Judgment Day

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year based on Matthew 25:31-46

Dear sheep of the Good Shepherd: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

On Judgment Day, judgment will be based on works. Don’t be too shocked by that. Second Corinthians 5 says, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (v. 10) Romans 2 says that on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed, He will render to each one according to his works (vv. 5-6). In John 5, Jesus says on Judgment Day all the dead will hear His voice and be raised from their tombs and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment (vv. 28-29). On Judgment Day, judgment will be based on works.

When was the last time you fed the hungry and gave drink to the thirsty? When was the last time you clothed the homeless, and even more, welcomed them into your house, though they were strangers? When was the last time you visited the sick or those in prison? Where are these good works by which you will be judged on the Last Day? I hope your answer is, “What good works?” rather than “When have I failed to do good works?”

Jesus does not teach about Judgment Day primarily to encourage you to do good works. In our lesson from St Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus did not teach the disciples about the final judgment just before He was arrested and crucified because He was hoping for good works from them. He knew what would happen. He even told them ahead of time what would happen. The disciples would not feed Him when He was hungry or give Him a drink when He said, “I thirst.” The disciples would not clothe Him when He was naked and lots were cast for His clothing. They said He was a stranger they did not know. He was a prisoner on trial who they did not visit. He was sick with wounds to which they did not tend.

On Judgment Day, what do you think the disciples will say to Jesus when He says to them that they fed Him when He was hungry, gave Him drink when He was thirsty, welcomed Him and clothed and visited Him when sick and in prison? They will say, “When? When did we do any of these things that you say we have done?”

No disciple of Jesus will lay claim to good works he has done on Judgment Day. No believer will tell Jesus, the judge of the living and the dead, that he has done what God’s Law demanded of him. No sheep of the Good Shepherd will say that he has fulfilled God’s Law; that he has loved God with his whole heart, soul, and mind, and his neighbour as himself.

Unbelievers will. The goats will say, “When did we ever fail to do what we should have done? We’ve done so many good things in our lives, how dare you suggest we have failed to do something we should have done? We’ve done it all and then some.” They see no need for grace, mercy, or forgiveness. They think they’ve earned eternal life for themselves. In reality, they will go away to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Even though you will be judged on works, the truth is that on Judgment Day, your good works will not save you. Even if you fed all the hungry you could find and gave them drink; if you opened your home to every stranger and refugee and clothed them with your own clothing; if gave all that you have to the poor and volunteered at the hospital and prison; if you gave all your money, all your time, all your talent; even if you donated all your blood that you could every chance you got, your good works will not save you. It will not be enough. It will not even set you apart from the man who never so much as lifted his finger to help anyone in need.

How do we know this? Because “By works of the Law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight.” (Rom. 3:20) “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the Law.” (Gal. 2:16) “Now it is evident no one is justified before God by the Law.” (Gal. 3:11) “Good works cannot avert our doom, they help and save us never.” (LSB 555 st. 1)

We have to pay attention to what Jesus actually says when He teaches about Judgment Day. The very first thing that will happen on Judgment Day is Jesus separating the sheep from the goats. Before any judgment is pronounced, Jesus will stand His own on His right hand and the unbelievers on His left. He will call His dear sheep “blessed by My Father,” and will tell them to inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. Yes, from the foundation of the world. Before we did anything good or bad; before we were conceived and had a chance to do a single work, good or evil, we already had God’s eternal kingdom prepared for us.

Revelation 20 also helps to shed light on Judgment Day. John has a vision of the Last Day. It says that the books were opened, and the dead were judged by what was written in the books. But there is another book, the book of life. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Those whose names are written in the book of life inherit the new heaven and the new earth and will dwell with God and be His people, with every tear wiped from their eyes, where death will be no more, neither mourning, nor crying, nor pain (Rev. 20:11-21:4).

The works written in the other books don’t save or condemn those whose names are written in the book of life. What you have done or left undone, good or evil, cannot save or condemn you. What matters for you is that your name is written in the book of life.

Those whose names are in the book of life will also be judged based on works, but not their own works. Those whose names are in the book of life will be judged by the works of Jesus. Baptized into Christ, we are covered with His righteousness that covers all our sin. All of His good works get credited to us.

On Judgment Day, Jesus will call us “blessed by My Father” and to inherit the kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world. He will say that we did all kinds of good works, but we will not lay claim to them to set them against the judgment of God. We will cling alone to the merits of Jesus and His righteousness. We will answer Jesus, “When did we ever do anything for you? Do not open up the books of works! We have no desire to be judged based on our works. Open instead only the book of life, where our names are written. Judge us based on Your works, not ours.”

Are you uncertain about your name being written in the book of life? Have you been around Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper so long and you still do not realize that Jesus makes you holy and righteous through these means? Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word; it works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. Yes, Baptism saves!

Absolution is not just the plain word of man, but the voice of Christ Himself, commanded by Him to be spoken in His stead to forgive sins and open the gates of heaven.

The Lord’s Supper is not just plain bread and wine, but the very body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

Through these means of grace Christ gives you His righteousness. Through these means Christ gives you all of His good works and covers your sins. Through these means Christ declares you righteous, blessed by the Father, having fulfilled every good work, and an heir of the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

Do not forget who the Judge is on Judgment Day. It is Christ Jesus your Lord who took on your flesh to live and die for you. It is your Good Shepherd, who gave His life as a ransom for yours. It is your High Priest who knows and sympathizes with your weaknesses and infirmities and thus paid for your sins with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.

On Judgment Day, Jesus will declare you righteous and give you eternal life because you are His sheep and He is your Good Shepherd. He will judge you based on His works, not your own, so you know that you will inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Eternal life is your promised inheritance because Jesus earned it for you and gives it to you freely. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


God: Severe and Merciful

Sermon for the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 25:14-30

Dear servants entrusted with God’s property: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“I knew you to be a hard man,” said the wicked and lazy servant to his master. “You reap where you did not sow, and gather where you scattered no seed.” In his experience, the servant turned out to be correct. His master took away the talent that he had given the servant, and cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. The master does indeed sound like a hard man.

The good and faithful servants did not find their master to be a hard man. They joyously received their talents and put them to work. Upon the master’s return, he rewarded them greatly, setting them over much and receiving them into his joy. The master doesn’t sound like a hard man at all.

These are the same two experiences we can have with God. We can look at Him as hard and severe. After all, He has given us His Law with all its demands. He has given Commandments which tell us what to do and what not to do. All these rules. Everything we want to do is forbidden. All the things we don’t want to do are commanded. The threat of hell looms for all those who fail to think, say, and do what is right. Of course, someone who looks at God this way will find Him to be hard and severe.

On the other hand, we can see God as gracious and merciful. After all, He sent His Son to fulfil the Law for us with all its demands. He gave up His Son to suffer and die for us. Because of Jesus’ death for us, God gives us forgiveness of sins in Baptism, Absolution, and the Sacrament of the Altar. All this forgiveness. Everything we’ve done wrong is forgiven. All the things we haven’t done but should have are forgiven. The promise of eternal joy waits all the forgiven saints of God. Of course, someone who looks at God this way will find Him to be gracious and merciful, not hard and severe.

Is God indeed both hard and gracious; severe and merciful? Psalm 18 says, “With the purified you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.” (v.26) Proverbs 3 says, “The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but He blesses the dwelling of the righteous. Toward the scorners He is scornful, but to the humble He gives favour.” (v.33-34) James and Peter write, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (Jas 4:6; I Pt. 5:5)

God is indeed gracious and merciful, offering His favour and blessing to all. But those who are proud and say that they need no mercy or grace, God curses. Those who scorn the forgiveness of sins as worthless and despicable, God scorns. Those who despise Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, God despises. God is hard and severe to those who reject His grace and mercy.

It is not God’s will, however, to curse anyone to hell. He has no desire to be hard or severe towards anyone. He says, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, so turn and live.” (Ezk. 18:32) God desires to forgive everyone their sins and to give them eternal life. There are no exceptions.

This is why God has given us His Law with all of its demands. He wants us to recognize that because of our sin we cannot fulfil what He demands of us. He gives us His Law to humble us by showing us our sin. We look in the mirror of the Law and recognize that we need Jesus to save us from our sins, and then He gives to us the free forgiveness of sins, without any merit or worthiness in us. He forgives our sins on account of Jesus’ payment for our sins when He suffered and died for us.

With our sins forgiven, we know that God is not hard or severe to us. Even His Law is not hard or severe to us because Jesus has fulfilled it for us. The Law cannot condemn us because we are in Christ. We hear the Law as being holy, righteous, and good, not as hard and severe. We endeavour to fulfil the Law, not because we fear punishment, but because our dear Father in heaven has told us that following His Law is His will for us and is good for us.

God’s Law protects us from each other because it tells us to love our neighbours as ourselves. It guides us away from things that God knows to be harmful to us and leads us to doing those things that are good for us and our neighbours.

With our sins forgiven, we know that God is not hard or severe to us. We will not take what God has entrusted to us and bury it into the ground out of fear. Rather, we will lovingly serve God by using His blessings entrusted to us in ways that help our neighbour. We will use God’s property in our care in ways that serve His Church on earth, both here and throughout the world.

We don’t do this because we think it will earn our way into heaven. Rather, we give generously because we already have the promise of heaven waiting for us, and we cannot take our money or possessions with us anyway. Better to faithfully use it here on earth and lay up treasure for ourselves in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matt. 6:19-20).

Our master will also tell us, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your Master.” He will tell this to us because He is faithful and will keep us in the faith until we die. He will tell this to us because He has saved us from the wrath to come and has earned for us eternal joy. God will tell you to enter into His eternal joy because He is not hard and severe to you, but gracious and merciful.

His grace and mercy to us can be seen in His blessing us with a church building in which we have gathered for fifty years. Through His grace and mercy, God allows His Gospel to be heard here – the Gospel which was first heard by Adam and Even when they fell into sin, and was heard by God’s people of old by the mouth of the prophets; the Gospel which many heard from Christ Himself during His earthly ministry and through His apostles sent into the world; the Gospel rediscovered at the time of the Reformation five hundred years ago – this same Gospel is the Gospel God graciously allows us to hear in this place, in this building dedicated for that very purpose fifty years ago.

If God were hard and severe toward us, He would have long ago destroyed this building and us because of our sins. But God is gracious and merciful, so He continues to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. He still gives us a place to receive His forgiveness and to be strengthened in the faith. He continues to be present in this place with His grace and mercy.

God is so gracious and merciful to us, that even if we lost our church building, we would still have lost nothing because we have the promise of entering the eternal joy of our Master, and nothing can take that joy away from us. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Foolish and Wise Virgins

Sermon for the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 25:1-13 (Amos 5:18-24)

Dear bride of Christ awaiting His return: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Judgment Day will come, and we know neither the day nor the hour. Christ, the bridegroom of the Church, will return as He has promised, and He will take His bride with Him into the great eternal wedding feast.

Since we do not know when Christ will return, we must watch and be ready at all times. When Christ returns, it will be too late to open our ears to God’s Word. It will be too late to repent. It will be too late to receive forgiveness.

Good intentions to hear God’s Word later, to repent later, to receive forgiveness later will end like the foolish virgins’ trip to the marketplace to buy oil. It will be too late. Jesus will answer those foolish virgins, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”

The church on earth is like the ten virgins in Jesus’ parable. They all identify as the bride of Christ, the Church. They gather together with others who confess to be Christians. They are part of the group. They have their lamps and they live externally holy lives, which is why they are called virgins. It is not necessarily possible for us to tell the foolish virgins from the wise.

However, the foolish virgins were not ready for the bridegroom’s coming. They had no oil. An oil lamp is useless without oil. The flame will not burn without oil. If you don’t have oil, you may as well not have a lamp.

These are people who identify as Christians. They gather together on Sundays with other Christians. They are part of the group. They live externally good lives. But their hearts are far from God. They harden their hearts when they hear God’s Law. They don’t believe when they hear the Gospel. The Word of God bores them because they think they already know it all. Later, they say. I will open my ears to God’s Word later. I will repent and turn away from my sin later. I will receive forgiveness later. But later it is too late.

Since we do not know when Judgment Day will be, we must be ready now. We must open our ears to hear God’s Word now. We must repent now. We must receive forgiveness now.

The Word of God gives faith. The Word of God sustains faith. Being immersed in the holy Scriptures makes you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (II Tim. 3:15) so that you will be like the wise virgins and have oil in your lamps. The Sacrament of the Altar gives you Jesus’ body and blood so that you will be ready when He returns so you will go with Him into the wedding feast.

This does not happen by the mere outward act of sitting in church or kneeling at the altar rail or eating and drinking. It is through faith that Jesus’ death was for you. It is through trust in Jesus’ words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” It doesn’t happen by the mere outward act of being baptized, but it is through faith which trusts in God’s promise that Baptism rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation.

Mere outward worship is useless. God said to the Israelites concerning their insincere worship, “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.” (Amos 5:21-23)

The Israelites were celebrating the feasts God had commanded them to celebrate. They assembled for solemn prayers and sacrifices offered on a daily and weekly basis. They gave offerings to the Lord and sang songs to Him. Yet, they did not submit to God’s Word. They lived in whatever sins their hearts desired and had higher priorities than worshiping God and hearing His Word. They thought everything would be alright as long as they went through the motions of worship, singing, and giving offerings.

They were like the foolish virgins, identifying as God’s people, gathering together for worship, going through the motions. They were like the foolish virgins and were not ready when God came to visit them. The Northern Kingdom of Israel perished and was sent into exile in Assyria, with their land was repopulated by foreigners by the command of the Assyrian king (II Kings 17).

What is it that God expects of His people? That we live perfect lives and never sin? That our minds never wander, not even for a second, during worship? That somehow we prepare ourselves for Jesus’ Second Coming?

No, none of these is possible.

God expects a broken and contrite heart and trust in His promises. We do not create these ourselves. We cannot break our own hearts or create contrition in our hearts. Rather, the Law of God breaks our hearts and creates contrition in our hearts. The Law of God shows us our sin so that we would hate it and turn away from it. The Law of God crushes our hearts with guilt and holds us accountable for what we have done and what we have failed to do so that we have sorrow over our sins and repent.

We also cannot create faith in our own hearts. God creates faith in our hearts through the Gospel. The Gospel binds the wounds that the Law has made and soothes consciences and hearts. The Gospel gives us the free forgiveness of sins that Jesus earned for us by His holy life, death, and resurrection. The Gospel is that God forgives our transgressions and covers our sins (Ps. 32:1). He washes us thoroughly from our iniquities and cleanses us from sin (Ps. 51:2). God hides His face from our sins and blots out all our iniquities (Ps. 51:9). He creates a clean heart within us and renews us with a right spirit (Ps. 51:10).

God opens our ears to His Word now. God’s Word brings us to repentance now. God’s Word promises and gives us forgiveness now. We don’t have to wait.

Absolution is God’s Word which forgives your sins now. The Lord’s Supper also gives you forgiveness and strengthens your faith now. God’s Word reminds you now, that He who believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16).

God gives and does these things for you now, so that you will be ready for when Jesus returns, no matter when He comes. God prepares you now so that whether you die now or are still alive when Christ returns, you are and remain ready. God gives you forgiveness in these different ways to give you oil for your lamp so that when the call goes out to invite you to the wedding feast you will be a wise virgin, ready for the feast, ready for the bridegroom, ready for eternal life.

We don’t need to know either the day or the hour when Jesus returns because we are ready now, and we will be ready at all times. With our sins forgiven, nothing stands in the way of eternal life for us. Christ, the bridegroom of the Church, has prepared us for His return, and will return as He has promised to take us with Him into the great eternal wedding feast. We are ready. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

All Saints’ Day

Sermon for All Saints’ Day based on Revelation 7:9-17

Dear saints: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

In the New Testament Church, God has not appointed certain days or periods of time for His people to observe. There are no particular days or festivals which we are commanded to celebrate.

Nevertheless, in Christian freedom, the Church does celebrate various festivals through the church year. These celebrations are important reminders to us of central articles of the Christian faith. We follow the Old Testament precedent of structuring the year around the great acts of salvation that God has done for us in Christ.

Thus, the Church celebrates Christmas. It is not mandated that the Church celebrate Christmas on December twenty-fifth, nor that we have Christmas trees, or manger scenes, but it is necessary that we recognize and celebrate the virgin birth of Jesus, when God took on our flesh and became man.

The Church celebrates Palm Sunday as Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Holy Thursday when He instituted His Supper for us, in which He gives us His body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. The Church celebrates Good Friday, the day that our Good Shepherd gave up His very life for us sheep who love to wander. The Church celebrates the resurrection of our Lord on Easter, and indeed on every Sunday. Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday is after all the reason the Church gathers together on Sunday. We have no command for worship on this specific day either, but out of Christian freedom we have chosen to worship on the day our Lord rose from the dead.

While we don’t have specific commands from God to celebrate these festivals, it certainly is necessary that Christians celebrate the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and His death and resurrection. How could we not? They are a reason to celebrate with joy the great acts of salvation God has accomplished for us.

This is the same reason the Christian Church celebrates All Saints’ Day. It doesn’t have to be on November first. In fact, we observe it today, the closest Sunday after November first. We could celebrate it in July if we really wanted to do so.

As with the other holy days, we do not have a command that we celebrate this festival, but every Christian certainly must celebrate what this festival is.

All Saints’ Day does not just commemorate a particular saint, but all believers of all times and places; the great multitude that no one can number. On Easter we celebrate Christ’s resurrection, on All Saints’ Day we celebrate our resurrection. We celebrate the fulfilment of God’s promises to us in our inheritance of eternal life. We celebrate the eternal joys of everlasting life which are ours because of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us.

We celebrate Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the patriarchs of old who are enrolled in heaven. We celebrate the apostles, the witnesses of Jesus’ earthly ministry who are now enrolled in heaven. Yet, we also celebrate our beloved friends and family who died in Christ and now rest from their labours.

All the saints, from the beginning of time who died believing in the Saviour who was yet to come, to the saints who have died today believing in the Saviour who did come are remembered and celebrated today.

We remember the saints who have gone before us that we might imitate their faith and good works. However, we do not pray to them or worship them. Scripture sets Christ alone before us as mediator, atoning sacrifice, high priest, and intercessor. He is to be called upon, since we have both the command to pray to Him and His promise that He will hear us (cf. AC XXI). We have no such command to pray to saints, nor do we have any promise that they hear our prayers. Thus, we pray to God alone, even though we commemorate and remember the saints.

All Saints’ Day is special in that we celebrate not just the saints whose lives are recorded in holy Scripture, but also the lesser known saints who kept the faith through daily griefs and joys that no one has recorded. We commemorate the loved ones we miss dearly who died with Christ and thus now live with Him, and we are comforted by God’s promises to them and to us.

All Saints’ Day is consolation to those who find themselves in the loneliness of a Siberian prison camp or suffering the inner alienation within church bodies that have abandoned the truth of the Gospel. It is consolation to those who feel alone, for those who suffer for the sake of the Church, for those disheartened about the evils they see taking place in the church. It is consolation for all whose loved ones died with faith in Christ.

We are not alone, but are part of the Church. We are part of the great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. We will be reunited with our loved ones who died in the faith. We will be in the presence of God forevermore.

Then there will be no more church militant that is attacked from within and without by false teachers and heresies, by abuses and persecutions. There will be no more church militant that is despised and hated by the world. There will be no more church militant that the evil one seeks madly to overthrow.

There will only be the church triumphant, where we will be in the presence of God for eternity, protected and sheltered from every evil. There we shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore. The sun shall not strike us, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be our shepherd, and He will guide us to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

How could the Church not celebrate this great festival? It celebrates the promises of God that have been fulfilled for every believer who has died in Christ. It celebrates the promises of God that will be fulfilled for us when the times comes for us to depart this life. It is a celebration that because Jesus died for our sins, we will never die, and because He rose from the dead, we will live forever.

The Christian Church celebrates even in midst of suffering and loss, abuse and persecution because we have our eyes set on the promises of God which will be fulfilled. We too will be in the church triumphant, whether it is today or tomorrow, next year or decades from now. That is reason to celebrate. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.