Text: Matthew 25:31-46
Date: Last Sunday of the Church Year + Proper 29 + 11/20/11
On the Last Sunday of the Church Year we are interested in “the bottom line,” the answer to the question, “what’s it all about?” It is another way to ask about our destiny, the End Times, the Last Day, the Day of Judgment.
What’s it all about? It’s all about God. First, God is a creative Being. God is what or Who is behind the earth, the sky, the sun, the planets, the elements, life. But you knew that already, for, “what can be known about God is plain to [you], because God has shown it to [you]. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Rom 1:19-20). So says St. Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So we say, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” But just that fact, that knowledge, gets us into trouble. For, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” What truth? The truth that you “are without excuse. For although [you] knew God, [you] did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Rom. 1:18, 20c-21).
The truth is, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). The standard of that truth is the Ten Words, God’s revealed Law, the Ten Commandments. And what does God say about all those commandments? He says, “I the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Ex 20:5-6). So there appear to be two ways, two choices, two destinations. The one is the way of God’s anger, wrath and punishment of sin. The other is the way of God’s love and it all hinges on the keeping of His commandments.
But since our sin and separation from God is so deeply ingrained, no one can keep God’s Law, God’s commandments perfectly, as God Himself says, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10). So the “two ways” are not two distinct ways, after all, but one way. God’s wrath against sin, our sin, must be satisfied so that we may also love Him and keep His commandments. This is the conundrum that drives us crazy, whether our name be Saul or Paul, Origen, Augustine, Martin Luther or whatever. How to satisfy God’s wrath and yet love Him with all our heart and all our soul and all our strength and all our mind, perfectly.
Therefore, just “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5). Therefore, what’s it all about?
I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day He rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
All of this has become your own possession as a gift. It is the gift of faith implanted in you by God’s own means of grace. The Holy Spirit creates faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the Gospel. Those who hear are commanded to be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Those who are baptized are addressed by the apostle Paul.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:4-10)
So, at Our Lord’s Final Coming:
From thence He will come to judge the living that the dead.
“Thence,” at that time, we hope to hear the blessed words, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” And that hope will not be disappointed.
For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thess 4:13-18).
When our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ answered His disciples’ question, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” (Matt 24:3), He wasn’t speaking to outsiders, to heathens, to the unconverted, the unbaptized. He was speaking, as He is speaking now, to those who have already become members of the kingdom of God, those who have already been judged and counted as righteous by faith (Rom 4:5). So we are to know that the judgment has already happened by repentance and faith and baptism. So the picture of “the Son of Man coming in his glory and all his angels with him sitting on his glorious throne” is not a picture of mystery whose outcome is to be feared as if not yet known. Those words do not suggest God’s judgment awaits a great and mysterious day. These words suggest only what sort of life we ought to live as the redeemed sons and daughters of the kingdom of God while we await the final deliverance to eternal life in the new heavens and earth of God’s wonderful re-creation.
What sort of life? Well, the life of faith and hope. “For in this hope we were saved. [But] hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom 8:24-25). The righteous sheep of God’s care are gathered. The evidence of their righteousness is noted; “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.” But since it is the life of faith the righteous ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you?” We are to know that the living of the life of faith issues in a life of love and good works, most of the time without our really knowing about it or certainly not keeping records or making a big thing, or any thing about it. So is the life of Christian love empowered by faith
in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Christian Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
looking forward to:
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Until then, then, we receive the help we need from
Our Father who art in heaven.
His name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught among us in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it.
His kingdom comes among us now when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit.
His will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.
He gives us our daily bread.
He richly and daily forgives us our trespasses.
He guards and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.
He delivers us from every evil of body and soul.
The life of faith is the life of prayer. And it is real life connected with the living body and blood of our Savior received continually in our common thanksgiving.
What’s it all about? What’s the bottom line? The Bible, the catechism, the hymnal, the liturgy and liturgical year all combine to answer: it’s all about God. It’s all about life. It’s all about God and you. It’s all about God for you, and you for God.