Inheriting the Kingdom
Twenty Sixth Sunday after Trinity| November 16, 2008| Rev. Rolf Preus
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.
Matthew 25: 34
Judgment Day is necessary. The history of the world is filled with injustice. Crimes have been committed with impunity. The guilty have gotten off scot-free. Rapists, murderers, thieves, and criminals of every description have plotted to do evil, they have done it, and they have escaped punishment. Justice requires judgment.
But when we begin to demand justice we had better take a close look at ourselves. Do we want to be judged? Do we want all of our sins exposed for the whole world to see? Do we want God to uncover every wrong we have ever done and to mete out the judgment his justice requires? Surely we would rather receive mercy than judgment.
And we have. Jesus says: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (John 5, 24)
We confess in the Creed that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. Why Jesus? Because he is the Son of God and the Son of Man. Jesus is the Judge of the living and the dead because it is only through faith in Jesus that we pass out of judgment into eternal life. Jesus is the One who has met the demands of divine justice. Jesus faced humanity’s Judgment Day when he suffered vicariously on the cross. He became the sinner so that all sinners might find righteousness in him. He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him. It is good and right that Jesus should be the Judge of the living and the dead. Jesus faced judgment and Jesus delivers from judgment.
But this does not mean there will be no Judgment Day to come. It will come. It will come on the last day. There will be no advance warning. No one knows the day or hour. It will come as a thief in the night. Jesus will return. He will return in his glory. He hid his glory when he was born. He hid his glory under humility during his life of obedience. When he was on the cross you could not see his glory. On the contrary, Isaiah foretold how Jesus would be seen:
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (Isaiah 53)
Today he comes in humility. The preaching of the gospel is done by fallible men, burdened by their own failures and sins. Yet this gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Christ’s body is glorified. Jesus, who has ascended into heaven at the Father’s right hand, now fills heaven and earth. Yet he condescends to come to us with his body and blood concealed under the humble forms of bread and wine. He comes in humility even today.
But on Judgment Day he will be revealed in all his glory. All the holy angels with be with him. Millions upon millions of these wonderful spirit creatures will surround him, reflecting his glory. It will be the most spectacular sight in the history of the world. The God-man come to judge!
All nations will be brought before him. Everyone who has ever lived will be judged. His sheep will be separated from the goats. The sheep belong to him. He wants nothing to do with the goats. The sheep are the righteous. The goats are the wicked. The sheep and the goats live together here on this earth. When the Judge of the world returns he will separate them. We cannot make the separation. He can and he will.
Christ’s sheep are at his right hand and the goats are at his left. The sheep inherit a kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. The goats are thrown into the fire prepared for the devil and his demons. The good deeds of the sheep are magnified for the whole world to see. Likewise, the sins of the goats are shown to the world. What are the good deeds? What are the sins?
The good deeds and the sins that Christ will identify on the last day all pertain to the Fifth Commandment. In the Catechism we memorize these words:
Thou shalt not kill. What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we may not hurt nor harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need.
In this commandment as with the others God commands us to avoid doing what is wrong and to do what is right. To do what is forbidden is a sin of commission. To fail to do what is commanded is a sin of omission. Most people take sins of commission more seriously than sins of omission. But God is not most people.
What is good and what is evil? What is right and what is wrong? And what is most important? What crime is most despicable? What failure most grievous? What kindness most holy? Listen to Jesus. Which sins does he condemn? He says nothing about the mass slaughter of innocent civilians in war. He is silent concerning the untold millions of unborn babies killed in their mothers’ wombs. Of the millions of acts of cruelty and barbarism he says nothing. He makes no mention of the pain caused by adultery, theft, and false witness.
What good deeds does he praise? He says nothing about the bold preaching and faithful confession of the martyrs who died for the sake of the truth. He does not mention the most noble and holy acts known to the world. In fact, neither the good deeds nor the sins that he identifies were even noticed by those who did them. At the front and center of his judgment of the human race he places the singular issue: How did you treat one of the least of these, his brothers?
Did you feed him? Give him something to drink? Did you provide him with hospitality? Did you clothe him? Did you visit him when he was sick and in prison? Did you?
Who are these the least of Christ’s brothers? A brother in the Bible can refer to any fellow Christian and it can also refer specifically to a pastor. In either case, Jesus is quite clear about what he considers to be a good and holy deed worthy of honor. It is to show kindness to and provide for the physical, material needs of his people.
Charity is an old English word meaning love. It is rarely used in our day except maybe as a reference to the help that people provide for the poor. This used to be considered the responsibility of the churches and, indeed, of all Christians. Then when the State decided to take over this responsibility it was not long before charity became entitlement. But they are not the same.
Charity is a voluntary act done in love for the benefit of someone in need. Christian charity is the concrete expression of faith. When St. James teaches that faith without works is dead he points to the same kind of works our Lord mentions to those who inherit eternal life. Jesus 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.
Jesus identifies himself with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. When he joined the human race he did not become a rich and powerful man. He lived in poverty. He once said, “The foxes have holes and the birds have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Jesus chose hunger and thirst as he did battle against the devil as our Champion. He chose loneliness no other man has ever known as he was forsaken by God on the cross. He chose to be shamed as his naked body was lifted up on the cross to suffer and die. He chose sickness as he bore the sicknesses and sorrows of a lost humanity. He chose prison as he required himself to pay the debt of sin all of us helpless debtors owed to God and he paid it right down to the last penny. He chose this misery to deliver us from it. The kingdom that God prepared for the righteous from the foundation of the world was won for them by Jesus Christ who is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
Jesus chose what he chose out of love for us. His suffering has removed ours. His poverty has made us rich. This is the gospel truth. And this gospel will shelter us from the severity of divine judgment when Jesus returns. Jesus the Judge will not see the sins of his Christians. They were washed away by his blood. He will see only the acts of charity they did for him when they showed love to those in need of their love.
Those who do not trust in the love of God in Christ do not have it. They cannot show what they don’t have. They may think they know all about good deeds and what impresses God. They know nothing. What impresses God is the humble sacrifice of his only begotten Son for the salvation of sinners. A genuinely good deed is done only by those who trust in the sacrifice of Jesus for their salvation. They imitate their Savior when they show kindness to their fellow Christians in need. These are genuinely good deeds done for Jesus himself. Jesus himself will display them on the last day.
The righteous are blessed by God the Father. They do not earn their inheritance. It was prepared for them before time began. The righteousness by which they are righteous is the obedience and suffering of Jesus. They receive his righteousness as a gracious gift through faith alone. This is what makes their good deeds good in God’s sight. Every single good deed they did in this life was prepared in eternity for them to do by the God who loved them with an eternal love and prepared his kingdom for them. We Christians know that the love we show to our fellow Christians in need is precious. The Judge of this world says so. And we trust his word. Amen