Matthew 25:31-46 (Last Sunday)
St. John, Galveston 11/26/2023
Rev. Alan Taylor

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

I was a much younger man when I served as a Vicar at Christ Memorial in Houston. As a young man, and as a Vicar in the Church, I was trying to figure out how to apply God’s word, not just to myself, but to other people who would soon depend on me to do just that. I, like any other Vicar in the Church, needed to learn how to divide the Law and Gospel, how to apply each of them at the right time and in the right way.

God’s Word is never to be trifled with. “It is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Such is the nature of God’s Word, and wrongly applied, it can crush us with unimaginable guilt and condemnation. Rightly applied, it can lift us up far above sin and death and give us hope and peace, far beyond what we could either ask or think. Frankly, as a young man and a Vicar in the Church, I was scared to death.

One day a woman came into my office. She wasn’t a member of the congregation. In fact, she was homeless. I had only been at the church for about two weeks. Nevertheless, she had a specific request of me. She wanted me to pick up the phone and call all of the members of the congregation to see if I could find her a job. The pastor wasn’t there that day, and I thought it not vise for the new Vicar to be calling everyone in the congregation to solicit a job for this woman that I didn’t know anything about. I told her I couldn’t do what she requested.

It was then that she stood up and said, “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.’” At that point, I told her should would have to leave, which she did. But then I sat at my desk. Those words haunted me. Was she right? Were those the words I was going to hear from Jesus on the day of judgment? Were they the words by which I would be condemned?

We have those very words of Jesus before us this morning from Matthew’s Gospel, and so, it would be an excellent time for all of us to try them on for a bit, if you will. On that day, (that is, on the day of Jesus’ return) “The King will say to those on his right (the sheep), ‘Come, you who are blessed by 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.’”

But “He will say to those on his left (the goats), ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal 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 welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’” “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

As startling and condemning as those words may sound, we believe them to be true. In fact we confess them as a proper statement of our faith regarding the day of judgement. “At Jesus coming all people will rise again with their bodies and give an account concerning their own deeds. And those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire. This is the catholic faith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.”

Those are, of course, the last words of the Athanasian Creed, one of the three ecumenical, or universal creeds of the Church, the other two being the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed. We hold all three of the creeds to be a true and proper confession of the Word of God and of our faith. “Those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire.”

So, what will it be on that great day for you? Have you done good? Or, have you done evil? Before you answer that, hear me out regarding good and evil as testimonies of our lives. I don’t know that I’ve ever done this, but I’d like for you turn in your bulletin to the Gospel reading for today. There’s one point that I want to make that bears tremendously on a proper understanding of this whole passage from Matthew 25. The passage 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.”

At that point, I’d like you to take note of the first word of verses 34 and 41. It’s the word “then,” isn’t it? The reason that word is important is because the King’s testimony regarding the good deeds of the sheep and the evil deeds of the goats, only occurs after the sheep have been separated from the goats. And, as you can see in the text, of the sheep, everything the King says is good. Conversely, of the goats, everything the King says is bad, or evil.

We’ll come back to that point in just a minute, but first, based on the whole of Scripture, what will be the King’s criteria for separating the sheep from the goats on the last day? In other words, what makes a goat a goat and what makes a sheep a sheep? It’s the righteousness of Jesus, isn’t it? Or, the lack thereof. “You are saved by grace, through faith. And that, not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, and not of works, lest anyone should boast.” A sheep is “in Christ!” And that, by the express grace and mercy of God. And so, salvation, which is credited to the sheep on the last day, is always and only in and through Christ Jesus. He is the righteousness of the righteous. And yes, He is the sin of sinners.

As the King turns to the sheep, notice that He only mentions good works in their case. That’s you, by the way. A life of good. One might ask, why are there no evil works? Certainly I’ve done wrong things in my life. It’s really quite simple, and yet, amazing. The evil works done by the sheep have all been washed away by the sacrifice of Jesus. They are gone! He has removed them from the sheep, from you, as far as the east is from the west. What remains is all good. Because a life lived in Christ, is, by it’s very definition good. God counts the deeds of your life as good because they were done in and through Christ. Feeding and raising your children. Loving your grandkids. Caring for aging parents. Being a friend to others. It’s all good, because you have been marked with the sign of the cross. I have bought with you with price, Jesus says, you are mine.

“Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Such is the terrible judgment faced by those who refused Christ and His gifts of forgiveness and salvation in this life. The goats heard the King recite all the evil done in their lives. There was no forgiveness. There was no righteousness. And there was no good either. You see, “without faith it is impossible to please God.”

And so, it is true, the deeds of our lives will speak to our faith on the last day. We won’t be saved from sin and death by our works, but our works will be a sure and certain testimony to the powerful working of God in our lives. And those deeds in our lives that would testify to our sinfulness, or to our lack of faith, they will have been washed away in the crimson flow of Jesus’ blood, to be remembered no more.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +