Date: Last Sunday, Proper 29A + 11/26/17
Text: Matthew 25:31-46
“And I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” From the season of Advent we have looked forward to and celebrated the Christmas Gift when God sent His Son into our flesh to bear our sin and be our Savior. The days of Lent drew us near to the Cross, and through the Cross to the resurrection of Easter. At Pentecost the doors flew open as with a mighty wind we have heard and examined the Word and the gospel of Christ from every angle. As outlined in the Creed Holy Church has proclaimed from God’s Word how He created all things and who He is that created us. We were told about sin and death and God’s deliverance from it through Jesus Christ. That deliverance comes to each person by the Holy Spirit, the Lord and the giver of life, speaking to us and operating in us through the prophets and apostles, through baptismal water. Now we reach the end of the story which is but the beginning of the eternal life for which we look continually.
From God’s Word, the inspired scriptures, it is taught “that our Lord Jesus Christ will return on the Last Day to judge, to raise all the dead, to give eternal life and eternal joy to those who believe and are elect, but to condemn the ungodly and the devils to hell and eternal punishment.” We also therefore must reject all false teaching such as those who teach that everyone will be saved in the end anyway or those who teach “that before the resurrection of the dead, saints and righteous people alone will possess a secular kingdom and will annihilate all the ungodly.”
Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ own description of the last day of judgement and deliverance in today’s Gospel. The Revelation to St. John says clearly, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen” (Rev 1:7). And what will everyone see? “The Son of Man coming in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne” (Mt 25:31).
But that’s not all! For everyone will be raised from death in their bodies and gathered by the angels before that glorious throne. People ask, “will I recognize my mother, my husband or other relative in heaven?” For one thing we will be surrounded by such a multitude that no one can number. I’d rather believe that our focus will be on the Lord in his glory.
There of course will be two groups. I both wonder and fear which of the two groups will be larger! The thing no one should wonder about or fear, however, is to which group you will belong. Many people view the day of judgment as to be a somehow unknown or waiting for a surprising verdict, I suppose based on the false idea of good works and whether you’ve been “good enough.” It doesn’t seem like anyone wondered, however, this past week about the eternal destiny of the infamous Charles Manson as this last Monday the New York Post was titled, “Evil Dead, Make room, Satan, Charles Manson is finally going to hell.” How is it that we can wonder about ourselves but be so certain about others?
The judgment is now, today. The Lord has already judged how to separate the believer from the unbeliever. The judgment is now, today, depending on whether you have received Christ by faith your place as belonging with His sheep or have rejected Him by unbelief, your place as with the goats on the left.
Even better news will be that the final word of judgment will begin with the sheep, the believers. It will be like when St. Peter described in his first letter, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (2 Peter 4:17). I say this is good news for it means, for one thing, that we will not have to witness the sad scene of the others being condemned and going away into eternal punishment.
The basis of the judgement is faith or unbelief. But someone might say, “then why does Jesus list all these good works, feeding the hungry and thirsty, welcoming the stranger or the poor, or visiting the sick or in prison?” He lists the works not as the entry fee paid but as the evidence of faith. Anyone who believes in Christ and His mercy will reflect that same mercy to others even, most of the time, without thinking about it since the mercy and grace of God becomes so much a part of you by this faith.
Notice that more words and time are used in describing the works of the righteous than in the review of the same issues lacking in the unbeliever! But even here there is one more bit of invitation and good news as Jesus tells us that the eternal fire of hell was “prepared for the devil and his angels” and not for people at all! The salvation of God is for all people, all nations, the world the object of God’s love. No one is “predestined” for hell and punishment as all are invited by God’s grace. Believers are to be so sure of their deliverance, however, that God has reassured us of His salvation according to His eternal foreknowledge and election.
So take comfort today and every day that the Lord is your shepherd and you among His sheep, already. For now He makes you lie down in green pastures, leads you beside still waters and restores your soul with the strength of faith. This is the path of righteousness that leads to eternal glory because it is for his name’s sake, that is His Word and promise to you. Until then this faith gives us the strength to walk through valleys of the shadow of death without fear because God is with you. His Word of Law and Gospel, His rod and His staff, they comfort. He invites us to the table set before us as He gives us the living bread of heaven, His goodness and mercy following all the days of your life. Therefore, today we confess, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come” where “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Ps. 23).