The Twenty Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Second Last Sunday)
November 18, 2007
“The Righteous Judgment of the Righteous Judge” St. Matthew 25:31-46
It’s amazing how many people believe in heaven but how few believe in Judgment Day. It’s as if God is to blame for the troubles we face here in this life and the least he can do to atone for it is to prepare a wonderful place of peace and love that we can enjoy forever. It’s like the Country Western singer Marty Robbins sang in his song about his longsuffering wife,
When she reaches that River,Lord you know what she’s worth.Give her that Mansion up yonder,’Cause she’s been through Hell here on Earth.
God is held to account for the injustice, pains, and suffering of this present life. Since he has permitted evil to befall us in this world the least he can do is reward us for our suffering in heaven.
But God will not be judged. God is the judge. And he will judge.
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.
Who will judge? God will judge. The Son of Man will judge. For God has become one of us. The Word has been made flesh. In his flesh he revealed his Father’s glory. In his flesh he bore our shame. As a man he lived a life of pure and holy love. Our God became a man and fulfilled as a man every demand he ever placed upon us. What has God ever required of us but that we should love him above all things and love our neighbors as ourselves? This is what the Son of Man did. This is why he has been appointed as the one to judge the living and the dead.
The angels will be with him to witness the justice of his judgment. All nations will be gathered before him. All of humanity will be judged. Every individual human being will be judged. Everyone will be judged by the same standard. The judgment will be seen by all of heaven and earth to be just. No one will be able to question it. Listen once more to the words Jesus will say to those whom he welcomes into heaven:
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 how can this be? Jesus was nowhere to be seen. He ascended into heaven and was hidden from sight. True enough, the sheep heard his voice, but it was spoken by a mere minister. It did not come from the mouth of Jesus. Yes, the sheep saw their salvation as they heard the gospel, ate and drank at the altar, and received absolution. But they saw through the eyes of faith. They never laid their eyes on Jesus.
But there is a connection. Call it a relationship. Call it communion or union or fellowship. It is between Christ and his Church. Jesus is the head. The Church is his body. Wherever the body is, there is her head. He will not be separated from his Church.
We receive from Christ. He speaks words of absolution whenever we bring to him our failures and sins. He speaks words of comfort when we face death. We receive from him the very riches of heaven. He never fails us. He who has prepared a kingdom for us and who has purchased the treasures of that kingdom by his own precious blood is always ready, willing, and able to give us those treasures while we live here on earth.
First we receive. The kingdom was prepared for us from eternity. It doesn’t depend on our doing. It is done by God for us before we were even born and before we did good or evil. First we receive.
Then we give. But do not confuse the two, dear Christian, for this confusion can be fatal. We don’t give to Christ by receiving from him. And we don’t receive from Christ by giving to him. We give by giving. We receive by receiving. We receive from Christ the treasures of the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. We receive these treasures through faith. Then we give. We give to Christ. We give him food, drink, shelter, clothing, and our comfort and company. We serve him by serving the least of his brothers. Whatever we do to the least of his brothers we do to him.
The judgment of Judgment Day will be rendered according to works, but not just any works. The works that God will display to all of creation as good and worthy of recognition have three features. First, they are done by Christians. Second, they are done for the benefit of Christians. Third, they are done to Christ.
The good works that God will reward on Judgment Day are done by Christians, that is, by Christ’s sheep. There are two kinds of people in this world, the sheep and the goats. The sheep belong to the Son of Man. The goats do not. The sheep are eternally blessed by the Father. The goats are cursed. The sheep are welcomed into the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. The goats are thrown into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. The sheep enjoy eternal life. The goats suffer eternal punishment. It is Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, who will separate the sheep from the goats on the last day. His judgment will be just.
Christians have Christ. Christ makes all the difference. Jesus describes his sheep as those who hear his voice and follow him. Christ’s voice is the words of eternal life. Christians are Christians not because of what they do but because of what God gives to them. “Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
Why is it that only the good deeds of Christians will be recognized as good? Surely virtue is not unknown among those who do not know Christ! Acts of selfless bravery, chaste fidelity, and unselfish charity are not limited to Christians. We have examples from every people, tribe, nation, and language of acts of heroism that surely call for recognition!
True enough, but underneath every act of selflessness there is a love of self that places self in the center and at the top and no amount of humanly contrived virtue can rid the soul of it. There is within us all – Christians and heathen alike – an unfathomable wickedness that taints every act of virtue. Without the forgiveness of sins cleansing our deeds to make them pure before God even the highest and holiest works we offer are sin. But when we have Christ we have the forgiveness of sins. And when our sins are forgiven the good deeds we do become truly good because the sin that was attached to them is forgiven. First God makes you righteous by reckoning Christ’s righteousness to you and forgiving you your sins. Only then can you do a genuinely good deed.
Second, the works that God will display to all of creation as good and worthy of recognition are done for the benefit of Christians. The Ten Commandments teach us to love our neighbor. Our neighbor may or may not be a Christian. Jesus says, as recorded in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” The eternal love that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have shared is the love into which we Christians have been invited. It is the love we are to show to one another.
Jesus holds up the acts of kindness that Christians showed to Christians as the greatest of good works. What kinds of works will be displayed on the last day? Works that no one even noticed when they were done. Acts of kindness that we do for fellow Christians simply because they are fellow Christians will be brought to light for the whole world to see. Jesus loves his Church. He who gave his life for his Church values the life of every single member of his Church. Notice that all of these good deeds pertain to the needs and wants of the body. Jesus will not extol the works of great preachers or teacher, those who endowed schools and built churches, or others whose greatness was obvious here in this life. No, Jesus will make public innumerable acts of private charity that Christians did for Christians who could not repay them.
Third, the works that God will display to all of creation as good and worthy of recognition are done to Christ. Jesus himself says so. He says, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” Jesus binds himself in holy love to his Church, his body. The way we treat the body is the way we treat the head of the body. We serve Christ by serving his Christians. If no one else notices, Jesus does. And he is our Judge.
The goats are not cursed because God wanted to curse them. To his sheep, Jesus says, “Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” To the goats Jesus says, “Depart from me you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” There is an eternal election to salvation as the Bible clearly teaches. But there is no eternal election to damnation as Calvin as his followers falsely teach. Heaven was prepared for the sheep, but hell was prepared for the devil. Those who are cursed to hell forever are not cursed because this was God’s eternal plan for them. They are cursed because they did nothing at all for Christ. Whatever good they did was not good at all because their deeds were not covered by the blood and righteousness of Christ.
This is why we return daily to that holy washing in which our robes were made white in the blood of the Lamb. We live day by day in repentance and faith. We receive what Christ alone can give to us: his pure righteousness that avails before the judgment seat of God. And we give what we have to give. We give ourselves to those who belong to Christ and our gracious Judge accepts our offering as a precious gift to his divine majesty. Amen
Rolf D. Preus