Sheep by Grace
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It is the truth: we are not saved by works; we don’t get right with God by what we do. We can hear it over and over, but we find it hard to believe. We can hear that it is by grace that we have been saved, but there is still a part of us, no matter how small, that still supposes that we’d better end up with more good works than sins on the Last Day. There’s still that way of thinking which infects even Christians that, when we stand before the Lord on that Day, we will have to show positive good balance sheet or else we’re doomed. We can hear that Jesus saves us. We can hear that Christ lives in us and does good works for others in and through us. But we still suppose, even if just a little, that we had better have something to show for ourselves when we face the Lord at the End. So to rescue us from that thinking, Jesus tells us how it’s going to be. Sheep have done good works. They may not even know it! But they have done them. And it pleases the King. And the King gives them an everlasting inheritance forever with Him. But those gifts are not because of their works.
Two things in the story prove this. First of all when we stand before the Lord, we are already sheep and goats. Jesus doesn’t even address their good works of helping others until they’ve been separated. Secondly, the kingdom has been prepared for them from “before the foundation of the world”—before they were even born or had done anything for anyone! What ties these together is Christ, for He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. He was the sacrifice for our sins before we had even sinned! He is the Good Shepherd who brings us into His flock, the Church. He is the one who gives His life on the cross to take away our sins, who rises from the dead to gives us life. Jesus not only saves us from our sins; He also sets us apart for good works. And He even does those good works in and through us. He makes all that you do into something good because He has forgiven whatever is evil and makes holy everything else. Jesus rescues us from thinking our good works have any purpose toward our salvation.
So the question is, how do you know whether you are a sheep or goat before that Last Day? You don’t write down a list of what you’ve done. You don’t keep track of good versus bad on your balance sheet. No, you hear your pastor tell you: You are a sheep: already, now, because of Jesus. You were made a sheep when you were baptized. The very Christ who lives in and through you does so because His Word of forgiveness fills your ears, His absolution declares your sins null and void, and His body and blood are in you to raise you up on the Last Day.
So go and live your life. Go and serve others. Forgive their sins as you have been forgiven. Bear their burdens as your burdens have been carried. Carry out your callings as forgiven children of God in Christ. And then, when you stand before the King on the Last Day, He shall praise the things you’ve done—you won’t even know the half of what you’ve actually done in Him and for others. And until that day, don’t worry whether you’re a sheep. You are. Jesus has made you so. And that means you’ve got an everlasting kingdom waiting for you, and it has been ready since long before you could try to earn it or deserve it. It’s yours, a free gift from your Father in heaven. 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.