November 19, 2017
On the Last Day the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne and before him all nations will be gathered. And he will separate the people as a shepherd separates sheep and goats. The sheep on his right will enter eternal life. The goats on the left, however, will go away into eternal punishment.
People don't like to think of a final judgment. And oddly enough, many who even believe in heaven don't believe that there is a hell. I'm sure many people come to this opinion by their own wishful thinking, yet even those who claim to be leaders in the church make the same claim! Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Elizabeth Eaton was recently asked in an interview for the Chicago Sun, "Is there a hell?" She answered, "There may be, but I think it's empty."1
Of course, she's wrong. Jesus is right. Jesus tells us clearly that just as there is a heaven, where the righteous will enjoy eternal life, there is a hell, where the cursed will go to be punished eternally. So, for anyone who fears God, life's greatest question is, "How will I be judged righteous, so that I will go into eternal life and not into eternal punishment?"
Scripture clearly answers this question. You are declared righteous by God through faith in Jesus Christ, not by your works. The Holy Spirit caused St. Paul to write, "Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 'Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.'" (Romans 4:4-8)
You are declared righteous, because you are forgiven for Christ's sake. For the sake of Jesus' suffering and death all your sins are forgiven. That means that on Judgment Day none of your sins will remain to accuse you, as the Psalmist says, "As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us." (Psalm 103:12) You don't earn this forgiveness and righteousness through your works, rather it is given to you as a gift through faith alone, as Romans 3:28 states, "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law."
And our Gospel lesson agrees with this teaching. The King will say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." This kingdom where the righteous will enjoy eternal life was prepared for them from the foundation of the world! In other words, before the righteous could do any righteous deeds, God had chosen them as heirs, blessed them, and prepared a kingdom for them. This is exactly what St. Paul says to the Ephesians in chapter 1, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him." (vss. 3-4)
Nevertheless, our Lord Jesus chooses in this lesson on the final judgment to extol good works. The righteous will be praised for their good works. While these works don't earn your salvation, they were prepared beforehand for you to do, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Eph. 2:10) What are these good works, prepared beforehand by God himself, which will be praised by Christ as he sits on his glorious throne? They are works of love. Giving food to the hungry and water to the thirsty. Clothing the naked, visiting those in prison and aiding the sick and lonely. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It's actually pretty simple.
Of course, even non-Christians can do these things. Why then are they not rewarded? A good tree bears good fruit. The fruit of the Christian is good, because the Christian has been washed in the blood of Jesus and received the Holy Spirit through faith. So, even when your works seem insignificant, God counts them as precious, because one of his little children has done them. The works of the unbelievers are not praised by God, because they are produced by bad trees. Scripture states, "Without faith it is impossible to please God." (Hebrews 11:6) Without faith your works will all stand together, the good with the bad. Every so-called good deed you do will be judged by your sinful motive and along with your evil thoughts and desires. Yet through faith in Jesus, God makes your works holy. Your sins have been erased and God glories in the works Christ has done through you.
And to whom do we do these works of love? Now, we are certainly commanded to do good to everyone, even our enemies. Scripture states, "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink." (Proverbs 25:21) Yet, Jesus says to the righteous, "As you did to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me." Who are the least of these his brothers? They are your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus wants you to find him in your fellow Christian. He says the same thing in Matthew 18, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me..." (vs. 5) And in Matthew 10 Jesus says, "Whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward." (vs. 42)
Christ dwells in each of his Christians. So, he wants each of his Christians to love the other. Our Lord says in John 13, "A new command I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (vss. 34-35) If you hate one of your fellow Christians, you hate someone Christ loves. Even more, if you hate one of your fellow Christians, you hate Christ.
It is common for people to say that they love Jesus. It is less common for people to love Christ's Church. People refuse to go to church, because they don't like the people there. Or they show complete disinterest in the people of God. All the while they claim to love Jesus.
What would you husbands do if a guy went up to you and said, "Hey man, I think you're really cool, but your wife is a real so-and-so." Would you have beers and chum around with him? If you did you'd be a total loser and a bad husband. Christ is not a bad husband to his bride. He loves his Church. And if you are going to love Christ, you have to love his Church.
And this is why the King will bring out these works and extols them as the finest works ever done. He extols them as one would a bountiful harvest from his grove of fine trees. These works show love to Christ. We all want to serve Christ. If you don't want to serve Christ, then you aren't a Christian. Well, how do you serve Christ? He's in heaven. We're down here. Jesus tells us to love one another. When you receive your brother and sister in Christ you receive Christ himself.
And through these marvelous works, God does great things both in this life and in the life to come. Just look at the incredible welfare provided to the poor and needy by Christians: orphanages, hospitals, schools, charities and relief programs. Yes, Christians will help even unbelievers, but they have especially taken care of their own. And this glorifies God.
And who builds churches and funds missionaries? Do unbelievers pay for men to preach the gospel, baptize and visit the sick and distressed? No, Christians, who love Christ and his Church do. God worked through Christians to fund missions, build churches, translate Bibles and other Christian books. And we today are the benefit of these acts of love. We have a church building built and paid for by the tithes of those, who came before us. We benefit, even in eternity, by the sweat and blood and sacrifice of Christians, who went before us, who loved Christ's Church and wanted future generations to learn of Jesus. And how many of you here today benefited from a father and mother, who were determined to teach you about Jesus, to bring you to church, to pray with you; who received you in Jesus' name?
Do you love Christ's Church? Do you love your fellow Christian? Do you care if he's hungry or thirsty, whether he needs clothes or just a friend to talk to, or a someone who will pray for him? Do you care about the salvation of your neighbor? Do you teach your children about Jesus? Do you support the preaching of the Gospel, so that future generations can have the inheritance you have in heaven?
My father-in-law was given a t-shirt as a joke, with the sentence on the front, which says, "Jesus is coming. Look busy." But that's not what the message of Jesus is for you today. You can't just look busy for Jesus; give a bunch of money to the church, donate your clothes to charity or give to Swaddling Clothes. That would be like taping apples onto an ash tree. No, to produce good fruit you need to be a good tree. To love Christ's Church, you first need to have faith in Christ.
You'll notice that when Christ credits the righteous for their selfless works of love toward him, the sheep replied, "Lord, when did we see you in need and minister to you?" They were ignorant of their good works. They didn't remember them. That's because they weren't keeping tabs of their own good works. They weren't just keeping busy in hope that Christ would consider them righteous. They loved, because God loved them. (1 John 4:19)
The Christian is rich in good works, but the Christian doesn't trust in good works. He trusts in Christ. St. Paul after listing off his myriad of good works proclaims, "But whatever gain I had, I count as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends of faith." (Philippians 3:7-9)
God finds value in your good works. You find value in Christ. If your good works are lacking, focus on Christ. It is through faith in Christ that Christ works in you and through you. And for those who trust in Christ, their good works will not go unrewarded by God. You have certainty that you will inherit the kingdom of heaven by having certainty in Christ, who died for you. Everyone whose has faith in the forgiveness of sins through Christ will be called blessed by our Father in heaven. Amen.