The Last Sunday Of The Church Year 


November 22, 2020

Divine Service:  Part 1

Divine Service:  Part 2

Downloadable Link To Printed Sermon:

Sermon Title:  The Final Judgment:  The Declaration Of What Is!” (Matt. 25:31-46)

Hard to believe but today we have reached the end of another worship cycle and another church year.   As per our liturgical tradition, all of our appointed Scripture readings draw our attention to the culmination of all things and our Lord’s return as the King and the Judge of the living and the dead. 

But in what manner does Jesus come?  Does He come in billowing smoke and explosions of fire, thundering forth His verdict or does He come as the buffoon behind the curtain, handing out out merit badges and trophies?  Of those in our world who are at least willing to entertain the possibility that there is some sort of final accountability to a higher power, even to a holy, almighty, deity, most seem to have a Chris Cringle concept of the Lord’s judging; that is, that He comes "checking his list twice to see who was naughty and nice."  The assumption is that He will send naughty people off to hell (if there is one) and the nice people He will take to heaven.  According to their reasoning, your eternity is based upon what you have earned or merited.

Adding further confusion in people’s minds of the final judgment is our own American system of jurisprudence with its courtrooms, defense attorneys, prosecutors, evidence of guilt or innocence, and the declaration of the final verdict. 

Jesus assures us, however, that Judgment Day is not about the rendering of a verdict (krisis) but rather the execution of the sentence (krima). It is not about determining guilt or innocence nor worthiness or unworthiness.  Judgment Day is about the Son of Man, the One who redeemed the guilty from the condemnation of the Law, simply declaring publicly what already is! 

Jesus does not come in the legal robes of American jurisprudence hearing all sides.  He will hear no charges from the prosecution… no arguments from the defense.   He says He will simply sit on His kingly throne and, as all the nations are brought before Him, declare in word an action what already is!  Like a Shepherd culling his herd, He will separate the goats from the sheep; that is; the unrighteous from the righteous, putting the goats on His left and the sheep on His right. 

You mean, you and I will not have opportunity to defend ourselves… present our case that we are deserving to be among the blessed on His right?  You mean, we won’t even be able to hold up our record of service to Him and His church… show Him the wounds we suffered in carrying our cross of discipleship?

That’s exactly what Jesus means!  The real fact of the matter is that the verdict as to who will stand on Christ’s right and who will stand on His left in eternity, is being read right now. The “judging,” the “krisis” if you will, is occurring now.  When Jesus comes again in glory, or when He comes for us individually through death, the verdict will have already been set. Jesus has said, “For God so loved the world,  that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.  He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (Jn 3:16-18). 

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as Jesus’ Body, the church on earth, you and I have been commissioned to proclaim that verdict with every sermon… every baptism… every holy absolution… every proclamation of the Gospel to our neighbors and friends.  We are in a very real sense, the Judge’s advance men, proclaiming His verdict today, long before the final judgment.

This understanding of the judgment should put an end to any sort of human procrastination!  If one thinks he’ll have until the final day to “get right with God,” or even to present his case, he is sadly mistaken. 

At the same time this also ought to put an end to any fear in the believer’s mind and heart as to whether or not God might change His mind on the last day.  He who believes in Christ already has the Divine Judge’s verdict: acquitted... forgiven ...heir of eternal life!  In fact, from Jesus’ own lips we have the assurance that eternal life is already a present reality for those who believe in Him.  All that awaits us is the full manifestation and experience of that life in His glorious presence.

But here is where some often become confused even by our text.  If the actual verdict is being proclaimed now, then why will Jesus on the last day proclaim what appears to be the "good works" of the sheep and the lack of "good works" of the goats?  Does this scenario not imply that at the last day Jesus will, in fact, be presenting a case for the guilt or innocence of each person and be rewarding the sheep and the goats on the basis of their good works or lack thereof?  For Jesus says that He will say to those on His right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For you fed me, gave me to drink, clothed me, took care of me in sickness, and visited me."  Then calling attention to how the others didn't do these things, Jesus will say the complete opposite to those on His left, "depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire... You did not feed me, give me to drink, take care of me when I was sick, clothe me or visit me."

What gives?  Does the Church of Rome have it right after all?   Are we justified before God (coram deo) by works of love begotten by God’s infused grace or a faith formed by our loveWas the Wittenberg champion of sola fide (faith alone) truly a heretic? 

The total ignorance of both those on Jesus’ right and those on His left that they performed or didn’t perform these acts of mercy is clear evidence that Jesus is not drawing attention to some kind of self-justifying acts. The sheep and the goats are totally unaware they did or didn’t do any of these things.  Jesus is simply declaring the evidence of what already is an established fact!

If it walks like a sheep, has wool like a sheep and bleats like a sheep, it’s a sheep!  These sheep didn’t do these things to pull the wool over any ones’ eyes or try to impress anyone, especially God.  Their acts of kindness and service to others are simply evidence to all that they have been born of God’s grace… that they are people trusting in the merits of Christ alone.  For only those of the faith of Christ can love like Christ.  Their love is a fruit of their faith in Him. 

Here Martin Luther was fond of drawing on Jesus’ own analogy of a fruit tree.  The fruit does not make the tree good, but it is a "good tree" that bears good fruit.  Where you see fruit, you know you have a good tree.  All the works of kindness (i.e. “good fruit”) Jesus calls attention to with regard to the sheep is the evidence the tree is good; that is, the person is a believer in the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

For those of us who hope to be on Jesus’ right hand come that judgment day, we take great comfort in what Jesus calls those on His right.  He refers to them as “Blessed of My Father.”  He does not call them, “My Good Workers.” And indeed, they are "blessed," that is, "highly favored."  For Jesus says to them, “Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” 

An inheritance is by its very nature a "gift," not something earned. The inheritance comes to the heirs solely on account of the good will of the Testator of the will.  The death of the testator activates that last will and testament and seals it to the heirs.  Christ's last will and testament was validated when He died.  In His own sacrificial blood sinners like you and me who believe in Him are declared to be His heirs… truly blessed of His Father.

This reality of being blessed heirs of God in Christ, however, remains hidden from the world.  As the apostle writes to the Romans, “All of creation awaits the revealing of the sons of God.”  This hiddenness ends at Christ’s coming.  Our Eternal Judge will on the last day bring to light what is now hidden from the world.   He will reveal before all what is!   Jesus says, "Everyone… who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven." 

Jesus will on that day draw full attention to the fact that God’s love and grace for those who are His had automatically been bearing fruit in them as evidenced by their loving actions toward others.  It will be as if Jesus were saying,  "Look, Everybody!  They are just like their Father!  Chips off the ol' block.  There is no hypocrisy in them.  They have been blessed in their Father's love and they love as they have been loved." 

On the other hand, Jesus will also testify before all just how right God is in not saving those on His left.  The evidence will show that they had not served "the least of these."   Their lack of love for others will prove they had no comprehension of the love of God for them in Christ Jesus.    The lack of fruit will be evidence the tree is bad... that it is dead.  It will signal that they rightly belong in hell, the place of eternal torment that God had prepared for the devil and his demons who also rejected God's love and grace.  Their refusal of grace has left God no choice.  "He who has not believed is judged already."

As you contemplate Judgment Day, how wonderfully hopeful it is for you that it is the "Son of Man" who comes to judge the "quick and the dead."  For He is the One Who is God in your human flesh, your kinsman... your brother.  He, better than anyone else, can and does empathize with you.  He is the One who gave His life in atonement for your sin, and "not only for yours but for the sins of the whole world."  This makes Him the Rock upon which you, the believers in Jesus Christ, are saved, as well as the "capstone" upon which the unbelievers are crushed. 

Thank God your judgment has nothing to do with your "works" or lack thereof!  Instead, your judgment has everything to do with your Incarnate King’s good works on your behalf.  He, in His tremendous compassion for sinners, became the least of the brothers.  He is the One who became hungry and thirsty for you.  When He cried out from His cross, “I Thirst,” that thirst was the very aridness that your sin and mine brought to His very soul.  Yet, in His thirst you are given to drink the Living Waters of eternal life.  You were washed in those life-giving waters at your baptism.  You drink of the elixir of eternal life whenever you are given to drink of the Cup of the LORD in the holy supper. 

Take full comfort in this:  your Judge is the One who was put into chains and imprisoned by the leaders of His own people.  By His bondage He has set you free from your prisons of sin and death.  He was the One stripped of His clothing and suspended naked on a cross before the whole world.  In His lowly shame He cried, “I can count all my bones.  They look, they stare at me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” (Ps. 17,18).  Yet, by the nakedness He suffered, He has clothed you with His righteousness that you might shine like the stars.  He, in His lowliness, gave His very body over to death to feed you the Bread of Life.  By His imprisonment and punishment under the hatred of men and the wrath of God, He has set you free to live under God’s grace.

How, then, can you and I who have tasted this merciful goodness of the Lord, not see Jesus Himself in all others we are given opportunity to serve?  True faith in Jesus Christ will manifest itself in love, not to curry favor with the Almighty, but simply by virtue of its object, the Suffering Servant, the King Himself!  “I tell you the truth,” Jesus says, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.” 

Yes, our worship cycle has brought us once again to renew our vision for the coming of The Judge.  What a blessing to be able to hear in our days of worldly uncertainty and this time of not yet the future certainty and reality of the verdict of what already is:  "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."  Amen!