This Changes Everything!

"Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment." John 5:25–29 ESV

This changes everything!

Most of the great philosophies and religions of the world have viewed time as cyclical: what has come before will come again, and in the end, what has come before will come again. Hinduism and Buddhism, as I understand them, have a mild component of progress to them, but it’s progress toward escape from the cycle and absorption into "impersonality". Their progress is toward an end of personal being. Atheistic materialism borrows a myth of progress from Christianity and from the last few hundred years of science, but it recognizes that there is an end coming. The universe will die its heat death, and that’s it. Sooner than that the sun will burn out. Sooner than that another asteroid could collide with earth and put an end to us all. Sooner than that we all reach our personal end, which is an end indeed.
The way in which we live will matter forever. Speaking to those who are in Christ, the apostle Paul says (1 Cor. 3:10-15),
"According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire".

The “Day” of which Paul speaks is the Day of Judgment, of which Christ spoke in the passage above. Believers’ works will be tested. Those that are of gold will shine. There are some of us who will be saved, whose works are primarily of “wood, hay, and straw.” A friend of mine once joked that these people “will make it into heaven, but in their spiritual pajamas, and those will be smelling like smoke.” Even the “gold,” however, will be something for which we will give gratitude to Christ. The apostles speak of crowns awaiting us (2 Tim. 4:8, James 1:12, 1 Peter 5:4), but those we will lay down before Jesus Christ, the Worthy One (Rev. 4:9-11). The greatest reward is to enter into the joy of Jesus the Christ, as Jesus tells us in Matthew 25:31-46. In that same passage he warns of what will come to those who have not prepared themselves in this life for that "Day".

Everything we do matters, and it matters forever, to God, to others, and to ourselves. Christianity has a forward look to it. We do good because it is good to do good, and that is not a passing good. It is a good that remains. Our works last. It is as some say a "legacy".

There is much more to be said about this: how we can prepare for that "Day" (and how we depend on Christ for it); what happens to those who are unprepared; how God exercises justice in all of this; what it will be like for all of us. For today, though, I will leave it with this: we live in a present that is haunted by the past and future, and who we are and what we do matter forever. In this there is great meaning.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a matter of history and knowledge. The return of Christ is a matter of faith and hope. The difference is in how we take each of them to be true.
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May 19, 2012