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Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46 (NIV)
- Hymn: CW 494 “See, He Comes, the King of Glory”
- Hymn of the Day: CW 487 “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending”
- Hymn: CW 663 “Soul, Adorn Yourself with Gladness”
- Hymn: CW 850 “It Is Well with My Soul”
Last Sunday of the Church Year (November 29th, 2023)
Matthew 25:31-46 Pastor Ryan Wolfe
“We Will See Jesus!”
1) We’ll see him in glory then.
2) We see him in others now.
How do you see Jesus? I mean, how do you picture him? I imagine when most of us think of Jesus, we think of him as the Gospels reveal him to us. The God-man who walked on streets just like us, teaching his disciples, and eating meals just like we do. We picture Jesus in his work of humility when he set aside his full glory and power to save us. That’s the Jesus of our Sunday school lessons and children’s songs, and it’s a comforting vision of Jesus as our humble brother. But we know he’s more than that, don’t we? We see glimpses of Jesus’ glory shining through even during his life on earth. Who have you ever seen command the wind and rain to stop and then watch as the weather bowed in obedience? What mere man could have raised Lazarus from the dead? No, the whole time Jesus was, and is, the glorious Son of God. The eternal, almighty God.
On Judgment Day the whole world will see Jesus, and not in the humility of his work to save us but in the glory that is his by right. Think of how people reacted just to angels in the Bible. The Roman soldiers at Jesus’ tomb fell like dead men. When the shepherds saw just one angel announcing Jesus’ birth, they were terrified. Joshua fell face down on the ground. Those are just angels. Now picture Jesus in his glory surrounded by them! On judgment day there will be no skeptics. That day no one will deny that the one before them is God Almighty, powerful and glorious. This is how we see Jesus today on this last Sunday of the Church year.
I think it surprises people how clear the Bible is on what is going to happen that day. And maybe we tend to forget because we get wrapped up in living life in this world and don’t think enough about the end of this world. On judgment day all the dead will rise, believers and unbelievers alike. The souls of those who had been dead will be restored to their bodies, created anew from the dust in our graves, never to be separated again. And then Jesus in all his power and glory will judge every person, the living and the previously dead. He will separate the righteous who will spend eternity in heaven from the unrighteous who will spend eternity in hell and that judgment will be final. No thousand years. No separate rapture. No second chances. There is one day of judgment, and then it’s over.
The standard of judgment that day will be impossibly high. Jesus preached that we must be perfect as he is perfect. Holy as our heavenly Father is holy. Anything less than that will lock the doors of heaven to us. One lustful thought or hurtful word. Just once ignoring God’s will and doing what you want instead. Just one time putting your own interest ahead of your neighbor’s. Commit a single sin and you put yourself among the goats on the wrong side of judgment.
We can tell ourselves we’re better than other people, but even if that’s true, we don’t measure up against God. We all fall short. And this lesson from Jesus at the end of the year is the wake-up call we need to remember this day could come at any time and it is of eternal importance. Whether you’re ready or not, we will see Jesus, and that day will mean the unending end for far too many. There is no third group in Jesus’ description here. No middle ground. Sheep and goats. Righteous and wicked. Heaven or hell.
In sin, we tremble before our holy God. This is serious and we can’t afford to take it lightly any more or think it’s not a big deal. I know the temptations we all face to dwell on the present. The economy is tough. The election seems like a big deal. Your cancer diagnosis, your fraying relationships, your sports and house and job. I get it. But those are just temporary detours on a much longer journey. Our sin puts us in danger of losing heaven for eternity –what does it matter that we’re busy? Your best friend, your spouse, your child could be lost forever on judgment day. Why put your time and effort into all the things of this life and not work while you can to spare them an eternity in hell?
Yes, you know how you’re spared from judgement. But you also know how they can be spared. The whole world will see Jesus on judgment day’ you’ve already seen him in Scripture. You’ve seen him come to live and die for us in the Gospels. You saw him in the manger, the Word made flesh for you. You saw him on the cross, exchanging his innocence for your sin. You saw him at Easter, alive again, risen in glory and victory. When Jesus looks at you on judgment day, he will recognize you as his child in faith, and our Good Shepherd will bring every sheep home with him to heaven. Because you have seen Jesus now in faith, on that day you will see Jesus in joy. On a day when most will be separated for fire, you will be gathered for peace.
A quick reading of our Bible text leaves us with a distinct impression that Jesus will separate us based on our own good works. I mean, what’s the distinction between the sheep and the goats? Jesus says the righteous gave him food and drink, clothing and shelter; they visited him when he was sick or in prison. The unrighteous? They didn’t. And if this were the only part of Scripture that talked about judgment, we might have to conclude we’ll be saved by our own works. Bu this is not the only Scripture.
Many of you memorized Ephesians 2:8,9 at some point in your lives. “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” No, it’s not our charitable acts or good works that will save us and make us worthy of heaven. It’s God’s gifts of grace and faith. So why does Jesus point to our works, the things we do, here? Well, Jesus is relying on exactly the truth we find in James 2, “faith without works is dead.” Judgment day is a visible, public judgement, so Jesus looks for visible evidence to show the rightness of his verdict. Good works are the natural byproduct of faith. They show us that our faith is still alive. Just as breathing is evidence of life in our bodies,just as heat is evidence of a living fire, Jesus on the last day will hold up our deeds as evidence of living faith.
Notice that when Jesus asks the righteous about the work they’ve done for him, they don’t even realize what they’ve done. That’s key. These weren’t good works done for the purpose of saving themselves. They weren’t done to earn God’s favor. These were things they just did naturally out of Christian love. They are small things. Regular things. Our hearts are stirred to help the hungry and poor because we remember how well Jesus feeds us, physically and spiritually. We care for the sick and imprisoned because we know how Jesus healed us from guilt. How he released us from our slavery to sin.
Brothers and sisters, we are like empty cups that God fills with his grace. He poured out his love on us so richly that it overflows from us and shows in our lives and in our relationship with others. That overflowing grace leads us to see Jesus not just in the past on the pages of Scripture, and not just in the future on Judgment Day, but in every person we meet. It leads us to love them the way we love Jesus. To help them in their time of need the way we would help Jesus. To give our time and efforts to them, the way we would give it to him. The neighbor who can’t shovel their snow. The child who struggles to sit quietly in school or church. The single mother. The lonely shut-in. The democrat. The republican. The immigrant. The best friend and the most bitter rival. To us, they are all Jesus. And when we love them, we are showing our love for him.
On the last day Jesus will hold up those expressions of faith as evidence of those who are truly his. But our love for others and sacrifices for him won’t bring us praise. It will only magnify his glory even more. That day the world will know, believers and unbelievers alike, that we saw him, and then saw him in others. Last week we heard Pastor Enter show us Jesus’ call to serve. He knocked down our objections and questions and reminded us of how much others need us.
On this last Sunday of the Church year, this last look at our lives in the time between his first and second coming, Jesus helps us see things clearly. This world is dying. Every sign that Jesus said would come has come. And while we don’t know the day or hour of its arrival, judgment day is coming soon. As a believer in Christ, you are already prepared for that day. But what will you do while you wait?
Your good works won’t add to your own salvation, but they just might lead to someone else’s. So, see Jesus and serve him. See him in the faces of the lost and share the saving news of Jesus. See Jesus in the poor and downtrodden and help. See Jesus in the sick, in the imprisoned, in the outcasts of society and give them love and time and friendship. Let the grace that God poured into you flow out through you. Share his love, so that your neighbors can stand with you on Judgment Day and say not with fear, but with joy, Now I see Jesus. AMEN.