The Last Sunday after Trinity November 24, 2002
1 Corinthians 15:20-28
613, 201, 605, 451
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, “Come, you blessed of 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 took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” And the King will answer and say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” Then He will also say to those on the left hand, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 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 take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.” Then they also will answer Him, saying, “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?” Then He will answer them, saying, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
Dear friends in Christ:
The first day of kindergarten…
The first day of college…
The first Thanksgiving spent with the in-laws instead of your family…
Such separation from family may cause us a bit of pain and stress. It is something different from the norm. When there is a loved one that has died there is further separation:
The first Christmas without Mom or Dad…
The first birthday without a spouse…
The first family reunion without Grandpa or Grandma…
We don’t like these changes and adjustments forced on us. Yet, in the long run, such separations are small because they are only for a relatively short period of time. As we are now at the last Sunday of the Church Year we are going to talk about the Last Day. On the Last Day, separations will take place that will last forever. Because of such permanency there is some fear involved. Each of us may ask, “What will happen to me? Where will I stand?” Today we are going to discuss the Last Day and consider this life in view of God’s grace and love. Without God’s grace there is (and should be) fear, but with it you can look forward to when the trumpet will sound and Jesus descends in all of His glory. Does the Thought of Judgment Day Cause You Separation Anxiety? I. Look toward the Last Day focused on God and His grace II. Look at today being aware of that same grace.
The separation that we’re going to talk about today is determined by faith. The division of the sheep and goats is made by a Shepherd who knows those who are His. Jesus knows the heart and is fully aware of those who are believers in Him and are, therefore, children of God. He is also aware of those who have rejected Him, and thus are the children of this world. Although we cannot look inside the heart, it is easy for Jesus, who knows all, to make such a division.
Notice that on the Last Day there will be only two groups. There will not be further divisions based on race or gender or social class. There is no third separation for those who are neutral, because one is either for or against Jesus. If you say you don’t care one way or the other, then you are against Him. There is no purgatory. There are no second chances. Once that day arrives everything is final. As God says in the book of Hebrews: “…it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
At the pre-appointed time, known only by God Himself, Jesus will descend in glory as the Heavenly King and Judge. All of mankind will be gathered together, even those who have previously died, for Jesus will raise the dead. That will be quite a gathering of billions and billions of people! But then there will be a separation as the Judge casts His verdict for each individual. That verdict will be one of two that we are familiar with from our own court system: Guilty or Not Guilty.
At the time of division and separation there will be inexpressible joy for the believer for it is his time of deliverance. But for the unbeliever, there will be unimaginable sadness and fear for he will be delivered to the everlasting condemnation of Hell. For this reason, even in this life, there are those who look forward to Judgment Day and those who look to it with dread.
Yet, if you examine the Final Day closely, you will see that God’s grace and love are evident. Look at what Jesus has to say concerning the separation that will take place. Jesus, the King, will say to those on His right hand, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared you from the foundation of the world.” Your salvation was not a last minute decision of God, but something that He had planned for you since before the beginning of time. Heaven is something that you will inherit and this, of course, means that it is a gift. The Paradise to which you look forward was prepared for you by your Lord and given to you by Him. You will be forever with the Lord! There is no greater gift than that!
Even in the condemnation of the unbeliever we see God’s mercy. That may sound strange, but listen again closely to the words of Jesus and you will notice that unlike the believers, the fate of the damned was not planned from eternity nor were they predestined to it. Jesus will say: “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” When Satan and his angels rebelled against God, He prepared a prison for them in which one day they would be sentenced for eternity. He does not want human beings to go there, in fact, He sent a Savior to rescue them from such a fate. However, there are those who have rejected Jesus as their Savior and then this prison of hell will also be used for them.
The agony of Hell is unspeakable because in Hell a person is separated from God—not for a sentence of ten years, or twenty-five-to-life, but for eternity! Nobody has yet been totally separated from God in this life, not even unbelievers. Unbelievers are not totally separated from God in this life because they still receive some of His blessings. For example, “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).
The tortures of hell are underestimated as are also the glories of heaven, and for this reason many do not seem to care about their future after this life. But you know and you care.
There can be fear of this Day even for the Christian because the Devil and our sinful flesh work to erode our confidence in God’s promises. There can be anxiety in looking at the final judgment thinking that you may be separated from God. Look toward the Last Day, but do so focused on God and His grace and love.
We’ve talked about the evidence of God’s grace and love in the words of the sentencing, but it is even more apparent when we talk about how God came to decide your personal verdict of “Not guilty.” Realize that God is a God of Justice. When there is wrong done He cannot overlook it. Payment for sin has to be made. It is His Law that is broken and His Law demands punishment. He is Lord of all, holy, and just and therefore, His judgment will be decisive, final, and there will be no mistakes. The guilty will not go free and the innocent will not be punished.
In view of such perfect justice, a person may wonder, “How will I go to heaven for I am certainly guilty?” This is true because your thoughts, words, and actions have been against God and these transgressions are worthy of eternal punishment because anything short of perfection is sin. However, God judges you on the basis of Christ. If you are in Christ, then you are not guilty. God’s justice and His love met on the cross when Jesus took the punishment for your sins so that you may go free. Since Christ paid for your sins, they are removed and no longer seen by God. In Christ, God sees you as perfect and righteous and holy. Even this very minute because your trust is in JESUS you are a saint (a “holy one”) in God’s sight.
Your fear and anxiety about your future can be put aside when your focus is not on yourself, but rather on Christ and His perfection because that is what will count when God’s judgment is made upon you.
One of the things that has bothered me in the past was the mention of works in connection with the Last Day. In a brief glance at this section of Scripture, a person may think that actions toward our fellow man is the cause of being on the right or left hand of Jesus. It is important to note that the separation of believer and unbeliever was made before these acts of kindness were mentioned, but these works are an indication and evidence of faith. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20).
The love you show to your fellow man flows from Jesus’ love for you and your love for Him. Neither the believer nor unbeliever could remember doing such actions for Christ, but Jesus says that what you do or don’t do to a person you are doing or not doing to Him. Jesus did not mention the impossible. He did not say to heal the sick, but simply to visit—to show the same concern for others that you would want shown to you. When you focus on Christ and the redemption He has won for you—the fact that He has rescued you from Hell—then you will have love in your heart. This is how God wants you to use it, by loving Him with all your heart, soul, and mind, and loving your neighbor as yourself. In view of the fact that you have been declared “not guilty” by God, and will be declared “not guilty” in the final Judgment, you can live today with love and joy.
In your life, God has called you by the Gospel to faith in Him. A wonderful miracle has taken place. For this reason a person’s life is called his time of grace—a time in which he may be brought to the saving knowledge of Jesus. Nobody knows how long his time of grace will last. No one knows at what hour his death may be or when Judgment Day may come. Now is the time to repent. Jesus is not to be put off for a time that is more convenient for us because that day may never come. Now is the time to spread the message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified because there are those whose time may be short, but who are still wandering in darkness. Let the light of Christ shine so that others may not only hear about Christ from your lips, but may see Him in your lives.
Even the strongest Christian may have apprehensions when thinking about the end of his time of grace, the end of his life. What will the verdict be concerning me? Will I be on the right hand or the left? Will I be good enough? That is the wrong question. That is a question that will and should lead to doubt and fear. No you are not good enough. Nobody is. The proper question is: Is Christ good enough? Christ is the One on whom you are relying for the final verdict and eternity. The answer to that question is a resounding, “YES!”
Indeed Christ is good enough for He is perfect. Since this is the case you may have all the confidence in the world concerning Judgment Day. You have been baptized into Christ, and so have put on Christ. Through faith your sin has been washed away by His blood because His death was for your sin. In Christ you have nothing to fear because He is on your side, and is the conqueror over all your enemies including death as we read in the New Testament reading (1 Corinthians 15:20-28). Live today in peace.
There are many separations in this life. Temporary divisions occur every day as we go off to work and school. There is separation in death as the soul is separated from the body, and we are separated from loved ones on earth. But this too is temporary when both parties are Christians. By the grace and love of God you will be never be separated from Him (see Romans 8:31-39), and on Judgment Day there will be a tremendous reunion of all believers from all time.
Today and in your future, remain focused on Jesus and His love. There is no reason for fear or anxiety. The Judge is coming, but because of His payment for your guilt He is coming to pronounce a “not guilty” verdict on you. Because of that love and mercy, even so come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.