The Twenty Sixth Sunday after Trinity
November 13, 2016
“Jesus and the Least of His Brothers”
"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." Matthew 25:31-46
When mockers of Christianity poke fun of the Christian religion, their preferred target is Judgment Day. We’re all familiar with the image of the slightly crazed religious fanatic holding up a sign warning that the end is near. It’s supposed to be a joke. It’s supposed to be funny. To call on people to repent of their sins before facing God’s judgment is considered a sign of religious extremism and mental instability.
But when people stop and soberly consider the topic of repentance and judgment, they see that it stands to reason that God should judge the human race and that his standard of judgment should be grounded in justice. There is so much injustice in this world that the promise of true justice strikes a chord in our hearts. Finally! Justice will be done. Good will be rewarded and evil will be punished.
But what if we are on the wrong side of justice? What if a just judgment would go against us? Well, let’s not think about that. Better to change the subject and think about something more positive. And so the mind evades the issue, relying on bad jokes to dismiss it from consideration. But in a world created by a just God, there is nothing more certain, nothing more inevitable than Judgment Day.
“From thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.” That’s what the church confesses. Christ will return. He will not return to establish a thousand year kingdom on this earth. He will return to judge. Jesus says in John 5:28-29,
Judgment Day is coming. It will come at a time when no one expects it, but when it comes everyone will know it has arrived. Jesus describes that day in our text:
The shepherd will divide his sheep from the goats. Judgment means separation. The sheep are blessed. The goats are cursed. The sheep are children of God. The goats are followers of the devil. The sheep have done right. The goats have done wrong. The sheep are righteous. The goats are evil. The sheep inherit the kingdom that God prepared for them before the world began. The goats are sent into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Sheep are not goats. Goats are not sheep. Jesus knows the difference and he is the One who will separate them on the last day.
There is a difference between right and wrong, truth and error. This should be obvious, but it is not. The spirit of democracy has taken over religion. The people choose. They choose what is true and right. They don’t rely on divinely revealed truth. They manufacture their own gods and they make their own rules. One thing they know for sure is that nobody has the right to judge anybody.
But God does. He made us. God has the right to judge and he has given this right to his Son. The Son has the right to judge because he is the One who has redeemed the world. He obeyed God’s law as the representative of the whole human race. He suffered and died for the sin of the world. He obeyed actively by doing what we were required to do and he obeyed passively by suffering what we deserved to suffer. He took the blame for our sins and gave us the credit for his obedience. He is the Savior of sinners. It is the Savior who has the right to judge.
And what is the basis of the judgment? Jesus says,
The Bible teaches us that we are justified through faith alone, not by our works. God reckons us to be righteous for the sake of the obedience and suffering of his Son. We receive this divine verdict of forgiveness through faith in Jesus. Only God can see our faith. On Judgment Day, God will reveal the faith of the faithful by displaying how their faith was expressed. We who receive mercy from God show the mercy we have received to one another. When we do, we are showing mercy to Jesus.
Jesus makes it crystal clear. What we do for the least of his brothers we do for him. The least of Jesus’ brothers are your fellow Christians. They are not lionized by the world. They are passed by and forgotten. You show them kindness and they cannot pay you back. Showing mercy to Christians in need is showing mercy to Christ himself. He who redeemed you, who rescued you from death, who purchased a place for you where there is no sorrow or pain or death, gives you the opportunity to serve him by serving your fellow Christians in need.
Jesus saw what was coming when he spoke these words. When he talked about the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned he wasn’t setting down a social welfare policy for the church or the state. He was talking about how Christians would be treated by this world. They are marginalized. They are persecuted. They are despised, forgotten, and ignored. His brothers and sisters are his very body of which he is the head. Do you love Jesus? Love the least of his brothers.
Not long after Jesus spoke these words he was crucified. Now we Christians know that that was our salvation. On the cross he offered up his life to the demands of justice and he suffered the punishment for our sins. He took away the sin of the world. But we know that because God has told us that this is what his suffering means. That’s not what you see when you look at his suffering alone. You see a man despised by the world whose goodness was punished by savagery and hate. This is what awaits those who claim Jesus as their head. Christians have suffered persecution throughout the years. In the early years of the New Testament church, practicing the Christian religion was illegal. Then, after Constantine when Christianity was legalized, Christians suffered persecution for teaching the pure gospel. Today in the West where Christianity once thrived, Christians are being required to bow before anti-Christian rules that sanctify sexual perversion and thereby deny our God who made us male and female in his image. If you stand on God’s word you are labeled a bigot and a hater. You can’t do business. You can’t get a job. You can’t be promoted. But, instead of hating those who hate us Christians, Christ calls on us to stand with and show mercy to Christians who are suffering on account of being the least of Jesus’ brothers.
There is no greater privilege in this life than to serve Christ. We serve Christ by serving his Christians. How we treat the lowliest Christians is how we treat Christ. He who is exalted in heaven at the right hand of the Father, who will return in glory accompanied by millions of angels, whose judgment will determine the eternal destiny of every human being who has ever lived, teaches us that he is to be found in the little ones who have no voice, no power, no advocate, and no status in this world.
Those who prefer the praise of men and worship at the altar of manmade righteousness have a different standard of what constitutes a good and praiseworthy deed. They do what they do to be praised by the world. They advertise their good deeds to those whose opinions are heard by the crowds. Religion is for them a spectator sport, as they follow the trends, repeat the slogans, and live in conformity to what is in style. To them Jesus will say that they did nothing for the least of his brothers. They have no part of Christ for they had no love for his brothers and sisters. If you do not love Christians you do not love Christ.
The kingdom of glory into which Christ’s church will enter on the last day was prepared for them from eternity. So much for salvation by works! God saved his children before they had done anything good or bad. Salvation is by grace alone.
The eternal fire was not prepared for the goats, but for the devil and his angels. While the sheep are chosen for glory from eternity, there is no election to damnation. They are lost, not because God decreed they should be, but because they chose damnation over salvation.
Eternal life in heaven will never end. Eternal punishment in hell will never end. Judgment Day is coming. It will come when no one expects it. We prepare for it by finding our spiritual refuge in the wounds of our suffering Savior who was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned on the cross where he bore the sin of the world. Finding refuge in him we serve those who bear his name and he accepts our service even as he accepts us.
Rolf D. Preus