God’s Visitation to Come

Sermon for Advent Midweek Service – God’s Visitation to Come (based on Exodus 4:27-31, Romans 8:26-39, Luke 1:57-79)

Dear people who will be visited by God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We have heard of God’s visitation of old and His visitation now, and how His visitation of unbelievers is Law and judgment, but how His visitation of believers is Gospel and forgiveness. Today, we look to the future. We look to how God will visit us in the time yet to come.

Judgment Day will be the final visitation of God. After Judgment Day, you will either be forever with God and in His presence, or you will be cast out of His presence, never to be visited by Him again.

As with God’s visitation of old and His visitation now, everything depends entirely on faith. Just as God visited the unbelieving Egyptians with plague and death, and visits unbelievers who commune at His altar with judgment, so He will also finally visit all unbelievers with eternal judgment. And, just as God visited His people of Israel and saved them from slavery, and visits His people at His altar with forgiveness, so He will also finally visit all believers with eternal life.

We heard in our Epistle lesson, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.” (Rom. 8:28-30)

This passage beautifully brings together the past, the present, and the future of God’s children. Because in the past God predestined you and chose you for Himself, and because He has called you to faith and declares you justified in the present, you know that He will glorify you and grant you eternal life in the future. Put in another way, because God has graciously visited you in the past and graciously visits you in the present, you know He will graciously visit you on the Last Day.

Notice how Scripture speaks of your glorification in the past tense. It doesn’t say, “those whom He justified He will also glorify.” It says, “those whom He justified He also glorified.” Because it is God’s promise to you, it can be stated so certainly like it has already taken place, as if you have already been raised from the dead and given a glorified, resurrected body.

This is what Zechariah’s prophecy also does. At the time Zechariah uttered the prophecy, Jesus was not yet born. Mary was three months pregnant with Jesus. But what does Zechariah say? He says, filled with the Holy Spirit, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.” When God makes a promise to do something, it is as good as done. Because God had promised to send a Saviour, even though He hadn’t yet died for our sins on the cross to save us and was not yet even born, Zechariah says that He has redeemed His people. He has saved us from the hand of our enemies and delivered us from the hand of all who hate us.

That is how you should view God’s promises to you – that they are as certain as if they had already been fulfilled. Even though at this time you remain in this world of illness and suffering you have been delivered from your enemy of death. Even though you still struggle with sin, you have been saved from sin. Even though you are still tempted by the devil, you have been delivered from his clutches.

And you have God’s promise that for those who love God all things work together for good. Your eternal good in heaven is what God wants for you. To make sure that you will make it there, God has visited you, claimed you as His own, and given you faith. He visits you in His Word and the Sacrament of the Altar to keep and preserve you in the faith.

Out of His love for you and His desire for you to be with Him in eternity, God may also visit you with discipline to turn you back if you have wandered into sin. Scripture says, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by Him. For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives. It is for discipline you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb. 12:5-11)

God visits His children with discipline now so that He will not visit us with punishment on Judgment Day. Under discipline, it may seem as though we are forsaken by God, but that is precisely when He is loving and caring for us the most. Through hardship, the Holy Spirit quenches sinful desires and kills the flesh, to prepare us for eternal life.

Do not become bitter at God when He disciplines you. Rather, humble yourself and repent. Confess your sins and receive absolution. Even when God is visiting you with discipline, He also visits you with forgiveness. Even when God disciplines you He wants you to remember His promises to you.

All things work together for your good. God has visited you and redeemed you. He continues to visit you with discipline and forgiveness so that when He visits you on the Last Day you will enter into the eternal joys of heaven with a glorified body. God’s promises to you are as certain as if they had already been fulfilled.

Therefore we do not fear the return of Christ. Rather, we pray: O Saviour, rend the heavens wide; Come down, come down with mighty stride; Unlock the gates, the doors break down; Unbar the way to heaven’s crown (LSB 355 st. 1). Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

God’s Word is Eternal

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent based on Luke 21:25-36

Dear believers who cling to the Word of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” This heaven and earth are not eternal. They will not last. But God’s Word is eternal. It will last.

Therefore, you have a choice of clinging to that which will pass away, or to that which will not pass away. You can cling to the mammon and treasures and pleasures of this life which will all be burned with fire, or you can cling to the Word of God which leads to eternal life. Clinging to that which will be destroyed by eternal fire means that you will be destroyed by eternal fire. Clinging to that which does not pass away means that you will be saved eternally.

God’s Word is eternal. It has been proclaimed on the earth since the beginning. Adam was a preacher. So were Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The preaching of the Word has been since the beginning, and has always been the same: the preaching of repentance and the promise of the forgiveness of sins as a free gift. It has always been about turning away from idols, turning away from that which will pass away and holding fast to that which is eternal, to that which will not pass away.

The first writing down of God’s Word that we have recorded in Scripture, is God Himself writing the Ten Commandments on stone tablets. Over the next thousand years, the rest of the Scriptures were written which we call the Old Testament. Our epistle lesson tells us, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” The Bible was given to us so that we would learn from it, and that we would have endurance, encouragement, and hope.

After a period of silence which lasted four hundred years, God the Father sent His Son into the world. The Word became flesh. God again spoke, and the New Testament was written.

The Old and New Testaments are God’s Word. Everything that is written down in them was inspired by God, so they are free from error. Second Peter 2 says, “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (1:20-21) Everything that is written by men is subject to error. Because God is responsible for the words written in the Bible, it does not have errors. It cannot have errors, because God does not have errors or make errors. The Bible is perfect and reliable.

The Bible is therefore the only authority by which the church, its teaching, and its teachers are to be judged. The church does not decide any point of doctrine. The church is to submit to the doctrine revealed by the Holy Spirit in the Bible. That’s why you cannot have votes on matters of doctrine. A church committee or council or convention or voter’s assembly cannot make decisions on matters of doctrine. A pastor cannot make decisions on matters of doctrine. The entire church must submit to God’s Word as the sole authority on all things spiritual.

That’s why Saint Paul writes to Timothy, “From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (II Tim. 3:15-17)

Scripture is God-breathed. This means that God is the source of Scripture. It is for teaching. This means it teaches us God’s doctrine. It is for reproof and correction. This means it calls us to repentance over our sin. It is for training in righteousness and equipping us for good works. This means that it teaches us that we are declared righteous by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone, so that we would live a God-pleasing life.

What is it that Saint Paul writes is the main purpose of the Bible? To make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. This is what Saint John also writes, “These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31)

The main purpose of the Bible is not to be a book of rules and commands for us to follow. In fact, the first purpose of the Bible is to show us that we cannot follow the rules and commands God has given us. The second, and main purpose of the Bible is to tell us how Jesus died for our sins so that we have the promise of the forgiveness of sins. These are the two major divisions of the teaching in the Bible – Law and Gospel.

Law and Gospel will never pass away. They are eternal.

The Law of God is eternal because it is the will of God for us which is holy, and righteous, and good (Rom. 7:12). In eternity it will no longer accuse us because we will fulfil the Law perfectly in heaven. We will no longer sin. We will live according to the Law of God in thought, word, and deed.

The Gospel is eternal because it is an enduring message of deliverance from evil (cf. Rev. 14:6). We will no longer need the Gospel because we will no longer need the forgiveness of sins, but its effect is eternal. Because of Jesus’ death for us, we will spend eternity in heaven with Him and see Him face to face.

This is why even though heaven and earth will pass away, God’s Word will not pass away. His will for us remains forever and His promises to us remain forever.

This eternal Word of God makes you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. This eternal Word of God gives you faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and thus gives you life in His name.

Don’t cling to the things of this life that will pass away. Whether God gives these earthly things or takes them away, say with Job, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (cf. Job 1:21)

Cling to God’s Word which is eternal. God’s Word will bring you to eternal life because it tells you about Jesus, the Word made flesh. He joined our human race in order to take upon Himself the sin the kept us away from God. He removed it from us by bearing its penalty in Himself. Christ crucified is the chief and main topic of the Bible as well as of the preached Word of God. He who created all things in the beginning and joined His creation in the fullness of time sends us His Holy Spirit, who daily and richly forgives us all our sins. This is how He keeps us united to Him in faith until the very end. This world will pass away, but the words of Jesus and those who cling to them in faith will endure forever. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Stay Awake

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year based on Mark 13:24-37

Dear people who are awake: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Stay awake. Jesus tells us to stay awake because it is possible to fall asleep. It is possible for us to fall asleep instead of keeping watch and being ready for Christ’s return. That is to say, it is possible for us to fall away from the faith.

So, stay awake. Stay awake from the false sense of security in which no thought is given at all about Christ’s return on the Last Day. Stay awake from the expectation that things will just keep on going as they have been since the foundation of the world. Stay awake from the lull of worldly comfort. Stay awake from giving highest priority to the cares of this world. Stay awake from the deceitfulness of riches.

Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. You do not know when Jesus will return. Yes, Jesus gives you signs so that you can recognize when the time is coming close, but no one knows when it will be. We have had wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes and famines since Jesus ascended into heaven (cf. Mk. 13:8). We’ve had signs of the end times for two thousand years. Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost that they were in the last days already then (Acts 2:17). Saint John writes, “Children, it is the last hour” (I Jn 2:18).

Live every day as though it might be your last, because it just might be your last. One day it will be your last.

Our Introit from Psalm 39 prays, “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you.” This is praying to God that He would lead us to realize that our life on earth is extremely short, so that we would think more about where we will spend eternity. Lead us to not spend all our time and energy stocking up treasure on earth and thus give up treasure in heaven. Lead us to not live lives in the pursuit of pleasure on earth and thus give up the pleasure of heaven.

Recall the parable of the sower. The Word of God that is heard by hard hearts is snatched away by the devil. The Word of God that is sown in some hearts endures for a while, but then, when tribulation and persecution arises on account of the Word, immediately they fall away. The Word of God that is sown in others proves unfruitful when the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the Word (cf. Mk. 4:1-20). There is great danger that we fall away if we allow hardships or worldly desires to turn us away from God.

Falling away doesn’t just happen overnight. You don’t go to sleep one night filled with faith and trust in God and wake up the next morning hating Him. It happens over time as a Christian does not prioritize the feeding and nurture of his faith. Little by little, he allows the world to influence him. He doesn’t even realize the things that he’s starting to believe are against God’s Word because he isn’t listening to God’s Word. He’s done listening to it because he thinks he knows it all and doesn’t need it any more. Maybe later, like on his deathbed, he thinks.

Do not think that you have lots of time to prepare for Jesus’ return, so you’ll prepare later; that you have lots of time to repent, you’ll repent later. We don’t know when Jesus will return. When He has returned, it will be too late to prepare or repent. The watchman cannot expect to be awake when his master returns if he figures he has some time to sleep, even just for a little bit, and then wake up before his master returns. His master will return at a time that he does not expect.

The Son of Man will return in clouds with great power and glory. Those who receive Jesus now when He comes humbly, are ready to receive Him when He comes in glory. Those who don’t, are not.

The day that Christ returns will be a day of great terror for some and a day of great joy for others. For some it will be scarier and more terrifying than anything they could have imagined. The hearts of unbelievers will melt with fear because they will see all their idols destroyed by fire. Everything they held dear and in which they hoped will be destroyed. Everything for which they worked, everything they valued, everything they believed in will be revealed to be foolishness, lies, and rubbish, while the almighty God they rejected will justly punish them for the truth they rejected; for the grace and mercy they rejected.

Stay awake and prepared for the return of Christ. You may well say, “I’m trying!” I’m trying to prioritize the right things in my life. I’m trying to think more about eternity. I’m trying to hear God’s Word more and even read it more. I come here to hear the pastor absolve my sin and to receive the body and blood of Jesus… but it doesn’t seem to do anything.

My sin that God has apparently thrown into the depths of the sea still remains in my heart. I come to church week after week; I hear the Gospel week after week; I receive communion week after week, but I cannot get rid of my sins.

I still make bad decisions. I still get caught up in the cares of this life. I still doubt. I still cannot be perfectly content. I despair. I still want things that God says I cannot have. I still get angry. I still lust. I still covet. I still say things I shouldn’t say. I’m still selfish.

The truth is, you are still sinful. That does not mean that the Holy Spirit is not doing anything in you. That does not mean that your hearing and reading of the Gospel has been in vain or that Jesus’ body and blood have done nothing for you.

This cannot be the case because you believe. You believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sin. The only reason that you believe is because the Holy Spirit gave you faith when you were baptized, and He has fed and nourished that faith through the Word and the Sacrament of the Altar even to this day. You are awake.

The Holy Spirit has given you faith. He has also kept you in the faith. Even though sin still clings to you, the Holy Spirit has continually forgiven you your sin. The Holy Spirit helps you in your struggle with sin, even though the struggle does not go away in this life.

Your struggle with sin will go away when Christ returns. Then you will be completely delivered from all sin. Not just delivered from sins of word and deed, but even of all sinful desires. Our very sinful nature, which is the reason that we sin, will be destroyed.

Thank God that this life is short! And thank God that He sends His Word and Sacrament to us to keep us awake until the coming of Christ. Christ will return and send out the angels to gather His elect from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. He doesn’t gather you because you’ve lived a good life, but because He died for your sins and you belong to Him, purchased by His blood. He gathers you because you are His elect and He will keep you in the true faith to life everlasting. Jesus will keep you awake. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The End of the World

Sermon for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 13:1-13

Dear people waiting for Jesus: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

If we look at this world, we can tell that it cannot endure; it cannot survive. Fires burn people out of house and home, killing many trying to escape. Hurricanes wipe out coastal cities and flood cities far inland. Earthquakes cause destruction, death, and panic. Bombs fall from the sky in response to rocket fire. Deranged, fatherless mass murders shoot up schools, concerts, and other places where people gather. Politically divided countries are filled with hatred, threats, and violence. Tensions are high, tempers flare, violent crime spreads even as victims lose their rights.

We know this world cannot go on. Not only can we tell that these volatile signs indicate that we are destroying each other and the world, but Jesus also tells us that they are signs of the end times; signs of the close of the age.

Another sign of the end times, Jesus says, is “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” God’s Word offends the world because Jesus claims to be the only way to the Father (John 14:6). God’s Word offends because it condemns the sins that the world loves to commit. Thus, anyone who believes and follows God’s Word will be hated. Jesus told us this would happen as we near the end of the world, and this is indeed happening now.

God is patient with those who hate Him and revile Him. He desires their salvation. He desires them to turn from their wickedness and live. That is why He has not yet destroyed them along with this world.

One day, His patience will end, and the wicked and the proud will suffer terribly and know great terror. They will be set ablaze by the fires of hell. Their punishment will have no end just as their wickedness knew no bounds. They will suffer the righteous and just consequence of their sins. They will receive the just punishment for their crimes.

If we were judged by our lives, by our works, and by our deeds, we would face the exact same punishment. We have lived selfish lives. We have lived for ourselves, as if we alone mattered. We have not loved God with our whole heart or our neighbours as ourselves. Repent.

God out of His great love and mercy will not judge us by our lives, by what we have done and left undone. God judges us by His Son’s life; by what His Son has done for us. The good that Jesus has done is credited to us even as our sins were charged to Him and He suffered and died for them.

Thus, God does not want us to be terrified of the Last Day or the return of Christ. He does not want us to be in fear or panic as we see signs of the end times in the world around us. Rather, He wants us to lift up our heads in glad anticipation. Our redemption is drawing near.

That terrible and great day of Christ’s return will be a day of joy for us. It will be the ushering in of a new heaven and a new earth where we will live with God in perfect peace and harmony forever.

Wars between nations will be over. The rage within nations will cease. The hurtful fighting within families will be no more. The battle with sin within ourselves that’s always tearing us apart will be gone.

Sin will lose its appeal. Temptations will have no power. We will be content and happy and filled with joy that never fades.

Now, you suffer. Your brother may not have delivered you over to death and your children may not have risen against you. You may not feel hated by the world, but you do suffer hardships, most of them secret and internal. You endure in prayer and faith, by hearing the Word of God and receiving the body and blood of Jesus. You wait with all the saints for the reappearing of our Saviour. You wait for the fulfilment of all of God’s promises to you. You wait for Judgment Day without fear, because you have God’s promise, that He will remember your sins and your lawless deeds no more.” (Heb. 10:17)

God’s Word does tell us that God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil (Ec. 12:14). It also tells us we will have to give an account of ourselves to God (Rom. 14:12), even for every careless word we speak (Mt. 12:36). The Bible tells us these things so that we would fear God and keep His Commandments. That is the whole duty of man (Ec. 14:13). Fear God and keep His Commandments. The Bible tells us these things so that our conscience would be awakened and we would repent, so that we will not be found secure in sin, impenitent, and apathetic when Christ returns, and then be judged by our deeds with the unbelievers.

Repentant, faithful believers don’t have to wait until Judgment Day to hear their verdict. You hear it every Sunday when you hear the words of Absolution. You are absolved by God Himself. You are forgiven. Your sins are blotted out. Since God promises you that He will remember your sins and your lawless deeds no more, you can rest assured God isn’t going to bring them up on Judgment Day.

Jesus has taken the punishment of your sins and was judged in your place. The only verdict left for you is innocent. God grants you the opportunity to hear this every Sunday so that you will be ready to face Judgment Day. God grants you to receive the body and blood of Jesus so that you will be forgiven and strengthened in faith until you die or Jesus returns.

This world will not endure. However, it won’t be destroyed by our warring or pollution or climate change. God will destroy it with fire on Judgment Day.

Because of God’s love and mercy, you will not be judged by your lives, by your evil works, or by your sins. You are already judged to be forgiven saints of God with His promise that He will remember your sins and your lawless deeds no more. God will thus usher you into a perfect new world that will endure. It will endure forever. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Mere Words Save

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 4:26-34

Dear pleasant planting of the Lord: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Talk is cheap, it is said. This is of course true of man’s word. It is far easier to talk of great things than accomplish them. It is easier to say that you care than to show that you care, just as it is easier for politicians to make promises than to deliver on those promises once elected.

We are so experienced and familiar with empty talk and vain words, that we tend to hold words to be of little significance or value. Even worse, we recognize our own gossip, slander, complaining; our own name-calling, cursing, and lying and we may indeed say silence is better than words.

Yet God has chosen to save us through words. Not just any words, but His words. God has chosen to save us not through miracles that we witness; not through astonishing incidents we experience; not through overpowering sensations we feel. God has chosen to save you through the humble means of human words. He has chosen to save you from eternal death and hell by His Word.

They are very particular words that save: words that express the Gospel – that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for your sins on the cross; particular words that tell you that God loved you so much that He sacrificed His Son for you; particular words that proclaim you justified, that is, declared not guilty for Christ’s sake through faith, when you believe that you are received into favour and that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake.

These words are sown into hearts. The sower sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The sower simply scatters the Word. He’s not worried about the outcome.

Anyway, the growth is not in his hands. The earth automatically produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.

It may seem like a small, insignificant seed. Just mere words. But these seeds grow up and become larger than all the garden plants and put out branches so that birds can make nests in their shade.

God’s Word produces. It produces faith – saving faith which brings us to heaven. It produces works – good works which serve our neighbour and supply the proof that faith is living. God’s Word produces. It does not return to Him empty, but accomplishes that which God purposes, and succeeds in the thing for which He sends it (cf. Is. 55:11)

This is true for Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as well. Without God’s Word, the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the Word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of new birth in the Holy Spirit.

Without God’s Word, the bread and wine are plain bread and wine and no Lord’s Supper. But with Christ’s words, “This is my body… this is my blood… given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” He gives us exactly what He promises: His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

God’s Word does what it says it will do. It produces faith and it produces good works, which are the fruit of faith.

Jesus continued the parable saying, “But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Scripture often calls the close of the age or Judgment Day, the harvest. Once the grain is ripe, it is harvested.

There is only one Judgment Day, but in way, it does not come at the same time for all of us because we all die at different times. As the book of Hebrews tell us, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes the judgment” (Heb. 9:27) After death, there is no opportunity to repent or believe or do good works – these are all to be done while we are still alive.

Do not look at death from an earthly perspective. Look at death from God’s perspective. When the grain is ripe, He puts in the sickle because the harvest has come. When God has called His elect to faith and He has produced growth in them so that that are ripe, He harvests them into His barn. He takes them home to heaven.

From an earthly perspective, we sometimes hear it said that it was too soon. My parents were taken too early. My spouse died too soon. My poor little child died too young. God says, when the grain is ripe, He puts in the sickle because the harvest has come.

The earthly perspective forgets that heaven is our aim, our goal, our home. It is God’s aim, goal, and home for us. When our loved ones die in the faith, that is God harvesting His ripe grain. It is God taking His children home.

We have the same aim and goal as all believers – to be forever with the Lord. However, since we are still here on earth, that means it is not yet time for our harvest. It means that we are not yet ripe. We are still here to grow in faith and produce the fruit of faith. Even bed-ridden believers can pray for others while on their deathbeds and provide a witness of hope in God’s promises to their families. We can grow in faith and produce the fruit of faith until we are ripe, and then the harvest comes.

The harvest will come. The time will come when your appointed time to die arrives, and then comes the judgment. Because God’s Word has been sown in your heart and faith has sprouted and grown, you will be ripe for the harvest.

You have nothing to fear in death or on Judgment Day because Jesus has already been judged for your sins. You are baptized into His death and resurrection and you eat His body and drink His blood for the forgiveness of all your sins, so you will receive your promised inheritance of eternal life.

This is not empty talk or vain words. It is almighty God’s promise to you that is sure and certain. Heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s promise to you will not pass away (Matt. 24:35). Man’s words are empty. But when God speaks, it is already done. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Judgment Day

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year based on Matthew 25:31-46

Dear sheep of the Good Shepherd: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

On Judgment Day, judgment will be based on works. Don’t be too shocked by that. Second Corinthians 5 says, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (v. 10) Romans 2 says that on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed, He will render to each one according to his works (vv. 5-6). In John 5, Jesus says on Judgment Day all the dead will hear His voice and be raised from their tombs and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment (vv. 28-29). On Judgment Day, judgment will be based on works.

When was the last time you fed the hungry and gave drink to the thirsty? When was the last time you clothed the homeless, and even more, welcomed them into your house, though they were strangers? When was the last time you visited the sick or those in prison? Where are these good works by which you will be judged on the Last Day? I hope your answer is, “What good works?” rather than “When have I failed to do good works?”

Jesus does not teach about Judgment Day primarily to encourage you to do good works. In our lesson from St Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus did not teach the disciples about the final judgment just before He was arrested and crucified because He was hoping for good works from them. He knew what would happen. He even told them ahead of time what would happen. The disciples would not feed Him when He was hungry or give Him a drink when He said, “I thirst.” The disciples would not clothe Him when He was naked and lots were cast for His clothing. They said He was a stranger they did not know. He was a prisoner on trial who they did not visit. He was sick with wounds to which they did not tend.

On Judgment Day, what do you think the disciples will say to Jesus when He says to them that they fed Him when He was hungry, gave Him drink when He was thirsty, welcomed Him and clothed and visited Him when sick and in prison? They will say, “When? When did we do any of these things that you say we have done?”

No disciple of Jesus will lay claim to good works he has done on Judgment Day. No believer will tell Jesus, the judge of the living and the dead, that he has done what God’s Law demanded of him. No sheep of the Good Shepherd will say that he has fulfilled God’s Law; that he has loved God with his whole heart, soul, and mind, and his neighbour as himself.

Unbelievers will. The goats will say, “When did we ever fail to do what we should have done? We’ve done so many good things in our lives, how dare you suggest we have failed to do something we should have done? We’ve done it all and then some.” They see no need for grace, mercy, or forgiveness. They think they’ve earned eternal life for themselves. In reality, they will go away to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Even though you will be judged on works, the truth is that on Judgment Day, your good works will not save you. Even if you fed all the hungry you could find and gave them drink; if you opened your home to every stranger and refugee and clothed them with your own clothing; if gave all that you have to the poor and volunteered at the hospital and prison; if you gave all your money, all your time, all your talent; even if you donated all your blood that you could every chance you got, your good works will not save you. It will not be enough. It will not even set you apart from the man who never so much as lifted his finger to help anyone in need.

How do we know this? Because “By works of the Law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight.” (Rom. 3:20) “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the Law.” (Gal. 2:16) “Now it is evident no one is justified before God by the Law.” (Gal. 3:11) “Good works cannot avert our doom, they help and save us never.” (LSB 555 st. 1)

We have to pay attention to what Jesus actually says when He teaches about Judgment Day. The very first thing that will happen on Judgment Day is Jesus separating the sheep from the goats. Before any judgment is pronounced, Jesus will stand His own on His right hand and the unbelievers on His left. He will call His dear sheep “blessed by My Father,” and will tell them to inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. Yes, from the foundation of the world. Before we did anything good or bad; before we were conceived and had a chance to do a single work, good or evil, we already had God’s eternal kingdom prepared for us.

Revelation 20 also helps to shed light on Judgment Day. John has a vision of the Last Day. It says that the books were opened, and the dead were judged by what was written in the books. But there is another book, the book of life. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Those whose names are written in the book of life inherit the new heaven and the new earth and will dwell with God and be His people, with every tear wiped from their eyes, where death will be no more, neither mourning, nor crying, nor pain (Rev. 20:11-21:4).

The works written in the other books don’t save or condemn those whose names are written in the book of life. What you have done or left undone, good or evil, cannot save or condemn you. What matters for you is that your name is written in the book of life.

Those whose names are in the book of life will also be judged based on works, but not their own works. Those whose names are in the book of life will be judged by the works of Jesus. Baptized into Christ, we are covered with His righteousness that covers all our sin. All of His good works get credited to us.

On Judgment Day, Jesus will call us “blessed by My Father” and to inherit the kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world. He will say that we did all kinds of good works, but we will not lay claim to them to set them against the judgment of God. We will cling alone to the merits of Jesus and His righteousness. We will answer Jesus, “When did we ever do anything for you? Do not open up the books of works! We have no desire to be judged based on our works. Open instead only the book of life, where our names are written. Judge us based on Your works, not ours.”

Are you uncertain about your name being written in the book of life? Have you been around Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper so long and you still do not realize that Jesus makes you holy and righteous through these means? Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word; it works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. Yes, Baptism saves!

Absolution is not just the plain word of man, but the voice of Christ Himself, commanded by Him to be spoken in His stead to forgive sins and open the gates of heaven.

The Lord’s Supper is not just plain bread and wine, but the very body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

Through these means of grace Christ gives you His righteousness. Through these means Christ gives you all of His good works and covers your sins. Through these means Christ declares you righteous, blessed by the Father, having fulfilled every good work, and an heir of the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

Do not forget who the Judge is on Judgment Day. It is Christ Jesus your Lord who took on your flesh to live and die for you. It is your Good Shepherd, who gave His life as a ransom for yours. It is your High Priest who knows and sympathizes with your weaknesses and infirmities and thus paid for your sins with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.

On Judgment Day, Jesus will declare you righteous and give you eternal life because you are His sheep and He is your Good Shepherd. He will judge you based on His works, not your own, so you know that you will inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Eternal life is your promised inheritance because Jesus earned it for you and gives it to you freely. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.