What Ends and What Continues in the End / Matthew 25:31–46 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday November 22nd 2020 / Last Sunday of the Church Year / Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday November 22nd 2020: Last Sunday of the Church Year / Matthew 25:31–46 "What Ends and What Continues in the End"
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 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. And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left. 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. 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.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger and welcome You, or naked and clothe You? And when did we see You sick or in prison and visit You?’ And 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.’
“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. For I was hungry and you gave Me no food, I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink, I 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.’ 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?’ 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.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. Over the last number of weeks our readings have been leading us to a look at The End. When I say “the end,” perhaps the first thing that pops to mind is the end of our plague, the end of the pandemic, the end of covid guidelines and restrictions. Even if that wasn’t the first thing that came to mind I think this is something we collectively long for. To put away our masks, to spend time with friends and family, to shake a person’s hand when you meet them, to stand or sit within 6 feet of someone, to go out without worrying that you might contract a virus that – if not deadly to you – might be deadly to someone you come in contact with or someone you know and love.
There is something that Scripture teaches us about the end of things, and these passages from Scripture over the last weeks, and this passage from the Gospel of Matthew today, teach us that all things come to an end, and some things have a way of continuing on forever. If Jesus doesn’t return in the immediate future there is a statistic you can rely on: 100% of the people you know, the people alive in the world today, will eventually die and that will be the end of their earthly life in this World. Even our Lord Jesus did not escape the experience of dying, He crossed the threshold of death in His crucifixion, and yet death could not hold Him and on the Third Day He was resurrected from the dead heralding the future final end of death. So for you, because of Jesus, even death will have an end.
Week in and week out we confess “I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting,” “I believe that [Jesus] will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end,” in fact we even confess that we “look for the resurrection of the dead,” because on That Day, should we still be living, we will, as Saint Paul says, be changed in the twinkling of an eye, in the most profound of mysteries our perishable body will put on the imperishable, your mortal body will put on immortality, and for the Christian the sting of death will be no more. This too will be an ending as our lowly bodies are transformed to be like the glorious body of the risen and ascended Christ Jesus, “by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.” This Jesus is the Son of Man from our Gospel Reading who comes in His glory, with all the angels attending Him, this Jesus is the one who on That Day in the sight of all the nations gathered before Him will sit on His glorious throne to judge the living and the dead.
Now I mentioned that we collectively, regardless of our walk of life, race or creed, share in a common desire to see the end of our current plague, the end of the pandemic, the end of Covid guidelines and restrictions. I think that it’s safe to say that this is true. But when it comes to the return of Christ Jesus and the End of this World there is no common collective desire for that to happen. Some don’t believe that Jesus ever existed; others think He was just a man and was never raised from the dead, in both cases they would not confess Jesus’ divinity or His return in Glory. Jews and Muslims expect that an end will come but they are not expecting the Jesus you know and love from Scripture, the one who knows and loves you, to be the one on sitting on the throne on The Last Day to judge the living and the dead. While the World doesn’t look to the return of Jesus on The Last Day, all those who take Him at His word, who truly hear His voice, who do not dismiss the witness and testimony of Scripture do look to His return. We are the ones who do collectively long for That Day, for The End of this world.
Now to be sure the young Christian with their life ahead of them may desire to live their life to the fullest in the here and the now before The End comes, and the one advanced in years may be looking with anticipation toward their future life in Christ Jesus (past the valley of the shadow of death when death and all its pain and sorrows are in the rear view mirror) when they can be reunited with all those they loved dearly who have departed in the faith ahead of them. To each of these contemplation of The End may take on a different hue or tone. Even in the prime of life there may be Christians who do not often think of The Last Day and the Final Judgment distracted by the earthly life they live and the material things and important people around them that they have responsibilities towards; while there may also be attentive Christians in the prime of life wearied by the changes and chances of life who would be perfectly happy if That Day came today and not tomorrow. We each have a different relationship with The End of this world. Yet as Christians we share in the common anticipation of Jesus’ return in glory.
Having these readings year in and year out, marking a day like The Last Day of the Church Year, provides opportunity for the distracted and the attentive Christian to stop and meditate on what The End will be like for them and for the people they love and care for in this world, in this life. It also provides an opportunity to recall, and take to heart, what Jesus says when His disciples asked Him when The End will come; Jesus says to them and to you, “concerning That Day or That Hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard,” Jesus says, “keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.” Yes, As Christians who have been taught what the Bible teaches, “you yourselves are fully aware that The Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” Which is to say It will come when you least expect It “therefore” remember Jesus says, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
This passage from Scripture where Jesus, the Son of Man, separates the sheep and the goats can be disquieting, it can for some people be the source of trepidation and anxiety. You may ask “am I a sheep or a goat?” The sheep don’t seem to know that the work they did for the wellbeing of the people around them was likewise also done toward Christ Jesus and the goats who have a high estimation of their works don’t seem to know that they are goats and seem to think that they have done everything expected of them and have not failed to serve the Son of Man. It is the Son of Man who knows which is which. Can we be sure that we are a sheep and not a goat? Let’s think a bit more about that.
In our creeds we confess that Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead: perhaps you think of those buried in their graves as dead verses those going about their lives in the land of the living as living and that is one way to think of it, all people will be judged so that would cover all people, but perhaps you might also want to think about Jesus’ judgement of the living and the dead based on who Jesus himself says truly has life. In the Gospel of Saint John Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise Him up on The Last Day.” What else does Jesus say about having life? Related to Baptism Jesus says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” “Truly, truly, I say to you,” Jesus says, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” And so it is that the Christian is most certainly born to new life in Christ Jesus in their baptism.
In Baptism then we have this new life, a Life the World doesn’t understand. In Baptism and in Holy Communion you have Jesus; in those Holy Sacraments you can trust that you have Life because you have Jesus and Jesus said of Himself, “I Am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live,” and He also says, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” So on the one hand, if you have Jesus and Jesus has you then you are alive, you are part of the living, you are one of the sheep; while on the other hand, to all the world you might look alive but if you do not have Christ Jesus and He does not have you then you are dead, dead in your trespasses and sins then you would be one of the goats. You cannot make yourself be born again, you cannot give to yourself the life of Christ, and you cannot sufficiently forgive your own sin to make you alive before God: A goat as hard as it tries cannot transform itself into a sheep. As Saint Paul teaches us, your transformation is a gift from God, for “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages [God the Father] might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
The separation of the sheep and the goats, the righteous and the wicked is simply a revelation of what is already in the here and the now. You walk in the good works prepared beforehand by God as a Christian because you walk as a child of the light, because you have been made alive in Him. This gift is not only for you it is for all people, the question is whether people will have the gift or not. Once you have it and you have eyes to see it this miraculous gift is like the cup that overflows, so abundant is this gift that you cannot contain it and the benefits of it spill over onto the people round us the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. Therefore do not let your hearts grow dim towards family, friend and neighbour. Dear ones “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
To sum everything up remember, “’Even though [Jesus] will be a judge, [you are free to confess that Jesus] is a comfort and salvation for me too, so that He can protect me against my enemies and can damn those who refuse to believe and who do not consider Him to be their Lord … this means that there is one who can cast all wrath, judgment, and punishment away from us [away from me, from you], to be imposed [instead] upon [Jesus’] enemies, the devil and all [the devil’s poisonous] arrows and [even] against all your own evil thoughts about Christ.’ [For this reason] don’t set up [an either or] dichotomy that separates the here and the now from the there and the then. Whoever claims Christ as [their] Lord in the here and now will be welcomed in by Him in the there and then; whoever spurns Christ in the here and now will be cast out by Him then. The Day of eternal judgment is The Day of complete mercy, since the Lord will rush in to aid His own when everything is on the line.” Hold fast to that, remembering always that an End is coming to the evils of this World and all that is stacked against you. And when That End comes something truly amazing will occur: When Jesus, the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, when He sits on His glorious throne, He will “make all things new,” yes He will judge the living and the dead; of which you are one of the living. He can do this because He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
I started by saying that today’s Gospel reading and many of our recent readings teach us that all things come to an end, and some things have a way of continuing on forever and so it will be that you who are blessed by Jesus’ Father, will enter into your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the World and while that will mark the final The End of this World it for you will mark the continuing on of your Eternal Life the life you received with certainty in your baptism; and the rest, all those who thought they could do it on their own, those who refused the gift given in the blood of Jesus will go away into eternal punishment and that will be the second death and a continuation of what they have now. What you have today is extraordinarily important and worth considering. Therefore in your daily life do not put off until tomorrow what can be done today, live the life you have in Christ Jesus today to the glory of God the Father and to the benefit and care of your neighbour because today could be your Last, today could even be The Last Day: It will come when you do not expect. If by some miracle of the Holy Spirit you are a goat listening to these words and you have made it this far into the sermon trust that God is transforming you even now into one of His sheep. Do not return to eating the tin cans and garbage of the World follow instead the voice of Christ Jesus the Good Shepherd, follow His voice and He will lead you to green pastures, He will lead you beside still waters. It is He who restores your soul; it is He who will lead you to a blessed End and Eternal Life. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 A) Because of the context of the passage people have long taken it to mean that Enoch didn’t die, notice how the text says that person before him died and the person after him died, but it doesn’t say that Enoch died, “When Jared had lived 162 years, he fathered Enoch. Jared lived after he fathered Enoch 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Jared were 962 years, and he died. When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him. When Methuselah had lived 187 years, he fathered Lamech. Methuselah lived after he fathered Lamech 782 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Methuselah were 969 years, and he died." (Genesis 5:18–27 ESV) This is further confirmed in Hebrews 11:5 where we read, “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.” B) In 2 Kings 2:1-14 we also hear the account of Elijah who the LORD took up to heaven in a whirlwind. These are the two people in Scripture who in our history have not tasted death.
 1 Corinthians 15:51–53
 Philippians 3:21
 Mark 13:32–33
 1 Thessalonians 5:2
 Matthew 24:44
 John 6:53–54
 John 3:6, 5
 John 11:25
 John 14:6
 Ephesians 2:1–10
 Matthew 5:16
 Commentary on Luther’s Catechism: Creed, by Albrecht Peters, Concordia Publishing House 2011, Pg 201.
 Revelation 21:5–8
 Psalm 23:2–3
Photo Credits: Header Photo of Sheep by Snapwire from Pexels; Masks by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels; Crucifix and Crown by Alem Sánchez from Pexels; Angels by Francesco Ungaro from Pexels; Worker by Anamul Rezwan from Pexels; Statue of Jesus Christ by DCEmr_e from lutheranstockphotos; Chess King by by Joseph Ruwa from Pexels; Grave Yard by Mike from Pexels; Baptism by Jason Schultz for Mount Olive Lutheran Regina; Fence by Kendall Hoopes from Pexels; Goat Behind Fence by Adrian Jozefowicz from Pexels; Sheep by Trinity Kubassek from Pexels.