Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year based on Matt. 25:31-46.
Dear sheep who will stand on the right side of Jesus: grace, mercy and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our Gospel reading can scare us to hell if read it wrong. If we think that on Judgment Day Jesus is going to judge us based on what we have done or not done, then we are in trouble. If the Judge of the living and the dead is going to judge us based on how we fed the hungry, gave the thirsty a drink, welcomed strangers, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and imprisoned, we are hopeless. We know very well that we have failed to do these things. And even when we may have outwardly done one of these things we were never completely willing. If Jesus judges us based on what we have done, we will depart from Jesus into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. But that’s not what the text says.
If we read carefully, we will notice that the first thing that Jesus will do on Judgment Day is separate the sheep from the goats. He will separate those blessed by the Father from those that are cursed; the righteous from the unrighteous; the sheep from the goats. That’s the first thing that will happen.
Only after that will the judging of deeds take place. After Jesus has gathered His own sheep on His right and the unbelieving goats on the left, only then will He judge what each has done. What verdict will Jesus pronounce to His sheep? “Then 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.” Jesus will call you blessed by the Father. How can you be blessed by the Father? You cannot earn a blessing. You cannot deserve a blessing. You are blessed because the Judge has pronounced you blessed. You are blessed because Jesus says you are blessed. It is only the goats who do not belong to Jesus that are cursed.
And you don’t have to wait until Judgment Day to find out if you will be pronounced blessed like the sheep or cursed like the goats. You have already been declared blessed. In your Holy Baptism you were declared blessed. In Holy Absolution once again this morning you were declared blessed. In the Lord’s Supper you are declared blessed. By these three things the Holy God declares you holy and blessed. He forgives you all your sins and calls you His own sheep. The perfect holiness that Jesus earned by His life and His death are credited to you.
Now the Judge calls you blessed. He calls you righteous. Not because of what you have done, but because of what Jesus has done for you and given to you. You have been adopted as children of God and thus you will receive the inheritance of the children of God. This inheritance is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus tells you, His sheep, that the kingdom was prepared for you from the foundation of the world. You were not around at the foundation of the world. Thus the kingdom was your inheritance before you did anything good or bad. This inheritance was prepared for you before the foundation of the world. And an inheritance is not something you can earn. It is something that is given to you by your Father.
On Judgment Day, after Jesus separates you to be on His right with His blessed sheep, only then will you be judged on deeds. But even here, you are not judged on your own deeds. God put all of your sins on Jesus, and all of Christ’s good works on you. On Judgment Day, Jesus will say to you, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’” Jesus will tell you, His sheep, that this is what you have done.
Notice the response of the sheep. They don’t lay claim to having done any such thing. They say, “When? When did that ever happen?” They don’t remember any such good works. They remember the sins that they have committed. They remember their shameful thoughts, words, and deeds. But the Judge will not mention any of those things because you are His sheep. Jesus took all your sins on Himself and took your judgment for you. None of your sins will be charged to you. Not a single one. Jesus took them all. You will only get credit for the good works of Jesus.
The cursed goats, on the other hand, are an arrogant and prideful bunch. When the Judge of the living and the dead will tell them that they did not feed the hungry, give the thirsty a drink, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned, they dare to respond, “When? When did we not minister to you?” They ask this because they think they have taken every opportunity to help those in need. They had a ministry to the homeless and imprisoned. They volunteered at the soup kitchen. They supported veterans. But they just don’t get it. It’s not about what they have done or not done. It’s about what Jesus has done for them. But they don’t care about what Jesus has done for them. They only care about what they themselves have done. They think that they’ve done so much that what Jesus has done doesn’t matter. They think that they don’t need Jesus’ forgiveness. Because they reject Christ’s forgiveness, they are goats. They are cursed. They will depart into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For you who are Jesus’ sheep, Judgment Day is also not about what you have done or not done. It is about what Jesus has done for you. Your sins will not be charged to you because they were charged to Jesus. You will not be punished for your sins because Jesus was punished for your sins. Instead, you will be credited with the good works of Jesus. This is because Jesus has already declared you blessed and righteous. He has already declared you to be His holy sheep in your Baptism. He has already declared you to be His holy sheep in Absolution. And He continues to declare you holy through His holy Supper.
Finally, it should be noted that Jesus does not want anyone to end up in the eternal fire of hell. Hell is not for us. Hell was prepared for the devil and his angels. There’s no reason why any man, woman, or child should have to end up there. No matter how many evil deeds you have committed. No matter how long your list of sins. No matter how few good deeds you have done. Because it’s not about what you have done or not done. It’s about what Jesus has done for you. Jesus died for all your sins and took your punishment. Jesus has done every good deed for you and He has covered your evil deeds.
So to you, His sheep, you can have no doubt that Jesus will say to you on Judgment Day, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.