“Here Comes the Judge”
Matthew 25: 31 46
Last Sunday of the Church Year
“Here Comes the Judge”
Have you ever gone back as an adult and watched a movie or TV show you loved as a kid? When I was a kid, I loved Gilligan’s Island, a space combat show called UFO, and the classic Space 1999. You go back and watch that stuff now, yeesh. Another example I can give you is Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In. This show featured many returning characters, including Sammy Davis Jr. who would come out and say, “Here comes the judge. Here comes the judge.” That always used to make me laugh, when I was seven. I looked at a group of clips on YouTube in my writing process for this sermon. Not so funny now.
In the Gospel for today, Jesus has a message for us that is similar. He is telling us that He is going to come again. When He does, it will be to judge the world. Heavy Stuff. This morning we are going to look at this text, and the fact that in it, Jesus is saying to us, “Here Comes the Judge.”
On this last Sunday of the church year, we are in Matthew Chapter 25. At this point, Jesus is with the apostles on the Mount of Olives, during Holy Week, telling them about some stuff that is going to happen in the future. With verse 31, Jesus tells His disciples, and us, that He is going to come back, and when He does, it will be to judge. Jesus paints a powerful picture there as He tells us that His return will be on a throne of heavenly glory with all the angels with Him. Jesus then uses an illustration that would be familiar to His listeners, when He compares His task with a shepherd who brings the animals in for the night, and separates the sheep and puts them in their pen, and puts the goats into their pen. Seeing a shepherd separating his animals at night was a common sight in those days, and would have rung a bell with His listeners.
After painting this picture of heavenly power for us, Jesus goes on into a little more detail to explain this judging process. After the sorting of the sheep and the goats, the believers and the unbelievers, Jesus will address those who are on His side (who have not rejected Him), and thank them for what they have done for Him: those who have fed the hungry, given water to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, visited those who are sick or in prison. Jesus will thank His children for their lives of faith and grant them eternity in His presence in heaven. To those who snub Him, who reject Him in their lives, they will be condemned. To hell. Burning. Torture. All that stuff. It is real, you know.
But please do not misunderstand Jesus here. Jesus is not telling us that feeding the hungry or getting involved in a prison ministry will get us into heaven. As we know from the rest of scripture, we are saved by Grace, through faith, and not by our works. While it is true that our works and deeds cannot be ignored, they are not the cause of our salvation, nor do they supplement or finish our faith. As we Lutherans like to say, “Good works are not necessary for salvation, but they are necessary.” Good works are evidence that we have faith, right? When we share the love of God, people see the love of God. We are to help those in need, we are to be compassionate to those around us, and we need to repent when we fail to do so. But at the same time, no deeds we can do will bring us heaven and forgiveness. Any good deeds we do are simply a product of the faith that God has placed in us by the Holy Spirit. When Jesus returns to be the supreme judge, we will be granted heaven because He died and rose for us, not because of anything we have done.
This can be a scary gospel lesson to hear. Some people hear Jesus’ words and begin to think that hell may await them. People have doubts, and wonder if they are good enough. Some churches teach that Jesus died and rose for you, but now you have to do enough things to make you worthy of that or enable you to receive that. This is not what the Bible teaches. We all know that we are not good enough. But Jesus is good enough. What HE did on the first Easter weekend is good enough. And when God works that faith in Jesus in here, when we know what we know here, there are no doubts. We have His Word. Jesus has done it all for us.
Ironically, there are some folks who don’t like hearing this, who don’t like being told they do not contribute when it comes to the gift of salvation. But thanks be to God that’s true! If it were up to us, if God left any of this up to us, then we would have doubts. We would spend our lives wondering if we had done enough to please God. What a nightmare that would be. I worked at a Christian Rock radio station, my last radio gig before I went to the seminary. While I was there, I worked with a young woman who was a member of a rather large Christian denomination that is popular in this part of the country. She told me and another Lutheran DJ, who is now an LCMS pastor in suburban St. Louis, how mad she was at us because, as she put it, “you are SO sure you are saved.” And we said, yep we are, why aren’t you? We’re baptized into Jesus and His forgiveness won for us on the cross. There is no need for us to doubt, no need for us to worry. A place awaits all of us who have faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior.
One thing I have learned when preaching or discussing texts like this is that sometimes people get alarmed or afraid at the thought of a wrathful Jesus. Make no mistake, when Jesus comes back again, he will judge those who have rejected Him. But again, He will judge those who have REJECTED him. Remember, Jesus received the punishment and the judgement for our sins when He was on the cross. Jesus in His love, took the punishment everyone deserved. Jesus is not coming here to punish us. Jesus is not some fiery, angry dude who is running around throwing people in hell. Jesus sends no one to hell. People choose THAT for themselves. For those folks, Jesus’ “judgement” will be to give all those folks what they want. Life eternal without Him. And that is really, really, sad.
For those of us who have received the faith that God has given to us in the Word and in the sacraments, Jesus’ coming again will not be a day of pain, anguish, weeping, or gnashing of teeth. It will be a day of joy and triumph. When I was a kid, I was afraid of the day of Jesus’ return because I didn’t understand all this stuff. Now I do, and I want you to, as well. When Jesus comes again to separate the sheep from the goats, for us who are baptized, for us who live in faith in Jesus, He will look at us as His sheep, and take us to be with Him forever in heaven. It is not a day to fear, it is a day to anticipate like Christmas, Easter, and Half Marathon Race Day all rolled into one! When Jesus comes again, He will gather us into His arms, and take us home. Jesus tells us who are His children that the day of His return will be a reunion for us, a day to see not as the end, but the beginning, the beginning of eternal life with Him in heaven. When we see Him coming, we will be able to smile, and we will not say, “Here comes the Judge.” Instead we will say, “Here comes Jesus. Here comes our Savior.” God grant us that assurance for the sake of Jesus Christ.
In Jesus’ Name.