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LSB Proper 29A Sermon – Matthew 25:31-46

November 24, 2014

November 23, 2014 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“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.”

It all comes down to this. The Church receives Jesus’ teaching about the Last Day. It has been prepared for it. Jesus hasn’t kept it a secret. He has disclosed the matter in parables, using examples of a master leaving servants in charge and then returning at an unexpected hour, of a bridegroom showing up later than anticipated, of a master entrusting property to his servants then coming back to settle accounts. Each of these focused on aspects of the Last Day.

And now, Jesus describes what will take place on that day. But when He does so, He no longer uses a story or parable to describe it. Instead, He puts the matter plainly: “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. He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left.” There will be a great sorting, a judging between individuals. It will take place as Jesus appears in all His power and splendor as the Eternal Son of God, exercising the full authority that He possesses.

And Jesus discloses the result of this separation: “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ … Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and His angels.’ … And these will go way into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

So how will this judging, this sorting take place? Who is being judged? What are the criteria used? The description that Jesus gives answers these questions. The criteria are listed in Jesus’ statements to the people. Both the positive and the negative statements state the criteria: “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…. 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.” These actions done to Jesus form the criteria by which individuals are judged.

But note something interesting that the people being judged say in response. Both those who are commended and those who are condemned ask the King the same question: “Lord, when did we see You…?” The righteous do not recall ever seeing Jesus and doing all these good things to Him. The unrighteous do not recall ever seeing Jesus and neglecting to serve Him. So how can the King say that they have done or not done these things to Him? The answer is in Jesus’ statement: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of My brothers, you did it to Me…. Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to the one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” 

Jesus’ statement equates the actions done to His disciples—His brothers—as being done to Him. It is a mysterious statement full of much content. It notes that Jesus connects Himself to those who belong to Him. He considers them part of His household. In fact, Jesus uses that term “brothers” to speak of the Twelve and of other disciples. It is so on Easter Morning when Jesus sends the women who have seen Him risen from the dead to go to the Twelve: “Do not be afraid; go and tell My brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.” Such familial terms are used in the description that Jesus gives about His followers: “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”

And there is another important item in the description that Jesus gives about the Last Day. Remember how He said who would be brought before Him: “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.” That term “the nations” is significant. It is the way that the Gentiles, those who were not part of Israel, are identified in the Scriptures. Jesus gives instruction about them after His resurrection: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” He establishes the way that He will have followers from among the Gentiles.

That mission among the Gentiles took place after Jesus ascended into heaven. They were made to be Jesus’ disciples. Baptisms and instruction in Jesus’ teaching happened all over the Mediterranean and Ancient Near East. Then they expanded into the Persian and Indian lands, the territory of the Copts and Ethiopians, the Balkan and Slavic provinces, and the Germanic and Nordic regions. And now it has gone worldwide: into Africa, Asia, the Americas, Australia. In each of these places, the Gentiles are brought into the Church, just as you have been: baptized in the name of the Triune God and taught the way of discipleship that Jesus established. New believers in Jesus are made.

But something was different in this process compared to Jesus’ calling people to follow Him in ancient Palestine. As the missions among the nations took place, the apostles were making disciples of Jesus from people who had never seen Jesus. The Twelve and the other disciples in Galilee and Judea had seen Him. Their ears had heard Him. Their hands had touched Him. They had served Him. The Gospels include descriptions of these people serving Jesus: providing food and drink to Jesus, welcoming Jesus into their homes, being with Jesus as He was tried and condemned, even standing with Jesus as He died on the cross and carrying Him to His tomb. Then they had seen Him risen from the dead.

Such witnessing of Jesus could not be done by the Gentiles who lived in different lands and in different times than He did. The same is true for you. You haven’t beheld Jesus with your own eyes or heard Him with your own ears or touched Him with your own hands. You haven’t welcomed Him into your homes. You haven’t visited Him. You haven’t fed Him. That day “when the Son of Man comes in His glory” will be the first time that you will see Jesus for yourselves.

And yet, Jesus says this about those who have been made His disciples: “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.” On that Last Day you can rightly ask the question: “Lord, when did we see You…?” Despite the fact that you have not seen Jesus, He declares that you have actually done all those things to Him: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of My brothers, you did it to Me.” 

Jesus uses these actions as the criteria by which He judges the Gentiles. The people who live in the nations where His mission has been carried out actually have the opportunity to do things to Him. Being baptized in the Triune God’s name and being taught to observe what Jesus has commanded brings a new way of life. Jesus’ followers are led to abide by a rule of discipleship that He has established. Matthew’s Gospel is the most comprehensive presentation of that, chock full of Jesus’ teachings. But the other three Gospel accounts and the apostolic letters also include this. Despite not seeing Jesus themselves, His followers believe in His identity, actions, and teaching.

Those who have been brought to belief in who Jesus is—the Eternal Son of God who took flesh and dwelt among mankind—and what He has done—fulfilling the Law of God, offering Himself as an atoning sacrifice, and rising from death—also are led to observe the instruction that He has given. And so you are moved to provide food and drink, welcome, clothing, visitation, and support to all the brothers of Jesus. This is done as you put to use the abilities, skills, and possessions that your Lord has granted to you.

But the activities that Jesus describes as being done to Him are actually quite simple. He does not call on you to go on a pilgrimage or a crusade or to adopt a monastic life cloistered away somewhere. No, they are much less complex. You can participate in them this morning: providing food in the Thanksgiving and Christmas collections; giving garments in the clothes basket or the VA bin; receiving the visitors who come to worship with us. They can become your agenda during this week or month: visiting the homebound; caring for the sick.

Though these actions may be simple, they are actually quite complex as Jesus views them. He says about these simple actions: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of My brothers, you did it to Me.” The nature of these simple actions is also a deep matter: they are the fruits of faith, the result of being called to believe in this Jesus whom you have never seen. So they become the criteria by which you are judged by Jesus. His commendation of the righteous is what you will hear as faith active in love is found in you. Being baptized in the name of the Triune God and observing what Jesus has taught, you are one of His disciples. Living in that bond of faith that connects you to Him, you carry out what you are called to do.

And so the events of the Last Day will be set for you. “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.” On that day, you will finally see the Redeemer in whom you have believed. And you will hear Him say: “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…. Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of My brothers, you did it to Me.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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