Samuel G. Beltz

Matthew 25-Sheep and Goats

November 1, 2010

 

Comfort from judgment.  Those two terms do not seem to go together.  Comfort does not seem a likely effect from the cause of judgment.

Have you ever stood before a judge, and been guilty?  There is no sentimentality on the part of the judge, and no control on your part.  I speak from experience.  It was a minor offense; in my mind.  As a recent graduate working in Pensacola I was charged with going to the local air base to work with new recruits.  My car registration was just expired.  My car was towed from the base.  I was ticketed.  I had to appear before the federal naval court for an out of date registration, federal court!

I went.  I stood up and the possible fine was read out.  I remember it very clearly: 5 years in prison, $15, 000 fine for an out-of-date registration!  Everything I had previously thought about saying in my defense flew out of my mind, my soul cracked in half it seemed, and I was swimming in disbelief unable to speak, I was literally defenseless.  There was NO comfort in that kind judgment.  I was guilty, I was found guilty, I was sentenced as guilty, I was fined like a guilt person. No mercy.

Now, take that analogy for what it is worth.  Our human judicial systems fail, declaring guilty the innocent, and innocent the guilty, and Christ is the prime example of that!  Yet, when Christ comes to judge he makes no mistakes.  He is the righteous judge, swayed by no arguments or agendas and fooled by no disguises.  When He comes to judge he rightly divides the believing ones from the unbelieving ones.  But, is there any comfort in this kind of judgment?

I think our mind tend to swing to the judgment of Jesus concerning our sin, on the Cross.  We have comfort in the judgment Jesus literally takes possession of; for our sake.  He takes the yoke of death from around our necks and replaces the yoke with the pearls of his salvation and love.  That is certainly comfort from judgment.  However, if we look a little closer at Matthew that is not specifically the kind of judgment we hear about his Gospel today.

The judgment Jesus tells us about is more universal, more cosmic.   Listen to everything that is happening.  All nations are gathered before the Son of Man; not only you and me but all nations and peoples.  Jesus comes down in His glory, with His angels, and all nations gather and he separates the believers from the unbelievers.  As the handy title in your Lutheran Study Bible reveals, this is the Final Judgment, the last one ever.  But, what makes the final judgment different than the one I just mentioned, and again where is the comfort!?

I love teaching the Resurrection and Final Judgment in confirmation.  Usually I begin by telling the children, “divorce ends.”  They look at me funny.  Many of the children I have taught in confirmation have suffered the divorce of their parents.  I ask them, “What would your family look like if there were no divorce?”  It does not take them long to begin telling me about their desires for their family to be together.  Then I say, “ if I told you there was a day coming when all divorces will end?”  “You mean,” they tell me, “no one would ever get divorced again?”  “Yes!  And, better yet, every divorce that has ever happened, in this day that it coming, it will be like they never happened!”  Usually their response is shock, disbelief, amazement, and confusion.  They cannot imagine what it would be like for divorce and its effects to be completely wiped away.

For my students divorce was an enemy they constantly struggled with, they most likely still struggle with it.  They have little rest because of its effects, and they seem constantly reminded of it.  They would love nothing more than to have this enemy defeated and be delivered into peace and rest.  And, when I thought about that I could not help of the Exodus.  This takes us on a little bit of an aside, and I will try not to ramble too much.

What was God’s final promise for the people when He decided to bring them out of Egypt?  Was it only to get them out?  No, it was to get them out and bring them to a land where they would be at rest, where they would have no enemies and they would live and serve God in peace.  The journey was long though, and sadly its length and the hardships along the way led many to sin, reject God, and die.  But, God did not abandon Israel.  He sent His Son to do all that Israel failed to do.  Jesus proves himself to be the faithful one through a life and death obedient to His Father.  And because of that faithfulness He was raised on the third-day, revealing He IS the Son of God, and what He says is true, and that He is coming back to remove His enemies and our enemies from the earth.  Now, this brings us back to our Gospel lesson for the day.

Jesus is whispering in your ears today, “I know your journeys have been long, I know the hardships you face, do not be afraid of them and do not give up on your journey, I am with you and I am coming back to bring you into the land I promised.”

I asked some questions of my confirmation students, and now I turn them to you all.  What would your life look like without the constant struggle with your flesh and sin?  No more temptation, no more giving-in, no more addiction, no re-lapsing.    What if I told you there was a day coming when you would no longer wrestle with your desires?  Well, I am telling you, as Jesus told His disciples, that day is coming, IN-FACT it is here in the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

For you children; what if I told you there was a day coming when you would not feel the pressure to fit in anymore?  There would be no more bullies, no more gossip behind your back, no more jokes about you, all that stopped.  You would not need braces anymore.  You will never feel alone and isolated ever again.  What would that be like?  Well I am telling you; the day when all that ends is coming, IN-FACT it is here in the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

What would your life look like if you never needed to take another pill?  If you needed no more doctors appointments, no more check-ups, no more hearing aids, canes, walkers, wheel chairs, surgery, or therapy; what would that be like?  The day is coming, IN-FACT it is here.

After noticing a huge difference in the attitude and performance of some of my confirmation students, their teacher came over to talk with me.  She said, “What have you been telling them?”  The smart-alek in me said, “the truth.”  Then I told her that we had been talking about the resurrection and final judgment and how divorce and its effects were ending when Jesus returned.  She said, “It is not good to get their hopes up.”  She said it in an unmistakably caring way.  As if to tell them that divorce and its effects ending were not in their best interests!  I was amazingly heartbroken.

Our Gospel lesson is exactly what we are hoping for.

The day when divorce, disease, separation, loneliness, and despair are judged and forever cast out from among you all, and from creation is about to happen.  Believe it.  Jesus has promised.  This is why we pray, NOW.  This is why we forgive each other, NOW.  This is why we eat this meal together, NOW.  We proclaim the Lord’s death and judgment upon sin until He returns to finally judge.  This is the comfort we have from judgment in the Gospel. It is a hopeful comfort that all our labors and trials will end in Rest when Jesus comes back.  Comfort from judgment does not seem so strange after-all.  In-fact, I hope for that judgment day all the more.  Let us pray.

Come Lord Jesus!  Amen.

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