Twenty Sixth Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf Preus| Matthew 25:31-46| November 10 & 14, 2010
“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
The Bible cannot contradict itself because it is God’s word and God cannot contradict himself. There appear to be contradictions in the Bible, but these contradictions are not real.
When the Bible teaches justification by faith alone and a final judgment according to works these two teachings appear to contradict each other. On the one hand, the Bible teaches that we are justified by God through faith alone, apart from doing any good works. God pronounces us to be righteous, not because of any righteous deeds we have done or will do, but solely on account of the righteousness of Christ that God reckons to us and that we receive by faith alone. On the other hand, the Bible teaches that on the last day all people will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, be required to give an account, and be judged according to what they have done.
The Bible teaches justification through faith alone.
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. (Romans 3:28)
Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness. (Romans 4:4-5)
And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work. (Romans 11:6)
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
The Bible teaches that all people will be judged on the last day according to their works.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10).
The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. (John 5:28-29)
As the Bible teaches, so the Church also teaches. We teach justification by faith alone.
We teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4. (Augsburg Confession, Article IV)
We teach a judgment according to works:
At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give an account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they who have done evil, into everlasting fire. (Athanasian Creed)
Those who deny the biblical teaching that we are justified by faith alone will often appeal to a judgment according to works in support of that denial. They argue that it is not enough that we trust in Christ alone for our salvation because doing good works is also necessary for salvation. After all, are we not judged according to our works? They point to the words of Jesus in support of their denial of justification by faith alone. They point out that Jesus said he will separate all nations from one another as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats and after inviting the sheep into his kingdom he will say:
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.
But there is no contradiction between the teaching of justification by faith alone and the teaching of a judgment according to our works. What does Jesus say to the sheep before he publicly commends them for what they did for the least of his brothers? He says:
Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
Come, you who my Father blessed. They were blessed. They did not earn anything at all. They were blessed by Christ’s Father, their Father. And what did they receive? Wages for works rendered? By no means! They received an inheritance. They received what is given to children of God, not to those working for pay. And when was this inheritance prepared for them? It was prepared for them before the world began. They were guaranteed eternal life by God’s grace alone before they were born, before they could do any good thing to earn it or deserve it or work for it.
Everyone will face judgment on the last day. There is no question about that. Everyone will stand before the divine Judge and receive the verdict. The judgment rendered will be a judgment according to the works that were done, whether good or bad. There will be two kinds of people standing before Christ to give an account: the sheep and the goats, the righteous and the unrighteous. They will be separated from one another in a very public fashion. The separation will be made public, but the separation had already occurred here on earth before Christ’s return. The separation that will take place on Judgment Day will make clear what is now hidden from our sight.
You see, the Kingdom of God is here and it is now and Jesus is King. Those who inherit the kingdom on the last day are the same ones who entered into it here in this life. Here in this life the kingdom is hidden from sight. On Judgment Day the kingdom will be revealed to the whole world. Those who enter into it are the righteous. How did they become righteous? They received the forgiveness of all their sins. How did they receive the forgiveness of all their sins? They received it through faith in Jesus. Jesus is the One who takes sin away. Jesus is the One who bore all sins of all sinners on the cross. Jesus is the One who fulfilled all righteousness by replacing our disobedience with his obedience. Jesus is the One who said, “Take eat, take drink, this is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you for the remission of sins.”
What does it mean to be forgiven of sins and to be justified by God for Christ’s sake? It means that God sees no sins in you. He doesn’t regard them. He doesn’t consider them. They are gone. They are removed from you as far as the East is from the West. Those who have Christ by faith have everything that Christ has to give. They are forgiven of all their sins. They are sheep of the Good Shepherd, at peace with God, delivered from every evil. They are eternally blessed by God the Father.
On Judgment Day when they stand to give an account there will be no sins for which they must answer because their sins were washed away by Christ’s blood. When God forgives he forgets. The righteous are those who wear the robe of Christ’s righteousness, for there is no other righteousness that can stand before God. On Judgment Day God will see only the good that the saints did. There will be no sin to see. God will not impute sin to them. He already imputed their sin to Jesus. So what is left? No sin is left. Only the good deeds that they did in Jesus’ name are left.
What were those good deeds? The good deeds were every act of mercy done to Christ. The Christians did not see Christ but they saw the least of his brothers. They saw their fellow Christians in need. Their love for Jesus was expressed in their love for his Church and every individual Christian. Every act of mercy they showed to their fellow Christians was rendered to Christ himself. It was precious. The Christians who did it did not think of what they were doing. They weren’t working for reward. They were simply doing what Christians do. They were being merciful even as their Father is merciful. And as a father treasures the gift of his child though it has little intrinsic worth, so God treasures the gifts of his children and graciously rewards them on the last day.
The works of the unrighteous are nothing but sin. Since they don’t have Jesus they don’t have the forgiveness of sins and without the forgiveness of sins sin permeates everything they do. Their best and holiest works are sinful because they are not purified by the blood of the Lamb. Sinners cannot sanctify themselves. Washing with dirt won’t made you clean. They ignore Christ’s brothers because they think nothing of Christ. Their deeds will condemn them and God will justly condemn them.
Some claim that there is no place of eternal punishment. The last verse of our text shows them wrong. The punishment suffered by the goats is as eternal as is the life enjoyed by the sheep.
Those who refuse God’s grace in Christ will have no prayer on the Day of Judgment. The time of salvation is now. The time for blessing is now. Today Jesus gives us full and free forgiveness of sins. Sheltered by his grace we have nothing to fear from Judgment Day. And as the day approaches, we find joy in showing our love to Jesus by showing our love to the least of his brothers. Amen.