"It's coming," they will tell you. The end of the world is coming. The last day, Judgment Day, is approaching. How urgently that theme is played depends on how deep their want to get into your pocket, or how desperate they are to influence an attitude or behavior in you. Somehow, it almost always comes across as a statement of Law, as opposed to Gospel. You can almost hear the creepy, dum-dee-dum-dum, music playing in the background as they play on the terror of that last, great day.
The problem with that, of course, is that Judgment Day has already happened. We call it "Good Friday". That was the day that God judged our sins and assigned the sentence and carried out the execution of that righteous judgment and sentence. He judged our sins as utterly damnable and sentenced us to death and hell, and carried out the sentence — only He crushed Jesus in our place, tormented Him in what we call "the Passion", and put him to cruel death under the wrath of God, and forsaken by God. Because Jesus is also true God, and lives in eternity, the torments He suffered were endured in eternity as well. Because of that torment and death in our place, Jesus has abundantly given to us all that He had earned by His perfect holiness and righteousness; life eternal, forgiveness of sins, and the love and favor and good will of God the Father. Jesus gives that gift to all, but it is grasped only through faith, so that He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.
In other words, Judgment Day is actually a good thing, from our perspective, and is a day we can look at in the past. The Last Day, when everyone will face the Lord together and be divided as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats, will be the public announcement of which of us are in either group, and the day that Jesus will demonstrate the justice of His judgment. He will show that each person belongs in the group to which they have been consigned. The righteous belong on the right hand side, with the sheep, because they have done holy things and have lived out the love of God which they have received. That is not why they are there, of course. They are there because of Jesus and His death and resurrection on their behalf, and the gift of grace of the salvation which Christ purchased with His own blood. But their deeds, as Jesus will reveal them, will reflect that His judgment is just and they are His people and belong (by grace) in the sheep category.
Jesus will also show that the condemned are justly condemned by demonstrating their cold-hearted wickedness and lovelessness. They are not condemned for that evil, of course. They are condemned because they did not believe, they would not accept, and they actively rejected the goodness and love of the Lord and spurned and rejected the gift of salvation already accomplished for them at the price of the death of the only-begotten Son of God. But their hard-hearted lovelessness toward their fellow-man in his various needs will serve as the illustration of the fitness of their condemnation. They failed to meet even the minimum standards of compassion in so many ways. The evidence will be so clear and compelling that every one will acknowledge its truth and justice, even those who are consigned to everlasting death and to the eternal "outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." That is the day that "every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is LORD to the glory of God the Father."
Judgement Day is a Gospel thing for Christians. It is not the day of something terrible happening, but the day of the Gospel disposition of the Children of God. It is the day of the payment made, and our freedom purchased. It is somewhat more than a twenty-four hour day, because it includes the resurrection. The death and resurrection of our Lord are of one piece in this Judgment Day scenario. Jesus died, and when He declared "It is finished!", our salvation was complete at that moment. The resurrection was the public acceptance by God the Father of the Vicarious Atonement of Jesus in our place, and the publication or proclamation of the verdict of the Judge that we are forgiven, redeemed, rescued, justified, and saved.
Judgement Day is always presented as happening at the very end of days. It does happen then, it's just that the very end of days began when Jesus died on the cross and rose from the tomb. We are living in the end of days, the last ones. We just don't know which specific day is the very last one. Our uncertainty is complicated even more by the fact that we have been living in the end of days all of our lives, and mankind has been living in those last days for over two thousand years, so far. For some people, the long wait has spoiled their sense of eschatological expectation - which means their anticipation of the swift approach of the end.
Our wait is roughly analogous to the elderly Christian patient in the end stages of an incurable and fatal disease. While the patient gives every sign of weakness and the swift approach of the end, he keeps breathing . You know the end is near, but exactly when is a mystery. No one wants the patient to expire, and yet no one wants the patient or his family to need to endure much longer, knowing that the end will be a blessing filled with joy for the dying and with closure for the family.
The question is, if we are living in the end of days, how should we then live, as Francis Schaeffer once asked in the title of his book. What difference should the knowledge of the swift approach of the end make for us? The answer has two parts, and they appear to contradict one another - although it is merely appearance and not reality. The two parts of the answer to, "What difference should it make?", are "It should change everything" and "it should make no difference at all."
First, I will explain the second part of the answer. It should make no difference at all because we should already be living our lives as though the end were near. We should not be doing things we are ashamed of. We should not be wasting our time or ourselves on things which have no meaning or value. We are the possessors of the greatest gift in the world - salvation! We have it to give away to anyone who has need of it, and everyone has need of it! Better yet, we cannot lose it by giving it away. The more of it we can give away, or the greater the number of people with whom we can share it, the better we are ourselves. In fact, it is part of our purpose here as the children of God to give it away to as many as will receive it.
We should be living our lives in the light of the truth of the Gospel. We should be pursuing those things which are right and good and worth our while. That doesn't mean that we should be seeking to do the things the world calls "important". The world has a very dim idea of what is truly important. But we should be doing the things that we find to be important to do - and, of course, which do not conflict with our station as the redeemed and chosen sons of the Heavenly Father. We should, at the same time, be avoiding things which are pointless, frivolous, harmful to ourselves or others, and evil.
Luther was once asked what he would do today if he knew for absolutely certain that God was coming to end the world tomorrow. Luther answered that he would plant a tree. The questioner (whose identity did not come to me with the story) was flabbergasted. Why would Luther plant a tree? The world was going to end the next day anyhow. Why not spend that time in prayer, or doing some good work? Luther responded, 'I would plant a tree because today is Tuesday, and I always plant a tree on Tuesday' (or words to that effect). The point being that Luther was doing the things he thought were important to do, and not waiting for some last minute spurt - and not expecting any last minute warning. And remember, Luther died on a mission to settle a dispute, having just achieved his goal. He lived right up to the end, doing what he thought he ought to be doing, while he waited for that last specific day in the end of days.
Our important things include our duties as sons and daughters, as mothers and fathers, as brothers and sisters. Each of us in our station in life have duties, you know, God-given things to do. Some of them are vitally important, and some of them seem insignificant to others, but are what we are given to do, or led to do. We want to be about the things we have been given to do, faithfully, so that when our Lord returns, He find us faithfully serving Him by serving one another, each in our own calling.
The first answer to that question, "What difference should it make?", is that it should change everything. We are living in the very end of days! Those days began when Jesus died and rose again, and time has been steadily running out on us ever since. St. Paul wrote in Romans 13:11, "And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed." If salvation was nearer to them than when they first believed, how much closer must it be to us today, two thousand years later?
Since these are the very end of days - and you have to admit it certainly seems like things are coming apart at the seams - which things are worth the time and our attention? We need to think about what we do, and how we entertain ourselves, and what we purchase and into which things we invest ourselves. If we understand that these days are at the very edge of eternity, and time in this world is about run out, we probably would not want to do just anything that we came across. We would want to get the important stuff done first. This doesn't mean that we would have to be doing things the world judged to be important. Their judgment is fatally flawed anyway. But there are some things we would want to see accomplished - or at least attempted - before the curtain falls on this world and this life.
What is important? Well, I suspect prayer. We want to be clear about our relationship with our Lord. We would want to be in conversation with Him and seeking His forgiveness and His blessings and help as we live in this world as His witnesses and ambassadors. I imagine we would want to be praying regularly.
We would want to be connected with the body of Christ and participating in that fellowship. After all, that is one of the two things that Jesus gave us to do - love one another, and spread the Word. God didn't make any Individual Christians - He made a lot of individuals Christians, that is each of is a Christian, but He never intended that we would be "Lone Rangers". He set us in His body, the Church, and gave us the command to love one another, and to be subject to one another. We are to help each other stand firm and faithful and endure until the end. That's important.
We also have more important things to do than to see if we can die with the most 'toys'. The one who dies with the most toys is still dead, after all. We have treasures of grace and the goodwill of God to carry us through this world and for us to share. Think of how many people you know that just sleep in on Sunday mornings. They do not know and cannot appreciate the treasures of life and salvation that we have. We need to make them know. We cannot make them believe, or cling to the gifts of God, but we can make darn sure that they do not go to the goat side of things without at least hearing about the grace and love of God in Jesus Christ.
And, so what if you are not an evangelist? You can bring them to church with you. I promise that if you bring 'em, I will preach to them. I will teach them, unless they refuse to hear and won't stick around to give me that opportunity. But if you bring 'em, I will give it my all. They will meet all these wonderful saints here, and they will hear the Word sung in hymns and liturgy, and they will hear it read and hear it preached, and you will have held the door of heaven open to them, whether they go in or not. Our goal is not to convert them - only God has that power - our goal is to do everything we can to see to it that they don't go away without ever having heard. In the parable, Christ is the sower, and we are the planting machines. The soil is prepared, we just gotta deliver the seed.
You see, we have urgent business in these last few days, here at the end of days. We have people to tell, and brothers and sisters in Christ to love and encourage and support. We have prayers to pray, and thanks to give. No two of us will necessarily be doing exactly the same thing, nor judging what we should be doing exactly the same way, but there are similarities and common sorts of emphases in our lives. We want to live our lives in the light of the truth that these are the end of days we live in, so that we may work while it is still day, before that night comes when no man can work.
Yes, the end is coming, and coming soon. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. It just makes our lives in Christ a little more urgent.
Yours in the Lord,
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