Twice Righteous

Text: Matthew 25:31-46

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

A few weeks ago I was at a meeting with a number of the other pastors from around the Hamilton area and we were talking (as pastors do) about what we did in our congregations to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation about a month ago. Eventually, however, the discussion came to be more focused on the fact that all of us pastors were kind of glad that the occasion was over. We were kind of “Martin Luther-ed” out. We, myself included, had been talking about, teaching about, watching movies/tv shows about Martin Luther for much of the last year and had all had enough. So, this week when I sat and looked at our gospel reading I was somewhat disappointed with myself when something about Martin Luther kept coming to mind. So, reluctantly, I want to talk just for a minute or two longer about Martin Luther.

One of Martin Luther’s profound insights into the truth of the Bible at the time of the Reformation was his concept of “two kinds of righteousness.” Now that word, “righteousness,” is the kind of word that a pastor uses in a sermon and then watches as the eyes of the congregation glaze over and people begin looking around the church for something more interesting than what is about to come out of the pastor’s mouth, but hang in there with me for just a minute.

The word righteousness itself just means goodness or being right. In the Bible we could add the word holiness to that definition. Being righteous means being holy or right or good. In particular it means being holy, right, and good in the eyes of God.

Martin Luther came to correctly understand, however, that there is more than one kind or righteousness talked about in the Bible. There is the righteousness that is given to us by God for the sake of Jesus through faith and there is the righteousness that we live out, by the help of God’s grace, in our day to day lives as Christians.

The first kind of righteousness is totally a gift. For the sake of Jesus and despite everything in us that would suggest He do the contrary, God declares that we are righteous (good, right, and holy) in His eyes. Even though our actions prove otherwise and even though no one else who knows what God knows about us would in their right mind ever call us righteous; God, for the sake of Jesus who died for us, looks down from heaven at sinners like us and declares that we are righteous, that we are good, right, and holy. That is the first kind of righteousness.

The second kind is like it, but it is different. The second kind of righteousness is also a gift, it would be impossible without God, but it does include some effort or work on our part. This second kind of righteousness is the righteousness that we live out in our lives day by day. The righteousness of Christian living. God’s declaration that we are for the sake of Jesus (the first kind of righteousness) changes who we are. It makes us Christian people, children of God, in the words of our gospel reading today: sheep. And as these Christian people we live a particular way. We struggle against the desires that we have that are contrary to God’s Word and we endeavor to love our neighbor as our self the way that God has commanded us to do. Do we do these things perfectly? Of course not, but as Christians and by the help of the Holy Spirit we try. This is the second kind of righteousness that Martin Luther identified in the Bible.

So what’s the point of all this, why do I bring this up today? Well, this understanding of the two kinds of righteousness can help us a great deal as we unpack our gospel reading today. It can help us take a daunting, potentially overwhelming, and maybe even terrifying reading and make it something we can truly understand and rejoice in.

Jesus tells us the final parable in a whole series of parables about the end times and what it will be like on the day when He returns. After a whole bunch of parables about His “delay” and our waiting for that day when He comes we finally in today’s parable get to the big day when Jesus comes again. “When the Son of Man comes in His glory,” Jesus says, “and all the angels come with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” This is judgement day, the day when Jesus comes again, the day when the deeds of every man, woman, and child will be judged. The sheep will be separated from the goats. The goats will go to eternal punishment and the sheep will go into eternal life.

All of this begs the question, then, what is the difference between the sheep and the goats? Well, verse 37 and verse 46 of this gospel reading tell us what the difference is: the sheep are “righteous” (there’s that word again!) the goats are not. This is where Luther’s understanding of the two kinds of righteousness is important.

It would be tempting for us to read this gospel reading and think that the sheep were simply “righteous” because they did good things. Jesus tells us here that they fed the hungry, gave a drink to thirsty, visited the sick, welcomed the stranger, and even visited those in prison. Not only that, but Jesus goes on to say that whenever they did these kinds of things for other people they were really doing it for Him. These sheep really seem to have their act together, they live the right way.

The goats, on the other hand, don’t do these kinds of things. Apparently they did not feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, visit the sick, welcome the stranger, or visit those in prison. And when they didn’t do it they also did not do it for Jesus either. The goats did not live the right way.

If this is all we knew about God and about Jesus and about Jesus judging the living and the dead we would have a pretty clear picture of what we need to do. We need to be righteous. We need to live the right way. We need to do what sheep do. Otherwise we are goats.

But our lives and the rest of the Bible paint a different picture. We all know that we have not done a perfect job helping others when we have the chance. We’ve all passed up opportunities to serve one another for some reason. Not only that, Romans 3:10 says, “No one is righteous, no, not one.” No one, nobody, none. No one does what God commands, no one is good or holy or right, no one is a sheep. We are all goats. So now what?

Well, we come back to Martin Luther and the two kinds of righteousness. What kind of righteousness makes a sheep a sheep? The righteousness that God gives as a gift for the sake of Jesus or the righteousness that we do? Our righteousness can’t do it, our righteousness can’t turn goats into sheep, but God’s righteousness can!

This is the purpose for which Jesus came into this world, He came to make a goat like you into a sheep that is prepared and ready for life in the Kingdom of God. He is our Shepherd, He is the Lamb, He takes away our sin and makes us sheep. He gives us His own righteousness so that we, who have no righteousness of our own, can be called sheep and on that last day when the sheep are separated from the goats we know with certainty that we will be with the sheep because we are with our Shepherd Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and gives us His righteousness.

But that’s not all. We are called sheep for the sake of Jesus, but sheep like us don’t go on living like goats. There are, remember, two kinds of righteousness. Now, having been declared righteous sheep for the sake of Jesus, we are called to live like sheep. Sheep do sheep things. Sheep feed the hungry. Sheep give a drink to those who are thirsty. Sheep visit the sick. Sheep welcome the strangers. Sheep visit those in prison. Sheep do sheep things. Sheep, the people of God in this world, love their neighbor. Sheep see the needs of the people around them and respond in love. This is what we do. This is the second kind of righteousness. This is what we are to be going about doing until the day when Jesus comes again. This is who we are to be each and every day of our lives on this earth.

Do we do these things perfectly in this life? Of course not. Do we fail? Everyday. The way Jesus tells it here, however, makes it clear that on the day when He comes again those failures won’t be remembered. We, the sheep who are declared righteous because of His death on the cross, will be forgiven. Even better yet, we will be given credit for the good that we have done (as insignificant as it may seem). Though our mistakes may seem to outnumber our correct responses, though our failures would seem to outweigh our successes, though our feeble efforts would seem to be of no significance, these deeds of love will be all that is remembered. The failures, shortcomings, weaknesses, and sins of our lives will be forgotten, forgiven for the sake of Jesus, and we will be righteous twice over. Righteous for the sake of Jesus and even righteous for the sake of the good that we have done. Twice righteous, doubly righteous, even though we don’t deserve it.

You are a sheep. When you read this gospel reading you need to understand that. You are a sheep for the sake of Jesus. But sheep live like sheep. Sinful though we are we are called nonetheless to live as sheep in this life. The righteousness of Jesus allows you to do this, to live as a sheep. May we see the needs of people around us and respond to them in love, may we live like sheep, for the sake of Jesus. Amen.


Knowing our Master

Text: Matthew 25:14-30

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our gospel reading this week is another one that talks to us about the end times and the day when Jesus comes again. Last week our gospel talked about the time of “delay” that we live in now waiting for the day when Jesus comes again. That reading encouraged us to have our lamps full of “oil” so that we are ready on the day when Jesus does finally come again. Today our gospel talks about that “delay” again, the delay waiting for Jesus, but this time the focus is on what we do in the meantime, how we live our lives in the “delay” as we wait for Jesus’ return.

In this parable there is a master who has three servants. The master is going away on a journey, so he entrusts his possessions and property to his servants. In particular, he gives them each some of his money. To one servant he gives 5 talents, to another he gives 2, and to another he gives 1. It is important to remember that these talents are a type of money, we aren’t talking about talents like special skills or abilities or anything like that. The master gave money to his servants. Then, after his property was entrusted to the servants, the master left on his journey. He was gone for a very long time, maybe even longer than the servants had anticipated him being gone, but finally one day he comes back. Now that their master has returned the servants are required to give an account of what they have done with his money while he was gone.

The first one, the one who was given 5 talents, has used the money entrusted to him to earn 5 more talents. He presents 10 talents to the master. The master congratulates this servant by saying, “Well done good and faithful servant, you have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”

The second servant, the one who was given 2 talents, has likewise used the money entrusted to him to earn 2 more talents. He presents 4 talents to the master. The master congratulates this servant in the same way saying, “Well done good and faithful servant, you have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”

Finally, the third servant comes forward. He has not made any profit. In fact, he didn’t even try to make a profit. Instead, he buried the 1 talent that he was given in the ground. He dug up that talent and presents it to the master. The master is not pleased. “You could have at least invested it in the bank,” the master says, “at least that way I would have made some interest on it!” This servant is not rewarded. He is not congratulated. He does not enter into the joy of the master. This servant is cast out into the outer darkness where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The master in this story is Jesus and we are the servants. And like the servants in the story, our master has entrusted us with His gifts. Each of us has been given “talents.” Remember, however, that these “talents” are not skills or abilities, but a type of currency. This is not a parable about the different talents, gifts, and abilities that we all have and how we use them. These “talents” don’t belong to us, they belong to the master. These “talents” are the gifts that the master gives. They are the love, mercy, and forgiveness that our Lord Jesus has given to each of us through His death on the cross and our baptism into His death. We, the servants, are called to us these gifts (God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness) that have been entrusted to us in a way the benefits and extends God’s kingdom in this world.

As we look at this parable the question we need to ask is: What makes the two servant that the master rewards and calls “good and faithful” different from the one servant who is cast out into the outer darkness?

Our first instinct as we read this story might be to answer that question by saying that the first two servants, the ones that get rewarded, simply do a better job using that master’s gifts than the third servant who buried the money that was entrusted to him. To a certain degree that’s true, I guess. They do, in fact, do a better job as stewards of the master’s property. They make a profit. They double the money that was given to them. They do good work. The accomplish something. They are good servants. For this they are rewarded. However, there is more going on here. This is not just a story about living the right way and being a good servant.

We need to look at the third servant, the one who buries the 1 talent entrusted to him in the ground, a little more closely. Why does he bury that talent in the ground? When the master comes back and this poor servant has to give an account of the money entrusted to him he says, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you do not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid and I hid your talent in the ground.” Why did he hide that talent in the ground? Because he was afraid. What was he afraid of? His master. This servant believed that his master was a “hard man,” maybe even cruel. He thought that the master’s expectations and demands were unfair and unrealistic, he thought of his master as someone who expects to reap/harvest a crop even when he has not sown any seeds. So, in fear, fearing that he would fail, lose his masters money, and suffer the wrath of his master the servant buried that talent and did not even try to make a profit. This is the crux of the parable. This servant does not have faith that trusts in the goodness of his master.

What do we think of our “master”? What kind of man is He? Our Lord Jesus, the one who is coming again and will call in the accounts of what we have done in His absence, what kind of master is He? Is He a cruel and hard master who punishes and destroys servants who fail in their service of Him or is He a master who forgives time and time again our shortcomings and our failures? The answer is clear and was shown forth in all its beauty and clarity on the cross as He bled and died for you and me and for our forgiveness: The Lord Jesus, our master who is coming again, is a loving, forgiving who abounds in steadfast love.

In the second article of the Apostles’ Creed, the part of Jesus, we say that we believe that He will come to judge the living and the dead. If that is all that we knew about Jesus, that He comes to judge us, He would be a terrifying master. If that is all we knew about Him we ought to be afraid of Him. We underestimate, I think, what it means to be judged like this; to have our whole life (the things we have done and the things that we have not done, the things we have said and the things we have not said, the thing we have thought and the things we have not thought) spread open like a book and judged not by human standards of goodness, but by the divine standard of God’s righteousness. That is a terrifying thought. If that is all we knew about our Lord Jesus we would do well to be afraid like that servant and bury our “talent” in the ground. But we know better.

Unlike that third servant who buried the talent entrusted to him in the ground, we know that our Lord Jesus is not a cruel, hard man with unrealistic expectations. He does not delight in punishing His servants like us when we fall short of His demands. Instead, He is a master who would Himself become our servant and give His life for poor, pitiful servants like us so that we would be forgiven our shortcomings and failures. Do we fall short of His commands? Yes, every day. Do we fail to use His gifts of love, mercy, and forgiveness in our lives? Yes, every day. Do we need to fear our master at His second coming because of our failures in this life? No, because He rejoices in forgiving sinners like us. Unlike that servant who buried the master’s talent in the ground we have been given faith by the Holy Spirit to know that our master, our Lord Jesus Christ who is coming again, abounds in love, forgiveness, and mercy.

Having this faith, knowing this truth about our Lord Jesus, how then should we live in this time of His “delay”? Like the first two servants we ought to use the gifts Christ has freely given to us and entrusted to us to extend and benefit His Kingdom. We ought to recklessly spread the love, mercy, and forgiveness of our Lord Jesus to everyone around us. Not worrying about failure or what might happen if we do something wrong because we know our Lord and Master is forgiving we ought to love our neighbour as our self. Knowing that our Lord and Master is forgiving and has already forgiven us for more than we could begin to imagine we ought to forgive one another. Knowing that our Lord and Master has had mercy on us and came into this world to save us and will come again to save us eternally we should have mercy on those around us. This is how, like the faithful servants in our gospel today, we spread, increase, and extend the kingdom of God. This is how we make a profit for our master.

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ comes again we can be confident that He will say those beautiful words to us, “Well done good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over little, I will set you over much. Enter into My joy,” because this same Saviour bled and died for us. In His Holy Name. Amen.

Running on Empty?

Text: Matthew 25:1-13

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

There are two kinds of people in the world, I think. People who when they are driving their cars see the gas gauge get down to about a quarter remaining and instantly feel an urge to find a gas station and fill up and those, like myself, who watch the gauge slip down past a quarter and don’t worry about it until the little light on the dash comes on to tell you that you really ought to stop for gas sometime soon.

As I said, I fall into the latter category. I remember one time before Leah and I were married that we were driving from Edmonton to Lloydminster (the town where I grew up). We were about an hour out of Edmonton at a place called Vegreville and Leah suggested that we ought to stop for gas. Not wanting to get off the highway and believing that there would be cheaper gas about 45 minutes down the road in a place called Innisfree I suggested that we press on a little farther. Sure enough, 15 minutes on the other side of Vegreville the little light on the dash came on. We should have stopped back there. We did, in the end, make it to Innisfree, but I am sure we were running on fumes by then. As I said, there are two kinds of people in the world, foolish people who tempt fate and wise people who take precautions. You can guess which category I belong in.

Jesus talks similarly in our gospel today about wise and foolish people. Jesus told a parable about some foolish and wise young women. These young women were unmarried, they were virgins, and they were all slated to serve as something like bridesmaids in a rather grand wedding. It was undoubtedly a very exciting time. One problem remained, however, the groom had not yet arrived! The feast could not begin until he did and the evening was pressing on into night!

As night set in these young women all took oil lamps and went out to wait for the bridegroom to arrive so that they could go with him into the wedding feast. 5 of the young women were “foolish,” Jesus tells us, because they were so sure that the groom would be showing up any minute that they did not bother to bring any extra oil for the lamps with them. They did not think that they would need it. The other 5 young women were “wise,” Jesus says. They weren’t so sure that the groom would be showing up right away. They were aware that nobody knew when the groom was actually going to come. He could show up right now or it could take hours for him to arrive. Just to be safe they took some extra lamp oil along with them.

Sure enough, the groom was delayed. He did not arrive right away and hours passed and it got later and later. Slowly but surely all ten of the young women fell asleep waiting for the groom to arrive.

Finally, hours later, in the middle of the night the groom showed up. The watchmen on the city walls called out in loud voices so that everyone in town would know that he is finally here. The wedding celebration can begin. The ten young women who had all dozed off were woken up by this call from the watchmen and they all set about getting their lamps ready to light the way to the wedding hall where the celebration will take place. The five “wise” young women who had brought extra oil all topped up their lamps and were ready to go. The others, the “foolish” ones who did not bring extra oil, they were in trouble. They could not get their lamps to stay lit, they were out of oil. They would not be able to light the way for the groom. They asked the others is they could share some of the extra oil, but there was not enough to go around. They went to try and find some oil to buy, but it was the middle of the night and they were out of luck. By the time they made it back the groom had entered the wedding hall and the celebrations were underway. The doors were locked and they were too late. They knocked, but the groom would not open the door for them. They would not be allowed to enter the wedding feast.

What is the point of this story? What is the message for you and me today? To figure that out we need to look at the “foolish” and “wise” young women and think about what made the young women “foolish” and “wise.” The foolish young women were foolish because they did not take extra oil and were unprepared for the possibility that the groom’s arrival could be delayed. The wise young women were wise because they took precautions to prepare themselves for the possibility that the groom might be delayed. The point of this story for you and me then is that we don’t know when Jesus is coming and we need to be prepared for the fact that it might not happen any time soon.

In this story the groom represents Jesus. Jesus will come again someday to take us with Him into the wedding feast in His Kingdom which will have no end. When Jesus ascended into heaven the angels who appeared there told the disciples that, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Jesus, the groom, is coming but He hasn’t come yet. Like the groom in the story, Jesus is “delayed.”

Jesus isn’t really delayed, He’s not held up in traffic somewhere or caught up in some other kind of unanticipated problem. He simply hasn’t come according to our schedule. To us 2,000 years seems like a long time to wait for Jesus to come back. We feel like he is delayed. Jesus will arrive, however, precisely when he means to. For you and me right now, however, we live in the “delay” waiting for that day when our Saviour returns. Like the wise young women we need “extra oil” for our lamps as we wait for Jesus so that we have enough with us to endure the delay and be ready when He arrives.

There is a folk song about this parable and our need for this “oil” that became popular in the 1950’s or so. It goes like this: “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning. Give me oil in my lamp, I pray. Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning. Keep me burning till the break of day.”  It’s a catchy little tune, upbeat and repetitive so it sticks in your head. The song misses the point, however. In the song the singer prays that God would give us this “oil” so we would be ready for the day of His coming. What’s missing is any mention of where, when, or how God does that. The “oil” that we need is not hidden somewhere for us to find. God freely and gladly gives it to us through His means of grace.

The “means of grace” are simply God’s Word and Sacraments. The Scriptures, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. In each of these God is working to give us “oil” to completely and totally prepare us for the day of Jesus’ coming.

When someone is baptised we give them a candle. This is perhaps (aside from the baptism itself) my favorite part of the baptism service because the pastor says something like this as he gives the candle to the family or the sponsors: “Receive this burnings light as a reminder to live always by the light of Christ and be ever watchful for His coming that you may meet Him with joy and enter with Him into the marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom.” When we are baptised, even as little babies, we are prepared completely and totally for the day of Jesus’ coming. From that day forward we are “ever watchful” so that we can enter with Him into that glorious feast.

In the same way, in the Lord’s Supper we are again being prepared for the day of Jesus’ coming. Paul says in His letter to the Corinthians “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). There, as we kneel side by side, we proclaim the death of Jesus too each other, the good news the forgives all our sins, and together we are made ready for the day Jesus comes.

Finally, in God’s Word God Himself is speaking to us, working by the power of the Holy Spirit to make us ready. To reassure us that our Lord is indeed coming and to assure us that we are forgiven by His blood shed for us on the cross.

If we neglect these things we are no better than the foolish young women who were unprepared for the groom’s arrival. We run the risk of running on empty and not having enough “oil” for that day. On that day it will be too late to get filled up with oil.

When they were caught out of oil the “foolish” young women asked the “wise” ones to share. That was not possible, however. In the same way, it will not be possible to share someone else’s faith on the day when Jesus comes again. Each one of us will, by God’s gracious work through the Holy Spirit, have to believe for ourselves.

The foolish young women also tried at the last minute to go buy more oil. That also failed because there simply was not enough time. In the same way, it will not be possible to take up God’s Word and believe on the last day once Jesus has already come. By then it will be too late.

What then should we do? We should take up God’s means of grace, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and His Word, here and now. Those who receive these things, the gifts of God, are already fully prepared for the day of Jesus’ coming. They are like the wise young women who were woken by the call and were ready to enter the feast with the groom. You and I, as we receive these gifts, are filled with “oil” and ready for the feast. In Jesus name. Amen.

Died in Christ

Text: Revelation 14:13

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

One of the neat responsibilities that pastors have is tending to the church record book and the membership roll therein. In case you were unaware, there is a book that has the name of every member of the congregation past and present listed in it. When people are baptized or when new members transfer in their names are added to the list.

Every once and a while I like to pull out the church record book and just flip through the pages looking at the names. To me it is like a family history book and since I have not been here and part of this family for very long it is a helpful thing for me to see the names on those pages and get a glimpse into the story of this church, your story.

There are many stories that you can find in those church record books. There are happy stories. There are baptisms. Many baptism. Blessed days when children and adults, young and old, are gathered into the family of God by Holy Baptism. There are confirmations recorded there. Days when teenagers, after years of preparation, confessed the faith into which they were baptized as babies. There are weddings recorded there. Days when husbands and wives stood before the Lord and pledged their lives to each other.

There are sad stories too. There is a whole column in the record book dedicated to how people leave our church family. Those who have transferred away to different churches (which is a good thing, but still a loss for our congregation). Those who have chosen to not be a part of our Christian family anymore. And, of course, those who have died.

Beside each of the names in the record book of someone from our congregation who has died the following words are written: “Died in Christ.” Then there is a little cross. This might sound strange, but those “died in Christ” parts might be my favorite part of the record book. I have written those words in there a few times myself over the last few years when dear members and friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, have passed away. When I see those words or when I have had to write them in the book myself I am reminded of something from the book of Revelation chapter 14 where the apostle John writes this: “I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’”

John hears a voice from heaven and that voice commands him to write down these words: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” Blessed are the dead sounds almost impossible. How could the dead be blessed? How could death be a blessed thing? Sure, there are times when we might see death as a blessing. When someone has suffered for many years or when dementia or Alzheimer’s disease has robbed them their awareness of the world around them we think that their death is, in some small way, a blessing perhaps. Even still, death is not really ever a blessing. Those of us left to mourn and grieve know that best.

Death, contrary to what we might think, is not a natural part of life. Death is an unnatural, unintended ripping apart of God’s perfect creation. In the world God created death was not a natural part of things, death was the result of rebellion and sin. Adam and Eve sinned and death entered the world. Death is not a blessing, but a consequence.  And yet the voice from heaven says to John, “Blessed are the dead.”

Nothing about death itself is blessed, but death in Christ truly is a blessed thing. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord,” the voice from heaven says. Having died in the Lord is what makes the dead blessed, not death itself. Dying in the Lord means dying in the hope, peace, joy, and love that comes from knowing and trusting a God who is so loving that He would send His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. Dying in the Lord means dying with Jesus.

We died with Jesus the first time when we were baptised. We were baptised into His death. When we who have been baptised into His death come to our own death we complete what was begun in our baptism and we literally die with Jesus. How is this a blessing? It is a blessing because we die in the hope that just as Christ is risen from the dead we will rise with Him. When we died with Christ we are buried with Christ. We know what happened to Christ when He was buried. The grave could not hold Him, not even for three days, and He rose. If we are buried with Christ we will rise with Christ.

That’s not all, however. After John hears the voice from heaven say, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord,” another voice pops up. This time the voice is not a random voice from heaven, but the voice of the Holy Spirit Himself. What does the Holy Spirit say? “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them.”

The Holy Spirit confirms it, the dead who die in the Lord are indeed blessed, but He also adds a little bit of an explanation. Why are they blessed (aside from the sure and certain hope that they have for the resurrection of their bodies)? Because they rest from their labours, and their deeds follow them. Let’s look at each of those things in turn.

First, the Spirit says, “they rest from their labours.” In the gospel of Matthew Jesus says, “Come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” It’s a beautiful promise and Jesus speaks it to us right here and right now. He delivers His rest to us as He comes to us in His Word to tell us that our sins are forgiven and as He feeds us with His own body and blood to again assure us of that forgiveness. However, the ultimate rest from our labours comes when Christ once and for all calls us to Himself. To the thief on the cross being crucified beside Him Jesus says these words, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” In other words, “Today you will be with me in my rest.”

The Bible doesn’t tell us much about what happens to our souls when they die, but we know this: our souls go to heaven to be with Jesus where they will enjoy the fullness of His rest until the day when He comes again to raise our bodies from the dead. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord because they enjoy the fullness of the rest, peace, and quiet that Jesus gives!

The Holy Spirit also says here that the dead who die in the Lord are blessed because “their deeds/works follow them.” Just a few days after Reformation Day it might sound kind of strange to hear a text talking about the good works that we do following us, but that is what it says here. We know that we are not saved by works of the Law that was Luther’s great contribution to the Church as he rediscovered that truth, so what does it mean that “their works follow them”?

First we need to think about where good works come from. Real good works, good works that please God, don’t come from our own strength or ability. They come from God who through Christ and His forgiveness won for us on the cross works in our hearts to transform our lives to be the holy, righteous people of God. God recreates us through Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit to do good works that please Him. These works include loving our neighbour and serving those around us in need. God makes these works good.

This is a remarkable thing, because we can’t claim these works as our own really because it is God doing them in us, but He still lets those good works that He does in us “follow us” it says here. These good works don’t save us, we are saved by God’s grace (His free forgiveness for the sake of Christ) through faith, but God rewards us for the good works that He does in and through us. In the life to come we will be rewarded for what God has done in us. Again, what a blessing for those who die in the Lord!

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”

It is my prayer for myself and for each of you that one day a pastor will write those precious words beside our names in a church record book somewhere: “Died in Christ.” It truly is a blessing to die in the Lord, to die in the hope of the new life that we have in Him, to die and enter into His rest, to die and to have the good that God has done in and through us follow us into life everlasting. This is a blessed death. This is what it means to die in Christ. This is hope for you and me and joy for those who have died before us. May we remain faithful unto death, by God’s grace, so that these blessings may be ours. In Jesus name. Amen.