Matthew 25:31-46 Each week we confess that Jesus will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. Our Lord’s return—as an event in history-- is clearly taught in the Bible. It is his final work of salvation. It is an article of faith that we must believe to be saved.
On that day each of us will stand before the Lord and he will render his verdict about our life—what we have believed and how we have lived.
Today in our Gospel lesson, in simple language, we hear just exactly how the final judgment will take place from the one who will judge the world. Jesus says:
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.
On judgment day every person who has ever lived will stand before the glorious throne of Jesus Christ and we will be judged.
Before a word is spoken—before the evidence is given—Jesus will separate all the world’s people into two groups—one group on his left and one group on his right.
That separation is the judgment—and there is no changing sides at that point. The day of grace that we enjoy today- to repent of our sins and believe in Jesus- to amend our lives--will come to an end with that division.
Shepherds have no problem making a distinction between sheep and goats because there is nothing that a shepherd knows more about than the difference between sheep and goats.
So it will be on Judgment Day as the Shepherd King separates those who are his (those who have believed in him and followed him) from those who are not his (those who have rejected him and went their own way). Every person in the world (and in this sanctuary) will fall into one of those two groups.
The unbelieving world around us sees fine moral distinctions, with many shades of gray, when it comes to their relationship with God—they say that surely it cannot be so simple, so cut-and-dried as those who believe in Jesus and those who don’t. But it is just that simple.
When it comes to your relationship with God—you are either righteous in God’s sight through faith in Jesus—blessed by God from the foundations of the world with all that is needed for salvation— OR--you are cursed by God because you have not counted yourself worthy of his salvation and have rejected the forgiveness and eternal life that comes through faith in Jesus.
The basic division of all people into one of these two groups is not always evident because faith in Jesus is, finally, a matter of the heart.
But that division between the saved and the lost will be plain for all to see on the Last Day when the Son of Man comes to judge the nations and presents the evidence for his perfect, righteous judgment. Jesus will say to the saved on his right hand:
‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For 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.'
There is nothing here that is difficult to understand: those who had faith produced the fruits of faith--those saved by grace were gracious people to others—those who received the mercy of God in Christ extended that mercy to others—those who were forgiven were forgiving. In other words, the life of Jesus was seen in the lives of those who were his.
The evidence that is given for a true and living faith is found in the small acts of mercy and kindness and generosity given to others simply because those who are saved by Jesus want to live loving, self-sacrificing lives like their Savior’s.
Another really remarkable thing about those who are saved is that all the things that we have failed to do-- are not even brought up.
We haven’t fed every hungry person or clothed every naked person or housed every homeless person—but these sinful failures to be all that we have been called to be-- have no part in this judgment because they have been taken away by the blood of Jesus.
But for those who have rejected Jesus Christ it is a very different story. Every sinful failure, no matter how small, is remembered and entered as evidence. Jesus will say to the lost on his left hand:
“'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
The great tragedy is that it never had to be this way. Hell was not prepared for people but for the devil and the other angels who rebelled against God at the beginning of the world. But when a person rejects Jesus Christ, they choose to align themselves with the devil and they too will receive hell as their eternal punishment.
And just as there are no great works of faith that are mentioned for the redeemed, so there are no great sins that are mentioned for the damned. 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 welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'
Those who had no faith-- simply failed to produce the fruits of faith that come from being saved and will hear the terrible judgment of all who die apart from faith in Christ— “depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire.”
It has become fashionable in these modern times to deny the existence of hell but there are very few things that Jesus teaches as clearly as the existence of hell because he does not want us to go there. Hell is real, it is terrible, it is eternal, and it is deserved.
As a final proof that our Lord’s judgment is valid, we hear the reaction of each group to the Lord’s verdict—their own testimony to the truth of the Lord’s verdict.
“The righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'
The Good News for the child of God is that on judgment day, not only will our sins not be remembered, but all those small acts of mercy and kindness and generosity that we have forgotten about—that we would never have dreamed to lift up to the Lord as deserving of eternal life— will be remembered by him-and counted as if we had done them all for him.
That the Lord’s people are astonished by his accounting is a sure sign that they simply did good to others out of love for the Lord—not to earn heaven for themselves.
Acts of love, done in faith, require no accounting on our part. They are simply given in the context of our ordinary, daily vocations.
When we are forgiving with our family; when we set a good example at work; when we are compassionate and merciful to those in need; when we are concerned for the needs of others; we show ourselves to be the Lord’s people. On the other hand, those on the King’s left will answer, saying:
“'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?' Then he will answer them, saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'
The lost, even at that late hour, exhibit no sorrow or repentance to Jesus. They have no compassion for those who have gone without food and drink and clothing and shelter through their faithless neglect. Their only desire is to call into question the righteous judgment of a perfectly just judge.
We are tempted to believe that faced with hell, even the most hardened sinner would come to their senses, repent of their sins, and beg for mercy—but it is not so.
Those who were not concerned for others will never be concerned. Those who have rejected the Lord throughout their life will continue to reject him for eternity.
That is why judgment day is merely a final demonstration of what was true: in a person’s life—at the moment of their death—and then forever in eternity as they “go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
And so what does this plain and simple teaching from our Lord about the final judgment and the Last Day have to do with our lives this week? What does the Lord want us to do as a result of his words? How then should we live, knowing that we will stand before the throne of Jesus Christ and be judged?
First and foremost, no one ought to leave this sanctuary today without knowing for sure that they are one of those whom the Lord will call righteous and blessed on the Last Day. That confidence comes through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
None of us, by nature, are worthy to stand before a perfectly righteous judge. Each of us deserves hell. But God sent his Son to save us from what our sins deserve. Jesus suffered hell for us on the cross. He paid for our selfishness and sins with his shed blood—and he rose up from the dead to give us eternal life.
We receive the salvation he accomplished by believing the Gospel as it is preached and given in the sacraments. As we do so, we can look forward to Judgment Day with confidence.
Secondly, we should measure our lives by Christ’s standard of what really counts and not the world’s. On the Last Day there are no questions about how much money we had, how important we were in the community, what car we drove, where we went to school, or what we did for a living.
Instead, the only thing that matters on judgment day is that we showed with our lives that we belonged to Jesus by caring for those around us.
Nothing miraculous is required of us, but only that our faith in Jesus would bear the fruit of good works as we deal with others in the same gracious, generous, merciful, forgiving way that we have been dealt with by Christ.
And finally, we should live our lives this week -and always- in expectation of our Lord’s immediate return.
All of the worries and trials and temptations that we are faced with daily-- become something altogether different and altogether smaller when they are seen in the light of that glad and glorious day when the Lord says to each of us:
‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world!
May God graciously grant that each of us hear those words on Judgment Day for Jesus’ sake! Amen.