November 6, 2005: What Will Your Epitaph Say?

Let us pray: Dear Savior, as our thoughts turn to the final judgment and our earthly deaths, a small part of us is apprehensive, but the larger part is thankful.  Yes, we’re thankful that You, not we, have earned a place in glory for us.  We’re thankful that You have graciously imposed Your holy will over our unholy one, thereby enabling us to engage in lives of true self-sacrifice.  Today, may we recall those saints who have preceded us and see Your hand and Your goodness active and alive in and through them, and now in us.  Amen


TEXT:  Matthew 25: 31-46

Fellow Redeemed Sinners Made Into Saints By Christ’s Blood and Righteousness:

Who will write your epitaph?  What will your grave say?  And will it correspond with the truth, or will it be fiction?  A little over a week ago I presided over a funeral here at church.  Our brother in Christ, Arthur Carlsen, was laid to rest.  His was the 3rd funeral we recall that occurred in our midst over this past year.  As is my custom, after the service I retired to the office and got out the church record book.  I flipped to the section entitled: “Those Who Have Passed On.”  And therein I wrote down the facts of Arthur’s funeral and life.—Recording it for future generations.  My wife came into the study about that same time, noted my handwriting on 3 full pages, and remarked: “Boy, you’ve buried a lot of people over the years!”  She’s right.  I have.  Thirty souls to be exact.  I record their names, their birth, their death, and where they are buried.  I suppose most of you would expect that.  But, there is one final column of info that I also fill in that you wouldn’t expect.  It is entitled: “Remarks.”  And in it I place my final epitaph on their lives for future pastors to ponder.  What do I say?  Well, for each soul it is slightly different.

Of our dear sister Gertrude Krey I wrote: “A faithful Christian, a friend, a joy to the end.”  Of Ruth Stark I wrote: “A blessing in life and an inspiration in death.”  And of 90 year old Arthur Carlsen I inscribed: “A Faithful, lifelong member.”  I said those things because I believe they encapsulate each of their lives.  So, today I ask you:



All of our lessons deal with the coming, final judgment.  In our text, Christ outlines in pointed terms how it will occur.  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”

That’s pretty straight-forward.  The picture is of Christ the Ultimate Judge of all, Who will divide the believers from the unbelievers, or the sheep from the goats.  Now, He goes on to discuss exactly how and why He judges or divides in this manner.  And that’s where your epitaph comes in.

How do you want to be remembered after you die?  No doubt, you have a picture of yourself in your own mind.  But does that picture correspond with how other’s view you?  Does it correspond with how God views you?  If not, why not?  If you’re not sure, why aren’t you sure?


Jesus makes it very clear that God will judge us on the basis of how we acted in this life.  Did we keep the 1st table of the Law and put God first and labor for Him only?   Did we keep the 2nd table of the Law?  That is, were we good neighbors to fellow souls in need?  Did we feed, clothe, and visit them?  Did we provide them with sustenance?  Of course, standing before God Almighty all people will have their pride and arrogance stripped away.  Judgment Day is God’s version of “shock and awe.”  We’ll be forced to be truthful because you cannot con God Who reads the heart.  So, both sheep and goats will reply: “Lord, when did we do this?”  “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

The difference between saints and hardened sinners is not how perceptive they are when it comes to helping others in need.  No, the real difference is whether or not they labor in life armed with Christ’s holiness, Christ’s righteousness, and Christ’s love.  Faith clothes us with the holiness of Jesus.  Faith makes His goodness really our goodness.  So, for the believer, whatever we do to assist fellow humans really is made holy because Jesus blood and righteousness shed on the cross for us makes it so.  Whereas the unbeliever does not possess such goodness before God because they choose to stand alone without Christ’s holiness covering their own failings.


November 1st was All Saint’s Day.  Today we recall and celebrate that day by remembering our Pinewood family members who have gone on to glory.  Gertrude, Ruth, and Arthur all stand in heaven today.  They stand there not because Gertrude made her famous bread and shared it with hungry people.  Not because Ruth was gracious to all she met.  And not because Arthur was generous to this congregation.  No, they stand in glory because they confessed Christ as their Savior.  They stand in glory because they put on His goodness, pleaded His mercy for their failings, and humbly tried to let their light of faith show itself in how they treated others.  They all confessed with Isaiah, that “all their righteous deeds were like filthy rags.”  But they also confessed with Isaiah that: “Though ours sins be as scarlet they shall be white as snow” because Christ’s gift of salvation has made them so.

You and I can do no better than to remember these saints and emulate them.  Cling to Jesus, do for Jesus in every aspect of your life.  For thereby you will come to know the real meaning of self-sacrifice which is what our text is all about.  And then, when you die, you won’t have to worry about your eternal epitaph because Christ has already written it in His heavenly record book—He’s written it with His love.  Amen