Proper 29A/Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 23, 2014
E pluribus unum is written on our coins, “Out of many, one.” Many people coming together to create one nation, a nation not divided by race, gender, nor heritage. Honorable ideal. It’s not too different from the Christian reality as St. Paul writes in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Our current culture doesn’t like divisions. Appealing to fairness, the sinful world takes things a different direction than the Word of God. They promote tolerance and equality, fine in and of themselves with a Biblical moral compass, but they do so with a lack of objective truth and right or wrong. This is one of the hallmarks of post-modernism, the denial of objective truth and morality, where differences don’t really matter, where everyone does what is right in his own eyes.
We hear about division today in our Gospel reading, in a section that closes out our church year. Jesus ends His discourse on the End Times by speaking about His coming in glory. He speaks of sheep and goats, of eternal life with the Good Shepherd or eternal torment in hell with the devil and his angels. This is not really a day of judgment, but a day of separation, a day of division.
This parable is about the revelation and public vindication of God’s people. Here, separation and division are a good thing, because evil is finally being separated away from good, for good. Sitting upon His throne, the Son of God in all His glory gathers His angels with Him and all the nations to Him. The wicked will be separated and sent into everlasting condemnation, into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels, and the children of God will be gathered together and received into His eternal kingdom.
What a day that will be, a day we look to the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting. A day when Christ Himself appears for the vindication of His people. When all the evil, all the bad, all the suffering and persecution against God’s people are finally and completely dealt with. A day when the Lord bestows His eternal inheritance and brings the righteous into eternal life. A day of division, where the only difference that matters is laid bare by the Lord for all to see.
The difference is not one of works or lack thereof. Often times sheep and goats act much alike. The difference rests not on the sheep and the goats, but on the Shepherd as the judge. Notice, the sheep receive their blessing and inheritance before a single word about their works is mentioned. Their works accompany them, in faith, because of the Work of their Shepherd. When calling upon the Lord in faith, He forgives, prepares, and completes the good works of those who are His. But those who do not believe, those who reject Christ, are separated away from the sheep and the Good Shepherd eternally. Undone works are only a symptom of the real problem, which is lack of faith. Apart from faith in Christ, all our works remain offenses against God, for which He will hold us accountable.
What does all this mean for those who have faith in Christ, and for those who do not? The difference, the divisions, between those who are in Christ and those who are not is stated very clearly here. It is the difference between heaven and hell. While we wait for this public division, we recognize where they exist here and now. We don’t sugar coat our differences or pretend like they don’t matter. They do matter, now and eternally!
But there is no need for fear for you who are in Christ! There is no need to panic, for Christ-crucified is for you. No need to be driven by dread, for Christ-crucified and His gifts are free. No need to compare with your neighbor, for Christ-crucified and His gifts are yours. No need to wonder if you have enough faith or have done enough good works, for Christ crucified is faithful unto death and His Work is perfect and holy in the sight of God, for you!
By virtue of Your baptism, God has put His name upon You. By faith in the Good Shepherd, you are His sheep, and God’s sheep know the voice of their Shepherd, a voice that calls them to life of good works and service to their neighbor, and ultimately to an eternal inheritance.
The believer in Christ welcomes and longs for the advent of that Great Day precisely because the believer in Christ longs for the Savior to come, for the complete freedom from sin as He ushers His flock into eternal pastures. So yes, we eagerly await that Day of the Lord, where vindication for God’s flock will finally come, where the real divisions that already exist will be apparent for all to see in the separation of the sheep and the goats. In preparation for that day of resurrection and judgment, we turn daily to God in repentance and faith, trusting in Him for the full forgiveness of our sins, which was purchased for us by Christ, and is given to us in His Word and Sacraments. And all God’s people wait for that day, crying out in prayer, “Come quickly Lord Jesus. Amen.”