What Have You Done
Ding! The Church Year has again ticked down to the end. Ready or not here our Lord comes! Four words what have you done which can be a question, a statement, or a phrase help us prepare for that last great day.
"What have you done" can be a question, a question that should strike terror in your heart. On the Last Day when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead He's going to ask you individually, "What have you done?" In the Epistle reading we heard Jesus tell us, "Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with Me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done." So, He's going to ask each of you, "What have you done?"
Think about that. You'll stand before the Judge of all, just you and you alone. In the choir of life, it's easy to stand among the crowd and fake the words, but on the Last Day each of is going to sing a solo. It won't matter then if "everybody else is doing" the sin you're doing; it won't matter that lots of people are doing worse things than you. It's only going to matter what you and you alone have done.
"What have you done?" These words ought to put the fear of God in your heart especially when you remember that He knows everything you've done already. It's like when a mother comes into a room and finds Cheerios all over the floor and says, "What have you done?" She doesn't say that because she doesn't know but because she does, and she wants to bring home to the child that she does know.
"What have you done," the Lord who knows every thought you've ever had, heard every word you've ever said, seen every deed you've ever done is going to ask? The Judge of all has witnessed your rebellion, your unbelief, you lack of concern for spiritual things. He has watched as the end of the world became less and less real to you and you gave in living like the world would last forever. He has seen you stuff your face with food and saturate your mind with drugs or alcohol. He has seen you give into greed, lust, anger, and worry. He has seen you commit sexual sins, property sins, family sins, and religious sins. He has seen you become friends with the world that hates Him.
Your Lord knows everything, and He's going to ask from His judgment throne, "What have you done?" You will stammer and stutter because before your eyes and His there will be all those spilled Cheerios convicting you: secret sins you thought nobody ever found out about; embarrassing sins you won't be able to look at; unbelievably gross sins that no one who knows you today would guess you're capable of.
But you and God know what you have done, don't you? And God will judge accordingly although it doesn't seem that way now. Now it appears the unbelievers in Malachi are right when they say, "Certainly the evildoers prosper and even those who challenge God escape." But if author Thomas Hardy was right when he said, "Beware the fury of the patient man," then this goes a million times more for God. The incredible patience God shows now in holding back judgment indicates His fury will be unimaginable when He lets it go against what you have done.
Doesn't the Gospel lesson teach you this? Gentle Jesus meek and mild says people will be cut in pieces, dismembered, disemboweled, hacked up for what they have done: hands that stole chopped off; hearts that lusted cut out; legs that ran after sin broken off. And don't think the other punishment He mentions isn't that bad, just a beating. The word means "to flay." Sinners will be skinned alive to one degree or another based on what they have done.
"What have you done" is a terrifying question when spoken by God our judge, but it can be a statement of marvel when spoken by us to God. "What have you done!" we say when we look at the blood-dripping Christ on Calvary. You hear this amazement in our hymns. In "A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth" we sing, "O wondrous Love, what hast Thou done! The Father offers up His Son!" In "O Darkest Woe" we sing, "O sorrow dread! God's Son is dead!" In "How Great Thou Art" we sing, "But when I think that God, His Son not sparing, Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in. That on the cross my burden gladly bearing He bled and died to take away my sin."
"What have you done, O Lord," we exclaim. We are the ones who sin; we disobey your commandments; we ignore your word, we wallow in lust, but look what you have done! You made your Son to be the Lamb of God who carries away the sins of the world. Although He never did wrong, you put so many sins on Him that no part of His holy flesh was visible. He was only stinking, damning sin.
Then look what you did, O Father! You beat Him with the blows I deserve. You skinned Him with whips meant for me. Rather than cutting me to pieces as I deserve, you nailed His arms and legs to the cross. By the blows, by the beatings, by the stripes He bore, my sins were healed. I was the one cursed by You justly for my sins, but Jesus became a curse for me, so that I might have His holiness in Your eyes.
What an amazing thing the Lord has done for you! There is a totally safe place for you come Judgment Day. There is a spot where you can stand where God's terrible wrath against what you have done will not burn you up. There's a place where you not be beaten, dismembered, or skinned alive for your sins. How can that be?
Our situation on Judgment day will be like that of pioneers when a prairie fire approached. Since not even the fastest horse can outrun a prairie fire, the pioneers burned the grass all around them and stood in that burned area. As the roar of the flames approached, they could stand there without fear because they knew the fire had already burned over the place where they stood.
Come Judgment Day when the fires come to sweep sinners away, there is one spot that is safe under the cross of Christ. There the fire of God's wrath against sin and sinners has already burned. I don't care what you've done, how big, how embarrassing, how shameful, how disgusting, there is no sin of yours that was not on Christ on Calvary. At that place, God's wrath against sin has been completely burned up. You stand at Calvary today not by traveling to the holy land but by swimming in your Baptism, by filling your ears with Absolution, by eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Jesus that was a wrath removing sacrifice for you.
"What have you done?" can be a question of the Law. "What have you done!" can be an exclamation of the Gospel. And "what you have done" can be a comforting phrase, but you can only hear it if you push the Gospel all the way through. It's pushed all the way through when you realize that your Lord will not forget even one of the things you have done or suffered as His child. Earlier we touched on the scoffing of unbelievers because God delays judgment. Yes centuries have passed since the Lord first said, "Behold I'm coming soon!" So we are tempted to give up and give in like the despairing servant in the parable. He said, "'My master is taking a long time in coming,' and he began to abuse the vocation his Lord had left him.
The people Malachi wrote to faced the same temptation, and what did they do about it? "Those who feared the Lord talked with each other." What did they say? The same types of things we say back in forth to each other in the liturgy. "Our help is in the name of the Lord; who made heaven and earth." "O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, and His mercy endures forever." "Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done." But the fact they talked to each other isn't the amazing part. The fact the Lord listened and heard is. Then Malachi says, "A scroll of remembrance was written in the Lord's presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored His name."
All that you have done in Christ, your struggle to be faithful, to believe the true doctrine, to trust only in the goodness of Christ not your own is written down. The Lord remembers every cup of cold water you ever gave someone in His name, every little mite you ever gave, every feeble, faltering attempt of yours to be faithful. He remembers and His angels write it down.
What you have done in Jesus' name is not forgotten by your Lord. Though you may feel like Noah locked in a pitching and rolling ark for over a year sure that God has forgotten you, God remembers you just like He did Noah. Though you may feel like Joseph unjustly imprisoned for years, suffering just because you're faithful to the Lord, and certain that God has forgotten you, the Lord remembers you just like He did Joseph. And even if you should feel like the thief on the cross because most of your life has been lost in sinful unbelief, you can be sure that the Lord Jesus you now confess won't forget you in paradise either.
Let this Last Sunday in the Church Year be for you what it is meant to be: a practice for the Last Day, for Judgment Day. Feel the terror as the Judge of all asks you, "What have you done?" But as soon as the terror strikes fear in your heart, run to your baptismal waters, run to the words that forgive your sins, run to the Body and Blood of Christ given and shed for you. There in Christ, with Christ, under Christ marvel all over again at what God has done in Christ to save you from the fires of Judgment Day. Marvel that in Him you stand safe in a place that can't be burned. And then remember that the Lord who saves you never forgets you or what you have done in His name no matter how feeble, how imperfect, how insignificant it is to the world. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Last Sunday in the Church Year (20071125); All 3 lessons series C