The grammar is not good, but when someone says, “You done good,” doesn’t that make you feel good? The music instructor, the math teacher, the mom or dad, the man at the office. When they say, “You done good,” that makes life good, doesn’t it – at least for a little while? But what about the Maker of heaven and earth? Could you ever hope for him to say something like that? Could you ever hope for the words that Jesus said in verses 28-29 to be true for you? Verse 28: “Do not be amazed at this, for 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…” When Jesus calls you out of the grave, will you hear his voice tell that you have done good? God says you will.
God says you will hear those words because you listen to the Son. If you and I want to hear Jesus say that we have done good then at that time, we need to listen to the good things that Jesus has to say now at this time. And when we listen to what Jesus has to say now, what do we hear? Listen again to verse 24, which is a verse that was also part of last week’s sermon text: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
Can you tell why it is so important to listen to what Jesus says in those words? If we forget that it is believing in Jesus forgiving our sins that saves us, we could easily misunderstand what Jesus is saying when he says that those who have done good will rise to live, thinking it’s the good things that we do that save us. But God tells us time and time again in his Word that the good things we do are the result of us believing that Jesus has saved us from our sins, not the cause of Jesus saving us from our sins. Maybe you have heard an expression which tries to summarize that thought – the expression, “Good works do not produce Christians, but Christians produce good works,” which is a way of saying what the Bible says when the apostle John reminds us, “We love because he first loved us” – and not the other way around.
If we don’t keep that basic truth of the Bible straight about how we will get to hear Jesus call us home to heaven later, it can really take away a lot of the joy in our every day life right now. For example, since we know that even when we try to be kind to someone or stay away from a certain temptation, we don’t show that kindness perfectly or stay away from that temptation completely or every single time, we could wonder every day of our lives if we will hear anything good at all when Jesus tells us to come out of our graves, because we know very well that Jesus knows us very well, meaning that he knows how weak even our best efforts to please him are. Or the opposite: if we do think we are living such great Christian lives that God almost owes it to us to reward us for how much we have done to serve him, we will spend these earthly days of our lives in total arrogance and ignorance – and then we will be among those on the last day who will have to hear Jesus say nothing about doing good, but everything about the fact that we have “done evil,” and we will therefore be condemned.
Every one of us really has to take that last thought seriously, because there is this part of our sinful nature that cannot quit thinking that God owes us something, or that we can get God to owe us something for how hard we try to live a life that pleases him. When we think like that, that’s when we find ourselves doing good things mainly because it looks good, or because we want someone who sees us to think that we are good, or to get something good from them. Even if the things we do are good on the outside, God says that without faith in Jesus they are evil. You and I could be the kindest, nicest, most generous person in the world. You and I could save someone’s life, cure the world’s worst disease, win every reward for accomplishing world peace. You and I could have the best reputation as the world’s greatest person that every lived – and without believing that Jesus has forgiven our sins, all that we would have done would be considered as having “done evil.”
That’s why we need to keep listening to the Son and why we want to keep listening to the Son, because we want to hear him say just the opposite of that on the day of judgment. What a blessing it is – what an honor it is – to have God’s promise that we will hear our Savior’s voice telling us we have done good, because we know and believe that our Savior has done the ultimate good of paying the price for every bad we have done in this life, meaning that through faith in Jesus we have eternal life.
And that promise is a promise we can trust, not only because we listen to the Son, but also because the Son listens to the Father.
A big part of this part of the Bible is Jesus talking about how he is one with the Father as the Son of God, and yet how as the Son of Man he was very happy to submit to the will of his heavenly Father. For Jesus that was only natural, because his will is the very same as his Father’s will. But the thing that humbles us — and that baffles us as to why he would do this — is the fact that as a true human being Jesus had to go through so much suffering and agony to carry out his Father’s will. We can only marvel at the kind of patience and humility and just plain love that Jesus displayed in listening to his Father and doing what his Father said. We know very well that Jesus would have had every right to say, “Father in heaven, you expect me to give my life for what that person did in his or her life? I don’t think so…”
But the last verse of our lesson tells us very clearly that that is not in any way the way the Son thought when he listened to his Father. Let’s think for a moment yet about verse 30 at the end: “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” – that is, his Father.
Jesus says he judges only as he hears. Well, we know what he should hear when he hears us speak or even when he hears us think, but because the Son of God listens to his Father, what does he really hear? He hears his Father’s words, “I have loved them with an everlasting love. I will make a covenant with them that cannot be broken. I have redeemed them. I have called them by name. They are mine.” In other words, what Jesus hears when he hears us think and speak is his blood dripping on those thoughts and words, removing them from the ears and eyes of his heavenly Father, who has entrusted all judgment to him. What Jesus hears when he hears us think and speak is, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” What Jesus hears when he hears us think and speaks is, “Son, daughter, be of good cheer. Your sins are forgiven.”
Do you see why Jesus will be able to say on that last day that we have “done good?” He will be able to say it because by faith in him everything we have sought to do out of love for him is good, because even the imperfections of our actions are forgiven by him who loved us and gave himself for us – and, even more, in his love for us, he also forgave the things we have done which were not done out of love for him. And that faith which God has given us to believe that also gives us the desire and the ability to keep wanting to do – and to keep doing – things that please him every day of our lives. We don’t have to be afraid that the good things that we want to do aren’t perfect. For Jesus’ sake – because the Son listens to the Father – God says that they are. Yes, for Jesus’ sake – because the Son listens to the Father, and because we listen to the Son, God says that on that last day he will say that we have done good.
Today is called Saints Triumphant, the day we especially think of us as God’s people finally being able to be away from all the sins and sadnesses and struggles that bother us now and in a place of triumph where those sins and sadnesses and struggles will be nothing but a distant memory. What God wants us to remember is that by listening to the Son who listened to his Father, we also are Saints Triumphant right now. We have eternal life right now. We have crossed over from death to life right now. So, right now, out of love for Jesus who made that so, let’s do as much good as we can until it’s time to go to those graves that we will someday hear his voice call us out of – the day that for Jesus’ sake we will hear those words spoken with perfect grammar, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Amen.