18 November 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 25:31-46 (Dan 7:9-14, 2 Pet 3:3-14)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
We Christians sometimes catch it from all angles. On the one hand, we have groups of people who have all sorts of crazy predictions of the end of the world. The latest craze is the ancient Mayan calendar which supposedly informs us that we won’t really need to do any Christmas shopping this year. Jesus warned us about such attempts to predict the date or the hour of the end of the present age.
On the other hand, there are scoffers out there who say: “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” as they deny the historical facts of the creation of the world and the worldwide flood described in Genesis. This group mocks Christians for waiting expectantly for the Lord to return to create a new heaven and a new earth, to destroy all evil once and for all, and to reign forever.
All throughout history, we have charted this middle course against the unbelievers on the one hand, and against various heresies and cults on the other, who twist and distort Scripture into things God never reveals to us. And we have seen their predictions fall one by one, as the scoffers have been there to mock them and us.
In the face of both, we confess with our fellow believers as we have since the year 325 AD: “And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.”
We do not wait in fear, but in joyful expectation. For we know that our judge is merciful, and that the rightful penalty for our sins has been paid at the cross. We know that our Judge is also our Advocate, that the one who will hold us in the scales of justice is also the Lamb whose blood has satisfied the law’s righteous demands.
And we know that because of His bloody sacrifice and by virtue of our being baptized into His blood, owing to His grace, and according to His Word and promise, salvation has been given to us as a free gift. Having been freed from trying to earn God’s mercy, from attempting to curry God’s favor, from seeking ways to convince God that we are something that we are not, instead, we have been freed up to do good works simply because they need done, with no other motivation than love. We are not looking for a reward – for there is nothing left to give us, having received everything from the hand of the Son of God Himself!
Indeed, on the day of judgment, the righteous will ask: “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 in prison and visit you?”
For such good works should flow out of a changed heart, not out of a desire to get something in return. Indeed, dear friends, such good works are the life of the redeemed sinner who already has the promise of salvation rather than the struggle of a person hoping not to be cast into hell. Such works are performed with no thought of being paid back, to the point where such deeds are simply done and forgotten about.
And in response, “Truly, I say to you,” says our Lord, “as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me.”
When the Christian does good works for another human being, He is doing it to the God in whose image our neighbors have been created. We are serving God when we serve our neighbor.
And the opposite is also true. Those whose hearts remain unchanged by the Lord’s grace will demonstrate this unconverted disposition by a refusal to do good works, and the Lord will say: “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.”
What we do grows out of what (and who) we are. And this reality has been revealed by our Lord’s love for us. We cannot make ourselves righteous. We cannot will ourselves to be good people. We cannot draw good works out of an evil heart. We can only get out of the way as the Lord makes us righteous by His miraculous will. We can surround ourselves with the Word, with the Sacraments, with the Gospel, and with the promises of His grace. And by that grace, we can carry out the tasks the Lord has given to us, not to earn salvation, but rather to “serve our neighbor and supply the proof that faith is living.”
Dear brothers and sisters, we cling to a living hope and a living faith, for we have a living Savior! We worship a living God who has given us His living Word, a Spirit that rushes into us body and soul, bringing us into His living kingdom!
And even as these days grow darker, as storm clouds gather, as the times grow ominous, as the future appears gloomier – we do not fall off the horse to either the side of the cults or to the side of the scoffers. We do not put our hope either in false teachers or unbelievers – but rather in the living Word, our living Savior, whose living Spirit impels us to living works.
We hold onto the vision given to Daniel: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that al peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”
So, dear brothers and sisters, let those who seek glory for themselves continue to make ridiculous predictions. We shall not be concerned or worried. Let the scoffer continue to follow their own sinful desires, overlooking the fact that “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
As for us, let us continue to live in the Lord’s mercy, content to serve our neighbor in His need – even as we serve the Lord through such ministrations. Let us wait patiently “according to His promise” as “we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
And without fear and with joyful expectation, let us look with joy, hope, expectation, and eagerness to that day “when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him,” when “He will sit on His glorious throne,” forever and ever. Amen!
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In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.