Trinity 26 2022
November 13, 2022
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
Last week in our observance of All Saints’ Sunday, I mentioned the last words and prayer of Scripture from Revelation 22, “Amen. Come quickly Lord Jesus.” But what does that look like when Jesus returns? One of the greatest areas of confusion that exists is the return of Christ, what this means, what will happen, when it will happen, etc. Often people will jump to Revelation, which is not the easiest book to understand and takes a good foundation and understanding of the rest of Scripture. Some people go to popular books, or movies, or try to import non-Christian ideas. But really, the best place to start, and to finish, is with Jesus Himself. Let’s see what Jesus actually has to say in His teaching at His coming, not only so that we know what will happen then, but that the certainty of our future might prepare us for that day and shape our lives here and now.
So today, in our Gospel reading from Matthew 25, we hear Jesus speak about His coming and the Final Judgment. Before we get there, let’s back up a little to the previous chapter of Matthew. In Matthew 24, Jesus specifically states that no one knows the day or the hour of His return save the Father, so it is no use guessing or trying to figure it out when it’s going to happen. Jesus warns that those who try are false prophets and false teachers who ought to be avoided because they lead people astray. Then, he tells the parable of the 10 virgins, which we will hear next Sunday, and the parable of the talents, both of which Jesus uses to tell people to be ready for His return.
And then He speaks of what will happen at His return, that which we heard today, and what He describes is judgment, vindication and damnation, with Jesus Himself as the Judge. Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man, both in connection to the Old Testament references and prophecies and to indicate that He will appear in His assumed human nature and visibly hold court. Christ, who was condemned on earth, will be the Judge. For by virtue of His human nature, He will be the Judge over all men and that His honor and glory will be made known, all of which is bestowed upon Him according to His human nature by God the Father, so that Christ is Lord and Judge over all things, as He states before His Ascension (Matthew 28:18 6), “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.”
And when this Son of Man comes, He will come in glory and in judgment. At His first coming in the incarnation, He came lowly and humble; but in His final coming He will come with glory, as Hebrews 9:28 states, “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.” And to Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin during His trial (Matthew 26:64), He states “But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” This will be no secret event, no hidden coming to establish an earthly kingdom, but it will be visible for all the world to see according to His divine nature.
As He comes, He will be attended by the angels. They will serve Him by sounding the trumpet so that the foundations of the world will collapse, just as happened at Jericho when the children of Israel blew the trumpets and shouted the battle cry. So Jesus speaks in Matthew 24:31, “And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” And St. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”
So we hear that at the coming of Christ, He will raise all who have lived and died from their graves in the universal resurrection of the dead, and those who are still alive on that last day will be brought forward before Him. And the sheep and the goats will be separated, not only by the knowledge and judgment of Christ, but by the angels at His command reaping the harvest. The Son of Man will command His angelic servants and they will gather His elect and separate them from the unbelievers. This righteous Judge turns to the sheep first and then to the goats in order to show that He prefers to reward the righteous more than to punish the wicked; His proper work and nature is mercy, His foreign and alien work is punishment.
Notice that the sheep receive their reward of eternal life before a single word about works is spoken. For one is justified, declared to be righteous, only by grace through faith in Christ. But this doesn’t mean that works are unimportant or that they don’t matter, but that a position at the right of Christ is not dependent upon what you do, but who your faith is placed in. As spiritual Israel, the sheep fear, love, and trust in the voice of their Good Shepherd, and in Him have become partakers of the eternal blessing and delivered from the curse of the Law.
This faith manifests itself in good works here and now, especially in works of love and mercy, such as feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, hospitality to strangers, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned. In such works, the Judge proclaims the sheep are serving Him; and in the lack of such things, the goats fail to recognize Christ in their midst. But where do the sheep encounter Christ, and where do the goats miss Him? Particularly in His body, the Church, for one when serves a part of the body, the head takes notice. Jesus is with the Christian Church in such a way that we serve Him when we serve our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is why St. Paul encourages us in Ephesians 6:9-10 to “not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
It's important for us to recognize what the proper, God pleasing works are, by which the elect prove their faith and which Christ will publicly praise and reward on Judgement Day. Love and compassion to one another, not just in bodily needs but also in other ways. It looks like a parent taking care of their infant child, changing diapers and feeding her, and bringing her up to know Jesus. It looks like hosting a Thanksgiving dinner so that people don’t have to celebrate a holiday alone. It looks like making quilts so that the cold may be warmed. It looks like sending a care package to a deployed family member. It looks like looks like a neighbor lending a helping hand to someone in need. It looks like supporting the education of children in our community through a classical Lutheran school. So you see, Christ shows us our future as members of His body, as sheep who know and hear the voice of their Good Shepherd. Knowing this, knowing what awaits His people, frees us from the curse of the Law to now do the good works of law in love and service to another; gladly and willingly, with humility and out of the goodness of our hearts purified by the Gospel.
But Jesus also describes a terrible judgment of wrath against those who do not know Him nor recognize Him in His body, the Church. For in denying Christ’s body they have denied Christ Himself. He will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Terrifying words that eternal fire, rather than life, has been prepared from the devil and his angles is also where the damned have chosen to be because of their unbelief and clinging to their own sins rather than having them placed upon Christ on the cross.
In speaking of this day of Judgment, God wishes to make it clear to us that we must remain constant in true faith in Christ, demonstrate this by works of love and charity, and finally, by the grace of God, arrive at the goal of our faith, eternal salvation in the life of the world to come.
This sermon is based upon Johann Gerhard’s sermon for the 26th Sunday after Trinity, from his Postilla, pp. 260-272.