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Last Day: Separation of the Sheep from the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46) Proper 29A

November 20, 2011

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St. Matthew 25:31-46


Dr. Luther dies and goes to heaven.  As he gets to the gates of heaven there is a long line.  The Lord Jesus who sits on His throne asks each person in front of him:  “Where are your works?”  And each person starts to unload a laundry of list of works.  Score sheets by the dozen.  Score cards by the hundreds.  All to show what they had done!  “See here Jesus!  What great things I did!”  And yet the Lord says to each one:  “Sorry, all that won’t do up here.”


Finally, Dr. Luther gets up to the Lord.  “Well, Martin, where are your works?”  Dr. Luther replies:  “Works?  Didn’t know they were needed up here.  I left them down there on the earth.”  And the Lord responds:  “Brilliant, Dr. Luther!  That’s precisely where they belong.  I don’t need them up here.  Don’t want them up here!”   


Today’s parable from the Lord shows us where your good works that flow from faith in Jesus are needed.  In heaven, there is no place for your deeds.  Jesus needs your deeds on earth FOR THE SAKE OF YOUR NEIGHBOR – “the least of these my brothers,” Jesus says.


All that is needed for heaven is faith – faith alone in Jesus.  Faith gives birth to deeds of love FOR THE NEIGHBOR here in this life. 


When Jesus comes in glory with all His angels He will come to judge both the living and the dead.  And His judgment will reveal who are the sheep and who are the goats.  Who are the believers and who are the unbelievers.  What is now hidden will be revealed.  The private made public.  Everyone, on the Last Day, will be revealed as who they are:  either a sheep (a believer in Jesus) or a goat (an unbeliever).


So I repeat, the Last Day judgment of Jesus will be a revealing.  An uncovering.  Of how each person stands before Jesus Himself.  Either by faith or not.  And it will be a day no one can avoid.  Nothing can excuse you from that day.  “All nations.”  Everyone.  No one left out.    


Your life now, before the Last Day, as a baptized believer in Jesus IS HIDDEN before the world.  Listen to Colossians 3:3-4.  It describes you at the moment:  “You died and YOUR LIFE IS NOW HIDDEN WITH CHRIST IN GOD.”  It also describes the end too:  “When Christ, who is your life appears, then you will also appear with him in glory.”  Listen to Romans 8:19.  It says that the entire creation groans and eagerly “awaits for the sons of God TO BE REVEALED.”


And so the parable from Jesus today. 


On the Last Day Jesus will uncover and reveal who are the sheep and who are the goats.  He will reveal and uncover what has been hidden. 


And so the first thing the Shepherd Jesus will do is separate the sheep from the goats.  Sheep on His right.  Goats on His left.  Sheep:  “Come, you who are blessed by my Father.”   Goats:  “Depart from me, you who are cursed.”   Sheep:  “Take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”  Goats:  “Depart … into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” 


The separation of the sheep from the goats comes before any talk of their works or deeds.


The sheep are not on the Lord’s right because of the works they have done.  BUT ONCE THE SEPARATION HAS TAKEN PLACE only then does talk of deeds come up. 


On the Last Day, once the sheep and goats are divided up (right and left of the Lord), works will be judged or evaluated by the Lord.  Again, only after the separation takes place will works be appraised for what they really were.


And the works of the sheep give evidence to the fact that they are indeed the blessed children of God through faith in Jesus.  The Last Day judgment simply makes that fact plain.  Works are good before the Lord when they flow from faith in Jesus.  Such works provide evidence of this faith relationship with Jesus ON THE LAST DAY. 


BUT, AND THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT, IT IS EVIDENCE THAT FINALLY ONLY JUDGE JESUS CAN SEE as we live now before Judgment Day.  Remember, right now our lives of faith in Jesus as Savior are hidden with Christ in God.


So, while we live before the Last Day, we cannot look to ourselves and our good works to categorically prove that we are sheep.  After all, unbelievers visit the sick and imprisoned, feed the hungry and clothe the neighbor.  And sometimes unbelievers do it better and more than we do!  But again, these activities are not categorical evidence that people are Christians.  Remember, the life of the believe is hidden and creation eagerly awaits for the revelation of who the sheep are! 


So, in the meantime, Christians live in this world side by side with unbelievers.  And most of the time you can’t tell the difference especially if you only look at what they do in the world.  There really isn’t any outward difference between the work of a Christian doctor or a pagan doctor.  There is no “Christian” way to deliver the mail, fix a flat tire, or plow a field.  The difference is internal AND IT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FAITH IN JESUS OR UNBELIEF IN JESUS!


So on the Last Day, Jesus, who judges the heart, will reveal the faith or the unbelief. 


And the only works that are good before Jesus are the ones that flow from faith in Him.


Faith in Jesus is a divine work in us.  It transforms us and gives us a new birth brought about by the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel.  Faith in Jesus slays the old Adam / the old Eve – makes us entirely different people in heart, spirit, and mind.  It is impossible for faith to not do good works all the time.  Faith doesn’t ask whether good works are to be done.  Before the question is even asked, faith has already done them and is forever doing them.  Faith receives all that God gives in Jesus and His Word.  Love gives to the neighbor – what the neighbor needs, namely, our deeds of love.


In fact, good works come so naturally to faith that the Christian most often does them without even recognizing them.  The sheep are surprised to find out that the food and drink they served to the hungry and thirsty was actually a meal served to the King of kings and Lord of lords.  That the sick neighbor they helped was actually Jesus Himself hidden in that neighbor.  “Whatever you did for one of the least of these my brothers you did it to me.” 


Good works are done best when we become forgetful of having done them.


Our works or deeds become a problem when we want to drag them with us into heaven!  As if they are a bargaining chip to use in a salvation poker game.  The suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus is all that is needed for heaven. 


So, Judgment Day will be a revelation.  It will be a revelation of the truth that Jesus is the Son of God who suffered, died, and rose to redeem the world.  Then, says St. Paul, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and every knee will bow to Him in everlasting joy or forevermore shame.  On the Last Day faith will give way to sight.


In addition, the Last Day will also be a revelation of who you are – sheep or goat. 


But you don’t have to wait until the Last Day for that.  After all, Son of Man Judge Jesus comes here every Sunday in the divine service as His Word is proclaimed.  In His Word He speaks!  And He speaks to you! 


What does He say?  He says:  “All your sin is forgiven!  I put my Name on you in your Baptism!  You’re mine.  I am your Good Shepherd.  I laid down my life for you.  I was raised from the dead.  And I live and reign to give you, My sheep, life, peace, and joy in the full and complete forgiveness I say you have.”


Jesus spreads a table before you to feed you with His Good Friday Body and Blood.  He joins Himself to you with all that He is and all that He has so that you will live forever with Him in His kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.


Every Sunday is a little judgment day.  Every Sunday Jesus judges you as forgiven.  So that on the Last Day you will hear Him declare:  “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”


In the Name of Jesus.


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