Vol. IX — No. 48 December 1, 1968
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave we drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer himg saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Thou shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
In Christ Jesus, who shall return one day to judge the quick and the dead, Fellow Redeemed:
But a few moments ago we joined in confessing our faith in the words of the Apostolic Creed. He confessed that after our Lord had finished the work of redeeming us, lost and condemned sinners that we are, “He ascended into heaven.” We confessed also that He is now, in this very moment, sitting “on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” That means that our Lord Jesus, despite evidence to the contrary, is and has been and will continue to rule and govern all things in heaven and on earth in the interest of and for the benefit of His own. This we believe, even though we cannot demonstrate it to the eye of the doubters and unbelievers. He confess further that one day “He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”
Why do we believe this? Because the Spirit of God in the Word has assured us of our Lord’s return. Just recall the scene at the time of His ascension. His disciples watched as He slowly arose from the earth. They followed Him with their eyes. Then a cloud hid Him from their sight. But they kept on looking, straining their eyes to see Him once again. But they were not to see Him again that day. But one day they would see Him. Two angels were dispatched from heaven to earth to give this assurance. Here is their word of assurance: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” Acts 1:11. Visibly our Lord ascended before the eyes of His disciples. Visibly He shall return at a day and an hour known only to Him.
And what shall be the purpose of His coming? We have confessed: “From thence He shall come to judge the quick (the living) and the dead.” What a day that shall be! Our Lord described it to us in the parable that we have read as our text for this morning. Let us examine it and see what shall happen when—
Let us realize First of all that—
We should realize also that there shall be a private judgment for the individual. That occurs immediately after death. There is no more private event in the life of an individual than dying. Doctors, nurses and members of the family may stand around the bed, exerting every effort to maintain life, but when the time comes, the individual must walk through the valley of the shadow of death alone. No one can accompany the dying person and then return to report back how things went. Even as our Lord Jesus died but once when He sacrificed Himself for the sins of the world, so “it is appointed unto men once to die.” Then what? “But after this the judgment.” Hebrews 9:27. The moment the individual closes his eyes in death, that moment his soul stands before the Judge of all flesh. Think on this: You and I must one day stand all alone before the Judge of heaven and earth.
But the judgment on the last day will be a public affair. This is how our Lord describes it: “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations.” Every one shall see the Lord when He cones again. All the holy angels shall accompany Him. He shall come, not in lowliness as He did when He was born a babe in Bethlehem, but He shall come in glory such as we have never seen before. He shall be seated upon the throne for judgment. All the nations shall be gathered about the judgment throne. Television is a means for making public great events that occur today. But these events can be witnessed only by those who have television sets and tune them in at the right time and by those who have access to television sets. The witnesses are furthermore limited to the living. But on the last day the living and all the dead will be gathered together for the great event of the judgment. There never has been and there never will be an event that will be as public, as open, as the final judgment. The whole human race will be there and will witness and will participate in one way or another. This point we want to emphasize, namely, that—
“Before him shall be gathered all nations.” There will be billions of people—those who rejected the Lord—who will wish to be absent. But they shall be there! St. John proclaims: “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.” Rev. 1:7. Notice how John specifically mentions that those who have pierced the Lord shall be there. He is not referring only to that small detail of soldiers who were in charge of our Lord’s crucifixion. No, he is speaking of the multitudes who have and are piercing the Lord by turning their backs upon Him in unbelief. Some continue in the sins of their fathers generation after generation. Some hear the Word of the Lord, but prefer their sins to repentance. Some hear of the salvation the Lord worked out for mankind, but prefer to turn their backs on it and work out their own salvation. They pierce the Lord with their unbelief. Oh, how they would like to play hooky on that day, but they shall be there. Some have their mortal remains cremated and strewn upon the waters—in a vain effort to assure their absence, but they too shall be there! No one will or can be absent. To this St. John and all believers give their approval: Even so, Amen!” So be it!
What a surprise the unbelievers will be in for on that day, for—
“Then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory!” So said our Lord, and so testified His apostles, and so it is recorded for our instruction by the Holy Spirit! In his sermon at the home of Cornelius Peter proclaimed that the same Jesus who was slain and hanged upon the tree of the cross and who was raisen up the third day by God the Father “was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.” Acts 10:42. The God-man, whose name is so frequently used by man to punctuate his profanity, will be the Judge of those who profane His name. The Lord Jesus, who came to seek and to save all and who offers salvation to all, will be the Judge of those who reject Him. The mighty of this world, the proud, the self-righteous, the heroes of sin and shame, yea also that prophesied Man of Sin will have to bow the knee before Him for judgment. What a joy it will be for those who love and trust Him to find that their eternal fate is in the hands of their Lord and Savior.
How will He conduct the judging? This is the answer:
If you listened to the reading of the parable very carefully, you did not hear the word “faith” or the word “believe” mentioned. But the actions of our Lord reveal that each man’s faith or lack of faith in Christ Jesus as his Savior determines his eternal weal or woe. We read, “And he shall separate them—the entire mass of mankind—one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.” Notice that this separating is done by the Judge Himself before a word is spoken. In hushed silence the Judge will separate the sheep from the goats.
What will He go by? What will be His measuring stick? Our Lord left no doubt for anyone’s mind. Before He ascended into heaven, He gave His disciples the command to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Then He added these words: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Mark 16:16. Faith saves; unbelief damns. Faith is generated and confirmed by baptism and treasures baptism; unbelief rejects baptism because it rejects the Lord who gave baptism. Faith embraces Christ as Savior; unbelief rejects Christ and so invites doom. The sheep are those who rest their hope of salvation upon the righteousness and blood of the Lamb; the goats are those who died in theirsins because they rejected the forgiveness that is to be found alone in Christ Jesus.
After the division has been made, the formal proceedings will begin. Then the Judge speaks, but He speaks not of faith in Himself directly, but He speaks rather of works. Why? Because this judgment is public and because you and I are unable to see faith in another’s heart. Our Lord wants all to know that His judgment is just and right. That is why—
No more wonderful words will ever strike our ears than these words of the Lord Jesus on the last day: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Here is the invitation to eternal bliss. It will be extended to all believers on the Lord Jesus Christ, “For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” Now notice that the Lord Jesus speaks of works done personally unto Him. He speaks of no other works. Works done personally unto Him can only be done by those who know Him, who accept Him, who trust Him, who love Him, who serve and obey Him.
But now notice how self-conscious the believers are about their works: “Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?” The righteous are embarrassed by the praise of their Lord. Why is that? Because they didn’t do good works on earth to earn or merit eternal glory. There will be no one in heaven, slapping himself on the back and congratulating himself because he was successful in working out or meriting eternal salvation. All of those will be numbered among the goats.
The King responds to the self-consciousness of the righteous by assuring them, “Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” When a believer on the Lord Jesus Christ is moved by his faith and love to do good unto others, the Lord Jesus graciously considers that deed as done personally unto Him. What condescending love! What a powerful motivation for us to manifest our faith by serving others!
The goats, the unbelievers, shall hear these irrevocable words: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels? Why? Because they did no works unto the Lord! Unbelievers do many works that shine in the eyes of men. They may be motivated by natural mercy and pity to great humanitarian efforts. They may do good works because it is a form of psychological therapy: it makes them feel good. They may be seeking tax deductions or a good nane among their fellow men. They may hope to influence God in their favor. But all in vain. For the Lord Jesus looks at the doer to see whether he is connected with Him by a living faith. Jesus said, “I was an hungred, I was thirsty, I was a stranger,” but you showed no mercy and love towards He because you rejected Me. He who rejects the Lord Jesus in unbelief can do no good work in the sight of the Lord and is doomed to hell because of his unbelief.
Faith alone saves, but the evidence and proof of that faith are works done unto the Lord. May our faith always demonstrate itself by our love towards others and so unto the Lord! Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.