November 22, 2020 The Realization
Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ,
At the end of the Church Year we’re reminded of the End of the world – as we know it. The Gospel parable pictures Jesus’ return in glory, with the Final Judgment between the sheep & the goats. But The End is also a New Beginning; as Jesus said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”(Rev.22) For believers, those baptized-in & belonging to Christ Jesus, both The End and the New Beginning are good news.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death, and we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth = that’s God’s promise.
Artists have tried to visualize & paint this scene of the Day of Judgment from the Bible. (two examples on the bulletin insert) They often show the heavens torn open, & Jesus descending on a cloudy-throne, and the earth is breaking apart as the dead rise from their graves. These paintings are often ‘busy’, with crowds of humans; with angels guiding some, and demons grabbing others.
Often, on the individual faces, the artist tries to show a variety of one basic expression: that of ‘Realization’ = ‘reality’ has just hit them: either it’s what they expected, because they believed God’s Word; OR it’s a shock, because they didn’t believe what God said would happen.
For those that believed, the Lord Himself & the heavenly life is a marvelous realization;
for those that didn’t believe, it’s a terrible realization = they were wrong, and are now left out.
In Matt.25, Jesus is using a parable to reveal some mysteries of this life and the life to come; that means that we can already ‘realize’ some things about this life & about heaven. I like that word ‘realization’, because the root of it is the word ‘real’. The things Jesus teaches us about are ‘real.’ We believe Him; we have a real life now; and -on that day- we will go on to another -even better- real life.
So, in this parable, Jesus is teaching about The End, & He’s also teaching about The Beginning. He says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
For believers, The kingdom of God was there from the beginning. The opposite is not true as Jesus speaks to the wicked. He does not say, “Inherit the punishment prepared from the foundation of the world.” Instead, He said, “Depart….into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
From this, we learn that God never prepared hell for His human creatures; they were not supposed to ‘fall into sin’. From the beginning of creation, mankind was to live in the world in eternal holy fellowship with God. No one was ever predestined to hell. All people were created to live with God & in this creation. Hell was made -later- as a place for Satan & sinful angels. But now, any humans who rebel & behave like the devil will be sent to that place. The Son of God is the only one who can prevent that; so, in rejecting their only Savior & His kingdom, there’s only one other place to go to ….in The End.
So, Jesus is teaching us about The End of the ‘old’ and The Beginning of the ‘new.’ And one is more important than the other for us to focus on: the new Beginning. Scripture teaches that Jesus was sent so that ‘whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.’ Jesus wants us to realize what we see now when we look at this world.
God’s creation & our lives had a perfect beginning in goodness; but in rebellion it became wicked, & we have joined-in with our own sin. God made a plan to restore our life & holy relationship with Him. That relationship is -actually- already happening now in this Christian faith & church. And the day when Christ returns will be the day when God’s plan for us, & for all creation, is finally & fully put in place.
This is one deeper reality about the Christian faith. It’s not all about escaping this physical world in order to live in heaven as ‘spirits’. (& of course, we don’t turn into angels!) To be fully human, whether on earth or in heaven, means we have BOTH the physical and the spiritual, body & soul. That’s why, in The Creeds, we confess ‘the resurrection of the body’ & ‘the life of the world to come.’
So, the Christian religion is not about avoiding this world, & just waiting for our ‘real life’ in heaven. It’s about our true life with our Creator, which has already begun now, and will be complete when Christ returns. So, the mission of Jesus -as Messiah- was to bring all people into this life-of-faith now, and -then- into the eternal life-to-come.
By His Word & promise, Jesus uses the physical washing of Baptism to join us into our dying-to-sin now, and the new-birth of life in Him. So, our eternal life with God has already begun in this real faith. Then when Christ returns, it will change from faith to sight = a new beginning. Until that time, we live as God’s good people, as Jesus describes our godly activities in His parable. The fruit-of-faith is that we help & care for those around us; that is us living The New Life. We certainly look forward to what is yet to come; but God’s kingdom is already working in this world.
Another thing Jesus teaches here is the ‘Realization’ that Jesus himself is actually God in the flesh at work in this world. That is, the Triune God’s connection with this world, & with our lives, is Jesus. In Jn.14, when Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father, Jesus told him, ‘those who have seen me, have seen the Father.’ … ‘I and the Father are one’. We already realize that the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Jesus.
On that Last Day, unbelievers will be shocked at the realization that Jesus IS God; & they will mourn as He sends them away. Believers have already known this by faith, but at that sight, it will be glorious. Right now we focus on Jesus having been a baby in Bethlehem, & is our crucified Savior, & our reliable heavenly Friend. But on that Day, we will see the full realization that He IS God Almighty. In Psalm 23 we read, ‘the Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.’ That Lord is Jesus! He is the Great Shepherd, and all the nations of earth are His flock; and on that Day, He is the Judge to separate the good-sheep from the bad-goats.
On that Day, at The End, the Shepherd becomes the King above all kings, whose rule extends over all nations and throughout all time.
Another Realization on that Day will be how the King of kings has hidden himself in this world among the poor & needy, and those suffering & in sorrow. Just as when the very Son of God laid aside his power & glory in order to be born in human flesh; and so He lived with us in this world, and experienced our troubles, our hunger & fatigue & rejection by others.
In order to accomplish our forgiveness, The Son of God hid in flesh, & so suffered to become our substitute sacrifice. And now, to give our faith a daily purpose, Jesus has hidden himself in the needs of those around us.
This means that when we have mercy on others, showing Christian forgiveness & kindness, and comfort & care, we are doing those things for Jesus & His kingdom.
So, *is that how you & I see & treat those around us? Well, that’s what He says; & that’s amazing! That’s what changes our behavior toward others. So, THIS is the Realization: while we Christians are waiting for the Lord return in power & glory, our Lord is also already among us. This means we are not just trying to ‘think spiritually,’ and come to church, and give our offerings to Him, & waiting to get thru those Pearly Gates. He has just told us that we are already living in His Kingdom; and we are already serving Him as He is hidden beneath the needs of those around us.
And now, this is not a secret! Jesus has told us about how that Last Day looks so that we will live in these good works of kindness & care for others on purpose, not by accident. So, once again, this Christian faith is not just thinking ‘heavenly things’ for later, but it is also being good & kind people right now. How we live & treat others matters to Jesus; it is our faith in action. That Realization changes our attitude & daily life.
That’s why we read this in the NT: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; ….whoever loves God must also love his brother.” On that Last Day we will see Jesus; but we are already seeing Him in the needs of those we see every day: /in our spouse, & children; /in our relatives, & friends; /in our neighbors, & in strangers. Now we realized that the faith of our heart & mind is also the faith of our attitude & actions. Whatever -we, the Lord’s sheep- DO for those in need among us, we do to Jesus.
This is quite a Realization. Even tho we might think that our earthly life and heavenly life are separate things, they are very much connected. We now realize that our Lord is not somewhere far off, waiting to jump on a cloud & ride to the earth; He’s already here, and His kingdom is at work, and He’s speaking to you again today to open your eyes of faith, and be a useful servant, while you wait for Him to come in glory. This is the faith you’ve been baptized into.
So, *why are those righteous sheep surprised when Jesus uncovers all their kindness & goodness on that Judgement Day? Because they are surprised that all those little things mattered. They were just living-out their Christian faith, & they were not keeping score.
Our religion is not a game for points; it’s just every-day living as God’s people. We don’t keep a tally when we see a hungry or thirsty person, and help them out; or when we encounter a sad, sick or lonely person, and try to cheer them up. Our faith lives to do good things;
and those things remind others that they have a Creator who gave them life, and they have a Savior who cares about them in their trouble, just as we do.
As Christians, we realize that we always have something to give to others; /we can share what we have, / we care as we’ve been cared for, /we forgive as we have received forgiveness, / & we welcome as we have known welcome. Most of those actions do not depend on having money; they depend on being kind & caring. This faith does not make us rich people, it makes us good people. We do acts of mercy because God’s mercy has been shown to us. Looking out for others -even for those we don’t know or like- that’s just part of living for those who know the God who looks out for us, even when we don’t deserve it.
In 1304, artist Giotto di Bondone began working on a series of wall-paintings in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy. At the very back of the chapel is the largest scene, the last judgment (shown on the bulletin insert) It’s a fresco, which means that Giotto and his assistants painted it on wet plaster. They had to work quickly before the plaster dried; but the image is intensely colorful & lasts a long time.
The scene covers the whole back wall, with those raised to eternal life on Christ’s right hand, and those raised to eternal punishment on His left. At the bottom of the image, underneath the cross, is the doorway where worshipers exit the chapel & return to the world. It’s a reminder that Christ will return as He promised; but in the meantime, we are not hiding in church, waiting. We go out and live in the world with a faith that matters.
Even tho we do not have that picture over our doors as we walk out of this church,
we do have the voice of our Shepherd & King in our ears. By His teaching, our Lord Jesus gives us The Realization that He has made us new people; to be good & active in this earthly life, while we look forward to the heavenly life to come.