“The Lord will come to judge all people. The day is coming soon.”
Christopher R. Gillespie
January 31st, 2006
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
The Lord will come to judge all people. The day is coming soon.
What will the end be like? Noâ€¦ not the end of this sermon or the end of this service, or the end of this dayâ€¦ What will the end of all time be like? Today’s Gospel reading from St. Matthew paints as clear a picture as the best Da Vinci or Michelangelo. We see the Son of Man in all his glory, accompanied by the angels and sitting on his throne. He will be shining like the sun, whiter than the finest linen. And he won’t be alone. Surrounding him is a company of angels beyond number. The word “all” can’t describe the quantity sufficiently.
Then there is the great white throne of judgment. Not just any “man chair” but a throne. Not the white porcelain we know but something immense in size and scope.
Now if all the angels surrounding him didn’t make it a partyâ€¦ surely all the nations standing before him would. This planet currently has a population of 6.6 billion people. Add to that all the people of time and we’ve got quite the event.
Speaking of event, it has begun. The Son of Man announces that he intends to do the very thing he spoke of through his Prophets. “I myself will judge between lean and the fat sheep.” Now his judgment is more stern as ever. Today, the final day for creation as we know it â€¦ he will judge between the sheep and the goats. Through time those sheep of the prophet Ezekiel have degraded further in value.. They are now goatsâ€¦
With his mighty hand the Son of Man separates themâ€¦ the sheep from the goatsâ€¦ The fate for the goats isn’t so hotâ€¦ waitâ€¦ it’s quite hot! “Away from me cursed ones into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and all his angels.” The goats are cast to burn eternally in hell, the place prepared after creation. The sheep remain, welcomed into the Lord’s house, guided by the hand of the shepherd. They are led to the intended conclusion from the beginning.
The real challenge of this scene is clear. How did all those who were created in the image of the Lamb of God diverge into two populations?â€¦ those on his right who had the likeness of Godâ€¦ and those on his left who are a confused bunch of goats. These goats just don’t understandâ€¦ “When did we see you hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, or in prison and did not take care of you?” A mighty fine question! As far as they are concerned, Jesus lived 2000 years ago. His presence has long since vanished from the face of this earth. They remember all those times they sympathized with the Scriptures, reading of Jesus in these situations. They felt his pain. They had the heart to help. But alasâ€¦ time has passed and Jesus doesn’t walk among us. He isn’t here, there, or anywhere, they sayâ€¦
So we turn to the sheep to try to get to the bottom of the situation. They say to the Son of Man, “Lord when did we see you hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked sick or in prison?” To paraphrase: What did we do right that our friends the goats didn’t? We too never saw you amongst us, in need, looking for food or water, house or home, shelter, or clothing? Lord, we don’t get it either!
The Son of Man in his glory answers, “the extent that you did it to one of my brothers, even the littlest of them, you did it to me.” “Woah, hold onâ€¦ Who were your brothers? The sheep askâ€¦ Who were these least of them or little ones? Did we miss something? We were supposed to do something?”
The Son of Man replies: “I have told you, I will search for my sheep and seek them out. I will rescue them from all places where they have been scatteredâ€¦ I will seek the lost and I will bring back the strayedâ€¦ I will bind up the injured and will strengthen the weakâ€¦” This is not your own doing.
The sheep still don’t get itâ€¦ “Wait a minute, you came for the weak not the strong? For the injured not the healthy? the lost?”
The Son of Man replies ” For by Adam all died, fallen asleep in their sin. You were weak, hungry, thirsty, tired, in prison. Your sin made you just as the goats. You were a corrupted reflection of me and would not pass this final judgment of my Father.”
The sheep respond ” How then are we then sheep? Why do we remain here in your glory and not the goats who met their demise?”
The Son of Man says “You received me and believed. You received my grace. You did not deny my Spirit working within you. Your lives reflected the presence of my Spirit. Now you have joined me in paradise!”
We can sympathize with both the sheep and goats. The goats are simple minded. They miss the point. They’ve read about Jesus, his life, death, and even resurrection. They know who he was, where and when he lived. They can visualize the bloody scene of the cross. They accept the resurrection as a done deal. They have lots of facts and knowledge. Yet they will receive eternal damnation, burning on the spits of hell. They do not believe.
Then there are the sheepâ€¦ They search their life, unable to find that which separates them from the goats. How am I different? Where did they mess up? They are oblivious and clueless as to why they were allowed to live. Yet, they receive the glory of God, sit at his right hand, and are judged righteous.
What the sheep don’t realize is that not only do they know about Jesus but â€¦they, unlike the goatsâ€¦ know that he still walks this earth. They see him every Sunday.
Christ instituted the apostolic ministry for this purpose. He intended to fulfill his promise “Lo, I am with you always until the very end of the age.” This was not some absent, off-the-cuff comment while chatting with his bro’s. In his commission, he promised his apostles that he would be with them. Did they get it? Do you get it?
When we heard the Gospel read today, were we hearing words about Jesus?â€¦ or were we hearing the very words of Jesus? Every time we crack open the Easter egg of Scripture we hear the very words of God. These aren’t some vague historic dialogueâ€¦ outlining the roller coaster life of the ancient Jewish worldâ€¦ They aren’t simply prophetic literary devices fulfilled in clever Gospel writingâ€¦ They aren’t just some story about a long haired, sandal wearing hippie who came to bring good tidings of great joyâ€¦
Noâ€¦ the scriptures don’t just tell us about Godâ€¦ they are the very image of God. We see God in creationâ€¦ We see him in his wrathâ€¦ we see him in judgmentâ€¦ we see him in deliveranceâ€¦ we see him in mercyâ€¦ we see him in salvationâ€¦ we see him!
The redemption God brings us by his Son comes through other meansâ€¦ In our original state, we are dead to sin, unable to work our salvationâ€¦ we seek refuge in our abilities and thus find no shelter from God’s wrathâ€¦ Yet he provides for us a saviorâ€¦ his intent from the beginning from the foundation of the worldâ€¦ who by his death on the cross has won for us righteousness before God.
We receive this new sheep’s clothing of righteousness in our baptism. Unlike the John whose baptism was a ritual washing to call to repentanceâ€¦ in the baptism of the Trinity we drown the old Adamâ€¦ We are born again not into a life of Adam but the life of Christâ€¦ In this baptism we continually see His hand at work todayâ€¦
The pivot point of all time was the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on the tree. He took on all sin, death, and the power of Satanâ€¦ and rose victoriousâ€¦ He was on a treeâ€¦ a goat slaughtered in our steadâ€¦ his blood shed for our bloodâ€¦ We experience this visible presence of Christ today than in the sacrament of Holy Communion. “Take and eat, this BREAD IS MY BODYâ€¦” “Take and drink THIS BLOOD IS MY BLOOD SHED FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS.” Jesus is present in our lives, sharing himself to us through his means. We, unlike the sheep and the goats have the answer. We know where he isâ€¦ we know how to share in his giftsâ€¦
We’ve got it figured outâ€¦ Jesus is here in his means so as long as we take them as instructed all is well. â€¦Not so fastâ€¦ The Son of Man in our Gospel does not speak of wordsâ€¦ or waterâ€¦ or bread and wineâ€¦ He speaks of brothers… Surely he is mistaken? Jesus is present in brothers? What brothers might he be speaking of?
The answer is not far. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus refers to his disciples as brothers. They are the very people that deliver Him to the people. Jesus instructed his twelve when he sent them out to “provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts. Nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.” Jesus tells his disciples that the people will respond with kindness, support, and generosity at their messageâ€¦ “the kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” These apostles are acting in his steadâ€¦ doing his continual workâ€¦ providing HIM to us as HE promisedâ€¦
Looking at the apostles after Pentecost we see their life take the tenor of the Gospel lessonâ€¦ They go hungry, naked, homeless, sick, and are in prisonâ€¦ This fact demonstrates our failure.. Do we support those who deliver the Gospel? When confronted with the Gospel do we push the message and messenger away with sin? Do we separate ourselves from God and his messengers? We deny the Gospel of Jesus by denying his apostolic messengers.
But we also see God working through those who have received his Gospel and have faithâ€¦ act out in kindness and love to these needy messengers of the Lordâ€¦ these “suffering servants.” You too receive this work by your faith. Christ works in you creating faith and fruits of this faith. You sustain his visible church on earth. Like a tree he has planted you, waters you, and sustains you. As a result you yield his fruit. This is accomplished for God by your various occupations and vocationsâ€¦ By these you receive a gift which you share with othersâ€¦
Today in response to the gift of grace granted in his Sonâ€¦ which you receive in the Word and Sacraments by his messengers, you are compelled to live a life worthy of a Christian in thanksgiving. You are blessed with a gift beyond measure. You who have been given much will in turn give much to others. You are not oblivious like the sheep and the goatsâ€¦ You know the gift that you have received. You know how Christ would have you live. You also know that by your own power perfection in this life is impossibleâ€¦ “For whoever keeps the whole law, yet stumbles on one point, he has become guilty of it all.” You know that you cannot do these thingsâ€¦ Yet you can! Only by the grace of God. It is his action.
And so we pray that he would sanctify us and use us to support his ministry on this earth. When the judgment comes, the faith given by God will have clothed us in righteousness and we will appear as sheep before the Son of Manâ€¦ He will judge us as righteousâ€¦ and will invite us to sit at his right hand in the midst of his Glory and with the glorious company of the angels proclaiming “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth!”
Eternal God, merciful Father,
You have appointed Your Son as Judge of the living and the dead.
Enable us to wait for the day of His return
With our eyes fixed on the kingdom
Prepared for Your own from the foundation of the world;
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord,
Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
One God, now and forever. Amen