In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
As the end of the church year approaches our minds begin to turn towards Christmas. The world around us has been reminding us since mid-October that Christmas is coming. Unfortunately, that tends to affect us in the Church. In so many churches, all of the Christmas decorations are up by the first Sunday of Advent. We tend to get ahead of ourselves and pass over important things that Scripture teaches us. Yes, Christmas is coming. In a little over a month we will gather here to celebrate the fact that our God took on our flesh and was born as a baby in Bethlehem. But before we can celebrate the historical facts of His first coming, it is good for us to remember that “this same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). The Day of Judgment is coming and we must be prepared. That is why Jesus tells us the signs of the end and what will take place on the Last Day so we are not found unaware or unprepared.
Today Jesus gives us the specifics of Judgment Day. He will sit on the throne as judge. This is something we confess as a fact in the Creed: “[He] ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead.” When He judges, when He separates the sheep from the goats, what is the criteria? What causes some to inherit the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world and others to go into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels?
If you take this teaching out of the context of Scripture and read it as an independent, stand-alone passage of Scripture, then works save. Those who go to heaven go because they fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, showed hospitality to the stranger, clothed the naked, took care of the sick, and came to the prisoner. Those who go to hell will be tormented in eternal flames because they didn’t do enough of that. Had they just dropped a bit more change in the Salvation Army kettles at Christmas, they might not find themselves in this predicament, right? Wrong! Remember: Scripture interprets Scripture! You can’t read this teaching of Jesus without considering it in light of all Scripture. In his Epistles, St. Paul indirectly unpacks this sheep and goats business indirectly: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). If we’re saved by grace through faith, not works, then what could Jesus possibly mean? Aren’t Jesus and Paul preaching opposite messages? No! Paul told the Romans: “Whatever is not from faith is sin” and the writer to the Hebrews confesses: “Without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Heb. 11:6). Furthermore, James reminds us that “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas 2:17). What Jesus is teaching here is what we sang a few weeks ago: “Works serve the neighbor and supply the proof that faith is living.” In Holy Scripture, works is shorthand for faith. Works only please God when they flow from faith. Things that are good according to God’s Law—things like feeding the hungry and clothing the naked—are sin when done without faith. So, those who are labeled “sheep” and enter the kingdom have faith, and their good works proved it because they flowed from it. Just like bright red apples are proof that the tree is healthy, good works are proof that faith is healthy and alive. A good apple tree can’t help but produce apples; living faith can’t help but do good works.
Furthermore, the sheep are called “blessed of My Father.” The word “blessed” isn’t the same one we heard last week in the Beatitudes. There it’s an adjective, a description. Here, it’s a different word, a verb, an action. Those who inherit the Kingdom have something done to them. The Greek word is eulogeo, the root for our word “eulogy,” literally, “good word.” Those who inherit the Kingdom are spoken well of by the Father. The best thing the Father can say about you is that you are saved, declared righteous for the sake of Jesus Christ. Those who inherit the Kingdom didn’t earn their way in. They knew they never could, hence their protest when Jesus tells them to go into the Kingdom. They knew they didn’t deserve it! But the Kingdom is not inherited based on what you do. You inherit the Kingdom because you were given faith by the Holy Spirit at work in the Word of God. You inherit the Kingdom because through that faith the Holy Spirit gives to you all that Jesus accomplished on your behalf. He gives you forgiveness of sins by Jesus’ death on Calvary. He gives you eternal life by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. He promises you a bodily resurrection with a perfected body on the Last Day because Jesus ascended into heaven in the flesh.
The Church preaches on the signs of the end and what will happen on the Last Day not to scare you, but to give you comfort. You are warned ahead of time that these things are coming so that you will not be caught unaware. And on top of that, you are told that there is no need to worry on the Last Day when Christ comes to judge the quick and the dead. You will be judged as innocent, worthy of the Kingdom, not because of what you have done, but because of what Jesus has done, because you have faith, because all that Jesus said and did for you has been made yours by water and the Word, through Body and Blood. Because all that Jesus did for you is given to you, there is no reason to fear when the trumpet sounds and the heavens and earth are consumed by fire to make way for the new heaven and new earth. The fire purges the old so your everlasting home is revealed.
So when we hear of the end, what will take place on the Last Day, we pray for it to come soon. We know that because we are redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb, the Last Day brings only good things. We eagerly await the day when we will be in the kingdom, the sheep of the Shepherd, hearing His voice. E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come!
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).