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Last Sunday of the Church Year

Matthew 25:31–46

James T. Batchelor

Last Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 29, series A
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Nov 23, 2014 

In the Lords Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray, Thy Kingdom come. We pray this so often that we dont even think about how weird it is to pray in this way.  We are asking for the reign of God the Father to come to us and we dont really give it a lot of thought.  How often do you give thanks to God that you can pray for His reign to come among us as a comforting thing and not as a cause of terror?

Consider Adam and Eves response when God came to them. [Genesis 3:810] They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, Where are you? 10 And he said, I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself. Adam and Eve were terrified of God because they had sinned.  They feared His judgment.  After all, the Psalmist reminds us, [Psalm 5:4] You are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The coming of Gods kingdom was the last thing they wanted.

When we examine ourselves in light of the Ten Commandments, we learn that we sin daily and deserve punishment here on this earth and forever in hell.  It seems as though we should be terrified to pray the words, Thy Kingdom come. Why did Jesus teach us to pray in such a way if the coming of the Kingdom of God means the coming of judgment?

Gods actions in the Bible teaches that there is another way that He can come a way that brings comfort and confidence a way that removes fear and despair.

God came to Jacob in a dream.  He came down a ladder and promised, [Genesis 28:15] Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. He appeared to Moses in the burning bush and said, [Exodus 3:12] But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain. Later on, Moses comforted the people of Israel with these words, [Deuteronomy 31:8] It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. God spoke words of comfort to His people through the Prophet Ezekiel, [Ezekiel 37:27] My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

So it seems that the coming of the Kingdom of God can cause two completely different reactions.  The first reaction is one of terror.  I am a wretched sinner and deserve Gods righteous, eternal wrath.  The second reaction is one of comfort, reassurance, and confidence.  God is with me.  Now I am safe.

We see these two reactions in todays Gospel.  The Gospels for these past few Sundays have been working their way through Jesus teaching concerning the Last Day.  There was the Parable of the Five Wise and Five Foolish Virgins. Then there was the Parable of the Talents. Today, we heard about sheep and goats.  In each case, there are those who rejoice that the reign of God has come, and there are those who despair at its coming.  What is the difference?

Our Lord Jesus Christ has an ability that we do not have.  He can look into the human heart.  It is as He spoke through His prophet Jeremiah, [Jeremiah 17:10] I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds. In todays Gospel Jesus teaches that it is as easy for Him to judge the heart as it is for a shepherd to tell the difference between a sheep and a goat.  In fact, todays Gospel teaches us that Jesus knows you better than you know yourself.

Jesus will hand out two verdicts on the Last Day.  In todays Gospel, Jesus said that He would place some people to His right and others to His left.  Since Jesus already knows the heart, there is no questioning, no testimony, no presenting of evidence.  There is only the verdict and the sentence.

The first verdict is for those on His right.  The King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Those on the right enter the Judges home with a verdict of forgiven. 

Notice a few things about the judges statement:

First of all, note that the blessing flows from the Father.  It is not something that these people work up for themselves.

Second of all, note that this is an inheritance.  You dont work for an inheritance.  You receive an inheritance because someone put you in the will.  You cannot earn an inheritance.

Finally, note that God prepared this outcome before any of us were even born.  The kingdom is prepared from the foundation of the world.  This tells us that this eternal kingdom was Gods will for these people from the very beginning.

The second verdict is for those on His left.  Then he will say to those on his left, Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Those on the left receive the verdict of guilty.  The sentence is eternal fire.

In this instance the source of the curse remains un-named.  The cursed condition is simply a characteristic of these people.

Secondly, notice that this condemnation was not prepared for people.  It was prepared for the devil and his angels.  People end up in eternal fire only because they reject Gods salvation.  If they are arrogant enough to judge God and find Him offensive, then the eternal fire is the only alternative.  There is no other place to spend eternity.

As the judge welcomes those on His right into eternal bliss, he recalls the work that His salvation has produced in their lives.  Now here is the important point of the story.  The sheep dont remember any of it.  The list of the works is a total surprise to the sheep.  Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you? They havent got a clue.

On the other hand, those on the left are angry that Jesus gives a similar list of things that they have NOT done.  They have kept a careful record of their good works and they know for a fact that Jesus did NOT present Himself for their help at any time.  Even as they stand before the judge of all things, they maintain that they have lived a life of good works and high moral character.

The point is that those who inherit the eternal kingdom do not look to their own good works for their salvation.  Instead, the Holy Spirit finds dead souls and brings them to life through the proclamation of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins.  The Holy Spirit keeps those souls alive through that same proclamation of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins.  The proclamation of our crucified and risen Lord and savior leads the Christian, carries the Christian, and follows the Christian.  The Holy Spirit causes us to relax in Christ.

Good works are the result of the salvation that we already have.  The Holy Spirit inspired the Prophet Isaiah to write, [Isaiah 64:6] We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.  We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. So even our best most righteous deeds are still sinful before God, but Jesus Christ redeemed our deeds with His suffering and death on the cross.  It is Christ on the cross who makes our deeds righteous.  Those who have had their good deeds sanctified by Jesus, focus on Jesus and not on their works.  Therefore, they notice their good works about as much as they notice that their fingernails are growing.

Jesus warned us and said, [Matthew 6:12] Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.  Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. They have received their reward. That is one of the saddest statements in the Sermon on the Mount.  They have traded away their eternal joy for the temporary praise of man.

You are pleasing to God, not because of what you do or dont do.  You are pleasing to God because of what Jesus did for you.  Jesus lived a life that met Gods perfect standard.  He died a death that paid our sin debt in full.  He rose from the dead as a sign that our Father in Heaven accepted His work for us.  Your salvation has been paid in full.  Recline in the Lord.

As you recline in the Lord, you will be among those who can pray, Thy kingdom come, and look forward to the day.  You can take comfort in the promise of Jesus, [Matthew 28:20b] Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. You can look forward in eager expectation to the day when you hear [Revelation 21:3] a loud voice from the throne saying, Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

While you wait for that day, you will produce good works.  These works do you absolutely no good, but they are precious to your neighbor.  God will accomplish His will in this world through your works.  Confess your sins even those righteous deeds that are actually polluted garments.  Receive the forgiveness of Jesus.  Live for your neighbor.  Dont waste time trying to measure your good works.  You dont need them.  You are heir to the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  Rejoice that God wants to dwell with you.  Amen

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