Twenty-sixth Sunday after Trinity, 11-17-2019
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI
Rev. Michael Larson
Old Testament: Daniel 7:9–14
Epistle: 2 Peter 3:3–14
Holy Gospel: Matthew 25:31–46
The judgment of the nations is not a parable. It’s a future event described in apocalyptic language, an event that will bring the curtain down on this age when heaven and earth will pass away. The rewards promised to those who do the will of Jesus and the punishments against those who have only given Him lip service are at last meted out. The damned are sentenced to eternal punishment and the just are given eternal life.
There are some basic things that we Christians confess about our holy faith. We believe that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. We believe that He suffered and died for the sins of the world. We believe that He rose again from the dead, putting an end to death. We believe that He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God. And then in the Creed we confess every Sunday that “He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.”
Jesus will judge the living and the dead. The Scripture readings proclaimed this morning teach us about Judgment Day. What is Judgment Day? It is the day when Christ our Lord comes again. All people will appear before His throne. He will announce publicly those who inherit eternal life and those who inherit eternal condemnation. The judgment of salvation or damnation is proclaimed through the Office of the Keys in the remitting and retaining of sins, and it is sealed for every individual at the time of death, but on the Last Day, then it is made known to all.
When the Lord comes again, everyone will be gathered, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. With a winnowing fork in hand, He will separate the wheat from the chaff, as John the Baptist prophesied. The wheat and the tares, the good and the bad fish. The preaching of Jesus is filled with sober warnings and sermons on judgment. But of course, among us, in our day, this message is ill-received with goat-like stubbornness and resistance.
But He is coming. And concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. St. Peter, in our epistle today, stirred us up with these words: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”
When He comes every knee will bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, everyone will hit the deck and acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, except now, Jesus will separate true believers from hypocrites and those who reject Him.
When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates sheep from the goats. He will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” These righteous ones will be utterly surprised, shocked in fact by the service they are ignorant of rendering. “Lord, when did we see You like that? When did we serve You? He answers: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to me” (Mt. 25:40). Receive the crown of righteousness and enter eternal life!
Then the Lord will say to those on His left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” But these ones protested and challenged Him: “Lord, when did we see you…and not minister to you?” Our Lord answers: “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” The conclusion of the story is this: And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Folks, it’s enough to make your hair stand up on end, and make your knees tremble and knock. And they should. Remember what St. Peter wrote in our epistle this morning to us, in chapter 3 verse, 11: “Since everything will be dissolved in this way [that is destroyed], what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to conduct yourselves in holiness and godliness.”
How well have you watched for the Bridegroom? How prepared are you for His appearance? What have you done with the countless gifts your God has lavished upon you and for which He will someday ask an account? How have you served your neighbor or welcomed the stranger? Did you gladly receive them, as Christ Himself?
How uncomfortable to admit our goat-like sins. We project a sheep-like innocence to the world but we know things are quite different. So when we ponder that Christ will soon come again, and we stand before the one who judges justly at the resurrection, this morning we all do well to tremble! We have not done enough! We have despised the Word of the Lord. We’ve neglected our neighbor in need. We’ve lived for ourselves! And if judged solely by our deeds, we should go the way of the goats, into eternal punishment.
So tremble, yes! But do not despair. This account of the sheep and goats is not just about the deeds done in one’s life, for no amount of good deeds will ever be enough. Rather, this lesson is much more fundamentally, how one stands before the King, that matters.
Sheep and goats are altogether different creatures. So it is with the elect of God. Those who stand on the right have no defect or flaw. They have no sin. Because all sins are covered through faith in the Lord Christ and His promises. Their faith in Jesus clothes them in His perfect righteousness.
Consider the parable of the wedding feast and wedding garment just earlier preached by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. Remember it’s the fella that showed up to the party in his ratty street clothes, rather than wearing the appropriate attire, the wedding garment. He was cast out into the outer darkness of hell, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. All because he was relying upon his own deeds, his own righteousness. He didn’t put on Jesus!
But the wedding garment is necessary, sheep-like innocence is necessary, and the only way to get it is to lay your righteousness aside, and to be wrapped up in the forgiveness of sins, received in Holy Baptism, and lived out by faith in God’s Word, and means of grace. You too need to become an altogether different creature. And that’s exactly what God does for you.
Your judge and this king from heaven came down in the form of a slave. He took the form of a lowly animal. An animal associated with sin and curse – the goat. Recall in the Old Testament that Jacob covered himself in goat skin to fool his father, so that he would get the blessing of the firstborn. But now consider this: that Jesus, our King from heaven, dressed Himself in our goat-like sins at the cross, in order to be cursed, so that WE might be blessed. Consider that He was willing to become what we are – goats by nature – so that we might become what He is by grace – righteous, innocent, and holy lambs.
Remember with joy Good Friday, the ultimate day of atonement, when your scapegoat Jesus took your goat-like sins upon Himself and died for them, all to remove your sins as far as the east is from the west. He was slaughtered, and His blood carried into the most holy place – that you would have safe passage and access to God in heaven. That you would stand up gladly on the Last Day in the resurrection of all flesh.
This King, resurrected and victorious over the grave, will not turn you away. He comes in mercy to welcome you. You who were once imprisoned by sin are pardoned and set free. You who were a stranger are warmly welcomed into His presence. You are altogether a different creature, by faith in the Son of God, who loved you, and gave Himself for you. You are a new creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that you should walk in them. That you might provide rest and refreshment for your neighbor.
But this morning, first and foremost, let Christ minister to you. For you were hungry, and He gives you His body as heavenly food. You were thirsty with sin-parched lips, and He gives you drink, His blood, which vivifies and gives life. You were naked, exposed by sin, and unrighteousness, and yet now clothed to the nines in the righteousness of Christ. Rejoice and be glad, and eagerly welcome this judge who comes not to condemn you but to save you. Let yourself be treated as His treasured sheep. For that is what you truly are. In the name of Jesus. Amen.