The Feast of Christ the King – 26 November 2017
A Sermon on Matthew 25:31-46 by Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
Matthew 25:31-46 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 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, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, 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? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 41″Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For 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.’ 44 Then they also will answer, 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?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘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.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
[I found helpful Prof. Carl Fickenscher’s study on this text at www.issuesetc.org.]
CHRIST CRUCIFIED: WE ADORE
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
How do we hear this text without it being isolated from the rest of Matthew and reduced to works righteousness? How do we hear this text without it being coopted by socialist/liberationist interpreters who read into it their Marxist presuppositions? Indeed how do we keep from falling into bad medieval theology that wastes the death of God’s beloved Son Jesus and makes salvation about what we must do for God?
Let’s be clear at the outset. Salvation is only by God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ. Those who teach otherwise waste the death of God’s Son making the cross of Christ unnecessary. At the end of life as we know it, when Christ the King returns in glory, He will judge the living and the dead. Those who believe and are baptized, those who are His sheep, will be saved. Those who have remained self-centered and self-serving, even in the doing of good works, will be separated from the sheep as goats. The judgment will fall on those who are not truly God’s sheep. For God, who sees the heart and knows who are His and who are not, will reveal everyone as they actually are and not as they pretend to be. Judgment will happen. It will be very bad news for those who claim to have no need for Christ the Savior as well as those who have lived as if they had no need for Christ the Savior.
On the other hand, those who are baptized into the Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection, entrusting their living and dying to Him, have no need to fear the return of Christ the King in glory. Indeed, for those who are His, it will be a day of great joy and a day of vindication for all who have lived faithfully as His disciples. Yes, when Christ appears in glory to judge the living and the dead, the baptized will know ourselves as sinners in need of a Savior and will long to be with Him forever. Our hope will be built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. We will claim no merit of our own.
So, then, how does the Lord’s final judgment square with His grace and mercy? Those who have been made disciples by Baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, have been chosen through no effort or merit of their own to be His. And they have learned from Him how to surrender their whole life to the Father’s good and gracious will for the sake of the neighbor. They have learned how to die to self daily.
Accordingly, those who have been made disciples by Baptism, and have learned from Jesus all He has commanded, see the hungry neighbor and feed her, give the thirsty neighbor drink, clothe the neighbor in need of dress, and visit the sick and imprisoned, who are lonely and need to be loved. Christ’s disciples, His sheep, have no thought that doing these things earns salvation. Knowing that God’s grace and mercy can only be given as a free gift in Jesus Christ, His disciples do what Jesus commands, because living that way is part and parcel of being made His in Holy Baptism. Living that way is to do as Christ does. Serving the neighbor’s need gives evidence our faith is alive and well.
Unlike the sheep, goats are stubborn in their resistance to Jesus. Perhaps they insist a man who lived 2,000 years ago could not be God in human flesh and King. Perhaps they insist the death of one man could not make a difference or bring salvation. Perhaps they insist the very idea of God defies all reason, and so they could never believe. Narrowing in on where the greatest goat-like energy can be found, perhaps they simply do not want anyone to have any kind of authority over them. And so the goat is not particularly unfeeling or unlikable, the goat is simply all about “me” and what “I” want to do.
The goat is not incapable of good works. The point of doing good works for the goat is to lift his own self-esteem or her own reputation in the community. The goat knows how to pad her or his resume and how to look impressive on an application. The goat has great need to trumpet his or her good works. They are not done for the sake of the neighbor but for the sake of the attention drawn and the sense of “this is what I did!”
Doubtless the objection raised is that some of the baptized are like the Lutheran pastor, who on his deathbed was certain he was going straight to heaven, because he had never done one single good work in his entire life.That’s not it. The works do not save us, but they show the disposition of our hearts. The works, or lack thereof, point to the trajectory of a person’s life. One cannot be Jesus’ disciple and live solely for oneself!
At the same time, the objection may be raised that some of the unbaptized are more selfless and exemplary in their caring than some of the baptized. Doubtless the neighbor in need does not care who gives food or drink, clothing, hospitality, time, or a sympathetic ear. The so-called atheist or agnostic, who is generous or kind, puts to shame the baptized who are not. The neighbor in need is grateful to have his needs met, and the one who meets those needs is, despite all protestations, merely reflecting the image of the God who provides rain for the just and the unjust. By meeting the neighbor’s need, he or she is obeying the natural law that has been hardwired into God’s creation. Sharing is human!
So, again, the day of the Lord is just that. It is the Lord’s day when He will come again to judge the living and the dead. This is not a fairy tale. He will clearly and eternally divide those who are His from those who are not. The goats will enter eternal fire, not because the Lord God intended it to be that way. He did not! The goats will be banished with the old enemy and his wicked angels, because they have chosen rebellion over grace and rejection over mercy! C.S. Lewis, the famous former atheist, wrote: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened” (The Great Divorce, Chapter 9).
If you have not been baptized or your child or grandchild has not been baptized, why do you wait when the very last Word from Jesus in Matthew’s gospel is the command to go make disciples from every ethnic group by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that He has commanded? God makes disciples by baptizing. Then the baptized spend a lifetime learning who and Whose they are as His disciples. Which means you don’t stop studying God’s Word. How can you know who and Whose you are without learning from His Son? How can you possibly know for what you were created without being taught?
For those who are baptized, even if you have been away from God’s house for a long time and felt coerced into showing up, today is a rehearsal for the end of all things. Our Lord may wait another 2,000 years to return, or He may come back today. You may live another 80 or 90 years, or you may draw your last breath before the sun goes down. None of us knows when the end will come, but it will come. Christ the King has told us He will return again to judge the living and the dead. Those who have yearned to see Him and have loved Him as Master, Savior, and Friend will not be disappointed. We will sing our hearts out on that happy day, because we know the Lord has washed our sins away!
At the end of all things, the Lord Jesus will claim those who are His own. He will share with us and all the faithful the wedding feast of the Lamb, and we shall be with the one true God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – forever and ever. What joy! Christ the King was enthroned on the cross for you. He was crucified for you. The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, bore all your sins and mine. If you are baptized, receive Him at this altar today as a foretaste of the feast to come. O, come, let us adore Him!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s EvangelicalLutheranChurch
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
Christ Crucified: We Adore
Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 624-625).
Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory… he will sit on his glorious throne.”
St. John Chrysostom [5th century Patriarch of Constantinople]: “In his previous parables when he speaks of two persons he is referring to two portions of humanity, the disobedient and the obedient. Here he speaks out more fearfully and with fuller clarity. He does not say that the coming kingdom is compared to this or that, as he has been speaking previously, but now openly shows himself to be the Son of man, who ‘shall come in his glory’” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Matthew 14-28, 230).
Matthew 25:32 “…he will separate people… as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
Epiphanius the Latin [5th – 6th century translator, possibly Bishop of Benevento, Italy or Seville, Spain]: “Therefore this person who they said was a man will raise all nations from the dead and judge every person according to his works. Every race on earth will see him, both those who rejected him and those who despised him as a man. They will see him then, but not everyone in the same way: some will see him in punishment and others in heavenly bliss” (231).
Matthew 25:34 “…inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
St. John Chrysostom: “He commended them for doing what was right. He reveals how great is his bond of love for them and has been from the beginning…He did not say ‘take’ but ‘inherit’ as one’s own, as your Father’s, as yours, as due to you from the first. ‘For before you were,’ he says, ‘these things had been prepared and made ready for you, because I knew you would be such as you are ” (232).
Matthew 25:45 “…as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”
Incomplete Work on Matthew [anonymous 5th century commentary]: “If it is ungodly not to offer material things to bodies, which cannot live forever even if they accept these things, can you imagine how ungodly it is not to administer spiritual things to souls that are in danger and could live forever if only these things were administered to them? Since the soul is more precious than the body, it is all the more sinful not to give spiritual alms to troubled souls rather than material alms to bodies” (235).
- Am I grateful enough for all my blessings that I generously share with my neighbor?
- Because I believe that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead, am I diligent in my prayers for the unchurched and persistent in my invitations to them?
As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.
The Second Article: Redemption
I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
What does this mean?
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
- Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.
- Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Begin naming in prayer whom you will invite to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Eucharists. Listen for that opportunity.
- Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend Luther’s explanation of the second article. Pay particular attention to the phrase “…that I may be His own and live under….”
- Make plans to observe Advent beginning December 3. Assemble a wreath as a table centerpiece with four candles (three purple and one pink or four blue). Put midweek Advent worship on your calendar for December 6, 13, and 20 – either noon or 7 p.m.
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”