Sunday, November 20, 2011
Sermon for the Last Sunday in the Church Year (November 20, 2011)
“How Should We Then Live?” (Matthew 25:31-46)
A few years back, the Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer wrote a book entitled, How Should We Then Live? The subject of the book is how Western Civilization has moved from a Christian worldview to an increasingly secular worldview, a worldview that says, “Religion has no place. Morals and Values are all relative. There are no absolutes.” Schaeffer then proceeds to answer the question, “As Christians living in this age, how should we then live?”
In a sense, this is what our Gospel text attempts to answer, but in a little different way. With the Day of Judgment approaching, Jesus answers for us the question, “How Should We Then Live?” As we hear what Jesus has to say about the coming Judgment, we find that he has a lot to say about the “what” and the "how,” but not about the “when.” In fact, earlier in chapter 25, Jesus said, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13). Jesus never told us to make predictions. He did tell us to “Watch” … “Be prepared.” While we watch and prepare, “How should we then live?” How should conduct ourselves as we look forward to the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus?
After hearing today’s Gospel reading, wouldn't you like to BE A SHEEP? The sheep are the ones who, in the judgment, are going to be on the right hand of King Jesus. The right hand of the king is the place of power and honor. The sheep are also the ones who will receive eternal life. Certainly, as we wait for the coming of Jesus, it would be good to BE A SHEEP.
So how do you get to BE A SHEEP? You become a sheep through Holy Baptism and by faith in Christ as your Savior from sin. Our text says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father.” That blessing comes through the gift of faith that God gives to you by the Holy Spirit through water and the Word. To be “blessed” means to have good things spoken about you. This is what God does when you are justified by faith in Christ. He “speaks good things” about you. He does not condemn you. He declares you “not guilty.” Your sins will not be counted against you on Judgment Day.
Sheep also listen to the voice of their shepherd. They follow his voice. They are comforted by the sound of his voice and are strengthened in the knowledge that he is near. As adopted children of God, you listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd Jesus. You hear it in his Word, the Bible. You follow his voice. You are comforted when you hear his words of forgiveness. Your faith is strengthened as you keep on hearing his Word as we gather together in worship and study.
I guess the next question is “What's wrong with being a goat?” What does God have against goats? Nothing, really, since goats were also used as sacrifices for in the Old Testament. But this is not the kind of goat that Jesus is referring to here. He is using a picture of what went on in the fields of Jerusalem in that day. Sheep and goats were pastured together. At night, they were divided into separate folds.
This is a picture of what will happen on the Last Day. The king will separate the believers from the unbelievers, the sheep and the goats. They live together in the world, but on the Last Day they will be separated one from another. The sheep are the faithful, while the goats are those who have no faith in Christ.
Note also that the unfaithful ones are “cursed” and sent “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Compare this with the inheritance of the faithful ones: “the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Life in God’s eternal kingdom is a gift. The sheep did nothing to deserve it. It was prepared for them by God. The eternal fire where the goats are sent was not prepared for them, but for the devil and his angels. It was never God's intention to send men to hell. They are sent there by their own fault, because of their own denial and rejection of Christ. They do not place their faith in him nor do they trust in his death on the cross and his rising to life again for their deliverance from sin, death, and the devil.
So, BE A SHEEP. Listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd who says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28).
The King also tells us that, as we wait for his return, we are to serve him. Part of being a sheep is to SERVE JESUS. Specifically, our text is speaking of serving one another as fellow Christians, for the King says, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Throughout the Bible, God urges us to take care of the poor and downtrodden. But here, Jesus says specifically “These my brothers.” We are Christ's brothers and sisters through faith. He is the Son of God. We are adopted children of God in Baptism. And we show God's love to the world as we care for each other. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
What a terrible witness it is to the world when Christians gossip, quarrel, and hold grudges towards their fellow Christians. It is even worse when they hate their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We daily need to ask God's forgiveness and be strengthened so we can love one another and serve Jesus by serving one another.
In the power of the Holy Spirit, we will also naturally serve our fellow members of the Body of Christ as an outgrowth of our faith. It is prompted by our love for Jesus and the love that He first showed to us. It will be so natural that oftentimes we won't even be aware that we are doing it. It is an un-self-conscious, un-selfish service. It is a service that keeps no record of what you have done. When you approach God's throne on Judgment Day, you will not say, “Look at all of these good things that we did in your name, Jesus.” Instead, listen to what those who are righteous by faith will say: “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?” The King replies, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” We serve Jesus in the great tasks of the kingdom. But we especially serve him in the small, insignificant tasks, too, like the ones mentioned. We will be unaware of the many ways in which we served Jesus in our lifetime. But we don't rely on what we have done to save us. That’s all God’s doing, by his grace in Christ. The good works that we do are simply the evidence of the presence of saving faith in our hearts.
The ones on the other side, however, do not serve Jesus. They deny both Christ and his brothers. By their failure to serve Christ, they show that they have no faith in their hearts. They may have done great humanitarian deeds, helping many people, but their deeds were never a confession of faith. There were other motives involved other than serving Jesus and his brothers. In fact, they may have mistreated Christians. They may have mocked Christianity and the Church. They were blinded by their sinfulness. They were not even aware that they were not serving Christ by what they were doing … or NOT doing. Jesus will say to them, “As you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”
The thought of “Judgment Day” brings fear to many a heart. Judgment Day will indeed be a day of wrath. But for the Christian covered in the blood of Jesus, there doesn’t need to be any fear. Only love and hope. Only faith and expectation. If we die, we will be with Jesus. If we are still living on this earth when he returns, we will be with Jesus.
“HOW SHOULD WE THEN LIVE?” BE A SHEEP. Keep on listening to the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. He forgives, he comforts, and he strengthens us in the power of the Holy Spirit so we can serve him.
“HOW SHOULD WE THEN LIVE?” SERVE JESUS. Serve him by serving each other as a natural, faithful response to the love that he first showed to us at the cross, earning for us eternal life with him in his heavenly kingdom.