Let us pray: Dear Savior, as we await Your physical return to this earth, You have not left us without reminders of Your 2nd coming. All of us must endure “mini-judgment days” in the form of disease, hardship, and emotional upheavals that are inescapable. But, most importantly, You have left us with Your Word of truth and comfort wherein You specifically outline for us the ultimate judgment and how we can endure it. The comfort that You provide in Your Word not only enables us to slog through our many mini-judgments and come out of them stronger people, but it especially enables us to prepare for Your return with eager anticipation instead of trepidation. It is for this that we thank You today. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE JUDGE OF ALL HUMANKIND!
TEXT: Matthew 25: 31-46
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Unless you’re a political junkie, you’re probably breathing a sigh of relief that the election cycle is now over for at least a little while. No matter your political preference, you also have to admit that such elections are really “mini-judgment” days for the candidates. For the minute someone is declared the winner, he or she can no longer indulge in mere rhetoric; no, they are put on the hot seat and must find a way of governing all the people. History tells us that some succeed while others fail. Yes, for any candidate who has been running for office, November 4th was a judgment day.
But what about those of us who weren’t running for office? Do we experience mini-judgment days, too? Yes! Those days may appear in the form of a lay-off, a divorce, the death of a loved one, or a doctor’s diagnosis. Those days cause a tremendous amount of soul-searching. They test our faith. And because the ravages of sin are always present in this world, they are inescapable. About 15 years ago my heart acted up during an evangelism committee meeting. I inherited this rapid-beat heart condition from my mother–Thanks Mom! Anyway, as I sat on the steps outside and awaited the arrival of the ambulance, for the first time in my life I really confronted my own mortality head-on. I watched a plane fly into Logan and thought: “I might not ever see that sight again. I might be seeing Christ in a few moments instead.” And you know what? A sense of peace and tranquility came upon me. I realized I wasn’t afraid of death. I knew I would be going to heaven because of His holiness and forgiveness alone. And then another thought crossed my mind: “Well, Pastor Fox, faith really does work! All you’ve been preaching about for the past years really is effective.” Well, the doctors eventually fixed that ailment, but the insight it gave me lingers on. Yes, “all things work together for good to those who love God” was proven true once more. As you and I slog through this life on the way to the final judgment, we need to turn to God’s Word again and derive from it genuine comfort. For in today’s lesson we clearly see that you can:
ESCAPE THE INESCAPABLE THROUGH FAITH IN CHRIST
About a week before Jesus died He talked to His disciples at length about the inescapability of judgment day. In fact, He devoted 2 chapters of Matthew’s gospel to it, of which our lesson is one part. In the first chapter, 24, He gives them some signs to look for and then goes on to discuss how quickly it will happen. He likens it unto the time of Noah where for 120 years Noah’s neighbors had watched him build the ark and mocked him, and then suddenly it rained, rained, and rained. Then Jesus says: “That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.”
Jesus isn’t defining there “the rapture” as some evangelicals like to think. That is the view that suddenly believers will be caught up into glory, the unbelievers left here to suffer, some sort of 1000 year earthly reign of Christ will follow, Satan will then take over and Armageddon will occur, and then, finally, judgment day will follow. No, He’s reminding the disciples of the human uncertainty of pinpointing an exact moment when “J” day will happen. But, happen it will—so suddenly that field workers will have no time to prepare.
Then, in the next chapter, 25, Jesus provides us with a definite picture of what will occur at that moment. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”
Just as His angels later say at His ascension, Christ will return visibly, in glory (which means not hiding any aspect of His divine nature), along with angelic hosts. Everyone living on this earth will then be separated—believers on one side (the sheep), and goats on the other side (unbelievers). None will be able to run away, hide, or escape. Now we know from other portions of the Bible that believers will be given glorified, holy, perfect bodies on judgment day. They will be caught up or “raptured” into perfect sheephood! The ravages of sin in this life will disappear and divine perfection will visibly cover us. Based on that fact, the sheep vs. goats image becomes quite real. For sheep look different than goats. The believers will be blemish free because sin is gone from them. By faith they put on the perfection of Christ and it will then be visible for everyone to see. Whereas the goats will retain their many blemishes and ravages of sin for all to behold. And that, my friends, will not be a pretty sight.
Then Jesus will bid the sheep to come and inherit the heavenly joy that He has earned for them with His life, death, and resurrection accomplished for them in their place. He will give them the ultimate reward for the faith He has placed in their hearts and by repentance they have kept alive and active. All this is their reward of grace or God’s undeserved love poured out upon them. He will talk and discuss their helping of Him in need, every aspect of trying to live up to their high calling as Christians. The humble believers will naturally object and say: “When did we do this?” And then Jesus will reply: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” And that is the point of an active faith, isn’t it? By trying to keep the 2nd table of the law out of love and appreciation for all that Jesus has done for us, by actively pleading His mercy for our failings, and also actively trusting in His perfect keeping of every commandment for us, in reality, we’re always doing for Him and not ourselves. We labor every day in this grace, and ultimately such grace given to us by Christ has a heavenly reward—even if we don’t see it at the moment, even if we don’t recall it on judgment day! For our all-remembering God does!
The goats, or unbelievers, possess no such holiness through faith. They have not “put on the righteousness of Christ.” They have only their own dirty nature and filthy pride to rely on. Remember when Jesus said: “Apart from Me you can do nothing.”? Well, a life apart from God’s goodness is nothing. And so, these goats will be rejected by Christ because they have failed to put on the wedding robe, faith, that He has provided. They wanted to live life their way instead of God’s way. In doing so they mocked God, spurned Christ, and now He tells them: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Today’s theme is: Escape the Inescapable Through Faith in Christ. So, how can you escape eternal destruction and not end up a goat? You know the answer. It is by embracing faith, putting on that spotless robe earned by Christ alone for you. Yes, such faith changes everything! It changes how we operate in this life and it changes judgment day from a curse to a joyful blessing! For it is only Christ’s holiness of never neglecting another in need and actively helping hurting souls which fulfills God’s holy Law of love. Yes, we escape the harshness of judgment day only by clinging to His love for us in Christ. Now that you know that, this passage by Christ takes on an even richer meaning: “God is love and in Him dwells no darkness at all…..” Amen