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2023-11-26 Christ the King

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!

Here we are friends, we made it! All the way through yet another Church Year. From the First Sunday in Advent all the way to the Last Sunday, or now known as Christ the King Sunday. We have followed Christ from His appearing through His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension all the way to today where we get fired up for our Lord’s Final appearing at the end of time to be our Judge. “Surely I am coming soon” our Lord Jesus promises us at the very end of the Book of Revelation. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last. “He will come to judge the living and the dead” as we confess in the creed. The Day is coming. Every word of prophecy will be proven right. Every promise made by our Victorious Lord will be kept. Every deed of mankind will be exposed for what it is. Everyone dead will be raised and brought before the judgment seat.

It’s kind of like being back in school, back in my day, back in the days of actual Parent-Teacher interviews! There wasn’t any of this candy-coated, student-led conference stuff of today, no no! Parent-Teacher interviews were absolutely terrifying! What was the teacher going to tell my mom about me!? Will she bring up the time I had a hissy fit and wouldn’t share my scissors little Timmy O’Toole?! Will she recall the time I put the super glue on Jimmy’s chair? What about that failing grade history report that somehow never made it home??? Oh the agony! Oh the despair! The stress! The not eating! The not sleeping! The hundreds and hundreds of butterflies in mine tummy! Yea verily, oi vey!

Now consider a far more upscale event than even the dreaded Parent-Teacher interview of yesteryear. Imagine a scenario where you have way more on the line and way more to lose! This situation is more serious than Judge Joe Wapner on the Peoples’ Court! It’s even scarier than the pitbull-white fangs of Judge Judy! This is the eternal judgment! This is where we will stand before the Big-Guy Himself, with His jury of Holy Angels and we will give an account of all that we have thought, said and done! For we will all of us answer for what we have done and left undone! Gone are the nice parables of the last few Sunday’s sermons. Gone are the potluck dinners! The universal judgement that is sure to come is here! And in it, there are only 2 categories: Sheep & Goats. There is no rich or poor, no black or white, no Jew and Gentile, there is only sheep and goats. There is only righteous and unrighteous. There is only merciful and unmerciful. There is only sanctified and unsanctified. There is only repentant and unrepentant. There is only the forgiven and those who refuse to be.

Daniel sees a vision of precisely this, a vision filled with fire and thrones and books. God the Father, the Ancient of Days, is seated on His Divine Throne with fire beneath Him and flowing from Him. Zillions of people are gathered around before Him as the court session begins. It is an absolutely terrifying thing to behold! And then comes those words: “and the books were opened.” The Day is coming when the books will be opened. God will judge us according to what is written in them. But we notice a keen detail in the reading from Daniel. It says that “thrones were placed” there - “thrones” as in plural, as in more than one. Who else has a throne at the judgement besides the Ancient of Days? The Son of God, Jesus our Lord, has one according to Psalm 110. And, so do the Apostles (MT 19:28). So we see that the same Jesus who laid down His life for His friends will be there to advocate for us (1JN 2:1). The same Apostles who preached Christ crucified and resurrected for the forgiveness of sins will be there to call us part of their faithful church.

Besides the thrones there are also these books that Daniel sees. They are the same ones spoken of in Revelation 20: “12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. … And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (12&15). So you have these two kinds of books, two categories. A book of deeds that records what each person has done and a book that contains only names. Unbelievers are judged on the basis of their deeds. But believers are judged on the simple fact that their names are written in the book of life.

These are the categories from the Gospel reading. The sheep and the goats. And we notice yet another keen detail from this reading too: “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. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.” This separation, this judgment is done before any kinds of deeds are mentioned at all. So if it isn’t deeds that makes to a sheep or a goat, what is it? Everybody gets a 50/50 ticket when they show up at the pearly gates?! You’re a red ticket, you go over here, you’re a blue ticket you go over there?! Hardly. The difference is faith. The sheep trust and believe in their shepherd above all things. The shepherd knows His sheep and His sheep know Him. That’s the distinction simple faith makes. It’s binary. You either trust and believe in Christ the Good Shepherd or you don’t. Our world likes to paint in shades of gray but this is a black and white painting. Righteousness and heaven or unrighteousness and the fires of torment. And again we are reminded that the firey option was not even an option intended for people: “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (MT 25:41).

It’s kind of odd what happens next in Jesus’ teaching on the final judgement. He separates the sheep from the goats, and then starts talking about the deeds. Simple, everyday things: “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’” (MT 25:35-36). Hospitality. Care of physical needs. Visitation. That’s it. There’s not a long checklist of following 600 commandments or boasting about how great you are in the presence of the King. In fact, it’s the total opposite. The righteous answer and say “Huh?! When did we see you hungry or thirsty or sick or in jail!?” They have no idea they were doing these things for the Lord as they did them for other people. The faithful gave evidence of their faith in Jesus in their earthly lives as they reached out with God’s love to those around them. Fruits of the spirit were abounding and they didn’t even know it! And on the flip side, the goats also didn’t know. They show that had neither faith nor fruits! But both groups are both eternally judged on the same criteria. Eternal life for the sheep who believe in Jesus and because they believe, they show His love to the world. Eternal death for the goats who shun the Messiah and show forth a selfish life of unbelief.

All of us will stand before the throne of judgement. But if we have learned anything in this past year of worship, we have learned that the Day of Judgement is not a day to fear. It is a day for faith. It is the final coming together of God’s plans since before the foundation of the world. Humanity is redeemed by the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We are baptized and washed with His promises of sins forgiven. We are fed with the bounty of abundant life from His altar in, with and under bread and wine. This is our hope. Our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life by faith alone. And for all who trust in Jesus, His final day of Judgement is for us the day and feast of victory for our God. Alleluia to the King of kings and Lord of lords! Come, Lord Jesus! Amen!

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