Our text for this morning comes immediately after Jesus tells the parable of the talents, our reading from last week. The parable of the talents, you might remember, from last week, reminds us of our duty, privilege and responsibility to use the gifts, talents and abilities that God gives to us in this world in service to Him and His kingdom, which we do, we serve Him by serving others, and that He will hold us accountable for how we use the gifts, talents and abilities He has given to us. The order of Judgement, as we pointed out last week and as will see this morning is first, faith, then works. Both are important, but one, works, naturally follows the other, faith.
What will the day of Jesus second coming be like. I do not know. I can only tell you what Jesus Himself tells us in His Word. It will be a day when the Son of Man will gather all nations to Himself. How that will occur, I do not know, all I do know is that I believe it will be a very magnificent event. All people of all nations will be drawn to the Lord and everyone will come. I do not know how it will happen, but God will come so that all people will be able to see Him at the same time, and He will not need television, or Facebook or twitter, to make it happen. So, obviously it will be the biggest event of all times, a mass of humanity, of billions of people, coming before Jesus all at once, recognizing and acknowledging Him as the Lord and Savior of all. And I do mean everyone, believers and unbelievers alike. No one will have to tell us who Jesus is. No one will deny Him. Everyone, believer and unbeliever alike will confess that it is Jesus. Unfortunately for the unbeliever, as this fact is revealed to them by Jesus Himself, it will be too late. But mark God’s Word, they will bow before Him and recognize Him as the Lord of all. And as we read in the book of Revelation, they will then proceed to blame Jesus for their unbelief. They will act like the lazy servant in last weeks parable and they will act like a lot of people in our world today. We are not necessarily sorry for our sins, just sorry we got caught. And then they will want to blame someone else, in this instance, Jesus.
Our text lays out somewhat of a courtroom scene of judgement. To the Sheep, that is, to the believers, Jesus will say, “34bCome, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” (v.34b-36).
In their humility the believers will ask, “37bLord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?” (v. 37b-39). And the King’s answer will be, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (v. 40).
Notice that Jesus begins by speaking to the believers, those who have faith in Him alone for their salvation. They are credited with doing works of service, that is, good works, the good works God has prepared in advance for us to do. Notice, too, that they are credited with doing good works only because of their faith. It is our faith which drives us to do works of service. Without faith we would not do works of service. We might do some things that look good to our world, but our motivation will not be to give God glory. Notice, again, that the believers will humbly deny any recognition for doing works of service, giving credit where credit is due, to the Lord who motivates and works good works in and through us.
Now the questions we might have is, “What are our works of service?” Our works of service are anything that we do as a response to our faith, as motivated by the Holy Spirit working in us through the Word of God. Jesus lists our works of service as giving food and drink to those in need, clothing those who need clothes, and visiting the sick and those in prison. Our works of service also include living our faith, giving ourselves to the Lord, giving our first fruits and tithes to the Lord, serving on boards and committees, anything we do that is motivated, not from a selfish motivation of wanting to earn something, but from the motivation of wanting to respond to all the Lord has given us, faith, forgiveness and eternal life. As I have said before, our works of service are the fact that through our vocations we serve God by serving others. And Jesus tells us that the result of our faith is eternal life.
After addressing the sheep, the believers, Jesus continues by addressing the goats, that is the unbelievers. He tells them, “41bDepart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43I 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.” (v.41b-43).
The self justifying response, or excuse, of the unbeliever will be similar to the humble response of the believers, “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?” (v.44). And Jesus response will be, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (v.45).
Yes, these are people who have done some good things in their life. They may even have a sincere faith in something or in someone. Their problem is that they do not have faith in Jesus alone. Their problem is that their good deeds are only social good deeds and are deeds which have been motivated for self recognition and not done to the glory of God. Their good deeds and good works are discounted because they have no faith in Jesus alone. No faith in Jesus alone means no good works in God’s eyes.
The difference between the Christian and the unbeliever is faith which is our motivation for doing what we do. Think about it. How often are we motivated to do something because it makes us feel good, or because it is the “right” thing to do, or because of any number of selfish reasons, self recognition and the like. Or think about how often we do something without gaining any recognition, but because we know that it is something that will bring glory to God. Do we believe that we are deserving of heaven or do we believe that we are undeserving? As Christians we humbly acknowledge that there is nothing that we have done to gain eternal life in heaven, but that it is given to us freely by God, through faith in Jesus, which He gives to us as well, and through His work for us of giving His life for our forgiveness. Which brings us to the noticeably different result. The result of faith is life. The result of unbelief is eternal death.
Jesus makes a clear distinction concerning what will happen on judgement day. We will be judged, first and foremost according to our faith. Those who have faith in Jesus He will separate to His right and those He calls His sheep. His sheep are His sheep because they believe in Him alone. Those who do not have faith in Jesus alone, including those who have faith, no matter how sincere, or those who are religious or very religious, no matter how religious, yet their faith or their religion is not faith or religion in Jesus, He will separate to His left and those He calls goats. Because our God is a just God, there are many who will not inherit eternal life in heaven. Thanks be to God, that He is also a gracious and merciful God so that there are many who also believe in Jesus and will be saved, by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus alone.
As we listen to these words of Jesus we can understand why we Christians are so hated by the rest of the world and even some in the Christian church who cannot deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow Jesus. Contrary to what is taught by some, that there are many ways to enlightenment, or that we are to grow to be more and more Christlike, as Christians, and as Lutheran Christians, we understand that the more we grow in our Christian faith and life, the more we realize how sinful we are, how unworthy we are, and how helpless before God we are and thus we understand our need to continually confess our sins and hear God’s message of forgiveness and grace. Like a child, a helpless child, I have to cling to Jesus and Jesus alone for salvation. All other ways lead to perdition.
Christmas time is usually known as the time for giving. When we are the recipients of many gifts from others we begin to feel good about ourselves, we begin to get built up. If we are given what we would perceive as particularly thoughtful gifts from one person our attitude toward that person begins to change to being an attitude of gratitude. We may even begin to think about what we could do in return for all they have given to us. Not that we would be trying to repay them for the gifts which they have given to us and not that we would be trying to earn more gifts from them, but simply that we would be motivated by their generosity to be generous back to them. The same thing happens with our relationship with Jesus. Jesus gave up heaven. He took on human flesh and blood. He became one of us. He took our sins upon Himself, not because He had to, but because He wanted to. He suffered the eternal death penalty for us in our place. He gave His life for ours. And He continues to lavish us with His gifts of forgiveness of sins, faith and strengthening of faith and eternal life. On the last day He will invite us into His heavenly Kingdom and robe us with His robes of righteousness. Our response is not one of trying to pay Jesus back, not one of trying to earn His gifts from Him, rather our response to His generosity is a response of gratitude and thanks. Our response is one of giving ourselves to Him. Our response is a humble attitude of gratitude. Our response is one which says, to God be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.