+ In Nomine Jesu +
A man was walking on the beach and found a magic lamp. When he rubbed the lamp, a genie appeared and told him that he would be granted one wish. Apparently, this genie was forced to cut back on his allotment of wishes due to tough economic times. At any rate, the man was given one wish. Immediately he asked for a copy of the newspaper with the stock market report that would be published one year from that day. Suddenly the paper was in his hands and the genie disappeared. With greedy eyes the man scanned the columns of the paper and identified stocks in which he could invest and make millions and millions of dollars. Pleased with himself and his shrewd plan, he turned the page of the paper only to find his own obituary.
Obviously the story is fictitious, but, it does serve a purpose as we consider this morning's Gospel reading from Matthew 25. The passage is about Jesus' coming in judgment, the time when He will separate the sheep from the goats, believers from unbelievers. Scripture says elsewhere that Jesus will come "like a thief in the night." In other words, the day and the hour are unknown, consequently, we are warned that, "Today is the appointed day. Today is the day of salvation."
When the time comes, Jesus will descend from heaven with "the shout of the archangel and with the trumpet of God." Delight will fill the hearts of the faithful, while others will be racked with fear. The ancients depicted Jesus return in iconic images of the Pantokrator - the Ruler of All. You'll find such an image on the cover of the bulletin this morning. "The grave expression on His face is full of sweetness; it is a compassionate Lord, come to take on himself the Sins of the world. Christ is clothed in dark blue, but his tunic is represented as a glorious vestment woven of gold. The abundant hair falls in locks on the left shoulder of Christ. The right hand is folded in the gesture of benediction. It inclines toward the Gospel, which Christ offers to the faithful. The Bible in His hand is open at the passage from the Gospel of Matthew (xi, 28,30): "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you the rest. . . for my yoke is easy"
"Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left."
Having separated the sheep from the goats Jesus then recounts all of the good done by the sheep and all of the evil done by the goats. As He says, the sheep fed the hungry, they gave a drink to the thirsty and they clothed the naked. Conversely, the goats did none of the same. Consequently, He says to them "depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."
While it is clear that there is a definite separation between the sheep and the goats, the holy and the unholy, sin causes the sheep to sometimes fear that they are "bad" sheep, and the goats to assume that they are "good" goats. In other words, the sheep recognize all of the bad things they've done in life and they sometimes fear that those things will be brought up on the Day of Judgment. The goats, on the other hand, assume that every act of theirs with a seeming sense of virtue will be counted to their credit on the Day of Judgment.
In reality, if you look closely at the text from Matthew 25 you'll find that Jesus commends the sheep, that is, He has only good to say to them and about them, nothing contrary. On the other hand, He condemns the goats, having nothing good to say to them or about them.
Somewhere in our DNA we have had imprinted there the notion that God will judge the world on the last day with sort of a two column ledger system. One column for all the good we've done and another column for all the bad. Deep within our psyche is this notion that as long as the good column is longer than the bad we'll be O.K. Consequently it's sort of natural for us to think in terms of "bad" sheep and "good" goats.
Our perception, however, couldn't be farther from the truth. Again, Scripture tells us exactly what the Day of Judgment will be like. Jesus, the Pantokrator, the Ruler of All, will separate the sheep from the goats solely on the basis of faith. Goats are goats because they, in life, denied the grace and mercy of God in Christ. Consequently, they stand before God, naked, as it were, in the unfettered corruption of their flesh. Even every supposed good they had done in life is counted as sin against them because they were so proud as to assume that they could impress God. While they hoped there would be that two sided ledger of good and bad, there is only the bad. Everything is known about their life and everything is wrong. They had trusted in themselves and they are found, most decidedly, wanting.
Conversely, sheep are sheep by virtue of their trust in and their dependence on Christ who, throughout life, called them by name and spoke to them through His Word. They are sheep because they hear Him say, "I have called you by name. You are mine." They are sheep because they hear Him say, "I have loved you unto death, even death on a cross." They are sheep because they hear Him say, "Take and drink, this is My blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." They are sheep because there are few words more meaningful to them than God's Word of absolution. "I forgive you all of your sins!" They are sheep because they have washed in the blood of God's Lamb.
When the sheep, when you, stand before God on the Day of Judgment He will commend you for the good done throughout your life because He fills your life with good things. Your life, in other words, is sanctified, made holy through the faith that you have in Christ. Whether you are feeding the hungry, working a job and providing for your family, loving your spouse and your children, or, simply being a friend to someone else, He says, "WELL DONE." It's all good because it is done through faith in Jesus Christ.
But, Pastor, we say, what about my sins!? What about all those times when I didn't feed the hungry, when I didn't extend a hand of compassion to someone who needed it? What about those times, I'm ashamed to say, when I was angry with God, or, when I failed to thank Him for all of His goodness to me? What about those times when I took His grace for granted, or, when I confessed my sin, and committed the same sin yet again?
There is an old legend about a man by the name of Martin of Tours. As it turns out Martin Luther was named after him. As the legend goes, Martin was at home one day when there came a knock at his door. He answered it, and there was a man standing there who claimed to be Jesus. Martin suspected that the man might actually be the devil, the angel of darkness, who had come to tempt him. Martin decided that he would put the man to the test. So, he asked him, what sin is it that most often grips me that I have had to confess to you over and over again? Without hesitation the man at the door said, "I don't remember!" "I don't remember!" At which time, Martin welcomed His Lord into his home.
On the Day of Judgment Jesus will not remember your sins. That whole side of the supposed ledger will have been washed away in the crimson flow of His blood. More than that, you will be astonished by all of the good that He brought forth from your life.
"See, the Lamb, so long expected,
Comes with pardon down from heaven.
Let us haste, with tears of sorrow,
One and all, to be forgiven."
"So, when next He comes in glory
And the world is wrapped in fear,
He will shield us with His mercy
And with words of love draw near."
(LSB #345 v. 3&4)
In Jesus' name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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