St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Judgment Day: You Were There

Sermon on Matthew 25:31-46

Text: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

“You had to be there.” You will hear people say this when they think that you cannot fully understand what they saw or did. It might be something that was exciting like a close sporting event. It might be something terrifying like an accident. It might be that you were trying to tell them a funny story that happened, and no one is laughing. You say, “You had to be there.” This morning we are going to talk about an event that has not already happened, but will happen in the future. After we study our text, we will be able to say, “JUDGMENT DAY: YOU WERE THERE.” 1 We See What Will Happen. 2. We Hear What Will Be Said.

The words of our text were spoken by Jesus during Holy Week. The disciples had many questions about so many things. One of the areas that they had questions about was what would happen on the Last Day. We all have some fears about the unknown, and the disciples were no different. So, to comfort them and believers of all times, Jesus told them what would happen on Judgment Day.

Our text speaks of Jesus coming “in his glory, and all the angels with him.” (Verse 31) Jesus’ return to the earth will be very visible. No one will have to wonder whether or not today was Judgment Day. There will be no doubt. When Jesus comes again, the entire world will be well aware of it. Jesus will come again, not meek and lowly as he did the first time, but as the Son of God with all of the power and glory that are his. He will have his complete entourage of angels with him. There are other places in the Scriptures that describe some of the events that will accompany Jesus’ return. We are told that there will be a loud trumpet blast. The trumpet blast is the blast that the trumpeters would play when an ancient king was arriving. It was to draw your attention.

The entire world will be made aware of this coming of Jesus. They will not be able to ignore it. Our text tells us “All the nations will be gathered before him.” (Verse 32) Every man, woman, and child who has ever lived or is living at that time will appear before Jesus. There will be no exceptions. Every single person will stand before Jesus.

Then, our text tells us that Jesus will separate the people “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Verse 32) Jesus is referring to a common practice of the day. The shepherds would allow the sheep and goats to graze together in the same pasture but would separate them at night. Jesus will do this to the people of the world on that day. He will separate the people into two groups, with one on his right and the other on his left. There is significance to this because the right hand was the position of honor.

Why does Jesus place these two groups where he does? Now that we have seen what will happen, let us listen to what is being said. Jesus, first, speaks to the group on his right, and what sweet words he speaks to them. He says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” (Verse 34) Jesus invites them to come and join him in heavenly bliss. He says that they are blessed and have an inheritance. One thing we remember about an inheritance is the fact that they are not earned. They are a gift from someone to another.

How appropriate to call the gift of salvation a blessing and an inheritance. We were lost and condemned sinners. We, by all rights, should have been cast out from God because of our many sins, including those times when we showed a lack of charity and caring to those in need. However, God loved us so much that he sent his only Son into the world to pay for our sins. He did so through his perfect life, where he lived for us. He did so through his suffering and death, when he paid the debt we owed. He did so when he rose from the dead. Because of Jesus’ work, those who are brought to faith receive forgiveness of sins and become the children of God. As children of God, we receive the kingdom that has been prepared for us since the creation of the world. This is an eternity of peace and bliss in heaven.

When Jesus speaks to the group on his right, he is acting as judge. Like a judge, he points to the evidence in the case. Note that, as the all-knowing God, he does not need the evidence to decide the case. He is well-aware of those who believe in him and those who do not. Rather, he points to the external evidence that all the world could see. He says, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Verses 35&36) The group on the right is astonished to hear this. ‘When did we do these things?’ they ask. Jesus answers, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Verse 40) Jesus points to their lives of good works as they helped those around them as evidence of the faith that was in their hearts. He said, “Whatever you did . . . you did for me.”

Please note that Jesus is not saying that they had earned heaven by their good works. So many people feel that you can do this. There are many places in the Scriptures that tell us we cannot save ourselves. By bringing these works to light, Jesus points to the evidence of their faith. It is only through this faith that we receive this inheritance that Jesus won for us. The believers were not doing anything extraordinary. They were simply living their lives of faith. They humbly said, ‘We have only done our duty.’ Jesus, in pointing to the evidence of their faith, invites them to come and share in the joy and peace of heaven. This is what Jesus will say to those on his right.

Now, Jesus turns his attention to those on his left. How different these words sound as opposed to those he spoke to the people on his right. He says, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Verse 41) He does not want to have anything to do with them. He tells them to depart. They are sentenced to spend their eternity in the fire and punishment that was prepared for the devil and his angels when they rebelled against God. Hell was not created for man, but if he chooses to follow the devil and his ways, he will spend his eternity feeling the full force of God’s anger against sin.

Jesus, the righteous Judge, points to evidence of their unbelief. He says, “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” (Verses 42&43) They had not lived in a God-pleasing way.

The group on his left, somewhat self-righteously, says to Jesus, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” (Verse 44) ‘Lord, we surely would have helped you, if you had needed it! Besides, you never really told us what to do anyway.’ They try to excuse themselves before the Judge, but their defense is full of holes.

Then Jesus tells them the reason that they were sentenced in this way. He says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Verse 45) ‘Your lack of good works is ample evidence of the fact that you did not have faith, and it is only through faith that you enter heaven.’

The scene closes with the words, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Verse 46) This is how Judgment Day will be. These will be the eternal results.

My friends, those who believe need not fear Judgment Day. On that day, we will be taken to heaven to spend our eternity there in peace and joy. Since we have been given so much, let us live our lives in thankfulness and praise. We do our good works, including taking care of one another, to thank God for all that he has done for us. Paul writes in Galatians 6:10, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” When we do so, we are thanking God for all he has done for us.

The final results of Judgment Day are told to us. Believers will be praised by Jesus and taken to heaven. Those who do not believe will be sent to hell to be punished for their sins for all eternity. How we look forward to Jesus’ return, when he will say to us, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” Because Jesus has told us so clearly what will happen on that day, we can say that we were there. Because of what we know will happen, we say, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” Amen.