Second to Last Sunday of the Church Year, 2018

Second to Last Sunday of the Church Year, 2018
Matthew 25:31-46
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

I’m sure you’re familiar with the caricature of the slightly crazed religious fanatic holding up a sign warning that the end is near.

The caricature is supposed to be a joke.

We call ourselves and the world to repent of sin before facing God’s judgment. The world sees and hears and considers Christians extreme and unstable.

But God’s judgment—His justice—should strike a chord with anyone who sees injustice in the world.

God promises the good, the sheep, the Kingdom.

And, God promises the evil, the goats, eternal fire.

Everyone wants this in some way.

But no one wants to be on the wrong side of that justice.

What if a just and right judgment came down against us? Let’s not think about that. Change the subject. Be positive. Evades the issue, tell bad jokes and dismiss it from consideration. That’s what we do or try to do.

But in a world created by a just God, there’s nothing more certain, more inevitable than Judgment Day.

“From thence he will come to judge the quick and the dead.” That’s what the church confesses. Christ will return. He won’t return to establish a thousand year kingdom on this earth, as the millennialists always boast, He’ll return to judge. Jesus says in John chapter five:

“Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29).

Judgment Day is coming.

It’ll come when no one expects it, but when it comes everyone will know it’s arrived.

Jesus describes that day in this way:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 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” (Matthew 25:31-32).

Judgment—which is coming—means separation.

The sheep are blessed, and the goats are cursed.

The sheep are children of God, and the goats are followers of the devil. Ultimately, it is an either/or.

The sheep have done right. The goats have done wrong. The sheep are righteous. The goats are evil. The sheep inherit the kingdom God prepared for them before the world began. The goats are sent into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Sheep are not goats. Goats are not sheep.

Jesus knows the difference, and He’s the One who’ll separate them on the Last Day.

Now, I’m going to say something that is, at the same time, obvious and unheard of.

There’s a difference between right and wrong.

There’s a difference between truth and error.

The spirit of democracy has taken over religion.

The people choose.

They choose what is true. They choose what’s right. They don’t rely on divinely revealed truth.

They manufacture their own gods. They make their own rules, because one thing we all know for sure is that nobody has the right to judge anybody. 

But God does. He made us. So He has the right to judge and He’s given this right to his Son.

The Son has the right to judge because He’s the One who’s redeemed the world. He obeyed God’s law as the representative of the whole human race. He suffered and died for the sin of the world. He obeyed actively by doing what we were required to do, and he obeyed passively by suffering what we deserved to suffer.

He took the blame for our sins and gave us the credit for his obedience.

He is the Savior of sinners, and it’s the Savior who has the right to judge.

And as it is with any judgment, you need to know the basis on which that judgment is made.

Very clearly, Jesus says, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:35-36).

The Bible teaches that we’re justified through faith alone—not by our works.

God reckons us righteous for the sake of the obedience and suffering of Jesus.

We receive this divine verdict of forgiveness through faith in Jesus.

Now, only God can see our faith (our heart, as some say), but on Judgment Day, God will reveal the faith of the faithful by displaying how their faith was expressed.

We who receive mercy from God show the mercy we have received to one another. When we do, we’re showing mercy to Jesus.

Jesus is clear. What we do for the least of His brothers, we do for Him. The least of Jesus’ brothers are your fellow Christians. They’re not worshipped like celebrities by the world. They’re passed by and forgotten.

You show them kindness and they can’t pay you back.

Showing mercy to Christians in need is showing mercy to Christ himself.

Regarding salvation, all we can do is say, “Thank you.”

But, as Jesus shows us, there are limitless ways to say “Thank you” to Christ by loving your neighbor.

He who redeemed you, who rescued you from death, who purchased a place for you where there is no sorrow or pain or death, gives you the opportunity to serve Him by serving those who are in need.

After the Fall into sin, this is the human condition. There are the hungry and thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned.

But Jesus wasn’t setting down a welfare policy for the church or the state.

He’s showing us how and who we are to love.

In simple terms: Do you love Jesus? Then, love the least of humanity.

The gospel lesson today is from Matthew chapter twenty-five. In chapter twenty-six, Jesus is arrested. And in chapter twenty-seven, He’s crucified.

It makes sense, then, that He, today, warned of the coming judgment—His judgment was coming, too.

Now we Christians know that that was our salvation. On the Cross, Jesus offered up His life to the demands of justice, and He suffered the punishment for our sins.

The Lamb of God took away the sin of the world.

But we know that only because God has told us that this is what the suffering of Jesus means.

No one naturally looks at suffering and sees peace.

Suffering is not peace.

In the Crucifixion of Jesus, you see a man despised by the world, a man whose goodness was punished by savagery and hate.

The hatred of the world waits those who claim Jesus as Lord and Christ and head.

Today, if you stand on God’s word you’re labeled a bigot, an idiot, one behind the times, or worse—judgmental. If you stand on God’s Word, sometimes, that practically means you can’t do business, or you can’t get a job, or you won’t be promoted.

But see in the midst of the hatred of the world God’s great love for you.

While we hated Him—He sent Jesus.

So instead of hating those who hate us, Christ calls on us to stand with and show mercy to those who suffer on account of Christ.

There is no higher responsibility—there is no greater privilege—in this life than to serve Christ.

But this is a simple thing.

We serve Christ by serving those the world hates.

How we treat the lowliest is how we treat Christ.

He who is exalted in heaven at the right hand of the Father, who will return in glory accompanied by a multitude of angels, whose judgment will reveal the eternal peace or terror of every human being who has ever lived, Jesus teaches us that He is to be found in the little ones who have no voice, no power, no advocate, no status in this world.

Those who prefer the praise of men and worship at the altar of manmade righteousness have a different standard of what constitutes a good and praiseworthy deed.

They do what they do to be praised by the world.

They advertise their good deeds to those whose opinions are heard by the crowds.

They know the right hashtags and the right time of day to “tweet”.

Religion is for them a spectator sport, as they follow the trends, repeat the slogans, and live in conformity to what’s in style. To them, Jesus will say that they did nothing for the least of His brothers.

They have no part of Christ, for they had no love for His brothers and sisters.

The kingdom of glory into which Christ’s church will enter on the Last Day was prepared for them from eternity. God saved His children before they’d done anything good or bad.

So much for “salvation by works”!

Salvation is by grace alone.

The eternal fire was prepared for the devil and his angels—not the goats. While sheep are chosen for glory from eternity, there is no election to damnation. They’re lost, not because God decreed they should be, but because they chose damnation over salvation.

Eternal life in heaven will never end.

Eternal punishment in hell will never end.

Judgment Day is coming.

We prepare for it by taking refuge in the wounds of Jesus, our Savior, who was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned on the cross where He bore the sin of the world.

Our refuge being found in Him, we serve those who bear His name and He accepts our service even as He accepts us.

This is not a caricature of what is true.

This is most certainly true.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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