He Checked ‘Yes’!
Have you ever been left wondering what someone thinks about you? Whether you know someone well or not, there can be times when you are left wondering. I can remember wondering a lot during my pastoral internship year, my vicar year. I worked with a Pastor who often had a stern look on his face no matter how he felt. And there were often days when I went in to work and I just wasn’t sure if he was disappointed, upset, or what. Of course, as a young vicar, I was rightly being critiqued and tested by him. I always dreaded his sharp inhale [example]. Panic would course through me… “Did I say something wrong?” “Did I mess up?” “What is he critiquing…. Or is he just breathing?”
When you were a kid, there was a surefire method to get your answer. No ambiguity. No being left in the dark. No more wondering. You probably know this method. It was a simple note that read, “Do you like me? Check ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.” And then of course, it had to be anonymous who was asking, so you had your best friend deliver the note, and then you got your answer.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could write those notes today? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could write one of those notes to God? “Do you like me, God? Am I good enough for you?” Without even us writing that note, we’ve had others who have gone before us and asked just that question in a variety of different ways.
It was often said by the Jews living in Jesus’ day that they knew what God thought of them already because they were God’s chosen nation – children of Abraham! But when some of these very people gathered to see John the Baptist, he called them a “brood of vipers!” “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?… And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’… The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mt 3:7-10). You may have not used that phrase before, but have you ever boasted in being a Lutheran? I think every one of us has. Just last week we celebrated the Reformation and took great pride in being “children of the Reformation”! And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Just like John wasn’t saying that being a child of Abraham, in itself, was a bad thing. The point of condemnation is when we make a claim like that, saying “I’m a Lutheran!” or “I’m a Christian!” but yet our actions prove us to be liars! So although we haven’t passed a note to God asking, “Do you like me, since I’m a Lutheran?” he’s definitely sent word back, “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mt 3:10).
There was once a man who approached Jesus to ask about this very thing – producing good fruit. He was pretty proud of his actions too – his fruit. And so he asked Jesus, “Do you approve of me?” He said, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Lk 18:18). Jesus responded by listing some of the commandments, to which the man proudly held out his basket of “fruit.” “All these I have kept since I was a boy” (Lk 18:21). Have you ever done that – looked at your basket of fruit and felt pretty proud? Do you take the commandments seriously, as God intends, and feel pretty content about how your basket of fruit – your actions – stacks up against the baskets of those around you? Have you felt secure in your faith based on your obedience to God’s will?
I guess God does say he wants us to be judging – but it’s not other’s whom we are supposed to judge. “Watch your life and doctrine closely” (1 Tim 4:16), the Bible says. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Mt 26:41). And if we really want to do some comparing, it’s not anyone else that we are to compare ourselves to except God himself. “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Lev 19:2). Holy means “set apart.” Set apart from the world in regards to sin and guilt. But none of us could ever do that. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (Jas 2:10). Have you stumbled at even one point of the law? Have you harbored one moment of hate? Have you cast a lustful glance? Have you coveted – thinking that your life would be better if you had that one thing your friend has? Every one of us is guilty of breaking the law. “There is no difference… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rm 3:23).
Do you know what “falling short” looks like? The Grand Canyon, at its widest point, rim to rim, spans a distance of 18 miles. At its narrowest point, the two rims still span a distance of 600 ft. Imagine this, God’s only command is to jump across the Grand Canyon. If you can do that, you’ve kept his commands. How far would you make it across? You could probably jump farther than a turtle, or many other creatures. You might be able to jump farther than any person in this room. But you would still fall short. A man named Mike Powell currently holds the world record for long jump at 29ft 4.25in. He can out jump any person on the planet. Would he be able to keep God’s command and jump across? He too, would fall short. God doesn’t move the boundaries of his law. It does not bend or stretch to allow any leeway. And God has a very specific punishment for those who fall short; for those who sin and do evil. We actually get a very gruesome picture in the reading from Malachi of what will happen to evildoers like us on the last day. “Every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire” (Mal 4). So if we are asking what God thinks of us – if we passed him a note that said “Do you like me? Check ‘yes’ or ‘no’” he’s been quite clear in his letter to us. “Those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (Jn 5:29).
God’s verdict is in. The Judge knows your sin and has been pretty clear about what sin deserves. But the judge also knows your Savior.
The Judge knows your Savior and he knows what your Savior did for you. The Judge knows that your Savior didn’t want you to be condemned as a sinner. In fact, the thought of losing you was so heart-wrenching to your Savior that he put his own life on the line. Just as he did here in the reading, where Jesus risked being ridiculed by the Pharisees because he wanted to help a lame man on the Sabbath, so he gave himself for you even though it meant dying on the cross. On the cross, Jesus took all the sins of the world onto himself. The Bible actually says, “He became sin for us” (2 Cor 5:21). You can think of those filters you have for the water from your refrigerator. Those filters use carbon, not actually to filter out and get rid of contaminants, but to absorb contaminants out of the water. That’s why they have to be replaced every so often – because they reach their limit of what they can absorb. Well, in this way, Christ absorbed the sin of the world into himself and then faced the judgment for sin we just talked about. As he suffered condemnation, separated from God’s presence on the cross, you could say that he was the worst sinner who ever lived because he absorbed the sins of the whole world – suffering the full punishment for every sin in that moment.
The Judge knows all of this. The Judge knows your Savior and knows what he did. What does that have to do with your verdict? How much influence does that have on whether God checks “yes” or “no”? Like that little child who passes the note and anxiously waits for a response, are you at times anxious about what God thinks of you? My sins are not hidden from God, but he says they are forgiven. He paid for all sin, yet I still commit more every day. What will the Judge say?
Do you know who the Judge is? Look at verse 22. “The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (Jn 5:22). The judge knows your Savior because the Judge IS your Savior. The judge knows how much your Savior loves you and knows exactly what your Savior did to save you because the Judge IS your Savior. So on the Last Day, when you stand before your Judge, do you have to wonder about what he is going to say? Will Jesus forget about the love that moved him to take on flesh? Will Jesus forget about the cross upon which he fully paid for all your sins? Of course not. Jesus, your Judge, has already declared you innocent and holy. Does God accept me? You have your answer right here. He checked “yes!”