Believes there will be a Last Day
The Book of Concord of 1580 contains to date our Creed for the 3rd Millennium. In this work, we say that we make our confession in light of the Last Day where we intend to stand before God Almighty and say this is what we have believed, taught, and confessed. Compare this to Father Ronald Knox's critique of the Anglican wishy-washiness he left to become a Roman Catholic: a "tempering pious zeal corrected I believe' to one does feel'" (Wisdom and Innocence, 280). G. K. Chesterton said that only people who hold to definite statements of faith, creeds, realize "that the whole world once very nearly died of broadmindedness and the brotherhood of all religions" (Everlasting Man, 178). A narrow-minded focus on the fact that there is Last Day is an antidote against the poison of broadmindedness that accepts all religions as equal because it feels like the brotherly thing to do.
We believe on the Last Day the Holy Spirit will raise us and all the dead, and give eternal life to us and all believers in Christ. It's interesting that Luther chose to treat the Last Day under the article of sanctification and not under the article of redemption where we confess that Jesus will return to judge the quick and the dead. In the 2nd article the judgment of the living and dead is stated as a fact, but it's the 3rd article that makes a distinction in the judgment. It says there is the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. So while all are raised bodily not all live everlastingly and this is the nuance Luther picks up on by distinguishing between the Spirit raising all the dead and giving eternal life to believers only.
We believe there is a Last Day when all accounts will be settled. There is a day of reckoning, of judgment. Historian Herbert Schlossberg said, "A society that cannot tolerate a judge beyond history will find that it can learn to tolerate anything else" (Idols for Destruction, 37). Or as Paul said it, "Let us eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die." Since there is nothing beyond present urges, impulses, or appetites, let us fulfill them all now. "You're only dancing on this earth for a short while," so whether you waltz, twist, or dirty dance it only matters that you enjoy yourself.
Emperor Julian, called the Apostate because he tried to restore Roman idolatry after Christianity had been established, believed that Christianity contributed to loose living. He said that Christianity was a typical escape-religion. Its attraction was that it offered a means of evading "'the iron law of retributive justice'" (Christianity and Classical Culture, 264). The 3rd Millennium Creed is not escapist. It believes there is a Last Day and all men get what they deserve on that day.
That's what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:10: "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body." That's what the ancient Athanasian Creed says. This 5th century creed is another one that all Christians at one time confessed. It says Jesus "shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies and shall give an account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire." Surprised by this? Shouldn't be. Even a thief on a cross knows it. He said to the other, "We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve."
We believe in a Last Day when the books are opened and accounts are settled. We believe that on this Last Day the kingdom comes to all men visibly. After the Fall God took His visible presence away from fallen men, and hid it in a cloud. He would appear in human form from time to time in the Old Testament, but most of the time He dwelled in a cloud. Even Moses, the friend of God, was only allowed to see Him from the back. But that changed when a Virgin conceived and gave birth to God in flesh and blood.
Both John the Baptist and Jesus announced that the kingdom of God had come to earth. There it was in Jesus the Lamb of God carrying away the sins of the world. There it was in Jesus preaching, "Don't be afraid little flock; it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." There it was in Baptism which baptized a person literally into the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. There it was in Communion where Jesus eats and drinks with us in His Father's kingdom.
Do you feel the disconnect, the non sequitur, the oxymoron? On the Last Day all men get what they deserve and the kingdom comes to all men visibly. How is this good news for men who deserve to be out of the kingdom like I do? Only if you get in before the Last Day. Well if a thief can get it in so can you, but first you need to know his whole story.
Our Passion Readings are a harmonizing of the four Gospels. They leave some things out. One thing they leave out is that both thieves started out reviling Jesus. Matthew gives the full story: "So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked Him, saying, He saved others; He cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God; let God deliver Him now, if He desires Him; for He said, I am the Son of God.'" And the thieves who were crucified with Him also reviled Him in the same way."
So not only do we know this man deserved to be punished for his crime of stealing. We know he deserved damning for mocking Jesus and for throwing the Words of God back in His face. Yet somewhere during these dread hours when God the Son was being punished and damned to answer the demands of retributive justice for all humanity, one thief repented and believed. He confessed his sins saying he deserved to be on that cross and his faith saying, "Remember me when you come into Your kingdom."
The centurion also made it into the kingdom before the Last Day. The thief entered having been converted by how Jesus lived, "This man has done nothing wrong." The centurion entered having been converted by how Jesus died. This is left out of our Passion Reading too. Mark gives us the whole story: "And when the centurion, who stood facing Him, saw how He breathed His last said, "'Truly this man was the Son of God!'"
The accounts of the conversion of a thief and a centurion, like many other Scriptures, don't tell us all we want to know only all we need to. Both men made it into the kingdom before the Last Day when it comes visibly and it will be too late to get in. Both made it seeing, hearing, knowing, much less than you but being just as guilty as you. You are guilty of reviling the Son of God whenever you think God is unfair. You are guilty of throwing His Word back in His face whenever you doubt its promises or power. You are guilty of crucifying God anew whenever you return to the sin from which He has delivered you.
Jesus gave repentance and created faith in a thief who reviled Him and a centurion who crucified Him. The thief accepted his worldly punishment as just; the centurion admitted he had crucified the Son of God. The thief can look at the crucified Jesus' tortured body and tormented soul and believe that he has Paradise. The centurion can look at the dead Jesus and confess Him to be God in the flesh. You've seen less but can know more. Again and again you've been told Jesus is on the cross for your sins. Again and again you've been told that whatever your sins may be Jesus has carried them away. Again and again you've been told that the suffering and dying Jesus is going through is what you deserve but will never, ever get in His kingdom.
We believe there will be a Last Day when Jesus comes visibly in His kingdom and all outside of Christ get what they deserve and all inside of Christ get what He deserves. All men, inside and out, will rise from the dead on that Last Day. All will be raised bodily. All will rise. Wherever they have been buried, wherever they have been scattered to, whatever they have passed into all will be brought back together physically.
By living a perfect life in our flesh, by dying in our flesh the guilty death our sins deserve Jesus purchased and won all flesh, all bodies. By Creation they were His, but by the Fall they were sold into bondage to sin, death, and the devil. By redemption Jesus bought them all back. So He has the right, the power to raise me and all the dead. But resurrection isn't the same as glorification. Resurrection doesn't equal salvation. All will come out of the tombs but only some are given eternal life and glorified bodies.
You see this in our text. Jesus' death broke the bonds of death. The Passion Reading tells us "the tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many." Not all the dead were raised on Good Friday just many holy people, just many saints, just many sanctified people. All belong to God by creation; God the Son bought back all by redemption; but only those called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified (made holy) by God the Spirit will be raised to eternal life.
The holiness needed on the Last Day in order to be given eternal life was won by Jesus living a perfect life in our flesh and dying a sinner's death on the cross. This holiness is distributed by the Holy Spirit before the Last Day in the 3 holies: Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, Holy Communion. The holiness of Jesus being given in these 3 is sufficient to bring you into the kingdom before the Last Day and for you to last to the Last Day.
This is not the Last Day. Whether your pain is severe or your joy is sublime, this is not the Last Day. Whether your sorrow is heavy or your pleasure high, this is not the Last day. Whether you hope this day never ends or cry that it ever began, this is not the Last Day. But the Creed for the 3rd Millennium believes there will be a Last Day when the pain, sorrow, and tears that God never created but Jesus redeemed us from will be wiped away. There is a Last Day when the joys, pleasures, and hopes Jesus redeemed us for will be fulfilled in all those sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lenten Vespers VI (20130320); Third Article, Passion Reading VI