End Time 2, Year B, Last Judgment
November 11, 2018
24For Christ did not enter a handmade sanctuary, a representation of the true sanctuary. Instead, he entered into heaven itself, now to appear before God on our behalf. 25And he did not enter to offer himself many times, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own. 26Otherwise he would have needed to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once and for all, at the climax of the ages, in order to take away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27And, just as it is appointed for people to die only once and after this comes the judgment, 28so also Christ was offered only once to take away the sins of many, and he will appear a second time—without sin—to bring salvation to those who are eagerly waiting for him.
After This Comes the Judgment
In 1942, during World War II, a British Forest Guard in Roopkund, India, in the Himalayan Mountains, discovered a rather disturbing sight. They came across a small frozen lake in the mountains that was full of human skeletons. Since it was during the war, it was reported right away and further investigation was set up. The British feared that the Japanese army might be in that area. But the investigation discovered that these people had been dead for a long time, some 1200 years. Over time more people have studied the site, and it's estimated that the lake contains the remains of about 200 people, killed around 850 AD. Genetic tests seem to indicate that there was a clan of related people and some local guides were leading the way.
What happened to these people? Did they die from exposure? The Himalayan mountains can be a dangerous place, with extreme cold and avalanches. But that didn't fit the things the scientists found. It doesn't appear that they were ambushed by soldiers or bandits. There's no sign of a fight or of the weapons people would have used at the time.
There's an old song in the Himalayas about a goddess who got angry at some travelers and so she rained down on them hailstones as hard as iron. And indeed, studies showed that the people in Skeleton Lake were killed by being struck with large round objects on their heads and shoulders. It appears that these travelers had encountered a deadly hailstorm that pelted them with hailstones 9 inches in diameter, killing them all and leaving their bones and their bodies frozen in and around the place that today is called Skeleton Lake, just as described by the folk song of an angry goddess and her judgment.
Judgment is coming. Just about everyone believes in some sort of judgment. Take a survey of religions around the world, and they all have some sort of judgment that a person will need to contend with. Ancient Egyptian religion taught that a person's heart was weighed on a scale and if it was too heavy with evil then it would be gobbled up by the crocodile-headed Ammut. Greek mythology dealt extensively with death and judgment. The most wicked people were given special tortures in a place called Tartarus, in the deepest depths of Hades, while good people lived in the beautiful fields of Elysium. Hinduism and Buddhism both teach reincarnation and how you've lived your life is what determines whether you'll be reincarnated as a prince or as a slug. If your heritage comes from anywhere in Northern Europe you probably have ancestors who believed in a great Judgment battle called Ragnarok. Traditional Apache religion believes in judgment being passed down from the inescapable gaze of the sun.
Why is it that everyone believes in judgment? It’s how God made us. It’s part of our natural knowledge of God and his law. It’s our conscience. Animals have no fear of judgment. But the conscience that we have as human beings tells us that we must answer for the wrongs we have done.
So it’s no surprise then that pretty much every religion includes some type of sacrifices. Maybe it’s sacrificing animals. Some religions involved sacrificing people. Today sacrificing money is much more common. That was the case in Martin Luther’s day too – with indulgences, where people had gotten the idea that if I just pay enough money I can buy an indulgence and pay for my sins. Then God won’t be angry with me and I won’t have to be afraid of his judgment.
But is that really how sacrifices work? Many religions teach that, but that isn’t what God teaches. The sacrifices of the Old Testament were important, but not because of what people had to do to appease God. Rather, it was what they taught about what God does for us. And yet, it was easy to lose sight of that important lesson. Think of the Scribes and the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. Many of these people were upstanding people in their communities. They were people who cared immensely about God’s Word and studied it all the time. But in spite of all that they lost sight of the Gospel. They got so focused on doing everything the right way that they completely missed that it was really all about what God does for them.
The letter to the Hebrews is all about this. We don’t know for sure who wrote this letter. It could have been Paul, or maybe it was Peter or Apollos or James, or someone else entirely. But the letter was written to the Hebrews, to Jewish Christians, and you could describe it as a letter that’s all about connecting the dots. All this stuff in the Old Testament – it all connects to Jesus. The priests, the temple, the sacrifices – they’re all pictures of Jesus. They all point to God’s work of salvation.
So we read in chapter 9:
24For Christ did not enter a handmade sanctuary, a representation of the true sanctuary. Instead, he entered into heaven itself, now to appear before God on our behalf. 25And he did not enter to offer himself many times, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own. 26Otherwise he would have needed to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once and for all, at the climax of the ages, in order to take away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Apart from Christ, all those Old Testament sacrifices are meaningless. It doesn’t matter how many cows and sheep were slaughtered at the temple in Jerusalem. That was all pointing to the one sacrifice that does matter – the sacrifice of Jesus, who is both the priest and the offering.
And that matters because we will all face judgment. You and I didn’t grow up going to the temple in Jerusalem to bring our sacrifices, but one thing that is just as common to us as it was to them is that we all die. And even though there are many people today who mock the idea of judgment we still have a conscience and even those people still believe in right and wrong. And they still believe in judgment – maybe the judgment of history instead of the judgment of God – but we just can’t separate ourselves from the conscience in us that is terrified because one day I will die. And when I die, I will face judgment. My life will stand as a record against me.
And if I’m going to face judgment, if I’m going to live or die based on my works, I know that I’ll fail. People who do not know God’s Word might convince themselves that they’ll get a second chance, or that God is a God who winks and lets things slide, or that they’ll have time to work off their sins in Purgatory. But we know what God’s law says. We know that God is a perfect judge and a righteous judge. We know that we can never do enough or sacrifice enough to pay for our sins.
But we have Jesus. Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament ceremonies and sacrifices. He came because of a real problem that I have and that you have. You see, sometimes I forget about this problem because my life goes on day in and day out, with me doing my best to be a good person. But then all of a sudden, I wake up to a phone call and that reality comes pouring through the phone that this life does not last. Or I’m sitting in a pew with people who are crying and wondering how such a bad thing could happen to such a good person. And then I’m reminded that it doesn’t matter if you’re a strong person or a weak person. It doesn’t matter if you’re old or young. It doesn’t matter if you’ve lived a good life or not. We all die. I will die.
But the one who comes to be my judge and the judge of the world isn’t an angry Himalayan goddess or a man with the head of a crocodile. It’s Jesus. It’s him who is true God and also true man, my own brother. It’s the one who sacrificed himself for my sins. He won’t forget me the way that history will. If I die and my body has to wait until my bones are gone and even my gravestone is dust, he’ll still remember me and he’ll still come to get me.
As Christians, we live this life for the Last Judgment. Not fearing it. Not ignoring it. But eagerly looking forward to it. Just as the Old Testament high priest went into the temple carrying the blood of the sacrifice, and the people waited until he reappeared to pronounce God’s blessing on them, so we’re waiting, waiting for Jesus, our great high priest, to appear. Waiting for his salvation.
Just as the writer to the Hebrews says:
27And, just as it is appointed for people to die only once and after this comes the judgment, 28 so also Christ was offered only once to take away the sins of many, and he will appear a second time—without sin—to bring salvation to those who are eagerly waiting for him.