SCRIPTURES – Is. 1:10-18; Rev. 7:2-17; 2 Thess. 1:1-12; Luke 19:1-10
We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thess. 1:11-12
This year, as we name and remember the members and friends of our congregation who died this past year, we remember our long-time member and dear friend June O’Shaughnessy. June was always full of questions and challenges! One thing in particular which she brought up again and again was good works. “I don’t get it,” she said to me a number of times over the years. “You say we’re saved by faith alone in Jesus, and not by what we do. Then, we are told that God will remember our good works in heaven. I’m confused.” This sermon, June, is for you!
In my last year in seminary I was given a good lesson about how the things we do and the way we live our lives reveal what we are like in our hearts and minds. I was one of a group of students who went on a trip to Israel, led by three of our professors. On our last day there and after our tour was finished we spent some time at a shop in Jerusalem that had various religious goods. Dr. Weinrich, a history professor, found an icon he really wanted that was marked at $350. He began bargaining with the store owner, as that’s what you do in Israel, and eventually got the man down to $125.00. Then, he told him, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t buy it. It’s a beautiful icon and I really want it, but you don’t take credit and I don’t have enough cash left. Thanks, anyway.” The store owner then flattered him and said, “Well, you personal friend of mine. Plus, you priest. Take it and send me the money.” That was unbelievable to me! But, I’m sure that man had become a very good judge of people and that, after watching him with us, he concluded that Dr. Weinrich could be trusted. His trust was not misplaced. The money was sent to him as soon as we got back home.
As you live your life, keep in mind that you are being watched and evaluated. People watch and evaluate you as a student; as an employee; as a child, or parent or grandparent; and, as one who professes faith in Jesus. Whether it’s fair or unfair, it’s going on constantly. You are being watched and evaluated.
God also watches, and He misses nothing. Try keeping this in mind even for just one day. Would you act any differently – would you worship any differently right now – if Jesus were sitting next to you? He is. Would you choose any different words to say if Jesus were with you? He is. But, of course, He would know immediately if you spoke or behaved differently from how you really wanted or normally would. Our hearts and minds are open books to God. He knows our very thoughts and desires, even if they are not spoken and acted upon.
Does this matter? It sure does. Look at how God viewed His peoples’ worship in the days of Isaiah. He said to them: “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in [them]. Who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings” – in other words, stop worshiping! For, “it is an abomination to me… My soul hates [your feasts]. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen.” Why did God speak so harshly? Because “your hands are full of blood.” The people were acting far differently from how He acted. In their sinful selfishness they were hurting especially the poor and helpless. God could not stand them or anything they did, even their worship, because of their sins which He saw and heard.
He sees our sins, also! But, He does not want to keep them before His eyes or in His heart. Remove them, then, from your eyes and your heart! “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes,” He urged His people in Isaiah 1. This is God’s desire; this is who our God is. More than anything else He wants to forgive us and make us clean and beautiful in His sight! This is why He gave His Son for you, to bear your sins and take their judgment and stain away from you. This is why He washes you in His baptism and speaks His forgiveness upon you and gives you His Son in His body and blood. Like a mother who washes and scrubs her child, God makes us clean and holy people in Christ!
“We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling” the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica. Here in Norwalk, also, God is washing you in Christ and making you worthy of His calling. This is an ongoing work, a work of God that goes on throughout your life as He speaks to you through His Scriptures and comes to you in His Sacraments. By them He will “fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by His power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him.” By the Gospel of Christ God is with you to bring forth from you good works – good thoughts, good desires, good words, and good deeds – to your own blessing and the blessing of others, and to the honor of His name.
Now, when He does so and you do good things, do you think He will ignore them or forget about them? If the owner of a store in Jerusalem could see and rely upon the good character and works of a man he barely knew, then surely God, who knows us and loves us as His children, will see and be pleased with and remember our good deeds! “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth. ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.’” (Rev. 14:13) In heaven He will remember and boast about your good works! They are evidences of His character and His power at work in you, the beginnings of Christ being glorified in you and you in Him.
Here and now such works are very incomplete and difficult to see. We ourselves often miss them and don’t appreciate them. Some may even call them evil and oppose our good works in Christ. “I don’t get it,” we say with June.
Well, June gets it now! In heaven we will all get it, as we will all see the glory of Christ in our lives. Nothing will prevent or obscure His declaring of our good works:
- No sins of ours, for they have been forgiven and will be remembered no more;
- No enemy, no matter how great – not even Satan and his demon hosts – will ever trouble us again, for they will be removed forever. “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed.” (2 Thess. 1)
Marvel at what lies before you and what God is doing in and through you now in Christ! Marvel at the good works He has given you to do; to the glory and praise of His name, in all things and for all eternity!