The Twenty Sixth Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf Preus| November 17, 2013| St. Matthew 25:31-46
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of 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 took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting 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 take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ Then they also will answer Him, 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?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” St. Matthew 25:31-46
What do you think of Jesus? Few will say anything bad about him. When I was a boy some of the Jewish boys would say nasty things about Jesus, but they were just boys and that was a long time ago. Rarely will you hear anyone criticize Jesus today. Even folks who don’t trust in Jesus as their Savior will likely have nothing but good things to say about him. Jesus is popular.
But his bride is not. His Church is not so popular. For one thing, a significant portion of those people who call themselves Christians seldom attend the services of Christ’s Church. They love Jesus but don’t think much of his Church. And many people who would not insult Jesus feel free to insult his Church. It has become quite popular, in fact, for people to sing the praises of Jesus while trashing his Church. I have even heard the word “churchianity” used as a term to insult people devoted to the Church who are allegedly not devoted to Jesus Christ.
Well, Jesus won’t have any of it. You love Jesus? You love his Church. He won’t acknowledge any devotion to him that is not simultaneously rendered to his Church. In fact, on the last day, when the most praiseworthy of all of the good deeds ever done will be displayed for all people to see, they will be deeds done by members of Christ’s Church for members of Christ’s Church. Love Christ? Love his Church. Serve Christ? Serve his Church.
The Church is the sheep. That’s how Jesus identifies his Church. He doesn’t set down a hierarchy of authority or elaborate structure or legislative body. The world finds these things impressive, but Jesus doesn’t. Christ’s Church is his brothers and sisters, his Christians. His Christians are the sheep who hear his voice and follow him. He knows them. He knows them as those whom his Father blessed from eternity. This is why he will say to them on Judgment Day:
Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
The Church is elected by God. She is God’s chosen people. She is the Israel of God. The heaven that Jesus has prepared for his Church was prepared for her before time began. There can be no question of human merit as a factor in inheriting the kingdom, for the kingdom was prepared for the sheep of the Good Shepherd before any of them had the opportunity to do anything good or bad. The inheritance of the Church is freely given her by God’s grace alone.
And so she lives. She lives by grace alone. The sheep are called the righteous. Just as the sheep are identified as sheep on account of the fact that they hear the voice of their Shepherd and follow him, they are also righteous through hearing and believing the voice of the Shepherd who speaks the words that justify them. They live under the forgiveness of sins. They live as those who are justified by God’s grace. They are righteous. Their righteousness is nothing less than the righteousness of Jesus Christ himself. Clothed in Christ’s righteousness as that robe that makes them acceptable to their Father in heaven, they live the lives of righteous people.
Imagine that! Righteous people do righteous things! Christians imitate Christ. Listen once more to the list of good deeds that Jesus will identify, commend, and reward on the last day. He says:
I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.
But Jesus was in heaven, was he not? All of these good deeds done for Jesus were done here on earth, were they not? I’ve never seen Jesus. Have you? Jesus told his disciples who saw his miracles and heard his teaching:
Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.
We weren’t there. We are here. We don’t see Jesus. We must go by faith. And we don’t hear Jesus. We must rely on the voice of his ministers or the words of the Bible. Those who want a hotline to heaven will be misled by their own imagination. If you want to hear Jesus or see Jesus you must go to where his Church is gathered together in his name. Go to where the gospel is purely preached. Go to where the sacraments are rightly administered. Don’t look for holy people. You cannot see the holiness of Christ’s holy Church. Look for the marks that identify the Church. Those marks are the pure gospel and sacraments of Christ. You must be content with these, for your Lord Jesus is hidden under them.
If you want to receive from Jesus what he alone can give you, you must go to his Church to receive it. You won’t find it anywhere else. And if you want to give to Jesus what you owe him, you must give it to his Church, that is, to his brothers. Jesus said:
Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.
Who are Jesus’ brothers? They are your brothers and sisters in Christ. They are your fellow Christians. Who are the least of his brothers? They are the least in the eyes of the world. They go unnoticed. They confess the faith, but are despised by the world. They are persecuted and they bear it. They are ignored. They are often imprisoned. They stand on God’s word, confess it, live it, and die embracing it. But who sees? Who cares? Who even notices?
The Son of man does! He who set aside his divine prerogatives and embrace the life of the servant, who humbled himself under unfair abuse and false criticism, who bore the scorn and the contempt of the religious elite, who meekly submitted to crucifixion on a cross – this humble King looks upon those whom his Father has chosen. He sees what they suffer. He knows their frustrations as they struggle to live humble Christian lives in a world that despises humility and Christianity. He hears their prayers. He, who bore their sins in his body, continues to feel their sufferings in his heart as his compassion for his Church on earth remains as strong as the love he displayed on the cross.
You want to serve Jesus? You want to offer to Jesus your Savior something he will treasure? Serve these, the least of his brothers. The Christian mother who cares for her Christian children, setting their needs before her own, feeding them, clothing them, staying with them when they are sick, sticking by them when they are in trouble, and loving them through the pains of life is offering a precious service to her Lord Jesus. The Son of man will return as the King of kings and Lord of lords and he will identify such acts of kindness that went unnoticed in this world.
The Christian father who does a honest day’s work for his pay, never gets rich, but enriches his children by teaching them God’s word, ensures that they are in God’s house regularly where they belong, and places their spiritual wellbeing above any concern for more money, power, status, or prestige in life is giving to his Lord Jesus a gift that will be honored before all the world at the end of time.
Jesus loves his Church and if you are to love Jesus you must love his Church! The Christian who encourages his pastor to preach the truth and to stand firmly on God’s word without compromise is giving a precious offering to his Lord Jesus, for surely Christ’s ministers are the least of his brothers. The faithful preachers are the preachers least respected by a world that values what is perishing more than the blood and righteousness of the Son of God.
Have you ever heard someone say, “I love Jesus, but I don’t believe in organized religion”? What that really means is, “I want to pretend to love Jesus, but I despise his Christians.” Don’t fall for this lie. It’s a package deal. Christ won’t be found apart from his Church. Christ won’t be served apart from his Church. Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is his holy bride. You diss his bride and you diss him; you serve and love and cherish his bride and he himself will acknowledge you on the last day.
The sheep are gathered on the right hand of the King and the goats on the left. The sheep inherit a kingdom prepared for them from before time began. The goats are sent to the hell prepared for the devil and his angels. The sheep are identified as the righteous and they are welcomed into eternal life. The goats are sent into the eternal fire of everlasting punishment.
The teaching of hell is one of the least popular teachings of God’s word. Jesus, who is love incarnate and the Savior of sinners, teaches the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell. Various American-made religious sects deny hell: the Seventh Day Adventists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others. Most mainstream Protestant denominations either deny hell or deny that anyone really goes there. But Jesus teaches that those who do not belong to him will spend eternity in hell, forever separated from God. God forgave them all their sins when Jesus suffered and died for them, but they will remain eternally unforgiven because they did not know Christ and it is only through faith in Christ that anyone receives the forgiveness of his sins.
It is in receiving forgiveness of our sins – the righteousness of faith by which we are righteous before God and fit for heaven – that our hearts are changed and we are granted a new will. The acts of kindness that we Christians show to one another – that is, to the least of Jesus’s brothers – we show to him who shed his blood for us on the cross and washed away our sins. Just as there is no power in heaven or hell or here on earth that can separate us from the love of God that we have in Christ, just so there is no power that can separate us from Christ’s Church. Let this dying world dismiss and despise Christ’s bride. We Christians will embrace her as our dear mother. From the treasures she has received from Christ, we have our identity as children of the heavenly Father and sheep of the Good Shepherd. For Christ’s sake we are righteous and we will inherit the kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world.