November 20 2011 Sermon
Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King 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. 35 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, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 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.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘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.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Mat 25:31 ESV)
We have come to the end! Today is the last day! This is the end of the church year and it is proper and good that we focus on the end of this world. That great and terrible day when Christ returns in all his glory with his angels, and takes his seat on the throne of glory to judge the world. He is coming again, and when he comes it will not be a weak, tiny baby in a manger, but as King and ruler over all. He will come in power and might. All things will be placed under him and he will rule over all. He will come to settle accounts with all people. He will come to reward those who have done good and to punish those who not done good.
Yes, it will be a day of judgment. God is not the god that this world imagines, too weak to do any harm, to soft and loving to punish. There will be judgment, not tolerance. All people will stand before God with all their sins exposed for all the world to see. God is not defined by political correctness. He will not just accept us regardless of what we have done.
On that day, Jesus will be the judge. For some, this will be a great and glorious day because Jesus will say to them, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” But for others it will be a terrible day of weeping and sorrow, to them Jesus will say, “Depart from me you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Now let’s examine closely these two judgments, starting with the latter. Why did Jesus condemn them to the eternal fire? What were the charges against them? What is the evidence presented? “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.”
Here Jesus smashes all our preconceived notions. First of all he is judging on the basis of works. How is that? Haven’t we been told that we are saved by faith, not by works? True enough, but true faith is not mere acceptance of a truth. It is more than just head knowledge. Faith is a change in life! Believing abstract concepts does not save you, faith does, and faith is active and visible in your works. So as Jesus describes the judgment here, it is on the basis of works, because good works are faith in action. Just as lack of good works means faith is dead.
So what were the works these people were judged on? They did not feed the hungry, or give drink to the poor, or give clothing to the naked or visit the sick. No mention of bad and evil things they did. The were not condemned for doing vile, gross deeds. They were condemned for not loving their neighbor or doing good deeds for him They were condemned to everlasting fire for not doing good works. Another one of our misconceptions. We think that because we don’t steal and murder and commit adultery we are pretty good.
These people didn’t do those things either. There were not bad people. Jesus did not say, “You are evil, wicked people. You are murders and thieves.” He didn’t say they were gossipers or liars. They were not fornicators or adulterers. They were not sexually immoral. These were good people. These were church members. These were leaders among the Jews, the rulers of the synagogues, the Jewish council. The elders and priests. They were not condemned for being bad. They were condemned for not doing good things. They were condemned for failing to do good works for their neighbors. What’s the point? That failure to do good works to help your neighbor, to serve others, is mortal sin. Failure to love others results in eternal punishment.
Who do these people represent? They are us! All your life you thought that in this Bible passage you were in the other group, the sheep at Jesus right hand. But take a closer look at the text. These condemned ones are good people like you. Like you, they thought they were good. They were surprised at Jesus words and asked, “When did we NOT do these things?” They are us people who think we are good and doing what we should be doing. That’s everyone here today! We are good and we think we are doing what’s right.
But Jesus says, “You have not done enough. Sure you love your family and your friends, but you have not loved them enough. You love your neighbor but not as much as yourself.” You have not loved your enemy, as he commands. He says, “Husbands, you love your wife, but you have not loved her as your own self and given your life for her.” “Wives, you have not submitted to your husbands as to the Lord.” “Children, you have not always obeyed your parents, and loved and honored them.” “People, you have not always submitted to each other in love. You have not always considered others better than yourself. You have not always lived in peace and harmony with one another.” “You have not always fed the one who begs for food. You have not always given clothing to the one in need. You have not always given shelter to the homeless, or mercy to the widow or orphan or foster child, or had compassion for the poor, or befriended a troubled youth.” That’s true of everyone of us. We think we are good people because we don’t do crass and evil things, but we have failed miserably at loving others, at being the husband or wife, or mother or father or son or daughter or friend or helper we should have been. If Jesus were to judge us, he would say, “I was hungry and you did not always give me food, thirsty and you did not give me a drink,” and we would all respond, “What are you talking about? When did we NOT do these things?”
But to the others Jesus said, “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.” And they responded, “When did we do these things?” They did not consider themselves good people. They did not think they were holy and righteous. Among this crowd were the sinners, the prostitutes and publicans Jesus dined with. These were the immoral, the adulterers, the fornicators. Here were all the gossips, the liars, the thieves and murderers. These were the people who could not go to the churches because they were not worthy or good enough. They had been kicked out of and refused entrance to the temple.
These were humble people, because who knew they were sinners. Instead of standing up and saying, “when did we NOT do these thing,” they said, “When DID we do these things.” They knew they had not loved their neighbor as themselves. They knew they had not loved their spouse as much as they could. They knew that they had been unfaithful. That they had not obeyed their parents completely. That they had not given as much love to their children or raised them to know and obey God.
But these people, when the Holy Spirit showed them their failure, repented and were sorry. They were penitent of their sins and trusted Jesus for forgiveness. Yes, these people had failed just as much as the other group. But these knew their sin; were sorry for their sins; and Jesus had mercy on them.
These people are us when we recognize our failure and repent of our sin. Then we too will ask, “when did we do these good things?” We have failed and we know it. But, what we have not done and cannot do, Jesus did for us. Jesus came into the world to serve his Father and love his neighbor for us. What he has done counts for you. It is credited to your account. “Abraham believed God, and it was is counted to him as righteousness,” says St. Paul. The difference between the two groups is faith.
The good works we have done are not our works, but the works of Christ in us. It is Christ’s good works that count as yours. Where you failed to do God’s will, Christ did it on your behalf. That is why those at the right hand of Jesus had done all these good deeds of love; they had been done by Jesus. They weren’t any better than the other people, but the others did not repent. They had no faith. They continued to live in their sin. They did not fear the judgment of God. They did not believe God would hold them accountable for their deeds. They, in fact, thought that because they didn’t have evil, wicked deeds they were good enough. But they failed to do the good that God commands, and for that they received eternal punishment because they lacked faith.
But those who repented of their sinful lack of love had only good works mentioned. Yet, these were the sinful people, the prostitutes, the publicans and sinners Jesus ate with. But he didn’t say anything about evil or bad deeds. Why? Because He died on the cross for them and by his blood sacrifice, he washed away all sins. They are forgiven. On account of Christ’s atoning death on the cross God will not hold your sins against you. Your evil deeds will not be counted against you, but the good works of Christ will count in your favor.
On the day Christ returns, there will be judgment. But on account of faith, Jesus will be judged in your place. In Baptism, Christ covered you with his good works, his righteousness. The demands of God’s law have been met. They have been done for you.
And that day Christ will sit on his glorious throne and rule over all things, over all nations, over kings and queens, over all the universe. Heaven will be his throne and earth his footstool. All things in heaven and on earth will be united in him. All his gospel promises will be fulfilled. On that day he will do away with all sin and evil and all the affects of sin. The hungry will be fed by Jesus himself. The thirsty will be satisfied by Jesus himself. He will be their food and drink. On that day the naked shall be clothed with the righteousness of Christ. The sick will be healed and our weak and frail bodies will never become sick again. The prisoner will be released for Christ is our freedom.
Christ will restore all things and renew all things. All injustice will cease. All hurt will be wiped away. The hurts others have caused you will be healed. The hurt and pain you have caused others, will be healed. Justice will be restored. All wrongs will be set to rights. The lion will lie down in peace with the lamb. God says of that day, “My servant David shall be king over them and they shall all have one shepherd. I will set them in their land and multiply them. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people.” “I will rescue my flock and will make with them a covenant of peace. They will dwell securely and sleep in the woods. I will make them a blessing and will send down the showers in their season, showers of blessing. The trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase and they shall be secure in their land. They shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them.”
Yes, on that day, all the consequences of sin will be overcome. All tears wiped away. All suffering shall cease. All death abolished. The dead will be raised. Bodies and souls reunited. On that day he will say to all who repent and are baptized, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Amen.