The sermon hymn this morning is The Son of Man Returns in Glory, which is based on the Gospel appointed for the day.
Sheep and Goats
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus is coming to judge. The task of judgment has been entrusted to Him by the Father in heaven. All nations will be gathered before His glorious heavenly throne; all the living and the dead from every nation, tribe, people, and language. All will be gathered before Christ, who will appear, enthroned in heavenly splendor surrounded by His angels. Everyone must appear at His summons—there will be no exemptions.
When you hear this Gospel reading, as it was with the Beatitudes last week, the natural reaction of your sinful nature is to take it as a set of guidelines for what you should be doing so that Jesus will allow you to enter heaven. Your fallen human nature concludes from the Word of God that you need do good works if you are going to be counted worthy to enter heaven. It is a constant temptation to take the Word of God and turn it into a list of requirements that you can fulfill that will make you right with God.
Your works will be judged on that day; but we will not be judged by your works. The judgment on that day will not be based on what you have done or left undone, but on what you are. Are you a sheep, or a goat? It really is as simple as that. What you are determines where you go, and the sheep on the right hand hear nothing but blessing. "Come, O blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” You will receive a gift that has been in the works since before the creation of this world. God was at work preparing this gift of salvation for you even before you were born. And please note that it is an “inheritance” that you will receive at God’s right hand, not wages for work done. An inheritance is a gift based not on what you have done, but on the good pleasure of the One who is giving out His gifts.
Simply put, this is the Scriptural doctrine of election, a teaching that unfortunately frightens more people than it should. God has been working for your salvation since before the foundation of the world. He made His promise to Adam and Eve in the garden for you and your salvation. For you He guided Israel out of Egypt and into the promised land. For you He caused His Son to be born of the blessed Virgin Mary, the Son who suffered and died, and rose again, for you. God brought you to His Word through Baptism. Everything has been worked out by God so that His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, could hand over the kingdom to you on that day, and say, “Here; it is all yours. Your Father in heaven has been working on this for a long time.”
On that day, the works of the sheep will be judged righteous. You will be lauded for your works. “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.” Actually, you have not done any of these things by yourself. Jesus did them, and He does these things for others even through unbelievers. After all, plenty of unbelievers do good works for the needy. What’s the difference? The difference is that Jesus receives those works done in faith as works done for Him. “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” You will be amazed to learn that you were doing any of these things for the Lord. “When did we do these things?” you will say. You did not see Jesus when you did them. You saw only someone in need and did what anyone would do. Doing something for Jesus was the last thing on your mind. Faith gives food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, welcome to the stranger, comfort to the sick and imprisoned. Faith in Christ does what needs to be done even before the Law demands it.
Jesus is hidden behind the mask of “the least of these My brethren.” The One who fasted for us in the wilderness is hidden in the hungry. The One who cried out from the cross, “I thirst,” is hidden in the thirsty. The One who came as a stranger, despised by His own people, is hidden in the stranger in our midst. The One who became sick unto death with our sin is hidden in the sick. The One who became a prisoner under the Law in our place is hidden in the one who is in prison. Jesus became the least, so that through His poverty we might become rich in God’s mercy. When we love the least, we love Him whose love for us took Him into death.
For the goats the situation is entirely different. They are cursed instead of blessed. “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” The goats hear nothing but condemnation. They rejected the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and imprisoned because they rejected the Christ who was hidden in them. They rejected the One who comes, humbly hidden in water and Word, in bread and wine. They did what comes naturally to unbelief; they refused and rejected the gifts of God. Though God desires none to be condemned, the faithless have rejected God’s goodness. There is no place for them in the Kingdom.
This parable demands a question. Are you a sheep, or are you a goat? Your sin and the Law tells you that you are undeniably a goat by nature. You have neglected those who have required your care; and whatever you have done is not enough. And yet, your Baptism and the Gospel tell you that you are sheep. You have been “branded” with His cross, the seal of Him who died for you. Through His Word, God raises His sheep, those who trust in Jesus and not in themselves. He buries the goat in you in the death of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He raises the sheep in the life of the Lamb who now lives and reigns forever. This is what the Christian life is about. Scripture calls it “repentance.” And it is what this parable is intended to work in you; to turn goats to sheep. That does not mean that a sinner can make himself into a saint. The sinner must die, and the saint must rise. Only God can make sheep out of goats.
Repentance means to be turned around, to be changed in mind and heart, to have a new name and a new way of seeing things. Once you saw yourself as a goat, with Christ as your Judge. Now you see yourself as sheep with Christ as Your Savior and Shepherd. Remember, you are not judged by what you do, but by what you are. You do not do good works in order to inherit the kingdom; you do them because God’s kingdom is already yours through faith in Jesus Christ. What you do reflects who you are. And the Lord tells you that you are His blessed sheep! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.