to evil itself. It’s a reference to the evil that is on this earth.
Why then are the people in heaven so happy? Because evil has been judged! It has gotten it’s due. God has no longer remained silent, but has destroyed the great evils of this earth.
This is something to be thrilled about? Will you really miss porn and how it ruins your marriage? Will you really miss drunkenness and how it ruins your relationships? Will you miss drugs? Murder? Angry Facebook posts that drive a stake between you and your friends? Will you miss the messiness that comes with sex outside marriage? Will you miss the lies, betrayal, and gossip of the office?
BOTTOMLINE: Will you really miss anything bad? If the answer is…"yes, I will miss my porn! I will miss my Jack Daniels. I will miss not getting to see the next episode of Scandal." You've got your priorities all mixed up!
But it's more than just evil. The thing is that evil is personified in this verse. Evil is not a concept in existence on its own. Evil needs people to do it. Evil is done by evildoers. Then, this is an absolutely Biblical truth too: In order for evil to be judged, evildoers must be judged too!
Right away, you might feel a twinge of happiness! All evildoers will be judged to hell. And there’s a long list of people that most people agree to be evil – Terrorists. Angry Atheists. Serial killers. Rapists. Abortion Doctors. False Prophets. Racists.
But that’s not enough for God. God hates all evil. Not just some. All evil. Listen to 1 Corinthians 6:9, “Do you not know that evil people will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor people who tell lies nor deceivers will inherit the kingdom of God!”
So. You’ve got to add to your list of evildoers that will be judged – White lie tellers. Rumor spreaders. Government grumblers. Yelling at wife-ers. Not every Sunday church goers. Four letter word sayers. Sleeping with my girlfriend guys. Living with my boyfriend girls. Once in awhile porn lookers. “Think-that-they-are-better-than-others-because-they-didn’t-hear-a-sin-that-they-currently-do-on-this-list” –ers.
Panicking a little right now? Thinking: “Hey I do some of those things. I am a sinner. I’ve done evil! How can anyone be saved?"
Let me share with you the rest of 1 Corinthians 6:11 “Evil is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of your Lord Jesus Christ.” You were washed clean of sin in the waters of Baptism. You were sanctified and brought to faith in your Lord and Savior. You were justified--declared innocent of all evil doing by Jesus, Your Lord.
Brothers and sisters, that "you" is YOU! Jesus died for you. He suffered God’s angry judgment against your evil deeds on the cross. Through faith in Jesus, the crowd cheering in Revelation 19, that will be you.
You'll be cheering because you’ll be seeing it clearly. Seeing sin for what it was – an awful infection that leads to pain, sorrow, and death AND seeing God for who he is – your incredibly loving, awesome, undefeated Lord who experienced the awful pain and sorrow of sin as he gave up his life on the cross in order to get you a new life in heaven from sin, pain, and sorrow!
CAN I GET A HALLELUJAH!?!?
The crowd in heaven. Future “you” in heaven continues the celebration. Read verse 3, “And again they shouted: “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.”
Anybody ever played a Mario Bros. video game? Ever beaten Bowser, the big bad guy? Here’s the thing about Bowser, he’s persistent. He always comes back. You might have to beat him three or four times in the game and then there’ll be another money making game on the next entertainment system on which you have to beat him all over again.
Sometimes evil feels like that. It always comes back. There’s always bad news on the TV. One evildoer might get locked up for another evildoer to strike. One school shooting, then another. One terrorist bombing, then another. One murder, then another.
In heaven? That’s all over. “The smoke--from evil being smoted by God – goes up forever and ever.” There is no return! Evil is conquered. This victory by our awesome God is permanent! There is no sequel. There is no part two. There is no To Be Continued!
God wins; the end!
CAN I GET A HALLELUJAH!?!?
Our third Hallleujah builds on that last one. Take a look at verse 4, “The twenty four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried; “Amen, Hallelujah!”
Amen. Ever heard that word before? We say it at the end of our prayers. It means “This is the truth! So shall it be.”
The truth is that God is victorious and evil has lost. So the struggle is over:
No more temptation! No more getting distracted at the gym by ‘sexiness’ of someone else’s workout gear. No more smell of vodka that sends you into shakes unless you have a drink. No more waking up every morning, promising to fight off temptation, and then quickly losing your temper because someone ate all the Pop Tarts and feeling the guilt that goes along with another battle lost. TEMPTATION IS GONE!
No more fear! No more threats of terrorism. No more Ebola. No more AIDS. No more Cancer. No more poverty. No more not having enough money. No more gang violence near your house. No more getting worried that your alcoholic relative will call you at two in the morning to scream violently at you. No more fear! FEAR IS GONE!
No more guilt. No more waking up in the middle of the night with dreams of when you did something awful. No more reminders on Facebook of relationships that you have soured. No more nervousness to talk to people in church, because you wronged them once upon a time. GUILT IS GONE!
CAN I GET A HALLELUJAH!?!?
Then, verse 5, “A voice came from the throne saying: “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great!” That’s everybody. Long time believers and new believers. Young kids and mature adults, Caucasian Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino American – Duke fan Americans, State fan Americans, even Tarheel fan Americans—even non American! All believers in Christ will get to experience this awesome release from evil and they will join together for one final awesome celebration. One final hearty, incredible HALLELUJAH!
And listen to how much louder this one will be, “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!”
Of course, God has always been in charge. He has been in the past and is right now. But…it doesn’t always look like it, does it? Not when evil is in the streets, immorality is the law of the land, and governments across the world are corrupt.
But in heaven, there will be no doubts AND there will be no other ruler. God himself will reign and be with his people!
That means there will be no corrupt governments. No immoral media forcing us to accept sin. No peer pressure forcing us to tolerate evil. No anger taking control of our words. No addictions taking control of our actions. NOTHING and NO ONE in control but GOD!
God who is all powerful! God is all good! God who loves you with his dying divine breath!
CAN I GET A HALLELUJAH!?!? Rejoice and be glad and give God glory!
Sometimes I wonder. What are my Grandpas doing in heaven?
What about my Grandpa Dave? Maybe he’s eating handfuls of my Grandma’s famous Chex mix? Maybe he’s driving a semi truck? Cheering for Cornhusker football?
Then there’s Grandpa Kiecker. Maybe he’s driving a tractor to plow the fields for the next supply of heavenly corn? Maybe he’s a model for heavenly overalls? Maybe he is in charge of tweaking of entrant into heaven nose and pretending like he took it off with his thumb.
Honestly. I don’t know exactly. But what I do know. What I know is this: In heaven, with God, they couldn’t be happier.
Maybe you’ve got a Grandpa Dave or a Grandpa Kiecker—a beloved believer in Christ.
Know this: We might not know just what they’re doing right now, but we do know this: In heaven with God, they couldn’t be happier!
And one day – through faith in Jesus Christ – you will be the same kind of happy right with them.
Can I get a Hallelujah!?! AMEN.
Visions of the End: The Judge
Do you ever get nervous about what’s going to happen to you in the future? Will you get a good grade on the test? Will you ever make enough money to pay the bills? Will you ever get your dream job? Will you ever find the right guy to marry? Will you get cancer? Will you get ebola? How long will you live? Will you be happy?
It’s nerve racking to think about the future. The reason is that we don’t know what the future holds!
Except…sometimes, we do.
We know exactly what will happen.
Normally when we gather together on a Sunday morning for worship, we discuss things that have already happened. The Israelites sinned; God punished; they repented. Jesus lived; Jesus died; and Jesus rose. But this Sunday we’re going to begin a three week series where we take a different glimpse at the timeline. Instead of looking back, we’re going to look forward. Through the eyes of the prophets, we will look not into the past, but into the future.
Nervewracking? Maybe, not as much as you think.
Our first glimpse into the future comes from Daniel. He’s the guy who was in the lion’s den last week, but God kept him safe. So you know…Daniel was on God’s good side. In fact, the following vision takes place before the Lion’s Den. Again, you know it’s going to be truth…otherwise God would have let those lion’s tear him to pieces in response to any lies Daniel had written down.
But since God protected Daniel, we know God was also protecting the truth. Here is the truth God revealed to Daniel about the future.
In his vision, Daniel saw 4 beats rise up out of the earth. One looked like a winged lion; one was like a flesh eating bear; one was like a leopard, and was a giant, iron crushing beast that was so destructive it was hard to describe.
But suddenly, all of these beasts stop their destruction. They stop their fighting. Because someone more incredible than any type of creature J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings could never come up with what had appeared. Daniel describes it this way:
As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened. (Daniel 7:9-10)
Wow. It’s amazing, isn’t it? Despite the destruction, despite the scariness of these beasts, they are nothing compared to this judge. He commands their attention and they stop.
Why does the world stop for him? You’ll find the answer in who that judge is. Look at the clues in the text:
1) He’s Experienced.
Verse nine calls him, “The Ancient of Days.” Ancient means “around a long time.” He’s garnered respect with his judgments in the past since the Genesis of the world.
In fact, Genesis – the first book of the Bible – records some judgments made against sinners. A flood to destroy the blood thirsty, unbelieving people at the time of Noah, a confusion of language for the proud who wanted to build a tower to heaven, fire from heaven to burn up the sexually deviant of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The judge in question judged then AND he will judge in the future.
2) He’s Holy.
Look at what the judge is wearing: “Clothing as white as snow; hair as white like wool.” This isn't written down to tell us that the judge was a clean freak. Nor it is a quick subliminal message in the Bible for Clorox bleach.
The truth is that the color white in the Bible – pure white, not beige – stands for purity.
The point then is not that the judge is a certain race. The point is that the judge is pure! He is without sin. He is without corruption. He is holy. He doesn't accept bribes. He doesn't let things slide. He doesn't let people off easy. He uphold the Law.
3) He’s Powerful.
If you’ve ever been to a court room, you’ll notice the judge’s seat is very professional looking. It usually has a large back and is very ornate. The higher up you get in court the more ornate. Supreme court? Rich mohagany, right?
Look at what this judge’s throne is made of. Look at verse 10 it says, “His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him.”
You ever sat down on fire before? Me neither.
This shows you the power of this judge. He is not some guy phoning into the police that “the kids are on my lawn again,” whom the police ignore, and the man remains powerless to stop these kids.
This is a judge who has a river of fire at his disposal. And then, just so that we get a real clear picture of his power, listen to how verse ten continues, “Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.”
Of course, if you saw him riding his river of fire, it’d probably be in your best interest to serve him, right?
Then, perhaps the scariest thing happens. The judge opens the books. Court is in session. It’s time for this all powerful, completely holy, no nonsense, all experienced, fire wielding judgment judge to put men on trial.
“Boy,” I bet your thinking, “I’d hate to be the bloke who got stuck with him as the judge for his trial.”
Umm. Here’s the truth. You…are…that…bloke.
Because this judge, Daniel reveals later in chapter 7, is “the Most High,” and those mythical beasts were none other than different kingdoms on earth. Each rules for a time, but then is that kingdom’s time is judged to be up. Judged by the ONE in control of it all….God.
And you…are a part of all nations. You too will have your time on earth come to an end. You too will be judged by God.
This is what Jesus recorded in our Gospel. On the Last Day God will separate the sheep from the goats…the righteous from the unrighteous. (Mt. 25:32) And he will do it, by looking at your deeds.
How do you think you’ll do? When you face the fire wielding, dressed in holiness, sin hating, history of judging with complete wrath Ancient of Days…how will that court session go?
Immediately, you might want to start gathering evidence for your case. Find the list of charity donations you've made in the past year. Print off photos of you doing nice things for your kids. Get a few signed testimonies from your coworkers about how nice you.
But then again, what can you do? You can’t delete your Internet History files. You can’t hide in a portion of the mountains where the satellites haven’t been trained to pick you up yet.
The judge is God. He knows all sin. He hates all sin.
This is not good news.
But here’s the thing. The Bible tells us more about this End Time Court room in the book of Revelation. Revelation 20 tells us that God actually will open two books. The first will contain all the deeds of unbelievers. Those who rejected their Savior. They will have to answer for all their deeds on their own.
Here’s a mystery. In Revelation 20 there is another book opened by God. This book is different. It’s shorter. It doesn’t contain deeds. It only contains names. It isn’t written in ink either. It is written in red. Blood red.
This is the book of Life and it is the only book that matters. For this is the book that Jesus promises to place the name of every believer in. Revelation 3:5 has this promise from Jesus, “He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my father and his angels.”
Do you get what’s going on here?
When someone is getting ready for court, it’s important to get your documents straight. It’s amazing how many times in People’s Court, someone may have a case, but they don’t bring any photos, any documents, any bills, nothing. Because you need proof. You need evidence to prove your innocence.
What do you need to prove your innocence before your Father? Only one thing. EXHIBIT A: An empty cross.
Remember what the Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23) Justified is a courtroom term. It means “Declared not guilty.” And it means “Declared not guilty” by faith in the Son of God. Not by our works. Not by our trying harder. Not by our “not being so bad.” But by faith in Jesus, our Savior.
Understand then. This is your future. One day you will meet God. God will judge you at this meeting. If you choose to go to this meeting based on your own merit, you don’t stand a chance! But if you go with your Lord Jesus, well, you’ve got one awesome lawyer working for you. Through faith in Jesus you will be saved from condemnation and you will enjoy eternal life.
1) Sleep peacefully. You don’t have to convince God worthy of being saved. Jesus did that for you. He is your proof. He is the evidence God needs to set you free from eternal condemnation.
2) Live thankfully. If you just got off of death row, what would you do? Celebrate? Give thanks? Find the people you love and squeeze them real tight? Why not do the same thing this afternoon!?! You have just been taken off of spiritual death row! Celebrate. Go to Golden Corral. Give thanks to God!
3) Tell others about your awesome lawyer. Perhaps you’ve seen those commercials on TV for lawyers. The commercials have real people (you know they are real because of how bad the acting is), but these people are excited to share their story. They are excited because they had good lawyers and they want you to use the same good lawyers. There is no better lawyer than Jesus. And he doesn’t just save you from earthly lawsuits. He saves you from eternal punishment. Tell your friends about him. Pass this sermon onto your friends. Pass invites out to your friends. Tell them to come and hear about what Jesus will do for them.
Here’s the truth about the future. Nowhere in the Bible does it tell us who we’ll marry, where we’ll live, when we’ll retire, and when our favorite football team will win the Super Bowl again. The Bible doesn’t get into the specifics for such minimal things.
But when it comes to our eternal salvation the Bible is clear: God will judge you. But through faith in Jesus, right before he strikes the gavel, He will look at you, smile, and say something marvelous, “This one is innocent. They will enter paradise.” Amen.
Reformation Sunday: Hold On!
15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. 16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
2 Thessalonians 2:15-17
Daniel held it in his hands.
An edict. Signed by the King. “No man was to pray to any god or man, other than the king. The penalty for breaking this law? A night in a den filled with hungry lions.”
It was scary. What was Daniel to do? Would he abandon his God? Would he change his traditions? Would he break the very first commandment that his mother had taught him, “You shall have no other gods,” and worship the king? If he didn’t, he would certainly die. The deal had been sealed with the king’s ring. It was irrepealable.
What should he hold on to: His life or God’s Word?
Luther held it in his hands.
A demand had been made by the Holy Roman Emperor. “Recant your writings or you will be excommunicated. You will not be in the church. You will be rejected. Your writings burned, and with the power of the state in our corner, you will be an outlaw. Arrested. Convicted."
What should he do? Should he go against his conscience? Should he go against God’s Word? If he didn’t, he would face imprisonment…or worse…death! It wasn’t unlike the Emperor to have heretics burned at the stake. Should he suffer the same fate?
What should he hold on to: His life or God’s Word?
Have you held it in your hands too?
Maybe it’s on an iPhone. Maybe it’s the headline of a newspaper: The definition of marriage has been changed. Evolution is preached as fact. Mentioning Jesus in a grade school can get you into more trouble than dropping an F bomb. Your friends storm any Facebook message mentioning Jesus, call you an ‘idiot’, and threaten to UNFRIEND you.
What should you do? You know the Bible. You know what it says. You know what this cross up here means. But if you hold on to it, you could be ridiculed, mocked, unfriended, even despised! The more transparent you are about your faith in today’s society, the more it will change your life – and not for the better!
What should you hold on to: Your life or God’s Word?
Before you make a decision, because I’m sure you’ve heard the world’s opinion on what you should do already. Could you take 10 minutes and consider what God’s would have you do? He created you. He died for you. It may be worth a look to see what the One who loves you more than anything would have you do.
Take a look at 2 Thessalonians 2 and hear God out as to why you should hold on to His Word. It says, “Brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”
Now you might say, “God wants me to do that? That’s a little strong. Isn’t the author Paul? Wasn’t Paul a man? Isn’t he just recommending that we hold on to his teachings? How is that teaching special? Why should I hold on to it? Why is it any more special than Gandhi's or Buddha's?”
It’s like trying to figure out whose word to trust more: Kay Hagan or Thom Tillis. My mail tells me that Thom Tillis hates kids. And I believe it. Until I read the next piece of mail that tells me Kay Hagan hates kids.
How are you supposed to know?
In the same vein, what makes Paul’s teachings and the teachings of the Bible so important that I should hold on to them?
Do you know who the main figure in the Bible is? It’s Jesus. Remember last week, many struggled with why they should trust Jesus. But Jesus was not short of reasons to do so:
Give me some reasons not to trust Jesus and I’ll give you hundreds more to trust him. (Or just one really good one!) Jesus was God! No one else ever did the things he did. No one else ever taught the things he did. And what he taught is recorded in this book. It is God’s Word.
God’s Word backs up it’s claims for truth with divine miracles of incredible proportions and thousands of witnesses to the works of the central figure of it’s story: Jesus Christ. Why would you doubt it? Why not believe? Hold on to His Word!
Of course, it’s very easy for us to misread this passage. It’s easy for our sinful mind to warp God’s command here and make us think we are holding onto God’s Word, when we are really holding onto something else entirely. Here are just a few of the pitfalls:
1) Your Desires. This is a common sentiment into the world today. “God loves you. He couldn’t possibly ask you to do anything that would make you feel bad. So anytime you see the Bible telling you to do something different than what makes you feel good, just ignore it."
But defining truth by your desires is a terrible way to define truth:
Think of your kids. On Halloween, did they stay up late on Halloween night? Maybe you were on a candy rush and watching It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown on the TV. When you looked at them and the clock that said “two hours past normal bedtime,” plus the whiny voice that they had, did you say, “They can’t be tired, because they told me they didn’t feel tired.”
Or try this. Take a look at the color shirt you are wearing. Say you think that it’s white. Now ask your coworker what color he thinks it is. If he says, “hot pink” is he wrong? What if he says, “green with yellow polka dots.” If he feels that’s the color, does that mean that is the color it is?
Of course not.
Feelings and desires are not truth. Not in mundane things like colors of clothing. Certainly they aren’t Divine Truth either. So stop holding to your own desires instead of God’s Word.
This is a second things we substitute into 2 Thessalonians 2. We love to “hold on to tradition.” This was a huge problem in the Catholic church at Luther’s time. They valued tradition over God’s Word. Tradition was that whatever the Pope said was truth. What the pope said was that you could literally buy your way out of purgatory and into forgiveness, even while you provided the church with a good way to make some money and build a brand new facility.
But tradition is not always God’s Word.
Of course, this isn’t just a 16th century problem. It has modern applications. We need to be careful that we don’t say,
§ “I go to church, because I always have; not because I think it’s true.”
§ “I’m Catholic because my family is, I know they don’t teach God’s Word, but I don’t want to abandon tradition.
§ “I can’t go to church to learn God’s Word, because traditionally I sleep or I work on Sundays.”
Tradition is not truth. It’s not even divine truth. So don’t hold onto it like it is!
3) Your Desires Disguised as Tradition.
Sometimes the last two combine in our minds to produce a brand new thing to hold on to. This happens especially among long time church goers. We like to hold onto desires disguised as tradition. For example,
“That’s not the right size of cookie to serve after church. I don’t like it. I’ll tell that person: You can’t serve that.”
“That’s not my favorite kind of music to hear in church. It must be from the devil.”
“That’s not the normal way of filling out a council report. I need to give that newbie a piece of my mind so they never do it again.”
Isn’t it interesting? We get angry and upset with a fellow, active church member for serving in the church in a slightly different way than we’re used to, but when a relative or friend is openly living in sin against God’s Word, we think, “No big deal. That’s just the way this world is.”
How sad. Again: your desires disguised as tradition are not God’s Word!
4) Your Pride.
This leads to the most dangerous substitution. In fact, this one is related to the other three. It is the foundation of the other three. Pride.
Humans love to hold on to pride. It was the problem for the king who told everyone to bow down to him. It was the problem for the church at the time of the Reformation. They didn’t want to hear what God’s Word said about them. They didn’t want to hear that they were sinners. They didn’t want to hear that their good works were nothing before God. They didn’t want to hear that God demanded perfection and couldn’t be bought back with a few dollars to the visible church leaders.
This is the same dangerous thinking that can attack you today:
“I don’t need Jesus. I’m a pretty good person on my own and I’m sure God’s cool with me.”
“I don’t need to repent, this sin isn’t that bad and even if it is, I’ve done plenty of other things good in my life to make up for it.”
“I can’t turn to the Bible for salvation. I never have before and I don’t want to admit that I’m wrong. Mostly because I’m never wrong.”
But your pride isn’t God’s Word. In fact, it is only in the way of God’s Word. It’s the very thing that God’s Word doesn’t want you to hold on to at all. Because pride says you can save yourself. Pride says that’s traditionally how I’ve thought. Pride says I desire to be able to save myself, so it must be truth.
But God says differently. If you hold to your desires, tradition or pride over against God’s Word, that doesn’t make it truth!
It just makes God angry.
Imagine for a moment facing God at the end of your life. What will you say to him for all of those times that you totally and completely disobeyed him and went against him because you didn’t feel like it or you didn’t think you needed to listen?
I don’t want to find out either.
So listen again to 2 Thessalonians 2: Hold on to God’s Word.
II. Why Hold on to the Word?
At my home up in my top dresser drawer is a little chest. Inside this chest, is a little tie tack. It is a tad tarnished. There’s a picture of a Ford truck on it. It isn’t worth all that much money on eBay. I have shinier looking tie tacks and more modern looking ways to wear my tie. Why do I hold on to it?
It came from someone special. My grandpa. Maybe you have something similar. Something special because it was given by someone special.
This is the first reason to hold on to God’s Word. Because it comes from God! Verse 16 says, “Our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our father…gave this.” They gave you his Word. It is a gift from the divine, incredible, world making, universe shaking, Creator of the universe to you, came down to do die on the cross, so you wouldn’t have to spend eternity in hell, God given to you!
Why would you throw it away as a tarnished relic that holds no value in modern society? Instead hold on to it as it actually is: A divine book of love written to you by your Father above! In this book he gives you the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. He gives you his life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of peace with God.
Verse 16 adds to the benefits: “God… gave us eternal encouragement.” Eternal means unending. It means that it always lasts.
Now your desires may change. Punk Rock may no longer be your favorite type of music to listen to and your favorite kind of Dorito might change from Nacho Cheese to Cool Ranch.
Same thing with traditions. It probably takes only one year of not finding the Pickle on the Christmas tree for you to forget all about it.
And pride only lasts as long as you are foolish enough to believe it. You can be proud that you are so good at basketball until you try out for the high school team and get cut. Then, your pride is gone.
But God’s Word? That lasts forever.
Think about it. If you open Colossians 2:13 in your Bibles, it will still say, “God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins."
Ok close it. If you open up today after you read an article online about how the Bible isn’t true, God’s Word will still say, "Christ died for sin." If you get addicted to a sin, but then stumble upon it months from now it still says, “Christ died for sin.” If you ignore God’s Word for years, but after lots of goading and ‘pestering’ you join us at church and the pastor just happens to be preaching on this passage, it will still say, “Christ died for sin.” If all the Bibles in America were destroyed, but a friend came to you in a conversation at night and said, “Christ died for your sin,” it’d still be true!
Because God’s Word is forever. Put your hope in it. Hold on to it!
It will provide you with “Good hope.” Because without the Word of God, what would your hope be?
“I hope to have a family and get a good job…until I die then maybe I’ll impress God with my life. I don’t know. I hope. I think. I’m not sure. I hope God isn’t real because then I’m in trouble and I hope hell doesn’t hurt all that bad.”
That’s hope? Not so much. Not when compared to the true and real hope that God’s Word gives us. It’s nothing compared to the good hope of forgiveness that the prophets promise you when it says, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds you are healed” (Isaiah 53:5-6). It’s hope of eternal salvation from your sins when God’s Word says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life!” (Jn. 3:16) It’s the hope that comes from Jesus’ promise, “In my Father’s house are many rooms, if it weren’t so I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And then I will come back to take you there with me.”
Finally, this eternal encouragement and good hope strengthens our hearts – which in turn – strengthens you in every good deeds and word.
Let’s go back to Daniel. Know what happened to him? He went to his room and prayed like always. He didn’t care if he was thrown into the Lion’s Den. He held on to God’s Word. God kept him safe through the night and he brought the good news of our saving God to the King! He’s in heaven now.
Know what happened to Martin Luther? He came back the next day and confessed, “It is not wise to go against God. So…here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God.” God kept him safe for a long period of time and Luther brought the saving news of God’s grace to many people! He’s in heaven now.
Know what will happen to you? If you hold on to God’s Word, you will find comfort. You will hear of the awesome power of God. You will hear of your Savior's dying love for you. You will be reminded of your God who died but then rose from the dead for you!
Besides. All this talk about having to give up your life to hold on to God's Word is a misnomer.
Jesus said, "I am the Life. Whoever believes in me, will live even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me, will never die." (Jn. 11:25-26)
Because, when you hold on to God’s Word, the truth is, God is holding on to you. Amen.