Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sermon for 11/17/13--Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year

No audio again. Sorry.

From the Foundation of the World

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

The images in the readings should frighten and terrify sinners. They should cause us to fall down and cry out in repentance! Jesus describes Judgment Day as the separation of the sheep and the goats. And our sinful flesh, which only ever thinks of itself, grabs onto the idea that what is going on is that Jesus is judging people based on how they lived. Those who served their neighbor get to go to heaven. Those who didn't do good works for others go to hell. My brothers and sisters in Christ, do you think that Jesus preaches His works and His grace, and the apostles preach that we are saved by grace through Christ's work, and your pastors preach that you are saved by what Jesus has done; and then, on the Last Day, it's suddenly going to change so that you are actually saved by how you lived your life? The Lord doesn't change. His grace doesn't disappear. His work of saving you from your sins doesn't end on that Last Day!

What did Jesus come to do? Did He come to earth and teach people how to live a good life so they can be a part of His kingdom? No! He came to keep the commandments that we break. He came to fulfill the Law that we cannot. He came to die—to die in the place of sinners, to die covered with our sins, to give His life as our ransom. Everything Jesus is about in His earthly life is accomplishing, achieving, winning the forgiveness of sins for sinners. For you. Everything that Jesus comes to do, He has done in your place. That doesn't change on the Last Day.

Jesus says He will separate the sheep from the goats on the Last Day. It doesn't say He will decide who's a sheep or a goat based on what they've done. When all people stand before the Lord on the Last Day, they will already be sheep and goats! Jesus says elsewhere, "I know my sheep and my sheep know me." He knows the sheep before that Last Day. What is it that makes you a sheep? It is your Baptism into Christ. Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the whole world. That salvation becomes yours at the holy font. At the moment you are washed with water and the Word, you are born again from above. You are made a part of Christ's kingdom. You are made a child of God, one of Christ’s little lambs. When you stand before the Lord on the Last Day, it will be as His holy and beloved sheep. If you ever doubt that, then remember you Baptism. You are a sheep of Christ because you are baptized into Him! Don't ever doubt that!

Now listen carefully to Jesus' next words to His sheep. "Come you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." From the foundation of the world, before you were created or born, our heavenly Father had a kingdom prepared for you. How can you inherit a kingdom by your good works if that kingdom was ready for you before you were even alive to do any good works? That means when Jesus is speaking to His sheep on the Last Day, He's not telling them about some reward they've earned. What He's giving them has always been a gift. It has always been something from God's mercy, not what we have earned or deserved! The Father has always intended to send His Son to save you from your sins. The kingdom is prepared before the world was made because it was decided that Jesus would save the world before it was even made! Again, how can you be certain that this kingdom is prepared? That it's ready for you? That's what your Baptism says. When you are absolved of your sins, you are being reminded that nothing will keep you from the gift of a kingdom that your Father has prepared. When you eat and drink Jesus' body and blood, you are united to your Savior in such a way that when He receives His kingdom, it's your kingdom too. In Christ, all that He has is now yours.

Dear Christians, do not despair of your salvation when you hear the story of the sheep and the goats. Do not worry that somehow its all going to come down to what you’ve done. On that Last Day, it all comes down to Christ. It always has, from the very foundation of the world. Do not be afraid; rejoice in that Last Day. Look forward to it! On that Day all that Christ has done for you by His life and all that He has given to you in your life will be fulfilled in the gift of an everlasting kingdom for you to enjoy!  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.

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