Posted on July 30th, 2012
A blessed death is not dying quickly or painlessly or inexpensively. As beneficial as these might be, they are not what we ask for when we pray God for a blessed end. A blessed end, a good death, is to die in the confession of the Christian Faith. To have opportunity to confess your sins and hear the Word of Forgiveness, to receive the body and blood of Christ, to commend your soul to God in prayer – all these are part of a blessed end.
Thus sometimes a prolonged death, while painful and costly, can be a blessing. It’s good for people to have a chance to say good-bye, but it’s particularly good to hear and receive the Gospel.
A blessed end, a good death, is to die in the confession of the Christian Faith.
A year or so after I was ordained, I was faced with a theological examination more difficult than anything I had been given in seminary. I had read about it in books, but not encountered it in a real human being. I was called to the hospital to visit a woman who was approaching death. This woman I knew had spent her entire life as a member of this Lutheran church. She had come to the worship services faithfully. I think anyone who knew her would acknowledge her as a Christian.
But now, as death drew near, she was plagued by the terrors of her conscience. She knew what the Word of God said. But she was convinced of this: she didn’t measure up. She had not lived as she ought, and now, in the final hours, was certain of one thing: the God who knew her sins would condemn her for them.
A passage like we have in today’s Gospel reading is such a one to terrify the conscience. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but He who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
“I never knew you.” If you look at your life in the light of God’s Word, you must fear the Lord will say the same thing to you. If you compare your heart with what Jesus says it should be, you must fear the Lord will say the same thing to you: “I never knew you.” Where you should have loved, you despised. Where you should have shared, you held back. Where you should have been patient, you lashed out. Where you should have been pure, you lusted. Where you should have forgiven, you nursed a grudge. Would God be unjust to judge you?
There are many things that consume us, things we are concerned about, with work and family and health and politics and our ambitions. God’s Word tells us what we should be concerned about. Again and again the Gospels are concerned about the kingdom—not our little kingdoms, but God’s kingdom: to “enter the kingdom” or “see the kingdom” is what we should be concerned about. Today is the Eighth Sunday after Trinity; think back where we have been since Trinity Sunday. Trinity Sunday presented us with Jesus talking to Nicodemus about what is necessary to enter the Kingdom: to be born anew by water and the Spirit. Later Jesus told parables describing joy in the Kingdom of God when a sinner repents. Then we were warned that, unless our righteousness surpasses the Scribes and Pharisees, we would by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Finally today we have a similar warning: Not everyone who says to Jesus, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven.
So what would you say to the woman on her deathbed, terrified by her conscience? How can we reconcile the seemingly disparate statements of our Lord? Jesus says in one place, “I know My sheep.” He is the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep and calls them by name. But today we hear Jesus say to some, “I never knew you.”
In the rite of Baptism, we hear Jesus say, “Let the little children come to Me.” But in today’s Gospel we hear Jesus say, “Depart from Me.”
In another place Jesus says, “Come unto Me, all you who labor, and I will give you rest.” Why then does Jesus say here, “Depart from Me”?
Why the difference? What will He say to you on the last day? Come unto Me, or Depart from Me? I know you, or I never knew you?
It is a terrifying thing to ponder. Will His judgment be made capriciously, arbitrarily? Will it depend on how your good works balance out against your evil deeds? On what basis is His judgment?
Mark this well: true faith and repentance are inseparable. Those who are condemned with those terrible words, “I never knew you; depart from Me,” came to Christ boasting of their works. And yet they are described as lawless: “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” On the one hand, they boast of their works; but in the assessment of Jesus, they are lawless.
True faith and repentance are inseparable.
Practicing lawlessness can conjure up images of anarchists, rioting thugs smashing windows of shops, looting and destroying everything in their path. But here in the Scriptures we have a different sort of lawlessness, because there is a different sort of law. You are against the law, hostile to the law, in rebellion when you covet, when you are not content with what God has given you. You are against God’s law, in rebellion when you damage your neighbor’s reputation. You are against God’s law, in rebellion, when you look at a woman lustfully, when you fail to be the husband or wife God called you to be. You are against God’s law, in rebellion, when you are angry with your neighbor. You are against God’s law, in rebellion, when you fear, when you love, when you trust someone or something more than God Himself.
There is no entrance into the kingdom through mouthing prayers, paying lip-service to Christ. There is no entrance into the kingdom through mighty works or or preaching beautiful sermons in the name of Jesus. There is no entrance into the kingdom through your own righteousness.
What was given to Tyler Reese this morning, and what was given to you in your baptism, was an entrance not based on your merit but Christ’s. So the life of the baptized is a life of ongoing repentance. Each night saying, “Father, forgive me my lawlessness, and on account of Your Son Jesus, do not cast me away, but renew in me Your Holy Spirit.” And each morning, saying, “Father, in the name of Jesus, send me Your Holy Spirit, that I might not live lawlessly, but according to Your Word.”
And on your dying bed, should your conscience trouble you, and the evil foe throw at you all your old sins, say, “Yes, it is true, I am a terrible sinner. But Your Word, O God, promises that if we confess our sins, You are faithful and just to forgive us all our sins for the sake of Jesus. I am baptized, and I still cling to the promises You made me there.”
God grant that Tyler Reese grow in this faith, and that we all are sustained in it, until the day we are welcomed into His kingdom by grace alone through faith alone in Christ Jesus alone.