Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Sunday of the Sheep and the Goats

Trinity 26 2014
Matthew 25:31-46

Every Sunday we confess the Creed after the reading of the Gospel text. Without fail, we say “He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.”

Yes, Jesus will judge the living and the dead. He will sit on his glorious throne. Before him everyone will be gathered, you and me, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” This is what Jesus teaches us this morning. And it’s not a parable. It’s not a story or even an illustration. It’s simply a factual account of what’s going to actually happen. Jesus speaks of going through with a winnowing fork and separating the wheat from the chaff. The wheat is set aside for the harvest. The chaff is thrown into the fire.

To the sheep He will say “Come you who are blessed by my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” To the goats he will say, “Depart from me, you cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

But let’s be honest now. In our culture and perhaps even in our own churches this is a message which has rather fallen out of fashion. That fire and brimstone stuff – let’s not get too carried away here! Sure we’re Christians – but we don’t want to be lumped in with those crazy people holding up signs on the side of the road – who take their Christianity a bit too far – we think.

These days we are all rather intoxicated with the hallmark channel’s version of Christianity – rather than what the Bible itself actually says. The number one movie this year was “heaven is for real,” but who at all would be interested if a movie came out called “hell is for real.”
500 years ago during the Lutheran Reformation, the question that was front and center in everyone’s mind was, how can I be saved? How can I have my sins forgiven? How can I escape God’s judgment of death and damnation? How can I find a gracious and loving God? Now that we live in a more consumeristic culture, we assume the church should meet our 'felt needs' rather than what God Himself has said we need.

Therefore the assumption is that church exists primarily to make us feel good, to help with our self-esteem maybe. God is there to fix our problems when we get in a jam, kind of like an insurance agent, but overall, God exists primarily to make us feel good. In our consumeristic culture this all makes sense because we are the customer and the Lord and His church are the business and the customer is most certainly always right.

We should repent. The goats are cursed and thrown into the eternal fire because they thought of themselves too highly. We are bit timid to confess out loud that we actually need to be saved at all. Like goats, we too have a tendency to be too stubborn, to insist on our own way, refusing to be led and guided by Christ’s Word. When the Word of God conflicts with our selfish desires, we too have a tendency to butt heads and charge head on.

Sheep are altogether different. Sure they need some coaxing, but they hear the Shepherds voice and they follow him. They learn not to trust in themselves. They don’t even protect themselves because they know that they are no match for the wolves who come around at night. And yet they trust in their Shepherd. They feed on the pasture of His Word, and there they stand on the Last Day.

The goats on the other hand trust in themselves. They say to the Lord, “When did we not do all these things.” Didn’t we do enough? Didn’t you see my good works, my accomplishments, and accolades? Didn’t you notice that I was on the trustees, the village board, the lwml, or the lions club? Sure maybe I’m not perfect, but I’d say I did fairly well – God you have to at least give me that!

This sort of self-confidence in ourselves is faithlessness, which leaves no room for the love of Christ. When He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead, it’s not time to bring our resumes to say “look what I’d done” but rather “look what you have done for me.” For ironically was it not Jesus Himself who needed to be clothed but what stripped naked? Was it not Christ who was thrown in prison with no visitors. Was it not Christ Himself who was hungry and thirsty. Naked on the cross and not helped by anyone? Left for dead? Behold the love of God. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

And this of course is where our Lord wants to be found. Right here in our own community, even in your own home, wherever the most weak and most vulnerable may be found. Whatever you do unto the least of these you do unto me. And so we worship by loving one another as Christ has loved us.

For He rose from the dead, ascended to the right hand of the Father. He is returning as judge. The heavens and earth with be destroyed, everything will be dissolved, and a new heavens and earth will be ushered forth. What a terrifying and awful day for those who have spurned his love! But what a glorious day for those who trust in him and put their hope in his unfailing love. Through his blood he judges you to be innocent. Through his bitter passion and atoning death you are found blameless before all the angels in heaven. By His glorious resurrection from the dead you are raised up to stand on the Last Day with all the elect.  

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