Sunday, November 23, 2008

Matt.25.31-46; Last Sunday of the Church Year; November 23, 2008

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 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. 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.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our coming Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

As I’ve been studying to prepare the Word for Today devotions I’ve been reading some in the book of Revelation. On Wednesday the reading out of Revelation ends this way:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20, ESV)

Jesus is coming, soon! It’s that time of the church year when set aside some significant time to talk about it. Jesus is coming, soon! He says. That is what we confess to believe every Sunday as a part of the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed. We believe that Our Lord,

will come to judge the living and the dead.

We say. It’s a day we claim to look forward to. A day of great joy, a wonderful day, but is it? Really? Is it good news or bad news that Jesus is coming again? Is it something to look forward to or something to dread? << pause >> And the answer is… “yes!” At least that what the prophet Malachi called it; a great and terrible day (Malachi 4:5). And it will be a day of terror and a day of joy, a day of singing and a day of weeping. Which one it will be for you, depends entirely on what you are. Jesus puts it very clear He says the difference between weeping and singing and joy and terror is based on being a sheep or a goat. A song the kids love to sing has some significance as we talk about judgment day. It goes like this:

I just wanna be a sheep (Baa Baa Baa Baa)
I just wanna be a sheep (Baa Baa Baa Baa)
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
I just wanna be a sheep (Baa Baa Baa Baa)
(Words and Music by Brian M. Howard)

And when I look at what happens to the goats, that song really echoes through my mind.

‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’

I just wanna be a sheep!

So what does the text tell us about how to be a sheep and not a goat? What is the key to judgment day? When we are standing before the Great Judge, Jesus Christ, how does he know that we are really sheep and not goats? Let’s look at the passage again.

I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Well, that doesn’t sound too hard. It sounds pretty much like taking care of people who are in need. You don’t have to go very far to find people who are in need. But, it’s interesting that the sheep are surprised. “Lord when did we do these things?” the sheep say. Maybe Jesus words surprise us to because as Lutherans we confess that our works don’t save us. We say that there is nothing that we can do to get us right with God. In the confirmation class we talk about Luther’s words on the Third Article,

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.”

And yet this judgment that Jesus is talking about here seems to be based on works? As far as the goats are concerned they were doing good stuff, they are surprised, because they thought they were doing them for Jesus. And the goats seem to be just as surprised. “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” Lord, we fed the hungry and sent clothes to those who needed it, we built hospitals and help prisoners reform, we did all these things how is it that we missed you? So if both the sheep and the goats are doing the very same things how is the judgment made? How is it that the judge puts some on the right and some on the left? I just wanna be a sheep.

It would be easy to say that the works here are the evidence of faith. After all faith without works is dead St. James tells us. (James 2:26) So maybe Jesus is looking at the works here as evidence of faith and judging us accordingly. Maybe that’s what’s going on here. But, if that is the case I think that we all might be in trouble. I’ve heard it asked this way before: If you were put on trial what evidence would there be to convict you of being a Christian. Would there be enough, have you done enough good stuff in your life that people would look at you and say, “there goes a Christian.” I’ve got to admit I don’t think my stack of good stuff is all that high compared to some others. There was a rich young man that came to Jesus once, and he wanted to know what he could do to earn eternal life. Actually he was asking how to be a sheep. Jesus told him to keep the commandments perfectly. “Ok!” the young man said, “I’ve got that handled, I’m doing just that right now.” But Jesus quickly accused him of breaking the first commandment, love God above anything else. “If you really love God above everything, sell everything you have and give the money all away, and follow me.” The man left dejected. He loved his money too much to give it up. He didn’t keep that one commandment perfectly so he shattered the whole bunch. If we want to set our works up for God to look and judge they will be found faulty. If you want to be judged by your works God will do it, but you’ll fall short of his demand that you be perfect. I just wanna be a sheep.

What’s worse is the bible clearly teaches that we will all be judged, without exception. St. Paul writes,

"For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So each of us shall give an account of himself to God" (Rom 14:10-12).

Again the apostle writes,

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

So, how can judgment day be anything but bad news for us? I just wanna be a sheep!

Let’s look at the text again. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. It’s a sorting job. Just like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, like a child separates dimes from quarters, pennies from nickels, after breaking the piggy bank. During the day the sheep and goats live together, and before the bank is broken all the coins are in it the same container. At night the shepherd sorts the animals into different pens, the sheep to his right and the goats to his left. When the bank is full it’s time to sort the savings. The truth is that Jesus very often talked about judgment as sorting. The wheat is sorted from the weeds, the chaff from the grain, and clean fish from unclean. Judgment is sorting. Before the sorting is done everything is together. Before the end we live together right now, believers and unbelievers. We are all treated alike. Rain falls on us all. We are all plagued by the same illnesses, and problems; cancer and clogged arteries. We all suffer from the same family issues; dysfunction and divorce. We all live and we all die, just the same. And we will all be sorted, in the end. Sheep on the right and goats on the left… then our works will be judged. And that is the key. Our works will be judged, but we will not be judged by our works. You see the sorting of judgment on the last day isn’t based on what you have done or left undone, but on what you are. Are you a sheep? Then you go to the right. Are you a goat? Then you go to the left. It’s as simple as sorting coins on the desk. What you are determines where you go. It doesn’t have anything to do with what you have done. On the right hand is blessings, inheritance and praise for the imperfect works you have done. On the left is curses, punishment and condemnation for the works you did for the wrong reasons, or didn’t do at all; Life eternal on the one side and eternal fire on the other. It comes back to that question I asked at the beginning, “Are you a sheep, or a goat?” I just wanna be a sheep (Baa Baa Baa Baa)!

There is blessing on the right for the sheep.

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.’

The sheep receive a gift that has been in the works since the very beginning. God has been at work preparing the gift of salvation for them even before they were born. And the key word there is inheritance. It isn’t wages for good work done. An inheritance isn’t based on what you’ve done but the promises and good grace of the person who gives it.

God has been working on your salvation since the foundation of the world was laid. He made His promise to Adam and Eve in the garden for you and for your salvation. For you he called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For you he guided Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness in the Promised Land. For you He caused His Son to be born of the Virgin Mary, the Son who suffered, died, and rose again, for you. He took your imperfect sinful works and deeds to the cross and suffered God’s anger for not placing him first in everything. God brought you to His Word and to Holy Baptism that connects you to all that Jesus does for you. He brought you here today to hear His Word. Everything has been worked out so that Christ could hand you the kingdom on the Last Day and say, "Come, my blessed one, my sheep, and inherit the Kingdom that has been prepared for you.” I just wanna be a sheep!

And so I ask the question again? How do you know if you are a sheep or a goat? If you’re still trying to line up all your good works as proof you’re looking at the wrong place. If you’re trying to look into your heart to discover if you “truly believe” you’re looking in the wrong place. If you’re looking to anything you’ve done, even if you’re depending on a decision to “accept Christ,” or “Make Jesus ‘Lord’ of your life” your placing your faith on you and not on Christ. If you want to know if you are a sheep or a goat you have to look to what God does instead of what you do. You see, you are a sheep because God has made you one. Look for something in his heart instead of your heart. Look for something he has done for you instead of what you have done for him. That’s the greatest thing about being his sheep. We never have to worry about not being one. God not only gives us the gift of faith we need to believe in Jesus, that is he makes us sheep, but he makes sure we know exactly who is getting the gift.

A few weeks ago we had a baptism at the hospital. Later today to have one here. At this font right there God is going to make another sheep. In a room at the hospital with family gathered around, God made another sheep. We won’t have any question about who God doing all the wonderful things he’s going to do. All we have to do is ask the question, “Whose head got wet?” Little Sylus’s head got wet, Kaylynn’s head is gonna get wet and God is going to line them up for the inheritance of eternal life. He’s made them a member of the family of God. He’s going to cancel all their sin by putting it in Jesus’ cross. And all their lives they are going to be able to know that they are a sheep because of what God is doing through His Word of promise given with the water.

Now since last week was Martin Luther’s birthday I can’t help quoting him one more time:

Third

How can water do such great things?

Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with http://lcms.org/bookofconcord/smallcatechism.asp the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For 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 the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: "He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying" (Titus 3:5-8).

I just wanna be a sheep (Baa…). So how can I know that I am? All I have to do is ask the question I asked about those little babies? When God brought you to the font, when God made promises of forgiveness and life and salvation, whose head got wet? It was yours… that’s when you became God’s sheep. That’s when all the promises God has made have become promise to you. I just wanna be a sheep (baa…). And I am. Amen.

The peace that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

2 comments:

John said...

Such a helpful message and explanation of the passage, just not so sure about the baptismal regeneration at the end. Surely that's not how we beome a sheep... John

Rev. Jonathan C. Watt said...

The wonderful thing about baptism is that it is totally God's work and not mine. Any time I place my salvation in my own lap it becomes doubtful. If I place it in God's promises (made to me in Baptism) it is as sure as God himself. That's all baptism is God declaring me to be righteous because of the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

If you are wondering about "Baptismal Regeneration" scripture clearly teaches it. Titus 3:5-8 "He saved us through washing of rebirth..." And other passages...