Did You Know?
Did you know Apple computers co-founder Steve Jobs was confirmed in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod by a confessional Lutheran pastor? Did you know "he spoke later of his desire to make a dent in the universe' and not want God to make a dent in him" (World, Oct. 22, 2011, 35)? Did you know in a 2008 interview he identified himself as a practicing Buddhist (http://money.cnn.com/2008/03/02/news/companies/elkind_jobs.fortune/index.htm)? Did you know that if you ask the latest IPhone the question "Where is Steve Jobs" it answers, "I don't know who Steve Jobs is (Time, October 31, 2011, 65)? Did you know that this sermon is not at all about Steve Jobs but about you?
In the words of 19th century poet, John Donne, "Therefore, send not to know/ For whom the bell tolls, / It tolls for thee." Did you know that? Did you know people are taken out of this life suddenly without warning by accidents, incidents, and illnesses that had no signs, in circumstances that are just plain bizarre? I've always been haunted by this. Not that the tolling bell was for me, but did the person for whom it tolled know it. Was that young man killed in a motorcycle accident prepared to meet his Maker? Was that young woman who fell out of a second story apartment in San Marcos prepared to die? Was that person who went to bed and woke up dead ready for the bell tolling for them?
No matter for whom the bell tolls it's sudden to us. Surely you've noticed this. Even when families have days, weeks, or even months of warning that Death is coming, it still strikes them as sudden. Yet we don't think ours will be sudden. If John Donne is right, we'll hear the tolling of the bell far off and pause, and gradually it will dawn on us that the tolling bell is for me and I'm already dead.
The surprise is for two reasons; both are scary; only one appears that way. Luther said, "When the Lord God comes to punish, He puts on woolen socks, so He can walk without a sound and approach without being heard" (Sermons of Martin Luther, Klug, II, 371). The other reason also comes from Luther. He said that the ultimate persecution for the Church is peace and security. He based this on 1 Thessalonians 5:3: "While people are saying, Peace and safety,' destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape." The tolling bell is muffled by the woolen socks of good health, young age, good times, young dreams.
Did you know there is no preparing for death after death? Sounds stupid right? Dead is dead. What can be done after death? But that's not how people live their life, and the church fathers knew this. The modern church doesn't. Most modern commentators understand the fact that all 10 virgins sleep shows that God tolerates in His church some laziness, some lack of preparation on the part of even those who will be saved. They are right that the parable is about the church. This is not the sheep and goats of last week. This is about all those in the outward church. But sleep isn't sleep in a parable. Sleep stands for something else, and for the church fathers this sleep stood for death.
Yes the bell tolls for us all, and once it begins ringing no one can borrow from another or rush out to get forgiveness for that sin they've accepted, defended, petted, and fed. No one can switch on faith in a heart that has been hardened to grace. Everyone knows that once Death calls no one can repent for them, believe for them, or open the door of heaven for them. But people think that while they're alive. The person says, "Hey my mom gets up every morning and goes to early mass; that's gotta count for something." "My mom was an organist." "My dad taught Sunday School for 30 years." They are secure that there is oil in someone else's lamp. That's foolish.
Did you know that they will find the door to the marriage supper of the Lamb closed to them? People confuse knowledge with faith all the time. The 5 virgins without repentance, forgiveness, or faith in their lamps didn't forget they were watching and waiting for Jesus. They hadn't forgotten who He is. The insert translates, "Sir! Sir!" but the Greek is "Kurie, Kurie" which you recognize as "Lord, Lord." Knowing who Jesus is, is not the same as trusting in Him. You can get knowledge about Jesus from anyone, but trust, faith, belief is a miracle that can only be worked by God, and if it's not worked before the bell tolls the door is forever shut to you.
Did you know the door is not shut now? Where's the door? Show me the door! Get me in that door! Jesus is the Door. In John 10 He says, "I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved." No one gets into heaven except through this door. The flesh and blood of Jesus is the door to heaven, the door to the marriage banquet, the door to salvation. That's because the flesh and blood of Jesus is the flesh and blood of God Almighty. Paul says plainly that this flesh and blood, the flesh hanging off your bones and the blood pumping through your veins can't enter heaven. Paul says that we must all be changed in order to enter heaven. The flesh and blood of the God Man is what does the changing.
Did you know the Door is not closed to any of you? Did you know the flesh and blood of Jesus is that Door? Did you know He is also the Key to that Door? Isaiah 22 prophesied that on Jesus' shoulders would be the key to the house of David. And that what He opens no one can shut, and what He shuts no one can open.
In order to open the door for sinners like us, Jesus had to deal with the Law that showed us to be sinners. He had to take that out of the way. That Law hung over the heads of flesh and blood people, so it had to be kept by flesh and blood. As True God, Jesus wasn't under any Law. As True God whatever He did would be the Law of the land because, after all, it is His land. So He took on flesh and blood in the Virgin's womb obligating Him to do all the have to's, must's, should's, and ought's. And He did every one of them as a flesh and blood Man. No unbelief, no misbelief, no other great shame or vice was found in His life, mouth, or mind.
By actively keeping God's Law in your place, what unkept Law was there to accuse you, to show you your sins, to make you guilty, unqualified to pass through the door of heaven? But what about the Law's punishments? They too had to be fulfilled by flesh and blood. So God the Son did the unthinkable. He pled guilty of the sins of the whole world; He carried them before God's throne of Justice, before God's eternal wrath, and the entire cup of God's wrath against a world's sins was given Jesus to drink. And drink it He did. Do you think Jesus somehow missed a drop that you must swallow now? No, He declared, "It is finished," and finished it is.
So walk through the open door. Jesus has done all things for you to enter. Cast those sins that Jesus suffered and died for away from you. You defend them; you accept them, and they remain yours, and you answer for them. Either you or Jesus dies with them. If Jesus died with them, then they are no longer yours. Why do you claim them? Why do you defend them? Why do you serve them if they belong to another? If Death catches you with them, you can't run to anyone else to be rid of them; they're yours for all eternity.
Death will catch you with them if you continue to think knowing something is the same as trusting it. There is no miracle involved in knowing something, but only a miracle can bring about believing in what God promises. The Luke 13 judgment scene brings this out. Jesus says, "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the Owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, Lord, open the door for us.' "But He will answer, I don't know you or where you come from.' "Then you will say, We ate and drank with You, and You taught in our streets.' "But He will reply, I don't know you."
See how they try to plead their case that they knew Jesus? See how that counts for nada, nothing, nil, zip. What counts is whether Jesus knows you and whether you believe that. That's what Paul says, isn't it? He reminds the straying Galatians it's not "that you know God but rather you are known by God." God knows you in the Person of Jesus and in the Work He did for you in and with His flesh and blood.
Luther said, "There is no one so well prepared for the judgment day as he who longs to be without sin" (Luther's Sermons, Lenker, I, 77). Do you long to be without sins? Then let go of them. See them washed away from you in Baptism now. See them sent away from you in Absolution today. See them forgiven in the Body of Christ that you eat and in the Blood of Christ that you drink.
Here's where your lamps get filled; here's where the Lord shows He knows you and here's where you confess the miraculous fact that you believe He knows you in forgiveness not judgment. Here's where you get prepared to meet the Bridegroom for whenever the bell tolls for you. Preparation is not out there, and it's not in here in your inner life. Preparation is in that Font, in this Bible, and on that Altar because your flesh and blood Jesus is in all these places.
Did you know that the famous quote of Douglas MacArthur, "I shall return," didn't encourage everyone? "According to two later writers [that promise] left, rather an ashen taste in the mouths of the men who knew they would be called on to return somewhat in advance of him'" (American Caesar, 271). Those men would have to storm the beach, take the beach, win the beach before MacArthur could return. That's not how it is with Jesus. He too has promised, "I shall return." But He has done the fighting, the bleeding, the sighing, and dying, so you can meet Him with all the joy of going to a wedding reception where you are known by the Groom Himself. Even if your IPhone, Smartphone, or telephone company doesn't know who you are, you're God, Lord, and Savior does. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Last Sunday in the Church Year (20111120); Matthew 25: 1-13