This is Saints Triumphant Sunday, but who of us is saintly, and how are we really all that triumphant? World Series Champions are triumphant. Cancer survivors are triumphant. But how are we triumphant? I can’t promise you that Jesus will give you a better life if you pray to him. I can’t promise that he will heal your illness or make you rich—though we can pray for those blessings and he may give them. I don’t know though—it’s up to him.
Then too, if saints are holy people (that’s what the word means), who really feels like a holy person? Jesus will certainly help you to fight against sin, and he will answer your prayers for patience and strength to fight against temptation. But in this life he will not be taking away your anger problem, or your laziness problem, or whatever it may be. You just aren’t going to feel very saintly on this side of heaven.
Jesus said some words in the text today that might make you wonder if you will be going to heaven at all. “Those who have done good will rise to live.” Does that describe us? Will we be remembered as ‘those who have done good’— or those who have had opportunities to do good and let them go by, and those who have been harsh and unkind; who have been selfish, proud, and greedy? When we hear these words from Jesus, so that we don’t hear them and despair, we need to remember everything else that the Bible tells us about Jesus too. Hear his words from John 5:
“A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”
Theme: Will we be remembered as “those who have done good?”
1. At first I feel like the answer must be no, because guilt is the toughest stain to remove. Even if we have been pretty good, all it takes is one wrong move and you will be remembered for that. You can have a good relationship with your neighbor, but if he messes up once you never forget it. Guilt seems to stick forever.
There are probably things that you have done that you have never been able to forgive yourself for. If that is how you think about yourself, then how does God look at you? Now, I know he is a forgiving God, but consider just how much more demanding he is than we are. We understand “Do not murder,” and we can live with Jesus’ words, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer.” But Jesus took it a step farther when he said, “Love your enemies, and do good to those who persecute you.” If we have a hard time forgiving ourselves, how much greater is our guilt in God’s eyes? It’s no wonder that he sends sinners to hell.
Jesus told a story about a farmer who had a very good crop one year. He said to himself, “I will build bigger barns and store my crop, and then I will have plenty. I will be able to take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” God said to him, “You fool. This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” And why? Only because he had been concerned about himself and his future, but had not thanked God for his good crop. Jesus said this is how it will be for anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.
Will you be remembered as someone who has stored up things for yourself? Or will you be remembered as one who has done good? God’s law makes a very strong case against us.
2. In God’s court, though, we will not be condemned, because Jesus is the judge. In a courtroom the judge is the only authority. He interprets and applies the law. Jesus, our judge, is the one who lived and died for us. He bore our sins on the cross, suffering our punishment. He wants to forgive.
When the Jews brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught committing adultery, they wanted to condemn her and stone her to death. After all, the Law God gave to Moses commanded that such women be put to death. Jesus was not interested in their accusations, though. He finally said, “If any of you is without sin, let him throw the first stone.” Then, after they had all left, he asked the woman, “Where has everyone gone? Is there no one left to condemn you?” She said, “No one.” Jesus said, “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now, and leave your life of sin.”
Jesus, the judge, offers the best plea bargain ever. Just like that woman, your sins have been condemned by God’s Law. But where Jesus sees fear and sorrow he says you are not condemned, and that you must leave your life of sin and live for him now.
You will not be punished, but how will you be remembered? Will you be remembered as the one who got off easy, or will you be remembered as one of those who have done good?
3. In my own heart when I think about myself I still feel like the answer is no. The Law of God cuts off every attempt to be good—Jesus said, “Love your enemies” “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And yet, we will be remembered as “good.” I may feel like the answer is no, but Jesus has said yes.
He said, “Those who have done good will rise to live,” and to us he has said, “you will live.” That is what your baptism meant. The judge’s decision is that we are the ones have done good and will live. From the sermon last week, Jesus said, “Whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned. He has crossed over from death to life.” Look to your baptism and believe that Jesus used that water to wash away all your sins and give you life. According to Jesus’ own words, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” Through the words of Paul in his letter to Titus, God tells us that baptism gives us eternal life. Today Jesus’ decision has been given to you again, by his command, “Your sins have been forgiven.” His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper are given to you, so that you share in the forgiveness that he won for you by his death, and also the life that he won for you by rising from the dead.
Now follow this important logical connection with me. If those who have done good will rise from the dead and live, and Jesus has said that we will rise from the dead and live, then we must be those who have done good. We are the saints.
4. But still in our hearts we wonder how this can be that we will be remembered as those who have done good. I said before, when we read these words from Jesus, we need to remember everything else that the Bible has said about him. Malachi 3:3 says that “he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” He will purify God’s people like gold and silver. Have you ever seen the unrefined, silver ore? It isn’t quite so shiny and pretty as the silver in your jewelry. It has other worthless rocks and metals mixed in with it. Today we have factories that do this, but it used to be a person who would crush the silver ore and then heat it up so that the silver would melt and all of the impurities could be taken out.
In Malachi, we find out that this is what Jesus has done for us. This is how we will be remembered as having done good. Jesus has taken away all the impurities—everything that is worthless and sinful about us, and he has saved what is good. Your sins have been taken away from his sight, and what is left is the righteousness that he has given you, and the good things that you have done out of love for him. After you die and Christ raises you, he will say to you, “Come and live in heaven, because your sins have been washed away.” He will say, “the good that I did in my life is yours, because you have been joined to me. And your good deeds also will be remembered forever.”
5. It can truly be said that you have done good, and it can also truly be said that you are triumphant.
An old woman slowly dies as the years go by. Her friends have passed away, and her family has moved away. Alzheimers destroys her mind while Parkinsons destroys her body. Through faith in Christ, she is triumphant.
A young man struggles to be a Christian in a world where that just isn’t cool. The entire world and everything on TV and in music encourages sin, and friends do too. He struggles to find something useful to do with his education and talents. The women he meets only want sinful fun, and he wonders where he will ever find a girl who he can take home to his parents. Yet, through faith in Christ, he is triumphant.
Through faith in Christ, you are triumphant in your sickness and mortality: You have been given the gift of life, a life that will never fail. You are the ultimate cancer survivor. In fact, you will survive every illness and live on in heaven, where there is no disease. You will never age. You will live on forever in the perfect beauty that God intended for you. Even though you may struggle in this life to make a living, you are triumphant with Christ. In heaven you will be wildly successful—more than any business tycoon in this world. You will have a room in God’s mansion, and you will enjoy all the best of his treasures.
Though your relationships now may all fail, in heaven you will have a perfect loving relationship with every person who has ever lived and believed in Jesus, and you will have a perfect relationship with God too.
In your struggle against sin, you are triumphant. (Though you must struggle, because no one who gives up in the battle against sin can be triumphant. God has not given us a license to sin at will. If you give in to sin you lose, you are defeated. You can only be victorious if you fight.)
Even though in your struggle against sin you may fall, the robe of Christ’s righteousness is yours and it covers every sin and failure. The gift of eternal life is already yours, and with it the eternal distinction of being one of those who “have done good.” And even more than that, in heaven you will have the perfect victory over every sin that you have been wanting to get rid of—you will never again be addicted to anything or controlled by any sin. You will never again be a contentious or hot-tempered person; never greedy, selfish, or impatient in all of eternity.
For all your struggles against temptation that haven’t seemed to pay off because you don’t think that you’re getting better and your life doesn’t seem to be improving, you are triumphant. Every time that you struggle against temptation will be remembered in eternity. We remember Jesus for resisting the devil’s temptations in the desert, and God will remember you when you resist the devil’s temptations. The times you have fallen are taken away, God remembers when you have resisted, and he says, “You have done well.”
What are we going to do? Give up and sin as much as we want, because Jesus has promised that we will be remembered as good people? Far from it, if you love him. Don’t give up—Jesus has promised freedom from sin and victory over death and the devil, completely apart from anything we have done. But also notice the good that you do, and praise God for what he has done in you. Don’t give up because of the frustrating struggle with sin, because the triumph is yours. Keep that triumph as motivation. They say that the best motivation is praise—if you want someone to excel, say good things about him and give him a raise. That is what God has done for you. He has promised that he will say you have done well, you have done many good things and you will live. God has already come to that conclusion because of what Jesus has done and given to us. Yes, you still struggle, but you have Christ’s forgiveness and his righteousness. You have the gift of life. That means you are saints, and you are triumphant. Amen.