SCRIPTURES – Ezek. 34:11-16, 20-24; 1 Cor. 15:20-28; Matt. 25:31-46
“These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Mt. 25
Today is the last Sunday of the Church Year, and the Scriptures hold before us the resurrection of all the dead and the final judgment to heaven or hell. At the end there will be justice: the rewarding of the good and the punishing of the evil.
Justice; it’s what we want, isn’t it? Early in our lives we seek it with cries of, “It’s not fair!” Right now some in Ferguson, MO are seeking it with cries of, “No justice, no peace!” Justice, the rewarding of the good and the punishing of the evil, is what we want because it is what is right.
The day of God’s justice is coming! Jesus describes it very clearly: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.” And then, there will be justice, with Jesus, ultimately, as its focus and center. True and lasting justice comes from Him.
Our Lord tells us that whether you end up in heaven or hell depends upon your relationship to Him. “Before him will be gathered all the nations,” Jesus says. The final judgment will not be Christians standing before Jesus; Muslims before Allah; Hindus before their many gods; and so forth. There will be only one final judge: Jesus. He alone is God. This is not what I say. It is what He says.
And, He will not only issue the final verdict on your life. He will also be its basis. In your life what you did – or did not do – unto Him will determine your eternal fate.
You need to consider this carefully. Now, it is true that the Bible teaches that we saved by faith alone. For instance, Ephesians 2:8-9 states: “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” We even see this in the judgment scene that Jesus describes. The sheep have no idea that they have served Him. “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you?” they say. They had not been trying to be saved by their good works! Don’t ever think, however, that this means that faith in Christ can be a mere idea or concept. There is nothing “mere” or “conceptual” about faith! True faith, like true love, transforms a person. Martin Luther defines it well:
“Faith is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God… O it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown him this grace. Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire.” (Introduction to Romans)
Is this your faith? Keep in mind that what you do in this life is so important to your Lord that He will declare it in the judgment!
Be active in loving and serving others in Jesus’ name, then, that your Lord may boast of you. For, the judgment that Jesus will pronounce upon you will not only be final. It will be eternal: eternal life in heaven or eternal punishment in hell.
“But what if I do something dumb right at the end? What if I commit some great sin against God right before I die?” Have you ever worried about this?
Some of you may remember the 1982 NCAA basketball championship game between North Carolina and Georgetown. The score went back and forth, and with sixteen seconds left, NC freshman Michael Jordan sank a jump shot to put NC up by one. Georgetown inbounded the ball to Fred Brown, their guard, and he brought it across the center line. Could he get it to Patrick Ewing, who had been having a great game? With eight seconds left Brown passed the ball – to James Worthy of North Carolina, who stood about ten feet behind him! Worthy dribbled down to the other end and ran out the clock while Brown watched in shock and helplessness. How could he have done such a stupid thing? He cost his team the championship! Immediately after the buzzer sounded his coach ran out and wrapped his arms around him in a hug. His teammates did the same. Yes, he screwed up, but their relationship with him wasn’t based upon one last-second play. Fred was still what he had been all along: a valued member of the team!
If people can act this way, can forgive error and respond with love, how much more can we be assured that God can, and will, do so! In fact, He did so long ago when our Lord Jesus came into this world. He came as a shepherd, to “seek the lost, bring back the strayed, bind up the injured, and strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong to destroy” (Ezek. 34). It’s not the wise and the strong He helps, those who think their lives are good, but the sinful! Don’t focus upon your foolish and bad decisions and works, nor your wise and good ones, but upon God’s decision and works for you.
Upon Christ’s works, which were all done for you, with no mistakes and with nothing left undone. Focus especially upon Jesus’ death on the cross to bear the judgment for all of your sins and His resurrection from the dead as the firstfruits. He has put all His enemies, including your sins and death, under His feet and rules over them!
Upon God’s decision for you: your Baptism. In it He declared that you are His own. He put His name upon you and took you to be His child. God is your Father. This is not a relationship that is based upon your last minute decisions but upon His constant love, love which will bring forth a life of good deeds!
What kind of deeds? Average deeds: feeding; clothing; visiting; welcoming. And, when you can no longer do them, you then have the deeds of being fed, being clothed, being visited, and being welcomed. These are things we can all do, and as we do them, or have them done to us, in Christ’s name – because we are His and they are what He would do – He receives them as done unto Him. He raises them from average to great, so great that He will boast of them before His Father!
This is God’s justice, His setting right of all things in Christ. It is what we are to eagerly look forward to as we live in this unjust world. “In keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.” (2 Pet. 3:13) Come, Lord Jesus! Our hope is in You. Amen.