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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

When You Leave This Life, What Will You Hear?

Feb 18, 2020

When this life is over, we will hear one of two things:

I could make this the shortest article I ever wrote. I could simply run with two biblical passages I have in mind, and leave it at that. The time saved adding another 1300 words or so could be spent in prayer: asking God to convict all of us of the reality of these verses.

Well, I will offer the two texts, and I will add some further commentary here, and I will also do some praying that I and others are touched by God in a very real way as we consider these verses. They have to do with what every single person on the planet will one day hear when our time on earth is over.

Each one of us will eventually hear one of two things:

–“Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21, and 23)

–“I never knew you; depart from Me.” (Matthew 7:23)

Those are two very sobering verses. And we all need to carefully consider right now just what we will hear from the Lord when we stand before him one day. Will it be good news or bad news? Will we be welcomed with open arms, or will we be cast into outer darkness?

Now before I go any further, I better make a few qualifying remarks, to head off any purists, pedants or Pharisees who will completely miss my point here and not at all get the spirit of what I am trying to say. I fully realise that many things may be said to us on that day when we stand before our Creator and Judge.

And of course these two texts may not be used then either. But you hopefully get my drift: some people will enter into God’s presence and live with him forever, but some will be rejected and cast out of his presence. It all depends on how we have responded in this life to what Christ did for us on the cross.

Have we turned from our sins and placed our faith and trust in Christ, or have we rejected his offer of forgiveness and reconciliation and continued defiantly in our selfishness and sin? It is our choice to make, and we all need to choose wisely.

And each of these texts of course has a context. Both look at the issue of our eternal destiny. The bigger context of the first verse is Matthew 25:14-30 in which we read about The Parable of the Talents. In this parable some of the servants make careful and wise use of the talents they are given, and they are given this commendation for it.

But sadly some do not make good use of what God has given to them. They are not commended but condemned. As we read in verse 30: “And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The second passage has as its larger context Matthew 7:21-23, part of the Sermon on the Mount. It reads as follows:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’.”

Again, we have some more very important words from Jesus as to our eternal destiny. They are words we all need to take to heart NOW. You never know when your days on earth will come to an end. It could be today. Are you ready to meet your maker? Are you ready to stand before the Lord to give an account of your life?

I may have an extra sense of urgency here: I just returned from a funeral of a Christian friend. He had been a real champion for Christ, and we can say of him what the Apostle Paul said of himself in 2 Timothy 4:7-8: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

The thing is, while he was a bit older than I, just a few months ago he seemed to be doing just fine. But then, out of nowhere, a month or two ago an inoperable brain tumour appeared. And almost as soon as this was detected, he was gone.

Of course he was fully ready to meet his Lord. Indeed, as loved ones reported, he eagerly looked forward to it. He had a grin on his face as he lay in his sick bed, just thinking of what a sweet homecoming this would be. He put Christ first throughout his life, and now he is hearing these words, or words like them: “Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your master.”

But regrettably not everyone is in that situation. Some have lived their entire life shaking their fist at God, rejecting him as the rightful boss of their life, seeking to be fully autonomous. When they die there will be no second chances. When they die they will instead hear words like this: “I never knew you; depart from Me.”

The funeral I just came from was an obvious mixture of sadness and joy, as are all funerals for Christians. There is always sadness and sorrow because of a lost friend and loved one, but great joy in knowing that they are now in the best place imaginable, rejoicing forevermore with their Saviour.

I must say, when attending funerals like this – and there were many hundreds of people in attendance – I sometimes wonder, ‘Hmm, will I get even a fraction of that many folks showing up at my funeral?’ I am always reminded of that humorous meme which has a picture of a very sparsely attended funeral service. A gal says to a guy, “He had over 2000 Facebook friends. I was expecting a bigger turnout.”

I still question if anyone will show up for mine! But the important point of course is not so much what people think of me when I am gone, but what the Lord thinks of me. That is the only thing that will really matter. Will I be welcomed into his glorious presence, or excluded from it?

And bear in mind again the reality that today might be your last day on earth. You may be a fit and healthy 22-year-old. You may be in super shape and seemingly invincible. But before you finish reading this article you may take your last breath.

Life is short my friends. Real short. Make sure you are ready for eternity. Which words will you be hearing?

[1187 words]

5 Responses to When You Leave This Life, What Will You Hear?

  • Thank you Bill. There is more also to this vitally important subject. In Hebrews 12:14b (NIV) we are warned:
    “Without holiness no-one will see the Lord.”
    And John R. Rice powerfully warns:
    “Multitudes of people who expect to go to Heaven will go to a hell of torment. Thousands of “good” people, “moral” people, church members, even church workers – yes, and, alas, even prophets, priests and preachers– will find themselves lost when they expected to be saved, condemned when they expected approval, cast out of Heaven when they expected to be received into eternal bliss. That is the explicit meaning of the words of our Lord (spoken in Matthew
    7:21-23).” https://www.jesus-is-savior.com/Books,%20Tracts%20&%20Preaching/Pri

  • Bill, I enjoy reading your posts. I must say I’m not ready for eternity and some of those scripture warnings are certainly scary.

    The holiness aspect mentioned in the previous comment is also a little scary. I have no idea what this really means or how to reach any level of ‘holiness’. I am a wretched sinner and I’m afraid the most I can ever hope to achieve is some level of holiness akin to that of filthy rags.

    I am in the final chapters of my life and as each day passes I’m woefully aware of my shortcomings and inabilities to control sinful behavior. To go one day without sinning is a lost cause. I even have problems with those minute by minute skirmishes (of which I frequently lose).

    You are correct about the things Jesus said about entry into heaven and I certainly cannot debate any of those points you raise. Much of it is a great mystery to me and I will never understand in this lifetime. But (and it is a big but) Jesus also said our sins stand forgiven forever based on our acceptance of Him as our personal Savior.

    I accepted Him many, many years ago. It is true that only hope for getting into heaven is by God’s grace. I’m way too uneducated in the trappings of theology to know if this is some kind of erroneous Calvinistic thought or just plain wishful thinking. In this final curtain call of life I take rare comfort in His promise of eternal life with Him. It truly is amazing grace, especially since it is so undeserved and so impossible to earn by my ‘good’ behavior.

  • Thanks JR. You are basically correct in your what you say. The best place to be, for starters, is to realise that our own righteousness is indeed just so much filthy rags. We cannot save ourselves, so we cast ourselves upon Christ as lost sinners, and in faith and repentance, find forgiveness and new life. That is what we call justification – the once off work of God in our lives. From there on we cooperate with God as he works to make us more and more Christlike – that is sanctification. We never fully attain this, but we work toward the goal of increasingly holiness, with the Spirit at work within us. See more here for example: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2015/03/22/sanctification-cooperating-with-god/

  • I too hope to hear well done thou good and faithful soldier but would be very glad to hear I’m proud of you.

    Rice’s comment Suzanna show what happens when we don’t tell people that someone is in hell. I know it is hard but better to tell them the truth and give people a offer of salvation than a lie and allow people living the same way to continue believing they too will end up in heaven. We are so concerned with being nice and soothing that we sacrifice the truth. True comfort can’t come from a lie. Yes we must be gentle in how we say it but we can’t let people think they can continue on the wrong path. You may never see many of these people again so it is now or never. God’s truth must be told!

  • I’m ready. I’m not afraid.

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