He Controls the Day (Nov 8, 2020)
He Controls the Day
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During the course of the Vietnam War, AC-130 gunships – those are cargo hauler aircraft outfitted with large cannons – offered air support for troops on the ground, interrupted supply chains, and performed search and rescue missions. They were able to provide either surgical firepower or area saturation for extended periods of time, day or night, and even in adverse weather. Their role in the war and outstanding capabilities caused them to be viewed very differently by each side. On the one side, the drone of those engines meant fire and destruction were about to rain down upon them. But on the other side, things were very different. One airman describes a rescue mission where they flew above stranded soldiers until dawn, when helicopters could arrive. He said, “As long as they could hear us, we were their comfort blanket.”
Likewise, on the last day, when the Son of Man comes in glory to separate the sheep from the goats, there will be no indifferent feelings. Either you will be sent away to eternal punishment, or lovingly gathered to eternal life. There’s no in between, no grey area, no switching to the other side. And when he returns, it will not be your decision. He controls the day.
Today we are going to talk about what Judgment Day will be like from both sides. And we are going to do that by taking a look at the four actions of Jesus on that day. He appears. He separates. He judges. He takes home… or, sends away. And notice, the things that happen on that day will be the same for everyone – believer and unbeliever. But how they are perceived, and how they affect each side is a night and day difference.
So there you are, on any day like today. In fact, it could be today. And you will hear the sound of a trumpet – loud and clear. Not faint. No mistake about it. This is something unlike anything you’ve ever heard. Suddenly, the Son of Man, the Ancient of Days, bright and stunning, will appear for all the world to see. He takes his seat on his glorious throne, accompanied by an army of angels. And finally your mind starts to catch up with what your eyes are seeing and ears are hearing. This is none other than God himself. The God whom I have rejected, kept at arms-length, refused to believe in and refused to rely upon. Afterall, it makes no sense that I should be subject to anyone but myself. But now I see him in glory and power, and I realize this is not like the stories I’ve heard before. How he came humbly in a stable in Bethlehem. How he came meekly on a donkey into Jerusalem. How he came in weakness to a hill with a cross and died. No, this is different. It’s him, but now he comes in power and authority. I see his throne ablaze with fire. I see the river of fire flowing, coming out from before him. He appeared suddenly, out of nowhere, like a thief in the night. I was not expecting him. But now I’m expecting the fire of judgment to rain down upon me.
Before I could say a word of anything – a word of remorse, a word of repentance, a word of argument – he separated us… everyone. We had no say in it. With all authority he separated us like livestock. The sheep from the goats. He put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. No one could say “I should be on the right” or “I should be on the left.” There was no time, no questioning, no interview. And yet, as I stood there on the left with the goats, I knew his judgment was true. Two things are most definitely clear. First, he is in control. Second, he rightly knows where each person belongs already. Today he just makes it public for all the world to see.
Now he begins to speak. Everyone on this side is silenced by their own terror – quaking as we stood motionless. “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world… Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:34, 40). He wasn’t speaking to us. He was speaking to the sheep on his right.
Now he’s looking at us. His blazing eyes pierce right through me. He knows! He knows it all – my innermost thoughts, my sinful secrets, my selfish pride. All are laid bare before him. There is nothing he does not know. Nothing I can keep hidden from him. Not my actions, not my thoughts, not even my motives. His voice thunders, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me” (Mt 25:41-43).
When? “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison?” (Mt 25:44). We all cried out our case before him. All gave our excuses. “When did we see you… and not help you?” (Mt 25:44). But deep down, we knew he was right. As I look around, I see no tears of remorse, contrition, repentance or sorrow. Just spite. No plea for mercy or forgiveness on any of our lips. Only bitterness and argument over the perfect judgment of a righteous king. In fact, you can see that even in our arrogant excuses we still have little time for his Word. Where the sheep repeated his judgment verbatim, we on this side barely want his words in our minds or on our tongues – shortening his judgment as we spit it back at him. Still not believing that apart from him we can do nothing, we feebly try to defend ourselves, “If we had known you wanted us to do this, we would have done it!”
But it’s too late. His judgment has been made. He appeared. He separated us from all that is good. He pronounced his judgment and presented our actions as evidence of our hearts devoid of love for him. Finally, we depart, into the eternal fire which was never meant for us – the crown of his creation whom he himself came to redeem. Yet away we go. Away from God. Away from his love. Away into eternal punishment. A final confirmation of what we have been trying to accomplish all our lives. To live apart from God.
Brothers and sisters, this is a reality for a great number of people. This is a reality that cannot be undone or reversed once realized. Nothing you do or say on that day can reverse his judgment. He controls the day. That’s terrifying for those on his left. For those whose hearts are prone to do evil. Who reject the will of God in their lives. But to those who realize this evil and confess it, as we did at the beginning of this service. Those who seek his mercy, this day means a peaceful joy. It is a joyous day for you who believe his message of salvation, who trust in Jesus your Savior. That day, with all the same events, will be very different for you. So let’s replay that day but put you where you belong, on the other side of things.
Here you are, on any day like today. In fact, it could be today. And you will hear the sound of a trumpet – loud and clear. Not faint. You aren’t going to miss it. Suddenly, the Son of Man, your Good Shepherd, all glorious with all his angels will appear for all the world to see. He will take his seat on his glorious throne and finally your mind starts to catch up with what your eyes are seeing and ears are hearing. This is your Lord and Savior! You are not afraid, you are not surprised or caught unprepared like a thief, because you are children of the day who have been given faith and love as a breastplate and the hope of salvation as a helmet. You remember how he came humbly in a stable in Bethlehem. How he came peacefully on a donkey into Jerusalem. How he came in grace to a hill with a cross and died for you. And he still comes to you in Word and Sacrament to connect you to him and strengthen you on toward the day of his appearing. Now is that day! Now is the day when the faith he planted in you is revealed by fire which refines it like gold, free from impurities.
Your hope is realized and your salvation is seen! Your heart swells within you and you rejoice as he separates you, the sheep from the goats. With all authority he lovingly gathers you like little lambs tenderly in his arms. No questions are asked. No works are required. Finally separated from all that is wrong with the world. Finally delivered from all evil. You are grateful for two things as he separates. First, he is in control. Second, he rightly knows where each person belongs already. Finally, he makes public for all the world to see your connection to him.
He looks at you lovingly with tenderness in his eyes and says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Mt 25:34-36).
Was he speaking to us? He’s looking at us, but when? “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” (Mt 25:37-39). You certainly didn’t do these things to earn God’s favor. You certainly didn’t do these things for salvation or any kind of recognition. You and I consider ourselves unworthy of any kind of praise – we were merely doing our duty. Nevertheless, Jesus puts his great seal of truth and authority on you, the righteous, and all your good works by replying, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).
We are amazed to see that not a single sin is mentioned against any who stand on Jesus’ right. We certainly could come up with a long list on our own, but Jesus has justified you – declared you not guilty. His redemption is so perfect and complete that no sin counts against you. Only your good works are mentioned. Works done, not to earn salvation, but as evidence of the lively faith you have in Christ as your only way to heaven.
It’s finally the time to take your inheritance, the kingdom of heaven prepared for you since the creation of the world! Unlike hell, this place is prepared for you! The day is finally here! His judgment has been made. He appeared. He separated you from all that is evil. He pronounced his judgment and presented your actions as evidence of hearts filled with the love of God. Finally, you will be gathered to him and enter eternal life. Enter salvation. Enter paradise. A final confirmation of what he has accomplished in you throughout your life.
How will you perceive the last day? What do your actions in life reveal about your faith? Will the sound of that trumpet surprise you and fill you with terror like those on the opposing side of the AC-130s? Or will the sound of that trumpet flood you with feelings of relief and hope finally made real? Amen.