In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord. If you have ever been to a movie in a theater or watched a video or DVD, you know that before the feature attraction comes on the screen you must sit through a series of short film clips called coming attractions. These clips are always introduced with the words, “Coming soon to a theater near you,” or, “Coming soon to DVD!” and they are designed to spark your interest in upcoming or soon-to-be-released films so that you can spend even more money. They are meant to encourage you to look forward to what is yet to come.
Today’s Gospel text does the same thing. It gives us a glimpse of the second coming of Christ.
The first “clip” we see is an unfortunate one. For example, God’s Word informs us that God has made Himself known from the very beginning of time. But there are people who refuse to recognize God in the very creation which surrounds them. St. Paul deals with that truth in the first chapter of Romans where he writes: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident within them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what had been made, so that they are without excuse.” (Rom. 1:18-20).
According to God’s Word unbelievers have no excuse to say that God did not reveal Himself to them. Every tree, every leaf, every little bug, every bird, every blade of grass, every weather event proclaims that there is a God! Every baby born is a miracle of God. Mankind and science cannot duplicate the process of a life growing inside a mother’s womb, nor can they explain fully how and why just two cells multiply billions of times over a period of nine months to form that human life. Yet it is very sad that some people do not consider life to be a gift from God.
But no matter what excuse is given, God has and always will be seen clearly, for He has made Himself known to every human being on the face of the earth in His creation. And those who refuse to have their eyes opened to His creative revelation are the unrighteous and the ungodly. It is for those people that God reserves His wrath which He will pour out on them at the final judgment. This is a coming attraction that no one should have to anticipate.
Our text also addresses those who disregard the Lord by their lack of action. Here in vv. 42ff we see the gross inaction and ingratitude on the part of those for whom Christ also died. They did NOT regard Him or His message of salvation as anything to be taken seriously, an attitude which is shown by the way they treated others: no compassion for the hungry or sick or imprisoned; no care for those who would have to go cold on a winter night; no consideration that one person as well as another is loved by God and that a good work done for another person was, in actuality, done for the Lord. It all meant nothing. Their consciences were cold and ungiving. They lived for themselves.
And the Lord had a message for them: “Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Hell was never originally intended for man; but because of hardness of heart and rejection of salvation through Jesus Christ, it is the place to which unbelievers are sentenced when they die. It is the place to which Christ the Judge will sentence all those who have not responded to God’s loving offer of eternal life. And they will not understand the Lord’s command to depart from Him.
Yet that command also refers to those who, in their minds, write off the fact that He IS coming again – and He IS coming! Jesus said, “WHEN the Son of Man comes in His glory…” Not “if,” but “WHEN!” There’s no question about it! He IS returning. Only the date and time have not been announced to anyone on earth. But Christ IS coming, and God knows when that will happen. He has given signs and clues to watch for and indications as to how we may prepare. But these indications go largely unnoticed and unheeded because of apathy.
In II Peter 3 we read: “…scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which now exist are kept in store by the same word, reserved for the fire until the day of judgement and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (II Peter 3:3-8).
That phrase “they willfully forget” means that people deliberately turned a deaf ear to the truth and ignored it. Natural man wants nothing at all to do with the God of the Scriptures. Man, by nature, is his own god, serving himself and seeing no need for anything else. That is why we need to see ourselves in this text, for we are just like those about whom Jesus is speaking. Our sinful nature, our Old Adam, does not want to please God.
And the devil would like very much for you to be apathetic to God’s Word just like those in our text. Satan enjoys every one of his little victories… sleeping in or just staying home on Sunday; not speaking up for those who cannot speak for or defend themselves; not responding to or challenging someone when they say that all religions are alike; oh, this list could get quite long…
Dear friends in Christ, these are the very attitudes which place us under the same condemnation of which our Lord speaks in this text. For that reason we DO tremble and fear at the coming of Christ and His final judgment.
Yet we need NOT fear. God loves us; He has sent His Son to suffer and die for us. Christ’s death and resurrection is the key to all of mankind being saved from the coming judgment of God.
Look again at our text. The deeds of righteousness were judged as good in God’s sight. But the righteous are not invited to enter heaven because they did these things. They were invited to enter heaven because they had placed their trust in God’s Son to save them. The good works and “deeds of righteousness” were done out of faith and in response to God’s love and Christ’s forgiveness and promise of eternal life; they were done in gratitude for being declared not guilty by God on account of Christ.
In the final judgment the Judge buries all our failures and shortcomings in forgiven silence and remembers only the deeds of mercy. That is the Christian’s hope and joy! It does NOT come in the fearful realization that we cannot work our way to heaven and that we are helpless to save ourselves. It comes in realizing that it does not depend on us, but on Christ alone. If our own salvation depended on anything we had to do, we would have no hope at all and would be eternally condemned; our own works just don’t cut it. They never have, and they never will.
Christ has gone to prepare a place for you. His desire is for you to be with Him in heaven and to share in His eternal joy and glory. It will be an existence where none of your earthly troubles or heartaches are found: no tears, no darkness, no death, no sadness, no sickness, no heartache – only eternal joy in all the splendor of heaven. By God’s grace you will see Jesus face to face and you will stand in His presence in a glorified body, a body made completely new, clean, and whole.
In the mean time you do not have to wait to see Him, for He has ordained that you receive Him in His chosen ways and by His chosen means. He speaks to you in His preached and spoken Word. He delivers to you His forgiveness in the Absolution spoken by your pastor. He delivers to you forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death and the devil, and eternal salvation in His name through the waters of Holy Baptism. He chooses to place His holy and living and resurrected body into your unholy and sinful and dying body in the Sacrament of the Altar, which is a foretaste of the eternal feast to come.
These are the things God would have you dwell on and receive as you anticipate His imminent return. By His Word you know what is in store for you in the life of the world to come. We confess in the Creed that we believe in “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” This is what we have a glimpse of both in our text and in God’s gifts. Here we have the downpayment, THE coming attraction to THE attraction.
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.