Summary: Jesus teaches us about the final judgment. This sermon uses the analogy of reading the last page of a book to explain the parable. It helps the hearer to see how this supports the doctrine of faith alone, and it encourages them to serve.
The first thing that I always do when I read a new book is to read the last few pages. Its something that I always do, and I can’t help it or stop it. I love reading the last scene and then reading the book to figure out what that last image portrayed means, or the reason and significance behind the closing quote. I enjoy seeing who is in that last scene so I know who is still alive at the end and so I can look out for this person as the book progresses. Doing this helps to guide my thoughts and understanding of the book as I read through it and when I approach those last few pages. I told my wife this and she responded, “You’re one of those people, I never do that. It ruins the book.” “Yes, I am one of those people, and I like doing it.” Today, whether you like it or not, Jesus reads us the last few pages; He tells us what happens at the very end of the world. Jesus does this because an understanding of the end of the world shapes how we view our lives and how we live with each other here (and) in the now.
To understand this scene, we need to know the events that come before it, for remember, we are on the last page after all. At a first glance, there seems to be a huge contradiction in our text; the sheep and the goats seem to be sent either to their punishment or to their inheritance based on works, and not on faith. In fact, there is no mention of faith at all in this text. Will this week be forever known as the week that Vicar destroyed Lutheranism? No, let’s not go that far. Again, we are on the last page. Some important events have happened that will help us to make sense of this event.
The return of Christ has already happened and He has come in His glory. His glory is the sum of the divine attributes, attributes like His almighty power, complete knowledge, and omnipresence, and they are in their unrestricted use, exercise, and display. He has also come with His angels, all of them. Elsewhere in Matthew, Jesus says that His angels are instrumental in separating the believers from the unbelievers. His return will be quite a scene. The Resurrection of the dead has also already taken place since all nations and people have been gathered before Jesus as He sits on His throne. We know too that the sheep and the goats are not described as being judged on this day since they have already been separated. They have been already separated by faith beforehand. In this scene, the two groups are receiving their reward as Jesus shows the verdict of His judgment. With these things in mind, the meaning of the text unfolds before us. As I walk through this text, identify who you are in this scene.
Jesus begins by calling Himself King and says when He returns, He will show His verdict. He makes His judgment public and uses as evidence the things we ourselves and others can see, works. Unfortunately, as hard as we may try, we simply cannot see faith. There are no magic glasses that we can put on to see faith in people, nor are they available in the Seminary bookstore, I checked. The reality is that we cannot see faith in people. However, we can see good works, which are the products of having faith in Jesus Christ. So it is with works that His verdict is shown, revealing to everyone the evidence behind His decision.
So He first speaks to the sheep and calls them blessed, and indeed they are. He tells them, “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” This blessing and inheritance is announced before their works are ever mentioned, again, emphasizing the point that this was a result of faith, not of works. Now the King shows the proof for His decision and presents the evidence that we can see. He says, “when I was hungry, you gave me food. When I was thirsty, you gave me drink. When I was naked, you clothed me. When I was sick or in prison, you visited me.” However, this confuses the sheep, the righteous. They don’t recall doing any of these things to Christ personally. So they respond, “When? When did we do these things to you?” and they essentially repeat Christ’s words back to Him. You sense humility in their response, for these actions were the result of their faith. They didn’t do them because it counted towards their salvation, nor would it. Rather, their faith led them to do it. When they finished speaking, Jesus clarifies and explains what He means. He says, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Jesus reveals that not only were their great acts of service done to Him, even the smallest ones to the least of people in this world were done to Him. It is quite evident why Jesus has these people inherit heaven; they had faith and lived it!