Saturday, June 20, 2020

Saturday of Trinity 1

Life in Christ or the Lake of Fire

Revelation 20:14—21:8 (ESV) Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Growing up in a Lutheran congregation, I was not familiar with the ditty popular in evangelical circles, “Revelation, Revelation 21:8, 21:8 / liars go to hell, liars go to hell /burn, burn, burn / burn, burn, burn,” set to the tune of Frère Jacques (Brother John). This is a terrifying song, for which of us has not told at least a “little white lie”? Does this disqualify us from everlasting life?

God does, of course, tell us not to lie: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Ephesians 4:25). But we all lie to ourselves and to each other, often in such subtle ways that we don’t even realize how deceitful we are being. Of this we must repent, since lying is not only sinful but also destructive to our souls, to our families, to our communities. However, we would have no hope of going to heaven if absolute honesty were necessary for passing muster before God’s seat of judgment.

St. John, who also received the Revelation of Jesus Christ above, gives us liars great comfort when he writes, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:5-10).

We would be liars if we didn’t admit that we have lied—not to mention that we’ve committed at least some of the other sins listed in Revelation 21:8, corresponding with the First, Second, Fifth, and Sixth Commandments. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus exposes us all as murderers, adulterers, and idolaters in our hearts, irrespective of whether we have broken these Commandments by word or deed. And if righteousness were by the Law, we would all be facing “the second death, the lake of fire.”

What Revelation 21:8 means is that all those who have persisted in impenitence—not confessing Christ as the Savior, not seeking forgiveness for their sins in His blood—will indeed go to hell, and their continued embracing of evil is evidence of their unbelief.

The biggest lie is to say that Christ is not the Redeemer and that He has not atoned for the sin of the whole world. Satan wants us to believe that lie so that we despair of hope for eternal life, a hopelessness that also leads to ever-increasing moral depravity: “Well, if I’m going to hell anyway, I might as well live however I want in the meantime!” This is a variation on the atheistic nihilism rampant in our culture today, and it’s not too hard to see the pernicious effects of such a philosophy of life.

It is difficult to be a Christian, since the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature are constantly urging us to throw down our cross and join in the torrent of dissipation going on around us: “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:3-5).

It is difficult to be a Christian, but even more, it is joyful, for we can live each day with a clear conscience before God the Judge, cleansed in the blood of the Lamb, and looking forward to the perfect existence of resurrected life in heaven described in Revelation 21:1-7.

So stay close to Christ, through whom you have been born again in Baptism, and in Him you will conquer! “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world… For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 4:4, 5:4-5).

Prayer (LSB 731):

1. O God, forsake me not!
    Your gracious presence lend me;
Lord, lead Your helpless child;
    Your Holy Spirit send me
That I my course may run.
    O be my light, my lot,
My staff, my rock, my shield—
    O God, forsake me not!

2. O God, forsake me not!
    Take not Your Spirit from me;
Do not permit the might
    Of sin to overcome me.
Increase my feeble faith,
    Which You alone have wrought.
O be my strength and pow’r—
    O God, forsake me not!

3. O God, forsake me not!
    Lord, hear my supplication!
In ev’ry evil hour
    Help me resist temptation;
And when the prince of hell
    My conscience seeks to blot,
Be then not far from me—
    O God, forsake me not!

4. O God, forsake me not!
    Lord, I am Yours forever.
O keep me strong in faith
    That I may leave You never.
Grant me a blessèd end
    When my good fight is fought;
Help me in life and death—
    O God, forsake me not! Amen.

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