Pictures of Judgement
Holman Hunt's 1853 painting "The Awakening Conscience" shows a kept woman realizing to her fall: the music on the floor and the piano, the bird having been caught by the mouse and the look on her face compared to the man keeping her who's still dead to having done anything wrong. You can talk about the plight of a fallen woman, but pictures are worth more. Words tell us many things, but sometimes we need a picture before we really get it. That's why today I offer pictures of judgement.
First pictures of misery. This one is North Zulch, Texas where my first parish was. The volunteer fire department is putting on their annual BBQ. Everywhere in this small town and surrounding area are signs declaring "FREE BBQ." This being my first year, I ask a member who tells me, "Really, it's a free will offering." My sense of fair play is violated. How dare they cry "Free, free" and only when you get there say, "It's a free will offering." I decide if they have the nerve to proclaim free and then ask for donations, I have the nerve to go there and freely give little. As I go through line, I stock up. Pounds of brisket, beans, coleslaw, pickles and potato salad. I proceed down the line stuffing 2 Styrofoam carriers. At the last station the guy asks 2 questions: "Name? How much?" I'm busted! I've taken enough food to feed a horse intending on paying for what a bird would eat. Here before the entire town of North Zulch the new pastor is called to account. Picture it. I still can and shudder. That's how the Judgement is. It's a moment of accounting. You're going to be called on by name to pay for all your sins. You're going to be standing before the Man, Christ Jesus, with your overstuffed life of sins and He'll say, "Name? How much?" But while I died from embarrassment, you'll die of fright.
Next picture. It comes from the "Candid Camera" show. People are secretly filmed. They may be shown finding a wallet with money, being approached by an attractive women, or being given a chance to explode with anger. I've a great fear of being caught by such a show. You might think this is based on modern technology. Think again. Robert Burton in his 17th century book refers to a Latin saying, "Think no place without a witness" (Anatomy of Melancholy, II, 205). On Judgement Day the hidden videos roll. It's like the song says, "Every move you make, every breath you take, every vow you break, I'll be watching you." Every deed, every word, every thought you've ever had has been recorded.
You'll be standing in the judgement line holding an overstuffed Styrofoam carrier of what you think your sins are. Only as a another song has it, "You ain't' seen nothing yet," but unlike the song this is something you're going to regret. Oh, you can't see this picture? Maybe God's Word will help. Ecc. 11:9, "Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, ...And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things." It's the Baptist, not the Bible who have an age of accountability below which God doesn't hold you answerable. Wrong. You're answerable for all. Ecc. 12:14 says, "God shall bring every work into judgement, with every secret thing." Mat. 12:36, "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account for in the day of judgment." 1 Cor. 4:5, says that the Lord "will make manifest the motives of every heart." Because you can hide sins from others, don't think you can hide them from the God who has had a video camera on you since birth. Roll tape.
The last picture of misery comes from the OT reading. See the throne of God; see 10,000 x 10,000 angels round it; hear the court being seated, the scrape of chairs, heavy sitting down, and then see massive books being opened. Hear them thud as they open flat. Rev. 20:12 has this same picture but with more detail. See small and the great standing before the throne. See books opened. See the dead judged from the things which are written in the books according to their works. God Himself says this in Revelation, but he's only repeating Himself. Listen to 2 Cor. 5:10, "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that everyone may be paid back for the things done in his body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." You've been sending 12 megapixel pics from earth to those books in heaven your whole life and on Judgement Day they're going to be shown to you and all creation! And don't you dare think you're excuse of "we're all sinners" helps at all. When the Books are opened, only the words and pics across from your name will be shown.
Aren't these miserable pictures? Don't leave here with these in your head, heart, wallet or phone. They'll haunt you till hell itself. There's another set of pictures from Judgment Day. Go back with me to North Zulch. See me facing the line of brisket, beans, potatoes and more. Then see me look to the end of the line noticing that there's a man there who is going to ask "Name? How much?" Then see me repenting of my greed and gluttony. See me realizing there's no way I can face such a judge. Learn from this picture. Now's the day to face your sins. Now's the day to call yourself to account for them. Stop acting like there'll be no accounting; there will be. Either now or in the end, and in the end there's nothing but judgment. Now is the time to face w your sins. Hear 1 Cor. 11: "If we judged ourselves rightly we should not be judged." Paul said this in relation to Communion. Don't approach this altar without first judging yourself. This is like a mini-judgement day every week. Christ is here as Savior for all who come confessing their sins. He is here as Judge for all who come with excuses, rationalizations, or defenses for their sins. Hold yourself accountable for your sins every week, so that they may be forgiven every week. Don't wait till judgement day when God will do it mercilessly before everyone.
But what about the Last Judgement? The hidden camera imagery haunts you. You can see yourself being taped through your teen years, your college years, in many situations and circumstances that you can only blush about now. The Candid Camera image is a good Law picture, but what you need now is a good Gospel one. How about special effects and editing? The Statue of Liberty can be beheaded; the White House blown up; people fly, disappear, and change shapes. See a thumb drive with your name on it. Watch as the Lord puts it into a USB port on a gigantic screen big enough for all creation to see. What you see is you as a child always obeying your mom, never rolling your eyes, and never muttering under your breath. On it plays through your teen, college, and adult years. The drive pictures you only doing what is good, kind, and right. The places where you're ready to cover your eyes for shame aren't there at all! That time your stole, those times you sinned sexually, and even more serious sins aren't there. It's a video of only good works. Not one evil work, word, or thought is there.
How can this be? It's special effects and editing! The video of the perfect life of Jesus was edited and your head was put on His body. So all that He ever did all creation sees you doing. But what about all of your sins? Hard drives can be erased. The video of your life was run through the blood of Jesus Christ and every single sin of yours was erased. Or think of what happened at the cross as a giant magnet. Your video was at the cross and the suffering and death of Jesus were so powerful a magnet it removed all your sins from it. These are my pictures, but isn't this what 2 Cor. 5:19 says? "God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them." And 2 Cor. 5:21, "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God."
Okay that takes care of the tape, but what about the Books I've been sending pics and texts to all my life? Don't go to those Books. There's nothing there that you want to see. Even your good works have all sorts of notes by them like, "Helped neighbor but felt proud." Or "Went to church but didn't listen." Don't go to those Books. Go to another: the Book of life. Rev. 20 say that Book will be at the Judgement too. Small and great stand before God and the books are opened, but another book is opened which is the Book of Life. Yes, the dead are judged out of the things which are written in the Books according to their works, but what damns is not what is written in the Books of works but not being written in the Book of Life. So how does one get his name written in it? Rev. 13 says, the Lamb's Book of Life has been written since before the foundation of the world. Paul says the same thing. Eph. 1: "He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world." The Names in the Book of Life have been written since before the world was even created and they're written in the indelible blood of Christ.
Yes, but how do I know if my name is written there? Have you been absolved, or been baptized, or been given communed? Those the Lord Jesus wrote down in eternity He absolves, baptizes, or communes in time. You can know what happened before the foundation of the world by what happens to you in time. Has Christ said to you, "I baptize you?" Does Jesus say, "I forgive you?" Does He say, "Take eat, take drink this is My Body given for you, My Blood shed for you?" Rejoice! Your name has been written and forever stands inscribed in the Book of Life.
Go back to Judgement Day. The Books of works contain what you have done, all the texts and pics you've sent in time, but the Book of Life contains what God has done in Christ for you from eternity. Which carries more weight what man or God has done? Which lasts longer what you've written in your books or what God has in His? Doesn't Jesus say, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My Words will never pass away?"
One last picture. You're standing before the Judge. The Book of Life is opened. You hear, "Name?" and then, "O yes, here it is." Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second-Last Sunday in the Ch. Yr. (20211114); Dn. 7:9-10; Mk. 13:24-31