Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus
I hope and pray that you all are having a very blessed Lenten period. The below post is from the series “Lenten Evangelism” by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, which I found very helpful during this period. The series is on Evangelism i.e. preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And today, let us look into one of the unnerving and disturbing passages in the Scripture, pertaining to the Last Judgment, when the Lord will gather before Him every human person who has ever lived and judge them according to what they have done.
These are the words Lord Jesus said:
“When the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will place the sheep at His right hand, but the goats at the left.” (Matthew 25:31-33)
He goes on to describe who the sheep and the goats are, what they did in this earthly life, and how the sheep go to heaven and the goats to hell. Pretty disturbing.
It is an understatement to say that the Last Judgment is probably not one of the best sales pitch for convincing a person to become a Christian. It is no wonder that so many reject Christ, because embracing Him requires accepting the possibility of judgment, whether for oneself or for others. But our problem is that we think evangelism as a form of a sales pitch to attract people to be Christian. Not only for others, but also people attractive enough for the people who are not regular and come occasionally or rarely to church. We try to keep them engaged, give them what they want so that the church attendance might be full, come to our events and pay their pledges.
The Gospel that we preach today is a rebuke to that kind of thinking. It is false, a distortion and it’s actually a betrayal. Trying to keep the people happy, making them feel happy with all the benefits of being a Christian is not the Gospel that has been given to us. Neither is it the faith that Jesus came here to give us and became possible by His death and resurrection. The thinking that our church’s success is based on making people happy is totally wrong and has to be thrown away from our minds.
So what is evangelism supposed to look like? How does the Last Judgment actually figure in to our preaching of the good news?
To understand what the Last Judgment has to do with evangelism, we should loom at the evangelistic message of both our Lord Jesus and also His cousin, St. John the Forerunner and Baptist. Both of them begin preaching in the same manner: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” This preaching begins with a command – repent – followed by the reason for giving that command – the Kingdom of God is at hand. The Kingdom is coming, so you had better repent. And in the Last Judgment, we see the consummation of mankind into that Kingdom.
In that moment, when the Son of God is sitting on His throne and judging the nations, what we did in this life will finally be revealed in all of its deepest meaning and horrifying ugliness, and the question that will be asked is, “Did you repent?” And if you did, then your life would reflect the life of the sheep, having ministered to the ‘least’ of Christ’s brethren. And if you did not repent, then you would be counted with the goats.
So how is this going to convince anyone to follow Christ? How is this “good news”?
This message of repentance and the coming of the Kingdom of God is good news not because it is something attractive that makes people happy, but because it is a lifeline of rescue for those who are perishing! We do not call it being “saved” for nothing! “Saved” from what? From death! From corruption! From eternal suffering in hell that is not the act of an angry God but natural consequence of our own actions when we cut ourselves off from life!
The Gospel of repentance and the coming of the Kingdom of God is good news because it is a promise of rescue from eternal suffering. It is very much clear from the teachings of Jesus and His apostles that what happens at the end of time is really important when it comes to preaching of the Gospel. It does not mean that we need to go and threaten our family and friends about hell to become active in church. But we have to be artful and wise in how we still need to get this message across. So how do we do that? How do we reconcile ourselves to the Last Judgment and keep it right at the center of our Gospel preaching?
We preach the gospel of the Last Judgment, first by knowing the hell that we live in, the hell that surrounds us and is in the hearts of those we love. And then we learn and teach the path of new beginnings, the path of repentance.
The Kingdom of God is indeed at hand. Let us come to it with repentance, preaching the good news of rescue from the suffering of hell and the glory that is the beauty of heaven.
May the Good Lord Almighty guide us to walk and preach this good news. All glory and praise and honor to God our Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.