Trinity 26 (2014)
Delivered By
Pr. Mark D. Lovett
Delivered On
November 16, 2014
Central Passage
Matthew 25:31-46

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

There are a few things you should take note of in the Gospel reading. First of all, all nations are gathered to the Son of Man. For when He is lifted up He will draw all men to Himself. This should dispel a few misunderstandings we might have about death and hell and the eternal kingdom. No one goes to hell until after this final judgment. And no one inherits the kingdom until this final judgment. That’s not to say that those who die in the Lord don’t go to heaven. They do. If by “heaven” we mean Paradise, the resting place of those who wait for the Lord. For the end is not yet, the Bible teaches, but at the end the dead shall rise and we who are alive will meet with them and we will be forever with the Lord. So those who now rest from their labors, who are asleep in Christ, they are waiting as we are waiting: waiting for the coming of the Son of Man to judge both the living and the dead.

It’s also not to say that no one dies and goes to hell; if by “hell” we mean that place of torment. For those who reject the Christ and His Father, when they die, go to the place of torment. Not punishment, per se, but rather consequence. They rejected the Son of Man so they do not enter into His rest. But they, too, like the saints, are waiting for the Son of Man to come and judge the living and the dead. They, too, shall be raised from the dead. Only, they’re waiting to challenge the Son of Man. They’re waiting to have their day in court when they will produce evidence and counter evidence that they don’t deserve what they are getting. So they will say to the King, “When did we not do these good thing?” And they will think to produce a list of all the seeming good things they’ve done.

So right now everyone from Adam to us is waiting for the Final Judgment.

The trouble with the damned, the reason they are damned is that they always put pride in what they do. The damned not only think that others will benefit from their benevolence and good works, they truly believe that they themselves will benefit from their good deeds. They embody the belief that jolly ‘ol St. Jesus is making a list and checking it twice to find out who’s been naughty or nice. But they won’t – we won’t – benefit from anything we’ve done or not done. No one who has obeyed the speed limit all the time but is caught only that one time says to the judge, “But your honor, I’ve obeyed the law 100 times and only failed this once!” To that the honorable judge would say, “And it is for that once that you are here and for that once that you are fined!” Whoever breaks the law at one point is guilty of all of it.

So we need to be saved by grace alone. We don’t boast in ourselves. In fact, we despair of ourselves as St. Paul did, calling our body a body of death for all the evil we have done. Thank God for the grace of God!

At the same time, it seems like this Judgment Day stuff contradicts grace alone, doesn’t it. I mean, from Sunday school on up we learn that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. But then comes the Final Judgment wherein the Lord separates the sheep from the goats and does not say, “Come, blessed of my Father and inherit the kingdom prepared for you; for you believed in me.” Instead He says, “for I was naked and you clothed me; hungry and you fed me; thirsty and you gave me drink; sick and in prison and you visited me.” And no amount of jerry-rigging can get around that the preposition “for” is causational. Inherit the kingdom because you fed me, clothed me, visited me, and so forth.

How many times have you heard someone say that we’re saved by grace so we might as well enjoy life? Meaning, of course, that they’re going to participate in something that either does or should bother their conscience. How many times have you said it to yourself just before you slept with someone not your spouse – being single means you don’t have a spouse, so anyone you sleep with is not your spouse – or used your money to buy something you can’t afford because you’ve already bought the advertising lie that you “deserve” whatever it is you want. You don’t need a litany from me of your wicked and perverse works – though it is often my job to remind you of them – you know them just as I know mine. The worst among us are even now trying to justify our wicked works or – even worse yet – trying to measure their wicked deeds against their good deeds, thinking that the scales will tip in favor of the good. We even turn feeling bad about our wickedness into a good work, thinking that we’ll be praised because we recognize how wicked we are!

But nothing we will or won’t do is going to tip the scales in our favor. No one is good, not one. No one does what is right. We’re all goats.

Only, we’re not. Some are sheep.

And here’s the kicker. The sheep were sheep before they got to the final judgment. There won’t be any surprises for the sheep on the Judgment Day for they know on whom they have hoped. They listen to the voice of their Good Shepherd and follow Him. The sheep, in fact, are excited and relieved to finally appear before the Lord. Not because of their many good works but because they have been baptized; promised an inheritance, an eternal kingdom. Now has come the time when they will receive the promise of the Father.

But the Lord Jesus isn’t content to have a bunch of dirty sheep in His Father’s kingdom. So He sanctifies even our works. The only surprise for the sheep will be that the King praises them at all for their works. For no one among us has done a pure work. No one except the One who is among us, who has gathered us here by His Spirit to lavish upon us the blessings of His Father and comfort us with the promise of life and salvation. He has done pure works. He was obedient even unto death, always doing the will of the Father.

The mercy of God isn’t simply that He saves sinners from hell and damnation. The mercy and grace of God is that He credits sinners with righteousness and counts them as holy for the sake of the Holy One. The mercy of God is that He has joined you to the Perfect One whose perfection has swallowed up your imperfection so that you are perfect with Him. The mercy of God is that the One with whom He is well-pleased has hidden you inside Himself so that He is also well-pleased with you.

The mercy of God is that He has prepared for you a kingdom.

+ In Nomine Iesu +