Sermon for the Second Last Sunday of the Church Year, AD 2021

Matthew 25:31-46

When Jesus, the Son of Man, returns in glory at the end of time there will be a final judgment of all the nations. The dead will rise and everyone who has ever lived will be separated as sheep from the goats. Those sheep on his right will go to eternal life, and those goats on his left will be sent to eternal punishment. For both, the judgment is eternal, there is no appeal and no parole. There is no taking back the life and no end to the punishment. Therefore, it is critically important that you find yourself on the right hand with the sheep in that judgment. As with many things, to pass the judgment is all about who you know.

The final judgment is ultimately defined by allegiance to Jesus. He is already the king. There is nothing you can do to change that one way or another. Do your actions show that you believe this? Or do you reject his reign by your thought and action? These are the crucial questions. Thankfully Jesus explains throughout the gospel what allegiance to him looks like.

Allegiance is not just lip service. Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Even the very people who are judged in our gospel reading can call Jesus “Lord.” Mere words are not the issue, nor are works done in the name of Jesus. Even those who say they prophesy, cast out demons, and do other mighty works in the name of Jesus are not necessarily his ally. Therefore you should beware of those false teachers who use the name of Jesus, but do not do the Father’s will. These are often those preachers who say doctrine isn’t important, let’s just love people. Yet what is doctrine? It is the words given by Jesus which tell us the will of His Father. This may even come out in your own conversation as “God understands” or “I don’t believe God would do that.” Do you know this, has God said it, or are you putting God’s name on your own feelings? It is vitally important that you be sure. Hear the words of God and do them, establish your faith on the rock, and you will not be found on the shifting sand of popular opinion.

How is the word of God the rock? What is that Word? Jesus has come, died for your sins, risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven. There he reigns now at the right hand of God. One day he will return in glory with his angels to rule over all – that is the time of the judgment. For now, he rules in a hidden way, seen only to faith. His kingdom spreads by His Word, which He has sent preachers to preach to all people. Not only the word that Jesus Christ reigns, but that in his death he has made peace between the whole world and God. Even though your sins, and the sins of the world, are many, great, and grievous, He has taken the punishment for them all. To be brought into His kingdom is to trust in this fact.

To believe one must hear it, this is why Jesus considers it so important how those who preach the gospel are treated. “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42). These little ones who Jesus has sent are the disciples and those who follow the disciples, those who preach the gospel. To receive them is to receive Christ. Christ reigns and has made peace with God for all. He sends His messengers in his name to proclaim this. To receive these ambassadors is to receive the one who sent them. Such a person will receive the reward of that king. Yet to refuse the ambassador is to refuse his boss. It is a declaration of hostilities.

All hostilities have ended. The wrath of God is over. Christ has ended it in his death. Like the servant brought before the king who owed more than he could ever pay, you have been pardoned and no debt is held against you. Therefore do not reject this by your actions. One way was mentioned earlier. To refuse those who preach the gospel. To turn them away and give no hospitality or help to them. Another way was seen in the servant who was forgiven so much. Rather than forgive his fellow-servant, he held his debt against him and punished him. What will the king do to such people? This is the topic of the judgment of the sheep and the goats.

The judgment is not a courtroom trial. There is no prosecution or defense. The verdict was already made when the people were separated into right and left, sheep and goats. Less like a trial, and more like a liturgy, the words of all have already been determined.

The sheep are those who hear the voice of their shepherd. They followed and trusted the words of the one whom Christ sent, and therefore their lives were lived in a way which trusted that Jesus had made peace between them and God. Therefore, they would of course feed, clothe, welcome, and visit the messengers of their Lord. When they say, “when did we do this, Lord?” they are saying “of course we did this for your brothers. You are the Lord, and the reality is you have won everything for us by your death and resurrection. We gave what we could but it could never compare to what you did.”

Yet the goats did not trust in Christ. They lived as if God had done nothing for them. They refused to believe those who told them the gospel or give them any comfort. They had their own idea of what Jesus’ kingdom meant, and it meant they find the best place for themselves. So they rejected the peace which Jesus had made. So when Jesus says “you did not do this to me,” they respond “when did we see you like this?” They are saying “we see you are the Lord now, but you only sent men to us. How could we know the father and mother you gave us, the neighbor you sent to us, the preacher we heard for years, was your ambassador?”

The response is final and eternal – “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” The fire was not meant for you, but if you will side with my enemies you will share their fate. You showed no mercy to my little ones, you showed no mercy to me, there will be no mercy to you, and no end of punishment.

This is not how it is supposed to be! The fire is not prepared for mankind, but for the devil and his angels. It is the fate of those who refuse the peace of Christ, but this does not have to be. For the sheep go to a place that has been prepared for them from the foundation of the world. In Christ’s death and resurrection, he made peace with God and established a place, an inheritance for you with God in eternal life. You are brought into this inheritance in your baptism. As you will sing during the distribution “I am baptized into Christ, I’m a child of paradise!”  Christ has not only made peace between God and the world, but He has brought you into His kingdom as an heir.

For those who hear, remember those who are sent to you who preach the gospel are God’s ambassador’s. They are informing you of your inheritance. If you stand to inherit so much, and have no need to impress God, what do you have to lose in love and mercy toward them? Whether that person is your parent, friend, neighbor, pastor, or many of the above, our Lord tells you that caring for them cares for Him.

For those who are that parent, neighbor, or friend – do not fear backlash, anger or attacks on account of the gospel. Know you are a child and ambassador of Christ. Even if you tell others of Jesus and are rejected, He takes that to heart. He will remember you in what you suffer. He will vindicate his servants on the final day.

That final day is the most critical there will ever be. It is a day full of awe, but there is no need to fear it. For Christ has made peace with God in his death and resurrection, and the inheritance is prepared for you. Hold to that promise by receiving it wherever it is preached. Amen.

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