Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday of End Times (Saints Triumphant)

MATTHEW 25:31-46

In the name + of Jesus.

     It was never God’s intention that man would be cut off from him or be banished to hell.  Consider Jesus’ words: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34)  God’s intention from the creation of the world was that he would live in communion with humanity and for eternity would continue to pour out blessings upon people in his heavenly kingdom.  Even the curse Jesus will issue says as much: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41)  Hell was invented for the devil and his demons, not for people.  That does not mean people will not be sent there, but that was never God’s intent.  It still isn’t. 
     Heaven is reserved for saints.  The word “saint” means “holy one.”  Heaven is a place where only that which is holy can dwell, so it is not a surprise to hear that those who are in heaven are holy, or saints.  These are the righteous who are mentioned in our gospel.  These are the ones who were separated from the unrighteous by Jesus.  They are his.  He knows them, and so he knows precisely who should be set apart to receive a place in the heavenly kingdom.  No matter how well the wicked seem to be righteous and no matter how many good works the wicked could take credit for, Jesus knows better.  He is not deceived by outward acts.  Just as a shepherd can distinguish between a sheep and a goat, so Jesus can distinguish between who is a saint and who is not.
     Jesus identified the saints for us as he foretold of the judgment.  He explains why the righteous will receive the kingdom.  “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.” (Matthew 25:35-36)  The wicked, by contrast, did not do those things.  They will be condemned because they did not do the good that God demands.
     Now, when you heard Jesus’ description of the righteous and what they do, did you do a mental check list?  If you did, are you pleased with how well you’ve done, or are you alarmed because some things are missing?  And if you were doing a check list, do you really think that is what makes you a saint and gets you into heaven?  Beware, because this is how the wicked think.  When Jesus cursed them for their lack of works, the wicked responded: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” (Matthew 25:44)  These people had been keeping track.  They had tallied up their good works and presented them to Jesus.  They wanted their reward.
     The wicked are always surprised that Jesus calls them wicked.  The wicked always believe they are good people and do good things.  In doing so, they reject God’s judgment.  God teaches everyone to confess, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Isaiah 64:6)  Our righteous deeds are filth.  Though we may praise each other for our deeds, before God we are all corrupt.  Therefore, even our best works are filth to him.  If our best is filth because it is stained with sin, what reward should God give it?  God is only pleased with that which is holy.  Just as you have no desire to see filth tracked through your home, so God will not let filth be dragged into heaven.  If you are sinful, then all you do is sinful.  If sins remain, the curse remains.  And the curse means you will be banished to eternal punishment.
     It was never God’s intention that man would be cut off from his kingdom or be banished to hell.  It still isn’t.  At the judgment, Jesus will speak to the saints: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34)  Then he will cite evidence of their godly lives.  The saints, however, do not remember having done these works.  They did not keep track.  They have no tally marks to show Jesus.  They are stunned that they are even being credited for doing them.  That is because the saints don’t trust in themselves or their works to be saved.  So what makes you a saint?  Why should you be counted among the righteous?
     Jesus answers that when he says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father….” (Matthew 25:34)  This sentiment was expressed once before by Jesus.  It was after Peter had confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16:16)  Jesus replied, “Blessed are you Simon…  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18)  Simon Peter was blessed by the Father because the Father had revealed to him his Savior, Jesus.  It is Jesus who has prepared the kingdom for you.
     Jesus is the Christ, the Righteous One.  As the Son of the Living God, Jesus is righteous by nature.  As the Son of Man, Jesus is righteous for having kept all of God’s Commandments.  In Jesus, we have one man who has performed the holy obedience God demands.  In Jesus, we have one man who has opened the way into God’s kingdom.  God has prepared a kingdom for you, and Jesus is the way in.   
    Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, took his innocent life and gave it up for you.  He gave up credit for his perfect obedience and credited it to you.  He gave up credit for his perfect obedience so that he would take credit for all of the obedience you failed to give and for all the good that you never did, never wanted to do, or never got around to doing.  By taking credit for your sins, Jesus also takes the consequences of your judgment.  The Righteous one dies for the unrighteous.  The only one who is truly good dies for all who are bad.  He has taken all of your bad and credits you with all of his good.  Rather than banishing you as one who is cursed, it is the curse which has been banished from you.  Your sins are covered.  Your curse has been lifted.  Through Jesus, the kingdom has been prepared for you.
     Behold!  You are blessed by the Father who has revealed to you your Savior, Jesus Christ.  You are blessed by the Father who was pleased to send his Son to cover over all your filth and clothe you in garments of salvation.  Through Jesus’ holy and precious blood, you have been cleansed of every stain, every spot, and every impurity.  You stand before God as people who are now righteous and blameless, that is, as saints.  Therefore, the kingdom which the Father had prepared for you from the creation of the world is yours. 
     Jesus Christ will come again and deliver his saints into the heavenly kingdom.  Jesus has prepared it for you, and Jesus Christ has prepared you for it.  You are his saints.  This is no mere status symbol—though it is the status for which you will be judged.  It is also your new nature.  As God’s holy ones, you also desire to do holy things.  Among those holy things is to love your neighbor in his need—whether his need is food or drink, clothing or shelter, or sitting by his side or taking his side.  God regards these as holy works whether they are done in a mission field, in your little corner of Michigan, or in your house.  God regards these as holy because he regards you as holy.  You don’t do these things because they are items that need to be checked off the list, but because they are needs your neighbor has.  You do them because faith puts itself to work in showing mercy.  And no matter how insignificant it seems to you, Jesus puts his blessing upon it.
     Jesus has prepared the kingdom for you.  Jesus will soon take you into the Paradise of God.  There, the saints will receive all good things, and only good things.  This is always what your Lord has intended for you.  Jesus has seen to it that the kingdom is yours; for, you are his saints.

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

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