Monday, October 8, 2018

Sermon -- Chapel at Huron Valley Lutheran High School (October 8, 2018)

This sermon was preached for the chapel service at Huron Valley Lutheran High School in Westland, Michigan.

JOHN 5:28-29

FIX OUR EYES ON JESUS:
We See Jesus As Our Judge.

In the name + of Jesus.

     One of the three ecumenical creeds of the Christian Church is the Athanasian Creed.  It is not well-known, and if your church does confess it in a Divine Service, it is likely only once a year on Trinity Sunday.  What bothers most Lutherans about the Athanasian Creed is probably not its length, but these two lines: “At his coming all people will rise with their own bodies to answer for their personal deeds.  Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire.”   
     The Athanasian Creed does not confess some strange teaching that made it in there by accident.  It confesses exactly what Jesus said in our reading from John's gospel: Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:28-29)  
     Now, you have been taught the Gospel, and so your confession and your confidence is that you will rise on the Last Day to receive eternal life.  But both the Athanasian Creed and Jesus' words throw all of that into doubt.  Our doubts arise because we take the words of our Lord seriously.  Those who rise to receive eternal life have done what is good.  And those who rise from the dead to receive a judgment of damnation will be damned because they have done evil.  This is what the Scriptures plainly teach. 
     But where do we find ourselves in those verses?  We would like to think that we are good people who have done what is right.  But then we also confess Sunday after Sunday: “I have done what is evil and failed to do what is good.”  And I hope you recognize that such a confession is true.  Because if you say the words but believe in your heart, “No, that's not true.  I am good.  I cannot be faulted for evil,” then the absolution has no value for you at all.  You can't be forgiven if there is nothing to forgive.
     Of course, we all want to go to heaven rather than hell, so it is not hard to figure out why we want to be included among those who have done what is good.  This is one of the reasons people want to have eulogies proclaimed at their funerals.  Eulogy literally means, “Good word,” and people want good words said about themselves both while they are alive and especially after they've died.  They want to believe they are good.  They like the idea of friends telling them how good they are and what good they've done and how much they mean to other people.
     Now, this should not come as a shock to you: Your friends like you.  Your family likes you.  They think you are a good person, and they like to tell you so.  And that is good.  Friends and family should think fondly of you.  However, your judgment is not based on the opinion you have of yourself.  Nor is your judgment based on the opinion that others may have of you.  Your friends' fondness for you cannot save you, but then also your enemies' hatred of you cannot damn you.
     The only judgment that matters is the Judge who actually issues the sentence upon us.  Therefore, we fix our eyes on Jesus whom we see as our judge.  He will come again to judge the living and the dead.  And “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:28-29) 
     So, where do you stand?  You stand where the judge puts you.  No opinion of man matters—whether good or bad.  Not even your opinion of yourself matters—whether you think you are pretty good, or whether you feel worthless or useless.  None of that matters.  These do not define you, so do not trust in them.  The only word that matters is the word of Jesus Christ; for he is your judge. 
     Fix your eyes on Jesus, whom you see as your judge.  Good news!  Your judge is on your side.  Better than that, your judge has already rendered your verdict to you.  Listen, this is what the Lord says: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)  Those who have done evil will be damned.  But God made Jesus to be sin for us.  Every evil you have done, every word that carelessly flew out of your mouth, every jealous or unkind though which has harbored in your heart—all of this was put upon Jesus who was damned in your place.  Your condemnation has already been received.  The judgment is in: Jesus has suffered and died for you.
     Fix your eyes on Jesus, whom you see as your judge.  Good news!  Your judge is on your side.  Better than that, your judge has already rendered your verdict to you.  Listen, this is what the Lord says: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)  Only those who have done what is good will rise to have eternal life.  And in Christ, you have become the righteousness of God.  You, who are baptized into Christ, are clothed with Christ.  The perfect obedience of Jesus is wrapped around you; therefore, all the good that needs to be done has been done for and has been credited to you.  There is no other eulogy which matters.  Jesus, who is your judge, proclaims this good word to you and puts that good word upon you.
     Fix your eyes on Jesus, whom you see as your judge.  Good news!  Your judge is on your side.  Better than that, your judge has already rendered your verdict to you.  You are justified in Christ.  You are not guilty of sin.  You are redeemed and righteous; for you are washed, cleansed, and purified in the blood of Christ.  He who has conquered death for you will raise you up for the judgment.  And his verdict is as good as his word.  You are the beloved of God.  You are children of the resurrection.  And you are heirs of eternal life.  We do marvel at this, just as we are saved and comforted by it.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.