Rev. D. K. Schroeder
II Thessalonians 1:5-10 Sermon
November 13, 2004
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
161 "Before Jehovah's Awe-full Throne"
327 "The Lord Will Come and Not Be Slow"
13 "Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending"
590 "Forever With the Lord"
HERE COMES THE JUDGE!
TEXT: (vs. 8-10) “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you because you believed our testimony to you.”
There’s a story that’s told about two men who die, and are standing at the pearly gates in front of St. Peter—one was a taxi driver, and the other was a Lutheran pastor. As the taxi driver approaches, St. Peter is looking in his book. “Come along,” he says to the taxi driver, “here is your home for eternity.” St. Peter then ushers this lowly taxi driver to this enormous mansion.”
Next it is the Lutheran pastor’s turn. St. Peter looks in his book again. “Come along,” he says to the pastor, “here is your home for eternity.” St. Peter then ushers this Lutheran Pastor to a small but beautiful cottage.
The Pastor, seeing what happened, started to protest. “I think you must have something wrong here,” he said. “I’ve been a Pastor in the Lutheran Church for over 50 years. Why does the taxi driver get a huge mansion while I get this lowly cottage for eternity?”
St. Peter replies, “Up here, we go by results. While you preached, people slept; but while he drove his taxi, people prayed!”
There are literally hundreds of “pearly gate” type jokes out there. Most of these jokes, and I know a number of them (obviously), even though they are humorous and fun, they are theologically horrible. Usually these jokes revolve around people from various walks of life coming before St. Peter at the pearly gates to heaven. According to the “pearly gate joke rule,” the only way they can pass through the gates and enter heaven is through a variety of different things; such as: Answer these questions correctly, or do something, or say something; or often it revolves around reviewing and comparing someone’s earthly accomplishments versus their mis-deeds.
I think we all know that the situations set forth in those “pearly gate” jokes are outlandish; but that’s what makes them humorous and fun to tell. I certainly would never tell a joke like that if I were to ever think that someone might take the joke seriously. We know that the Pastor isn’t going to be judged because someone slept during his sermon; nor is the taxi driver going to be judged for his poor driving. That just isn’t the way God does things.
The topic for this second to the last Sunday in the Church Year is the Last Judgment. This is keeping right in line with a general theme which runs through the Sundays following Reformation Sunday. Last week was the Festival of All Saints. Next week will be Christ the King. So it’s only fitting that the Last Judgment should be our topic for today.
So where does St. Peter fit into this picture? Why do people seem to put him in charge of who does or doesn’t get through the “pearly gates?”
In Matthew 16, 19 we read what Jesus tells Peter: “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
This is spoken by Jesus following Peter’s confession about Jesus being God’s only begotten son, the second person of the Trinity. Those who share Peter’s confession have the ability to carry out Christ’s command to forgive the sins of those who are repentant, and to retain the sins of those who are not repentant. It’s simply stating things the way they are.
However, the statement regarding the “keys to the kingdom of heaven” does not imply in any way that St. Peter is going to be the one at heaven’s gate deciding who gets in and who doesn’t. That’s just so much folklore; it isn’t factual at all.
But what about the “pearly gates?” Where does that come from? In Revelation 21, 21 we read: “The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass.”
This is part of John’s description of heaven, or the New Jerusalem. We must remember however that the book of Revelation uses a lot of metaphors and figurative language, especially when speaking about heaven. God chose to take something as indescribable as heaven, and describe it using terms and words we could comprehend.
So there’s nothing technically wrong with saying “going through the pearly gates” to indicate a person’s going to heaven. But it does fall under the category of being a colloquialism.
Now that we’re straight on that, we do have the question before us: What is the final judgment going to be like? What does it mean when we say in the creed, “He [Jesus] will come again in glory, to judge both the quick (or living) and the dead?” What will it actually be like? What will happen to you and me on this day?
In Matthew 25, 31-32 Jesus himself says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
And then, Paul says in his second letter to Timothy, chapter 4 verse 1, “…Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead…”
So yes indeed, Jesus will come again in glory to be the judge of the earth, of those still living and those who have departed life on earth.
Jesus further describes this in John 5, 28-29: “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”
Maybe we can picture it this way: Think of Jesus, sitting on a magnificent throne. Before him is this huge book with everybody’s name recorded. Or if you want to bring it into the current century, you might want to picture Jesus in front of a computer screen with a huge data base containing everybody’s name that ever lived. Your name is there, so is mine, and so is everybody else’s. The names will be in two categories: those who have done good, and those who have done evil. The ones who have done good are the believers, and those who have done evil are the unbelievers.
It’s right here where we need to stop, and eliminate what I like to call the “Santa Claus” theology regarding the last judgment. I’m sure we’ve all heard the words to “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” The words go, “You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry, you’d better not pout, I’m telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town. He’s making a list, and checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice, Santa Claus is coming to town. He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”
According to legend, if you’re a good boy or girl, Santa will fill your stocking with candy and toys as a reward; but if you’re bad, then he’ll fill your stocking with rocks and dirt; or as it is sometimes put, Santa leaves bad children with nothing but a lump of coal and a bundle of switches, or sticks.
This idea unfortunately gets carried over into the scene on judgment day. Some picture Jesus opening that giant book to their page (or bringing it up on his monitor), and saying things like: “Tsk, tsk, tsk….I heard what you said when you dropped that casserole on the floor that you were taking out of the oven….I heard what you said when you hit your thumb with that hammer….I saw that gesture you made to that driver that cut you off in traffic….I saw you looking at those naughty pictures on the internet” –and so goes the list.
For the unbeliever, for the non-Christian, they will have such a list to look forward to. They will have some absolutely horrible and reprehensible acts for which they will have to answer. They will have sin after sin after sin after sin on their record, and they will inherit the reward they have merited. The judgment for them will be just and right, but it will be one of condemnation.
In our text for today, Paul says in verse 9 of II Thessalonians 1: “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord…” Everlasting destruction….it’s like being in the process of being destroyed without ever having it come to completion. It’s a horrible thought.
If we, as Christians were to even partially hold to this “Santa Claus Theology,” the same fate would be ours too. King David writes in Psalm 130 verse 3, “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?” Indeed we couldn’t stand. James 2 verse 10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” “Santa Claus theology” just doesn’t work for the Christian.
The Christian has a far different picture however. The Christian knows of his or her sinfulness on this earth. But the Christian also knows Jesus as their Saviour from sin. The Christian therefore can be assured that through their faith in Christ, their sinful record has been completely wiped clean.
The prophet Jeremiah writes what the Lord declares in chapter 31 verses 33 and 34: “I will be their God and they will be my people….For I will forgive their wickedness, and will remember their sins no more.”
I can think of no greater words of comfort for the Christian than those. This is such a beautiful description of the forgiveness we have through faith in Jesus. Not only does God forgive sins, but he forgets them as well.
So as Christians, when we appear before Jesus as the righteous judge of the living and the dead, he will look at our record; that’s for certain. But what he will see is not anything connected with our sinfulness; all he will see is Christ’s righteousness. The “sin” column in our record will be completely blank, because those are the sins Christ took with him to the cross. Those old sins of ours were crucified right along with him, so they would haunt us no more. They are forever and completely gone. Jesus took care of that. There’s no more burden, no more guilt, and no more worry about having those old sins somehow reappear in God’s book on judgment day. We can be so thankful that God doesn’t work like Santa Claus.
Today’s sermon text is a small portion of Paul’s opening words of his second epistle to the Christians at Thessalonica. Paul gives a very graphic description of the fate that awaits the unbelievers on judgment day, and he does so for a very good reason.
You see, the Thessalonian Christians were being persecuted, and quite severely. However they were very faithful in their commitment to Christ and the Gospel.
The acts of the persecutors were fruits of their unbelief. So Paul assures them that those who persist in their unbelief would reap their just reward on judgment day. In verses 6 and 7 of II Thessalonians, we read: “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you, and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well…” The future of the unbeliever isn’t bright at all.
But in verses 4 and 5, Paul’s words of hope shine above everything: “Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.”
They believed the Gospel message. They knew the reward of heaven would be theirs. They knew that through their faith in Jesus, God remembered their sins no more and they would see their heavenly inheritance.
In closing today, I just can’t resist sharing one last story with you.
A man dies, and proceeds to the judgment throne. As he is standing in line waiting his turn, he witnesses what is happening to the people ahead of him. Some people proceed to one side of the throne, where St. Peter ushers them through the pearly gates into heaven. The others go to the other side of the throne, where Satan is casting them into the lake of burning sulphur. However Satan is also casting some into a small pile off to the side.
The man is fully aware of the heaven and hell judgments, but he can’t figure out why Satan has the small pile off to the side.
Curiosity gets the better of him, so he approaches Satan. “Mr. Satan sir, I beg your pardon, but why are those people in that small pile over there?”
Satan replies, “Those people are from Seattle; they’re still too wet to burn.”
Do you think that God minds a little “ecclesiastical humor?” Do you think that he minds the “St. Peter and the pearly gates” stories? I don’t think so, just as long as we remember the difference between what is truth and what is humor.
The final judgment is no laughing matter however. It is true, and it is stone-cold serious. For us as Christians, judgment day will be a time of joy and happiness. Through our faith in Christ, there will be no record of sins waiting there to haunt us. With this in mind, all that is left is the joyful anticipation of the reward that will be ours, guaranteed. And, if along the way we happen to share a laugh or two among us, then so much the better.