Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | November 6, 2011

Sermon on Matthew 25:31-46

Jesus Comes to Judge

  • Order of Service: Word and Sacrament (CW, p26)
  • Lessons: Daniel 7:9-10, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Matthew 25:31-46
  • Hymns: 209, 207, 376, 441

In the name of + Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. 

What happens when you don’t keep your New Year’s resolutions?  Nothing, right?  Maybe you get teased a little about that unlost ten pounds, or another failed “I’m gonna exercise every day” plan, or your plan to read all the great classics of literature.  But other than a little gentle ribbing, nothing much happens, right?  No one really judges you, because they’ve given up on just as many resolutions of their own.

When Jesus asks us how our new-life resolutions are going, He’s not teasing.  He’s not going to be gentle because He knows He doesn’t keep resolutions either.  Not Jesus, because JESUS COMES TO JUDGE.

He comes to judge in glory.  As 2011 winds down, we expect and hope for new and different things in 2012.  Scripture tells us to focus on the newest thing that could happen at any moment and makes everything different.  Christ’s return.  When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory (Matthew 25:31).  Jesus repeatedly tells us to “Keep watch!” (Matt. 25:13) for this.

And notice, this coming is different then His Christmas coming and His sacramental coming.  At Christmas and in the Meal He comes in grace, He comes as the Babe and in His Body and Blood to give us forgiveness and peace.  On New World’s Eve, He comes in power and might.  The King comes in all His glory.  The humiliation that ended when Christ rose gloriously from the tomb stands far behind Him.  In His exaltation He blows away the competition.  And He comes to do His final work.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats (Matt. 25:32).  Yes, Jesus, who came in grace as the holy Child, comes in glory as the Judge.

And He judges based on reliable evidence.  Think about New Year’s resolutions.  It’s easy to tell if you’ve kept them.  Are waistlines expanding or contracting?  Are books read or unread?  Are vacations taken or not taken?  Is time spent with family or not?  Are household projects done or still on the “honey-do” list?

And while you might be able to fool me about keeping or not keeping resolutions, you can’t fool the Judge.  Look at Him.  He doesn’t even consult His books.  He simply says, Come, you who are blessed (Matt. 25:34) and Depart, you who are cursed (Matt. 25:41).  Because He sees and knows everything.  But, He did send some to heaven, and surely that’s me, right?  I believe in Jesus.  Well, let’s look at the evidence.  I can’t see your heart, only Jesus can.  But what I can see, Jesus also sees: words and actions.

Jesus sees more than just broken resolutions, doesn’t He?  He sees the way you treat the least of these brothers of mine (Matt. 25:40).  He sees how you treat co-workers so you can move ahead.  He sees the way you stand and watch a neighbor struggle and fail, and then say, “It serves him right.”  He sees you enjoy the suffering and failure of others.  He sees the racist attitudes that permeate your jokes.  He sees how you do things, but make sure everybody knows how inconvenient it was for you and how much you sacrificed.  He sees the inability to part with more than a little of your possessions to ease the suffering of those with nothing or to do the work of the Church.  He sees the way you assume that you’re a sheep and they’re a goat.  What else does He see?  What else is there to see?

And He judges based on this evidence.  Because the evidence of our words and actions confesses what’s really in our heart.  If we’re sheep, our lives show it.  If we’re goats, our lives show it.  And the evidence against us isn’t all that good, is it?  I’m guilty of all of those sins and more.  So are you.  No matter how many good things we’ve done, they can’t erase the bad.  They don’t balance things out.  They don’t get us to heaven.  God didn’t say, “Just do a little more good than bad.”  He said, Be perfect (Matt. 5:48).  Completely, totally, and without fail or exception.  Based on that standard and the evidence of your life, what would you expect to hear?  “Depart from me.  Go to hell.  Forever.”

And while we’re at it, we might as well make it perfectly clear:  Hell is real.  Jesus doesn’t speak in metaphors here. He’s not telling a parable about the psychological effects of depression or describing some mindset.  Hell is a real place.  And God really sends people there.  Jesus describes hell as eternal fire – fire that does not consume, but burns and burns and burns.  He describes hell as eternal punishment – not a purgatory that ends at some point, but punishment that lasts and lasts and lasts and lasts.  I know that most of you believe that most of the time, but it seems to be becoming a minority position in our country and even among some in the Christian Church.  And so it just has to be said.  Because sometimes even our sinful natures want us to minimize the reality of punishment for sin.  “Oh, God wouldn’t ever really do that.”  Yes, He really would.  Because yes, you really sinned.

And yet there are sheep tapped by the Shepherd on Judgment Day going to heaven.  And did you notice, the sheep were surprised by their selection?  Because they know the evidence of their life.  “When did we…when did we…when did we?”  they say.  If I can’t possibly amass the evidence needed to get in, where does all this evidence come from?  As always, it comes from Jesus, God with us.   And as God with us He was God for us.  God lived for us in human flesh, amassing a life’s work of innocence and good that we couldn’t.  Jesus lived under the law for us, holy and righteous all the time, and then died as the perfect sacrifice on the cross – the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18).   He became sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21):  His life for you.

And connected to Jesus, you bear fruit.  If a man remains in me, and I in Him, He will bear fruit (John 15:5), Jesus said.  The faith that the Holy Spirit works in your heart results in fruit produced.  Your faith lives and breathes, your faith works as busy as a bee, working even when you aren’t aware of it.  As it should.  John the Baptist told you, Produce fruit (Luke 3:8).  Not fruit that buys your entrance into heaven, but fruit that gives evidence to the Judge of All Things of who you are:  sheep selected by the Good Shepherd.

Get this straight:  your deeds do not earn you heaven.  You will not show God your life when He asks, “Why should I let you in?”  Christ’s deeds.  Christ’s life.  The old, rugged cross.  The gloriously empty tomb.  That’s what you will show Him.  Because by grace, He gave His life for you, so that He could later say to you, Come, you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world (Matt. 25:34).  That’s His resolution – a judgment of innocence and an eternity of life for you.  And the evidence is in.  He doesn’t break His resolutions!  Amen.

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