Trinity 26 (2nd Last Sunday)
St. Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Peter 3:2-14
16 Nov. 2014
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christ, having been lifted up from the earth on the holy cross as a ransom and sacrifice for the sins of humanity, will, on the Last Day, draw all of humanity to Himself. This final Judgment is a fundamental article of Christianity, confessed in all three of the Ecumenical creeds: the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, and ascended to the right hand of the Father will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.
Having made atonement for the world, having paid the wages of sin by His own death, and having crushed the skull of our accuser, the Lord Jesus Christ, risen and alive in His Body, as a Man, and ascended to the Father, will come with His angels to separate the goats from the sheep, the unbelievers and scoffers from His children. There is wrath, but that is not what drives Him. What drives Him is mercy. He comes for the relief of His children. We are eager for that day for it will mean that the suffering and persecution that we now endure in these last days has come to an end.
It has not yet. None of us is free of sorrow and pain. No one escapes this life unscathed. We’ve all been hurt, betrayed, slandered. We all know regret and shame. Some of that comes from our sins and some of it comes from the sins of others, but it doesn’t really matter where it comes from. The mother whose child was taken by a drunk driver hurts no less than the mother who neglected her child and finds him dead in the pond. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. No one should dare judge another when it comes to pride, negligence, or perversion. If none of your children drowned in the pond it was because God was merciful not because you were diligent. Repent. Do not dare to judge others based upon their sorrows and sufferings.
The Lord chastises us all. He even punishes us, in part, with temporal consequences for our sins. He does not do this in cruelty or for vengeance. He does this in mercy, to keeps us close to Himself through suffering. For a time, for the sake of the elect, not wishing that any should perish, the Lord even allows scoffers, lawless men who flaunt their immorality, and persecutors to drive and harass us. Some of our sorrows are less than we deserve. Some we don’t deserve at all. But it does not matter. It is all for our good. For the Lord works all things together, even evil things, even death, for the good of those who love Him. The demons drive wicked men who drive us the way dogs drive sheep with nips and barks into the pen. Persecution and mocking and suffering drive the children of God into His arms through repentance and sorrow and teach them that this is not their home.
But that is not the real point of the Last Judgment. The real point of the Last Judgment is that sorrow, the time of repentance, the nipping and barking, the sickness and betrayal, the loneliness and heartache, the suffering and death are all coming to an end.
The Lord will come like a thief in the night, unexpectedly and suddenly. The heavens will pass away with a roar. The heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved. The earth and all its works will be exposed and then destroyed. Then, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, the Lord will gather all the living and the dead, all the souls from the time of Adam until that time, all the aborted babies and those who have died in a war or at sea, all the pagans and wicked men of the past and present, all the faithful who did not love their lives unto death and all the people that time and history have forgot, for the Lord does not forget. Every man, woman, and child will be arraigned before the Lord’s tribunal and judged according to the works done in his body.
That simple reality should lead us to repent. We should fear God’s wrath. We should be ever mindful of the end of the end of all things, vigilant and stirred up to holiness of living. For there will be a judgment. And we will not escape. And not everyone goes to heaven.
That judgment will be a great surprise. The goats will protest. They will proudly stand by what they’ve done. They will dare the Lord to find a time when they failed to provide Him with food, drink, or clothing and in their pride and obstinate unbelief they will be sent to the place prepared for the devil and his angels. The place was not prepared for them, for the Lord in His mercy placed Enmity between them and Satan, but they chose Satan anyway, and they will go to be with their lord. It was him that they fed and nourished, mistakenly thinking that he was God, and sadly they will think it even then and reap the horrid rewards of their pride.
And you, the children of God, will also be surprised. I do not mean that you do not know whether you are a sheep or a goat, whether you belong to God or not. You belong to God. You are Baptized. He has made atonement for all people and that includes you. You should expect deliverance and relief because God has promised it and God does not lie. You will be brought to the place prepared for you, not for the holy angels, but for you, not for people without sin or people who didn’t doubt God or people who were perfect mothers, but for you, precisely for you.
So the surprise isn’t whether or not you are one of the sheep, you are. The surprise is that you’ve done more good works than you’ve known and they’ve been more good than you’ve known and they’ve been to the Lord more than you’ve known. You do not remember giving food or drink or clothing to the Lord. You do not remember visiting Him when He was sick or in prison. That is because you know that whatever you’ve done, you’ve done imperfectly. So you changed the baby’s diaper and you picked him up when he cried and you fed him, but sometimes you waited longer than you should have, or you resented it, or you’ve tried to get someone else to do it for you. Even when you’ve sort of done things in an outward way, your heart has not been pure. Everything you’ve done, even that which you’ve done in faith, has been tainted by your sin. Nothing has been perfect. Here is the surprise: your works were and are perfect, they were sanctified by grace, they were better than you knew and also more plentiful than you knew and through you God has provided for His little ones. Because Jesus has exchanged His life for yours, you get credit for keeping the Law even though you have sinned. His perfect works both cleanse your imperfect works and also stand in place of your sins. The praise that He heaps upon you is not exaggerated or mistaken.
In our legal system, we would call the last judgment “sentencing day.” The judgment had long ago been pronounced. When the Christ stood in the Jordan and the Spirit descended upon Him in visible form and the Father spoke from heaven: “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased. Listen to Him.” That is the judgment. It confirmed proclamation of John: Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
He was found without moral blemish, but He was infected with sin at His Baptism. There He, who knew no sin, took on our sins. That is how He was anointed as the Messiah: with dirty water, with our sins. Thus did the Spirit immediately cast Him into the wilderness and hand Him over to our Accuser and His payment and punishment for our sins began in earnest. He endured that temptation without sin. He never gave up hope or faith in the Father. He was faithful even as He was forsaken. Those sins took Him ultimately to the cross. There Our Passover Lamb, even Jesus Christ Himself, was slain in order to give us His Blood so that the angel of death would pass over us and so that there would be no one left to accuse us. He was pronounced guilty, forsaken by the Father for our sins, and cursed on the Tree from which comes every blessing that we enjoy and which He has promised. That is what it means to be the Messiah, the One who is pleasing to the Father. To be the Messiah is to be judged guilty of our sins by the Father and sent to Hell on the cross as our Substitute.
And then there is another judgment. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead shows that He has been vindicated by the Father. He has defeated Satan on our behalf, has suffered as an innocent victim and met all the demands of justice in Himself. His Words and Promises are true. The payment has been made in full. When Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished,” it was and ever will be. The Resurrection is the judgment that it is over, that the Father has accepted the payment.
Then at what we call the Last Judgment, the judgment of the Father that Jesus is our sin and we are His righteousness and that death is defeated and cannot have us, is brought to fulfillment. The sentence begins as the inheritance of the Son, already declared to be ours by faith and promised in Holy Baptism, is bestowed upon His children: “Come, ye blessed of My Father. Inherit the Kingdom.” That word, “inherit” is purest Gospel. He is saying that you are His true children and He is your true Father. You can’t earn an inheritance. You are born into it. You have been born from above in the waters of Holy Baptism and you are rightly called the sons of God no matter what the scoffers say. The Lord has prepared His Kingdom for you from the foundation of the world. This was always His plan. At long last, you will be relieved of your burdens, freed from your persecutors, and your sins will fall off of you like frost in the morning sun.
“Think, good Jesus, my salvation Caused Thy wondrous incarnation!” Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.