The Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 26)
St. Matthew 25:31-46
Come, Lord Jesus!
Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! These are some of the final words of Holy Scripture. They are the cry of the Church from the Fall into sin until the present day. Eve was so ready to be done with sin that when she gave birth to her first son, Cain, she was convinced He was the promised Redeemer. Paul had to write to the Thessalonians because they were so appalled by the rampant wickedness of their generation that they swore Jesus would return at any minute, so they quit working and taking care of life and doing those other necessary things. And for us, how often do we wrestle with the question, “How much worse was it in the days of Noah that God decided to destroy the earth?” or “How much worse does it have to get before Jesus returns?” These are good questions, but their answers lie in the hidden will of God, meaning we cannot know the answer them, nor is it any good for us mentally or spiritually to try to answer them. So, we must turn to the good news of Scripture. What Good news has the Word of God given us today? On the surface, not much, it appears. Peter said that “the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved.” Jesus said that the goats will be cast into eternal punishment. But Daniel takes the cake. God revealed to him terrifying images—a lion with wings that get ripped off, a bear sent out with the command “devour much flesh,” a beast with iron teeth stomping on what little is left of creation, and a horn with eyes and a mouth that speaks great things. Who needs horror from Hollywood or Stephen King when you have these images from Scripture?!
We don’t like these images, thoughts, or feelings. They scare us. We’d much rather have wooly lambs in Jesus’ arms, babbling broks, and rich banquets, not horrifying mental images of world destruction. which is also why our new hymnal ditched such upbeat and positive hymns like “Day of Wrath, O Day of mourning,” “The world Is Very Evil, the Times are waxing late,” and “Great God, what do I See and Hear?” and because our modern palate finds these things repulsive and the church gladly relegates them to these couple of weeks at the end of the Church year, we have been done a disservice for living in these gray and latter days. I’m not saying that every service and sermon needs to be gloom and doom and mountains being carried into the midst of the sea, but we do need to heed Peter’s words and keep them in our mind: “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the Day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
And therein is the key, the blessed Gospel, the good news: according to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. All the terrifying and vile things Daniel’s visions represent will come to an end. Some day false doctrine will no longer plague the Church on earth. Some day kingdom will not rise against kingdom. Some day families will not be rent asunder. Some day citizens will not vote into law the so-Called “right” to murder babies and mutilate God-made bodies and then hold reprehensible victory parties across the state.
Some day Jesus, who died and rose victorious will, for all the world to see, begiven dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”
One day you will receive the end of your faith the end of your Baptism. Jesus will come to place you on His right hand because He died for you, because He Baptized you, because He spoke His Word into your ear and heart, because He fed you with His Body and Blood. Because He gave His saving gifts to you, gifts you did not earn, a kingdom you did not build, He will say to you, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Then sin and evil will be done and you will be safe, face to face with Jesus for eternity.
Amen, “Come, Lord Jesus.
Today’s Gospel is one that makes Lutherans nervous. It sure sounds a lot like your works get you into heaven. The sheep are sheep because they did enough good stuff. They visited prisoners, fed widows and orphans, clothed the naked, and the like. They were out doing deeds of charity, and for that they are given eternal life. The goats, the cursed, didn’t do good works, or at least didn’t do enough of them, and so they go to hell. This seems to create an impasse. Which is it—faith or works? Do I earn it or not? And with the judgment motif running through these last three weeks of the Church Year I’d really like to know which so I’m on the right side when the Last Day comes. I just want to be a sheep!
It’s not good to be a goat. The goats are condemned because, as Jesus says, “I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.” These Words of Jesus seem to confirm what our minds have come to believe about heaven: you get in by being good. Or, how we have come to define goodness.
Whenever good works are praised in Scripture, we must look at the context and details. If these accounts that seem to say good works earn your salvation are not read in light of the entire Bible, we can be easily confused. No statement of Scripture can disagree with Scripture. So we must consider Hebrews 11 where God tells us that, without faith, it is impossible to please Him (Heb. 11:6). So, no good work is pleasing to God without faith in Christ. Good works only please God when they are performed by the justified, that is, those who believe that they are forgiven and receive eternal life by God on account of Christ’s death and resurrection. Those who believe necessarily do good works and their works are pleasing to God, because these good works flow from faith as its natural fruit.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.