Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the twenty-sixth Sunday after Trinity 11/15/2020. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11am. Due to technical difficulties, we were unable to capture the livestream for the service. The bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity26 Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s gospel and epistle lessons. To read the Bible texts for the twenty-sixth Sunday after Trinity, click here.
Scripture describes the end all sorts of ways: wars and rumors of wars, a darkened sun, a scorched earth, a world filled with desolation, and the whole of human pride melted down into a fiery puddle. That’s largely the description given by St. Peter in today’s Epistle.
And his admonition is clear: since this is going to happen, and since you have no idea when it will happen, consider what kind of a life you should be living right now. Consider how it is you want to be found when that day comes.
Jesus doesn’t paint a friendlier picture in our Gospel text. Sheep on the right: enter into the kingdom prepared for you; goats on the left: depart into the eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.
No honest person would question which side of Jesus he wants to be on when He returns. Nobody would think that being a goat is better than being a sheep. The only question is, how do you know which one you are? How do you know if you are a sheep or a goat?
A superficial reading of the Gospel provides an easy answer: feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; welcome the stranger; and clothe the naked.
It would be simple to read this and think that you are saved by your good works. It would be simple to think that your performance of the above tasks makes you a sheep. It would be simple to think these things are what please God and make you worthy of heaven.
But this is clearly not the testimony of Scripture. We could pull out our Bibles, scan the Old and New Testament, and easily find 100 verses that make it abundantly clear that we’re saved by faith alone. That actually sounds like a fun Bible Study. But, if God’s Word is actually true, it must be internally consistent; God’s Word must agree with itself.
That means that we don’t need 100 verses. It means that not even one verse of the Bible can ultimately be in conflict with something as clear as Hebrews 11, an entire chapter emphasizing that without faith it is impossible to please God.
This means that the list of obvious mercies Jesus describes must also have a hidden quality. All these mercies must come from faith. If these things are done in faith, they are good and God-pleasing works. Without faith they’re still beneficial to the neighbor, but God is not impressed.
This is how that difference is clear in the text. Notice that the wicked, the goats, are incredulous. They can’t even believe how unfair this is. They think they’ve done exactly what Jesus is describing. This is why they think they should be declared righteous according to what they’ve done.
The short word for that – for wanting to be judged according to your works – is unbelief. Contrast that with the righteous, with the sheep. In life their left hand did not know what the right hand was doing. Good works were done with no thought of reward, because salvation comes by faith alone. The sheep don’t want to be judged by their works, but by Christ’s righteousness.
So, in a way, everyone gets what they want. But, what do you want? Do you want to be judged according to your works and your long list of mercies? Or do you want to be judged according to Christ’s righteousness? This is the judgment given to you today. You don’t have to wait for the end. Receive it now.
In Christ, God has welcomed you, a stranger. In Christ, God has visited you in this demented prison. You were naked, and Jesus clothed you with His own righteousness. His own good works, His own keeping of the Law, were credited to you in Baptism. Your hunger and thirst are satisfied in the Body and Blood of Christ, fed to you this day.
By Word and Sacrament, God has done all of this for you and to you. By His grace you believe His Word, and trust in Him alone for your salvation. By His grace, you have faith. And so, the King will say to you at His right hand:
Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world… verse 34
So, with that much being certain, what should your life look like between this day and that day?
Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. verse 14
It means that you continue in good works with no thought of reward. It means that you care for your neighbor and live in mercy as Jesus described in the parable. Again, the difference between sheep and goats is not what they have done or left undone (you, dear Christians, are to be doing all these things) – the difference is that you do them as fruits of faith.
Since you are waiting for Jesus’ return in faith, that means you are waiting for Jesus to judge you according to His grace and mercy. It means you are clinging to His Word, trusting in what He Himself has done for you and to you.
Listen carefully to the Agnus Dei this morning: it speaks to this admonition from St. Peter precisely. This call to be spotless, without blemish, and at peace – it is answered:
Jesus, the Lamb of God, who on the cross takes away the sin of the world; Jesus, the Lamb of God, without spot or blemish, who in Holy Baptism makes you spotless; Jesus, the Lamb of God, gives you peace with God.
This is how you are found by God this morning. And this is how you will be found on the Last Day.