An Open-and-Shut Case
Last week we had CSI in the courtroom. This week, the Last Sunday in the Church Year, the Church's New Year's Eve, we have an open-and-shut case. In court, that means one that is simple and likely to be decided quickly. In church, it means more.
Look at our parable. Who is kidding who? What's open-and-shut about the crazy things going on? Bridesmaids in charge of having lamps to greet the groom not taking oil with them? Do modern day bridesmaids not take bouquets? Grooms delay alright but who comes to their wedding reception at midnight? True enough bridesmaids may not know each other well today, but can you imagine one answering another caught unprepared, "Never will I give you oil!" That's the equivalent of, "Don't touch that hairbrush; keep your hands off my curling iron." I'm passing over where anyone could buy oil at midnight, and move to the last startling picture. What groom on his wedding day says "No" and refuses to let bridesmaids into the reception because he doesn't know them?
You can find commentators who say all of these things have to do with 1st century marriage customs. I say they illustrate today's and every other days' view of the final judgment. None of it makes sense to us. We can't get our head around Jesus coming to judge all. Our scientific age distances itself from this terrifying prospect by asking things like where will the billions of people stand for judgment? How will there be enough time for each to be judged? How is it fair that the door of salvation only opened for a limited time will be shut for eternity? Why that's as crazy as a groom shutting the door to his reception once and for all. Yes, it is, isn't it?
This is an open-and-shut case because there is a finality here that you can't deny. O you can push to the back of your mind Judgment Day. You can laugh at it with Family Guy, the Simpsons, Heaven can Wait, and sing In the Year 2525 till Judgment Day isn't on your radar, but you can't do that with your death. All die. All the bridesmaids sleep. In a parable that ends with "keep watch" the Lord can't be saying, "Hey, it's okay if you fall asleep." In the parable sleep stands for the death no one escapes (Augustine, ACC, IB, 217).
Rather than push aside Death, the Church prays, "Show me, O Lord my life's end and the number of my days." How badly we need this today when they regularly assure us our life expectancy is increasing and make us more concerned about running out of money in some distant future than running out of days today. The Church prays "let me know how fleeting is my life" rather than "let me know I have enough money to live on."
Go to a cemetery that dates to the mid 1800s. Read the tombstones. You'll find babies and children. You'll find people dying not only in the prime of life but just as life flowers. Those graves will be from the 1850s till the 1950s. Now we think a person living less than 90 years has been cheated. May the Lord give us the faith of the Psalmist who knows that the Lord has made his days "a mere handbreadth;" that the span of his life is nothing before God; that "each man's life is but a breath." It isn't even "Dust Blowing in the Wind" it's just air. Only with such realizations as these will your life end where the Psalmist's did, "My hope is YouO Lord."
I've gotten ahead of myself, but this time not too far. With Death sitting heavy on your heart and huge in your head, you're ready to hear a parable about something inexplicable, something completely incomprehensible, and therefore easily joked away. Now you're ready to listen to the truth about Judgment Day being an open-and-shut case.
"God has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the Man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead." That's not me speaking; that's God in Acts 17:31. But you know what modern men do? They spend their few and fleeting days on earth not preparing to be judged by God but judging God. Why did He do this or that? Why didn't He prevent this? God falls short of man's standard of being all powerful, present everywhere, and all loving. Any person who has known tragedy feels justified in getting on his high horse and charging full tilt at God for His lovelessness, weakness, or absence.
While keeping God before their court, men hold a court of their own for themselves. While they're convicting God of not meeting their standards of deity, of divine love, knowledge, and power, they're busy forgiving themselves. This didn't start in the 60s or 20s. Nope the concept that God had a set a day in which He would judge all people was lost already in the 17 and 18 hundreds. We're hundreds of years into the illusion that man can and should sit in judgment of God and is able to and should forgive himself. How often do novels, TV, and movies come down to "being able to forgive yourself?" Contrast this with a 20th century Lutheran theologian saying, "He who forgives himself his sins is his own God" (Sasse, The Mystery of the Last Things, 5). Yes, we've met the Antichrist and it is us.
Repent of seeing you on the bench and God at the bar. Repent of seeing you with the gavel and God on trial. Repent of thinking that you know enough to judge God or to absolve yourself. Rejoice that God has set a day when He will judge the secrets and the sins of all men by the Man Jesus. Rejoice that it is an open-and-shut case.
This Man whom we expect to come as Judge came before. That time He did come as the Defendant. Perhaps Substitute would be a better word. The Son of Man came in place of all mankind. Being true God begotten from the Father from eternity, He took on flesh and blood in a Virgin's Womb. Right then and there it was Him for you. Him for me. Him for all. Right then and there free from the corruption of Original Sin, He lived a perfect life all of His days. Not once did He sass His mother; not once did He disobey His step-father; not once did He have a bad thought or do a bad thing. He was perfection itself.
Jesus stood before the bar of God's justice and the books were went through with a fine tooth comb, and not one sin could be found, not one fault was noted, not one time did Jesus worry, lust, curse, or covet. When the Judge's gavel came down in the heavenly courtroom, the angels gasped and the Seraphim stuttered because the verdict was "Guilty!"
That Death you fear to face pretending it's not stalking you came full on holy Jesus. The Devil who can twist your tail into 1,000 worries and 10,000 fears was not a roaring lion he was a devouring one. He charged Jesus with all the savagery of a wild beast. The sin you are afraid will one day be exposed, that you could blush to death over came upon holy Jesus with all its weight, all its shame, and all its guilt.
However, Death, Devil, or Sin didn't take Jesus life from Him. No, He gave His sinless life up in sacrifice for your unholy one. He appeased the wrath of God against your unholy sin stained, blood spattered life with His holy, precious blood. He embraced the pain, the agony, the terror of a sinner's death and judgment in place of all mankind. And God the Father showed it was a done deal by raising Jesus from the dead. Did you catch the connection between the resurrection and judgment in that Acts 17 passage? Jesus' resurrection proves He has the right to judge the world. Why? He paid for it lock, stock, and barrel. What you pay for you own, and you can do with it as you please.
And Jesus is pleased to forgive the world's sins, and the Father agreed; that's what He showed by raising Jesus from the dead. "I don't find a single Law that still needs keeping by the world; I can't find a single punishment that You My Son didn't bear for them on the cross. I forgive them for all they were uselessly and in the context of our parable foolishly thinking they were forgiving themselves for." Self-absolution is no absolution. It matters not whether you forgive yourself. It only matters does God.
And that's an open-and-shut case. From Isaiah to Revelation Jesus is described as the One who can shut a door and no one open it. That bothers you about this parable. Jesus shuts this door and their pleading, "Lord, Lord" for that is what they say, doesn't move the Lord. These 5 bridesmaids can't open the door by force or by pleading. They can say, "You must open the door for us for all eternity" and that door won't open a crack, a smidgen, a hairbreadth. There's no 1,000 year millennium when Jesus returns during which the door will be opened again. There's no Purgatory where after hundreds of Masses, millions of prayers, or billions of years the door pops open. Nope, this is an open and shut case. Once Jesus has shut the door it's closed for eternity.
But don't forget the second part of this Biblical truth. The same One who shuts the door and no one can open it is also the One who opens a door and no one can shut it. He opened the door to Adam after the Fall. He opened the door to Noah before the flood. He opened the door to Abraham after lying, to David after adultery, to Peter after denying, to Paul after murdering, and to you today.
The Door is open now for all sinners. Jesus instituted Baptism for all nations. There's no one from any nation too old, too young, too sinful, too ugly to pass though the door of the Baptismal font. Jesus instituted Absolution for all sinners. He never shuts the door on any sin for being too sinful, too heinous, too heavy, too frequent to be forgiven. In fact when Peter tried to close the door on forgiveness at 7 times, Jesus threw that door right back open. Jesus instituted a Meal of His Body and Blood that opens into heaven itself. Communion isn't just for angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven, it's for sinners to walk through into forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Judgment Day: It's an open-and-shut case for those knowing the hand on the door for their sake has a nail hole in it. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Last Sunday of the Church Year (20141123); Matthew 25: 1-13