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Sermon for the Second-to-Last Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 26)
2 Peter 3:3-14 + Matthew 25:31-46
Are you tired yet? Tired of running around? Tired of nagging health problems? Tired of dealing with difficult people? Tired of reading the news and watching society collapse all around you? Tired of uncertainty, of loneliness, of looking in the mirror and seeing that incorrigible sinner staring back at you?
Then listen: When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.
It all has an end—all the running and chasing and toiling, all the mourning and suffering and sinning. The Son of Man—our dear Lord Jesus—is coming. And all the company of heaven with Him. And He will reign in glory. And all the troubles of earth will fade away.
Of course, Jesus won’t begin to sit on His throne on the Last Day. He sits there already. Since the day of His ascension, God the Father seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
The ascension of Christ was the beginning of His reign in this New Testament—the reign of the Son of Man. Already Christ sits on His heavenly throne in His kingdom of grace. Already He exercises His divine authority to govern the affairs of this world. Already He sends His Spirit wherever He chooses and brings people into His kingdom and rules over the hearts of believers. He, the eternal Word of God, by whom all creation was made in the beginning, still holds all things together in the universe. Christ will not begin to reign when He comes on the Last Day. It will be the culmination of His reign—the beginning of His reign in visible glory.
It’s all been leading up to this, since before the foundations of the world were laid. God foresaw man’s sin and rebellion. So even before the world was made, God included the end of the world in His plans. This universe was never meant to last forever. God brought the earth forth out of water, as Peter mentions in the Gospel. He will bring it to an end through fire, as Peter also declares. His Word created it. His Word will bring it to a close, as His Word even now declares.
Part of that plan from the beginning was also the judgment of the world, since God foreknew man’s sin and rebellion against Him. And part of that plan was also a way for sinners to escape the impending judgment. God would send His Son, the Word, into the world to be the world’s Redeemer and Reconciler, to suffer in sinners’ place the death and condemnation that they had earned for themselves. God would send this Gospel into the world and with it, His Holy Spirit, so that men might believe in Christ and His sacrifice for them on the cross, and so be reconciled to Him and saved on the day of wrath.
And so the basis for the final judgment was set in stone before the foundations of the world were laid. All whom God would graciously bring to faith in His Son and keep in the faith until the end would be the sheep on the right hand of Jesus the Judge, while all who would stubbornly cling to their idols in unbelief would be the goats on His left.
Jesus, in our Gospel today, doesn’t describe how the sheep came to be sheep or how the goats came to be goats. He makes it very clear in His Word that all men are born under His wrath and condemnation. As Paul writes to the Ephesians in chapter 2: We all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
And as Jesus explains in John 3: He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
So when Jesus comes in glory and separates the sheep from the goats, He won’t be deciding at that moment who is who. He has known it from all eternity, and He has already made the judgment here in time, and He has already disclosed that judgment to us in His Word. He will simply be making the judgment known to all, and handing out eternal sentences to all people.
To those who are righteous by faith, He will say, Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. And then He will commend them for all those deeds of love done for His brethren, His little Christians. For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.
What are these works that He praises? They’re everyday works of simple kindness shown to fellow believers. Works done, not to gain any prize, not to receive any praise, but out of genuine love for Christ and for those who bear His name. In the parable, He has them asking when they saw Him in need and helped Him. He tells the story this way in order to highlight the answer, the main point He wants to communicate to His disciples, and it’s this: that every good deed listed here, every diaper changed for a brother of Christ, every cup of cold water given to a Christian because he is a Christian is a service to Christ. He claims it as His own. He lifts up every single Christian man, woman and child to the same status—to the status of Christ Himself—and shows what a blessed thing it is (1) to be a Christian and (2) to serve a fellow Christian.
These works of kindness and service come from faith. They are the good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. They are the evidence of the faith that the Holy Spirit has worked in their hearts, works that must necessarily follow faith, works which, if they are absent, demonstrate the lack of faith. As Jesus said, If a man abides in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from Me you can do nothing.
And nothing is exactly what Jesus will find among the goats—nothing praiseworthy, nothing that is able to rescue them from everlasting condemnation. Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for 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.
Notice, the King in this parable doesn’t even bother listing all the sins the unbelievers committed, all the hating and killing and sexual immorality of which they never repented. Nor does it matter that they may have done countless deeds that appear good on the outside. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. No, it’s enough for their everlasting condemnation that they failed to offer a little everyday help to Christ’s brethren on earth. See again how He loves His people! And if He will avenge His brothers for these little sins of omission on the part of the unbelievers, how great will His judgment be for all the violent persecution and hateful deeds done against His precious sheep!
And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
In view of all this, St. Peter concludes, Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless. Of all the things that tire us and make us weary in this life of waiting for Jesus to come in glory, with all His holy angels, let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Yes, we shall reap an everlasting inheritance—incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
All the toil of this world has a blessed end for Christians. May the blessed hope of that day spur us on to face another tomorrow in this toilsome world, and to live in peace, to lead a spotless life, a blameless life, a life of service to your fellow Christians, starting right here and branching out as far as the Lord gives you opportunity. And may God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—continue to keep us steadfast in faith until that day! Amen.