Last Sunday of The Church Year | The Final Judgment | Matthew 25:31-46
Most Pastors aren’t easily surprised.
But, I admit, this morning, you surprised me.
A few minutes ago, I read Jesus’ words on the final judgment:
They were very hard words for anyone with a conscience.
For anyone who cares what Jesus has to say,
For anyone who is aware of what they’ve done and what they’ve left undone,
These are very hard words.
But then you surprised me.
I said, “This is the Gospel of the Lord.”
And you said, you sang, “Praise be to You, O Christ.”
Maybe you said that because it was in the hymnal, and you didn’t want to stand out.
Maybe it didn’t feel quite right.
Maybe you were surprised to hear yourself say it. That’s ok.
There’s a lot of surprise going around today.
Everyone in this text is surprised that the judgment is actually happening.
The Son of Man is really here; He’s really back – in His glory, on His throne.
And now, the entire world, all people – past and present – are gathered before Him.
They’d heard about this, but most figured it was some kind of a metaphor,
Or a cautionary tale to keep them in line, and make them be kind. But it wasn’t.
The judgment is real.
And so you aren’t surprised by that day,
Jesus tells you about it now. And He is dead serious.
So on the great, last day, please don’t be surprised.
Of course I can tell you not to be surprised; but I know you will be. Me, too.
Even if you see it coming, that day will still be full of surprise.
You’ll hear again the words that Jesus speaks this morning.
And you’ll do what they all do.
You’ll take an inventory of your life and all you’ve done.
Maybe you already were doing that as I read the Gospel.
You’ll try to remember all the hungry people you fed,
All the naked you clothed,
All the sick and imprisoned you went out of your way to visit.
And then you will tremble.
If you have a shred of integrity, you will tremble,
Because you know how short that list of mercies is.
Even when you consider the relatively few times you outwardly did those things,
They don’t satisfy your conscience.
You remember the reluctance with which you prepared a meal for kids who were ungrateful and spit it out, or threw it on the floor,
Or a spouse who passively criticized it, and ordered a pizza.
You remember how much you would have rather spent money on a vacation or the NFL network, but you had to spend it on diapers and quickly outgrown clothes.
You remember looking longingly out the window when your house became a prison for sickly, quarantine kids.
And you’ll recall the jealousy you felt for people with no such obligations.
Even the virtuous, seasonal clothing drives you participated in were treated either as a chance to make room in your closet for something more fashionable,
Or as a good deed that would put you on the nice list.
And so, at the judgment, you will be very surprised.
You will be very surprised at all the nice things Jesus has to say about you.
You will be very surprised to hear:
“Come, you who are beloved 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.”
You won’t remember doing any of those things.
You won’t remember because in this life,
Even your best and kindest deeds need to be forgiven.
Your motives are never really pure, because they still have the stain of sin on them.
And yet, Jesus’ words are still true.
The praise He heaps on you is not exaggerated or mistaken.
Everything that falls short has been washed away.
He’s exchanged His own good works for your sins.
Christ’s good works stand in place of yours.
The judgment of the last day has already taken place.
The judgment already happened.
The sentence has already been rendered –
Not from Christ’s glorious throne,
But from His bitter, humiliating throne.
Judgment occurred on a Friday afternoon in Jerusalem, 2000 years ago.
And it looked a lot like what Jesus describes for us today.
The world gathered around for a sentence to be carried out.
This Jesus, this King, enthroned and lifted up for all to see.
A sheep on His right, a goat on His left.
There’s no difference between them.
Both deserve the same judgment, both fall desperately short of the glory of God.
One hopes to get off the hook without repentance. He mocks Jesus, saying:
Are you not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!
But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong…
Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.”
He deserved the same judgment as the other man, and he knew it.
So you can imagine his relief and surprise at Jesus’ reply”
“Truly I say to you, this day you will be with Me in paradise.”
Or, in the words of the judgment this morning:
Come, you who are beloved by My Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
He had certainly done nothing deserving of that kingdom, and that’s the point.
He doesn’t get what he deserves, and neither do you.
That word, inherit, should rescue you from any idea that you can earn this kingdom.
Inheritances don’t come from hard work and flattery.
They are a birthright.
The Kingdom of God is your birthright.
It has been prepared for you.
And not only you.
The Kingdom of God has been prepared for everyone
For every last person who is and was.
The Kingdom of God has been prepared for them.
Just says clearly that hell is not for you!
It has been prepared for the devil and his angels.
To be in hell is the most unnatural thing you could ever imagine,
And which some folks still relentlessly insist on.
But that is not for you.
For you, the Kingdom of God was prepared from the foundation of the world.
Long before you fed or clothed anyone,
Long before you visited a sick person or someone in prison.
Long before you failed to, the Kingdom was already prepared.
So when your conscience pricks you,
And you begin doubt that God could be so merciful,
And you fear His judgment,
Hear again the words and promises of Christ:
The font, the pulpit, and altar cry aloud and proclaim the divine verdict:
By Water & Word, the naked have been clothed in Christ’s righteousness.
The prisoners are not merely visited, but set free.
The sick and the dead are healed and raised.
The hungry and thirsty are nourished Christ’s Body and Blood.
And you are free to pass all of that along to the least, the last, the lost, and the dead.
A litany of good, forgiven works that you will not remember.
You will only look to your righteous Judge,
Hear His verdict
And with a tune of joyful surprise, you will sing.
Praise to You, O Christ.