Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
“When the toast is burned And all the milk has turned And Captain Crunch is waving farewell When the big one finds you May this song remind you That they don’t serve breakfast in hell.” These words are the chorus from a popular Christian Rock band song back in 1996. I always giggle a bit when I hear the song and listen to the words. It’s a song written against “Breakfast Christians,” that is, people who goto church only to go out for breakfast or brunch afterwards. It’s meant to be a warning, a sobering reminder, that the Christian faith matters and is of dire consequence in this life. If we make light of it, treating it as if it’s just a formality, or that it’s just a hurdle to get over before breakfast at the local greasy spoon diner, then we will be in a lot of trouble on the Last Day. They don’t serve breakfast in hell!
I always giggle because it’s such a typical “turn or burn” type song. Instead of lauding the amazing grace of a God who stopped at nothing to seek and save His people from death and sin, so much so that He gave His very life on the cross for us, they harp on the horrors of hell. The message becomes about who’s gonna burn in hell unless they “accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.” But this kind of approach is really backwards. The lost sheep never go looking for their shepherd. Rather the Shepherd seeks out His sheep and brings them home. This is the focus of the Christian faith. It’s all about what God does for us, not the other way around. Jesus our Lord tells His disciples plainly “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit” (JN 15:16).
It’s like those corny valentines cards you got back in school. If Jesus sent us a card it would say “I choo-choo-choose you!” and there would be a picture of a train on it! God has chosen us in His great mercy and grace. Indeed, our Lord has chosen the whole world, while we were yet sinners. He shed His blood on the cross as a sacrifice for all of us, to cleanse all of us from our sin, to free us all from the bondage of death. All He asks is that we silly sheep would follow our shepherd … before it’s too late! God is patient and long suffering, waiting for people to wake up and come to their senses, turning away from sin and turning to Christ. But He won’t wait forever. The end is coming soon!
Rather than a scare tactic, rather than a “turn or burn” diatribe sung in popular Christian rock songs, God warns us in the scriptures to be ready. There was a definite beginning to our worldly existence and there will be a definite ending. This world of smartphones and technology isn’t all there is. Even way back in the day, the prophet Daniel preached about it. “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” The prophet Daniel speaks of a time of heinous trouble that is coming for the people of God. We often call this tribulation, hostility, oppression or affliction. And certainly, this was experienced by God’s people some 2000 years ago as being a Christian was illegal. Our first Christian brothers and sisters endured much hardship and oppression, including torture and horrific death. And it will come again. This prophecy of Daniel’s also refers to a future time of hardship for us. But there is also a promise for those who are called to endure such difficulties for their Christian faith. “But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.” This book is “the book of life” written about in Revelation. It’s a book that God has written and in it are the names of His Christians, people who worship Him in Spirit and in Truth, people who have been Baptized in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
And there is another promise: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” This passage speaks of resurrection from the dead. We’re told that Michael, the archangel, will be there to laud this moment. St. Paul also talks about him in 1 Thessalonians 4:16: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” That’s the Good News! It’s a precious message of comfort and hope for people who die in the Christian faith. This becomes a resurrection to everlasting life. But there is a lingering warning, a stinger, as it were – some shall be resurrected to everlasting contempt.
In Dante’s Inferno, a poem about hell, he references a “word on the wall” – not unlike what some of you have displayed in your homes. But instead of a nice Bible verse, Dante imagines a sign that reads: “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’entrate” – “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” And if you could boil down hell to one line, one theme, that would be it. Forget the bacon and eggs! Breakfast doesn’t even show up on the radar screen! In Hell, there is literally no hope. Can you even imagine that?! There is no hope because people have turned their backs on God. We confess in the Creed that Jesus descended into hell to proclaim freedom to the captives, yet still, people want to go to hell rather than to be with Christ. Silly sheep would rather cling to this world and their sins rather than be eternally with their shepherd.
William Secker, a seventeenth century British minister, was quoted saying, “That which makes hell so full of horror, is that it is below all hopes; that which makes heaven so full of splendor, is that it is above all fears.” And this is where we spend our time as Lutherans, this is what we focus on, this is what we preach. The glory of heaven, like refined gold in comparison to this piece of rusty iron earth, awaits those who repent of their sins and embrace Christ the Lord. He has chosen us. He has laid His life down on the cross and taken it up again. The gates of life have been swung wide open. We simply put our trust in Jesus’ mercy.
Charles Spurgeon said “As the Lord lives, sinner, you stand on a single plank over the mouth of hell, and that plank is rotten. You hang over the pit by a single rope, and the strands of that rope are breaking!” And yet Jesus, in the final judgment says “to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (MT 25:41). Hell is prepared not for us. It was not made for people. God desires the death of no one, but rather that all people would come to knowledge of the truth in Jesus Christ. Yet Almighty God respects our wishes and will watch His prodigal children go to the place of no hope. But for everyone who will follow Jesus the Good Shepherd, repenting of sin and turning to Him, there awaits unimaginable glory and splendour. May our names always be found written in the book of life, now and forever! Amen!