When Did We See You?
St. Matthew 25:31-46
Pr. Karl Davies
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 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. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.
✠ In Nomine Iesu ✠
When the Lord Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, the angels asked the disciples who were standing there staring up into the sky, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
As we approach the end of the church year, our focus is always on the culmination of Christ’s work of redemption-his second coming in glory and the eternal joy that belongs to the people of God. God alone knows that day and when it will happen. For the people of God, we know that it will come as something good, and not something that we should fear. For this has been planned by our Heavenly Father, and we live by faith in His merciful care even as little children trust loving parents to care for them and nurture them. St. Peter writes in his first epistle: “Though you have not seen him (that is the Lord Jesus), you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with and inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. “
Yet there continues to be a fascination if not obsession with trying to see the Lord. There are millions of people who flock to places where visions were to have happened, where paintings and statues are supposedly weeping, maybe hoping that a heavenly vision will happen for them. Even if it did, then what? Some people are out on a spiritual journey to look for some religious high, some earthly proof of heavenly things, or perhaps and emotional release. For than reason, people often today succumb to manipulation and deliberate theatrics of cultic and sectarian preachers and groups. As to the Lord’s return, some are looking at every item in the news to see if it relates somehow to a timetable to the Lord’s return. I remember that in 1967, when I was a college student, the United Arab Republic attacked Israel in the 7 days war, and some were convinced that Armageddon had started. Today when Hamas is shelling Israel there’s more chatter about. What good does it do? That day will come in God’s own time and by his own authority and as a thief in the night.
But where do we see the Lord and when will we see the Lord? Let’s look at the Gospel today, when the redeemed ask the Lord:
When Did We See You?
The last several Gospel Readings have been from the end of Matthew’s Gospel, in what you might call the first holy week. Now this began on Palm Sunday in chapter 21, and here we are today in Matthew 25. Our Lord is teaching daily in the Temple. He was soon to submit to the judgment of the high priest and then of Pilate . Yet the teaching of our Lord is about his coming again in glory and judging the world that judged him. “When the Son of Man comes in His glory; and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory. All nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”
He welcomes those on the right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance.” Those whom he welcomes into the eternal kingdom, are those who bore the characteristics of discipleship and servanthood. They are those, our Lord says, who ministered to Him in a variety of circumstances. Although the righteous do not know when it was that they ministered to Christ, our Lord answers them: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
I suppose that there is always a risk in taking this text to mean that if you’re nice to everyone you go to heaven, and if you’re nasty you go to hell. The problem with that is that we all end up in hell because we all fall short. But there are two characteristics of the righteous, that is the true believers and disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. The first is that their actions towards their neighbors were affected by the grace that they received from the all-merciful Lord. Here we are reminded that love toward neighbor is not just a feeling, but always shows itself in actions. “God commends his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. We love because He first loved us and gave his Son as the propitiation for our sins.”
The second is that they were not aware of good things that they were done, because they were not done for recognition by either God or man, but were done simply because of their love for God, and because of the indwelling of Christ’s Holy Spirit in their hearts. The true motivation for all Christian discipleship is never for reward or that you might get something out of it, but simply because in Holy Baptism we died with Christ and are risen with Him to a new life that continues on to all eternity. The Scripture says: “Henceforth we do not live unto our selves, but for him who died for us and rose again”
We don’t spend our lives gazing into heaven looking for something to happen. We find Christ and the new life he gave us in the needs of those closest to us, as well as those near and far away.
Those on the left are told that they did not do what the righteous did, and therefore they did not see Christ in their neighbor. They do not receive a welcome, but a “Depart from me.” It is clear that their hearts were not with the Lord, and their lives were self-serving.
These may well have been words of judgment for those Pharisees and scribes that our Lord said had the letter of the law but not the spirit. They were the ones of whom Jesus speaks, quoting the prophet Isaiah, “This people draws near unto me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
While none of us is capable of perfection, it is quite impossible to love God and not also learn compassion and mercy. It does not necessarily mean being totally reckless or indiscriminate in showing kindness and mercy to others. We know from the Bible and from real life that the world is full of scammers and thieves. I have known of kind people who have let strangers into their home for a glass of water and found that they were robbed in the process. Even St. Paul told the freeloaders in Thessalonika, who had quit their jobs and were living off of the donations and the food of other Christians, “If a man will not work, neither shall he eat.” Nor does kindness and generosity necessarily mean giving to each as they desire rather than what they need. Parents do not give their children everything they ask for, nor does God give us, his beloved children everything we ask for, but everything we need. In the same way we are to be good to all, but especially to those in the household of faith.
We also need to recognize Christ in those who live and believe in His Name, who humbly confess their sins, and have learned mercy and compassion from Christ Himself in the power of His Word and Holy Spirit. Our Lord Jesus tells us: “So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” Where Jesus Christ is truly confessed and believed, where the Holy Spirit lives in peoples’ hearts, there are always fruits of faith. Imperfect, to be sure, but good fruit nonetheless. Remember the thief on the cross who turned to Jesus in his last hour. At first he reviled Jesus with the other thief. But when his heart was turned to accept Jesus as His Love and King, he admonished the unbelieving thief and bore witness of his changed heart with his sincere prayer, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And truly in all of us who love the Lord, there are Christ-like qualities, and each have differing gifts, but the Same Holy Spirit that gives them all. We need to see Christ in one another, as God by his grace sees us in Christ.
The righteous answer Christ with a question: “And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers you did it to me.” We might well find this parable of our Lord to be more condemning than comforting. There are times when we see our failures more often than our faithful service to our Lord and King. For our many sins of neglect, for our many sins of omission in not showing the kindness, compassion and goodness of God to all, even to our families and those who are closest to us. For our preoccupation with ourselves and our material concerns, we beg the mercy of Almighty God.
Yet we continue to find that the King who will come to Judge is also the king who paid the price for our sins on Calvary, that we might not have to stand on our own before the judgment of God. St. John tells us; “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin. we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
We find peace in the Word and Sacraments of Christ to deliver us from our sins and weaknesses, that we might have peace with God and know confidently that we shall be welcomed home when that time comes. The same King that said to the repentant thief: “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise,” shall say to us, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father.” And with such a faith, we might well be surprised how our faith has shined through our own sins and weaknesses, and that the light of Christ has shined.
When did we see Christ? In his blessed Word and Sacraments, to be sure. But also in our neighbor and our neighbor’s needs. We see Him in the fruitful discipleship of those who shine with his light. We don’t need to go far to see the Lord now. And as to the future, He will come in his good time, the right time. In the mean time, may we all see Christ where He told us that we should find Him!
✠ Amen ✠