Matthew 25:31-46 – When?

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Matthew 25:31-46

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 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. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For 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.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

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

Dear Nikko, today you are Baptized. Today, God has placed His name upon you – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God has made you His child and heir. God has made you to be His sheep. So, Nikko, today you begin a life of service to your Savior. But what does this mean? How do you go about serving the God who created everything? What can you offer Him?

These are questions that we, your brothers and sisters in Christ, continue to struggle with. But the answer Nikko, and all of you here, is given to us by Jesus in this text.

But t’s not an easy text. Now, let’s be honest. If this was the only word that we had received from Jesus, then a religion of works and salvation by human effort would be the logical conclusion. Sheep do acts of kindness, and they receive heavenly praise and eternal rewards. Goats don’t, and get hell.

But Scripture is clear. We do not earn our way into God’s good graces. We don’t buy our way into eternal life. And even this text agrees. Notice, Jesus’ first words to the sheep, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

The sheep are sheep because God has made them sheep. They are chosen, predestined, elect. They are not sheep because they did acts of kindness or because they made a choice to be a sheep or because they worked hard to become a sheep. They are sheep for one reason – God has done it. God makes them sheep. God makes them righteous. And then, these sheep live like His sheep.

They go out into God’s creation, out into their ordinary lives, and they take care of those around them. They help the sick, feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned, and clothe the naked. They do sheep things. God’s sheep act like sheep.

And the goats? Well, the goats choose what God never planned. They choose to ignore the call of God and the cry of their fellow creatures. They reject grace and choose death. And so, in return, God gives them what they choose. They share the unintended and unsought fate of Satan and his hoard.

But not you. You are a sheep. At the Font, God made His claim on you, gave you His Name, and made you His sheep. You belong to Him.

And so you, His sheep, live like His sheep. You go out into God’s world and meet the needs of fellow creatures who cry for your help. That’s what sheep do. And when sheep do what God gives them to do, they are serving the God who made them sheep. That’s the point of the text.

The point is that what sheep do as sheep is never wasted and never lost. Because you are God’s sheep, your work, your normal daily work, is transformed. Whatever you do for the sake of those around you who need your help, whatever you do in fulfillment of your God-given vocation, whatever you do that God has given you to do is exactly the work you should be doing, and that work is never wasted and is never lost.

It’s not what makes a big splash. It’s not what makes others applaud. It’s not what earns financial perks or accolades or A’s. It’s not what makes you feel good. None of these things determine the value of the work you do. The only thing that counts is that you are doing what you have been given to do in service to others. And so, know that whatever it is you are doing, you are doing it as God’s sheep. And whatever you do as God’s sheep is holy work.

So, you get up and go to work and put in your eight, ten, or twelve hours. You prepare another report, meet another deadline. You clean the kitchen, fold the laundry, and scrub the toilet. You sit through another lecture. You study for another spelling or history or science quiz. You make your bed, clear your dishes, and straighten your shoes and coats in the entryway. You change the day’s eighth dirty diaper, prepare the days’ fourth bottle, and you wipe your child’s snotty nose because it is holy work.

As God’s sheep, all the work you do is done in service to the one who needs what God has put you there to give. God has put that needy person in your life – even if their need seems inconsequential. Everything you do can be done with a sense of awe, wonder, and gratitude at the sheer holiness of the work you are doing.

You don’t need work that is more meaningful. You don’t need a vocation that is more prestigious. You don’t need to do things that will impress those who watch or grade or evaluate. No, you just need to do what you have been given to do to care for those around you who need it. And when you do that, you are doing an incredible, holy work.

Notice, the sheep are totally unaware of all the holy works they had done. They ask Jesus, “When? When did we do all those things?” These sheep appear before Jesus with hands empty of good works. But Jesus praises and rewards them anyway.

Also notice, the goats were shocked. They ask Jesus, “When? When did we not do all those good things?” They appeared before Jesus with hands full of what they thought were their good works. But since their hands are full of their own works and merits, they had no room to  receive the mercy, grace, and forgiveness Jesus freely gives.

So, when are you doing your best works? When are you serving the God who has created, redeemed, and sanctified you? When you don’t even notice because that work seems so inconsequential and insignificant.

So, see the need of those around you. Step up and you meet that need. Parents, children, students, employers, neighbors, strangers – give them what they need from you, and you fulfill your righteous vocation.

Sheep are righteous twice. Righteous before God in your election, and righteous before creation in your vocation. You are a sheep. You live without futility because you know that your labor is never in vain. No deed is insignificant. No act is forgotten. God saves you and your labor. Neither is ever lost.

You may feel that your work is insignificant and meaningless. You may feel like what you do goes unnoticed. But it is not. You, you are a sheep. And that changes everything – everything about you and everything about what you do forever. Amen.[1]

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] This sermon was taken largely from a sermon by Dr. Joel Biermann on this same text (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/matthew-25-31-46/id463450793?i=105495219&mt=2).

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Matthew 25:14-30 – How Is Your Master?

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Matthew 25:14-30

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

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

Please, let it be clear, the talents in this parable are not skills like singing, dancing, juggling, playing the harmonica, and pulling a rabbit out of a hat. A talent is a sum of money, in fact, a large sum of money. One talent is equivalent to twenty years’ wages. The master freely gives it away. No conditions. No instructions. No expectations. To one five talents, to another two, and to another one – each according to his ability. One-hundred-sixty years’ wages. Maybe, he needed to lighten his fat wallet before he goes away.

Two of those servants do very well with the money and double it. The third is a total flop. He digs a hole in the ground. Like a broody hen warming an unfertilized egg, he sits on his master’s money in a way that nothing will be lost, but certainly nothing will be gained. What was his problem? The third servant was terrified of his master because he believes wrong things about his master. And in his fear, he does nothing.

This third servant didn’t know his master well at all. His own words condemn him, “I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed. So, I was afraid. And I went and hid the money in the ground.”

Imagine the master. He has given away – with no strings attached – 160 years’ wages, and is called a hard, demanding, cruel, even violent man. Well, there is nothing to do except treat that wicked servant exactly how he believes. The master condemns the servant and casts him into the outer darkness where there is nothing but weeping and gnashing of teeth.

But this is not how the master really is. The master is actually merciful, gracious, and giving. The first servant who was given five talents gets to keep those five. And more than that, he gets to keep the extra five he profited, and he gets the eleventh talent as well. Since when do servants get to keep the principle, the interest, and on top of that get bonuses?

Here is the point of the parable. However you believe God to be is how He is to you. If you believe God to be a deity who demands that you work and slave to get back into His good graces, that is how He will be to you. But if you believe God to be merciful, forgiving, gracious, patient, loving, and kind, that is how He will be to you. So, how is your God? How is your Master?

Jesus is the Master in this parable, and He gives His Kingdom away. He empties the treasuries of His palace and gives it to His servants. Your God is not a hard man who reaps where He does not sow. He sows for others. He sows for you to reap. And to you, who have been given much in the waters of Holy Baptism and made His heirs, He gives even more. Your faith is multiplied like money well-invested.

The God who has bestowed gifts to you is coming back. He has given you life, house, family. He has blessed you with everything you need for this life. He has given you His Word. But, most importantly, He has given you Jesus, His Son, who has poured out His precious, holy, innocent blood to remove your sin from you as far as the east is from the west. Because of the abundance He has given to you, you don’t need to be afraid of losing it. So, use what He has given!

One of Aesop’s fables goes like this: A mouse lived near a magician’s house, but the mouse was terrified of cats. In pity for the mouse, the magician turned the mouse into a cat. But then the mouse, who was now a cat, feared the dog. So, the magician turned it into a dog. But then that dog feared the tiger. So, the magician said, “Be a mouse again. Since you only have the heart of a mouse, it is impossible to help you by giving you the form of a noble animal.”

God has made you who you are. And, yes, maybe God hasn’t physically given you as much as He has given others. But use what God has given you for the furthering of His kingdom. He has given you the precious blood of Christ poured out for you on the cross. He has given you His name to call upon Him in prayer. He has given you brothers and sisters in Christ who need to be strengthened and encouraged by your words and by your example.

Jesus is your gracious master who takes of His own property, that which is His, that which He earned, and gives it to you. And then, in the end, allows you to keep it not only as stewards, but as a dear beloved child.

So, use what God has given you, and on the last day, you also will hear your Savior say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” Amen.

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

Matthew 25:1-13 – Wake, Awake!

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Matthew 25:1-13

1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

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

If this parable makes you uncomfortable, good. That is exactly what Jesus intended. The parable is a warning. You can lose the faith. You can give up hope. You can have the mountaintop experiences, you can rededicate your life a hundred times, you can feel really close to God now, but still be left outside when Jesus, the Bridegroom, is delayed in His return.

Jesus has told us to watch, but none of us have watched as we should. We have not believed as we should. We have ignored what we know to be right and have fallen into sin. We have had opportunity after opportunity to read, hear, learn, study God’s Word, and come to receive God’s gifts Sunday morning, but figured, “I can do it tomorrow, or next week.”

Jesus tells us that five of the virgins were μωραὶ where we get our English word, ‘morons.’ Now, these are not those who were confirmed but stopped coming to church. These five foolish virgins are those who stick it out. They keep coming to church. They serve on the church council, helped with the pot-lucks, and put their offering in the plate every week. The five fools have every mark of what would be considered a ‘good Christian.’ However, when the Bridegroom arrives, they are unprepared to meet Him. They have no oil. They have no hope or faith.

The other five virgins are ‘wise,’ but it is not the normal New Testament word for wise, σοφία. Jesus uses a different word, φρόνιμοι. This is a particular kind of wisdom that plans for the future. It considers everything that is known, but it also recognizes and plans for the unknown.

So, these wise virgins know the Bridegroom is coming, but they don’t know when He will arrive. And because they know that they didn’t know, they made provision for that too. They were ready. They were ready if He came right away – they had oil in their lamps. But they were also ready if He is delayed – they had extra oil in their flasks.

Of course, we should be ready for Jesus to return today. We should put away our sin. We should be repentant. We should reconcile with those we are fighting with. We should watch and pray and expect that Jesus will be here at any moment. All this is to have oil in our lamps.

But we do not know when Jesus will return. It may not be today or tomorrow or next year or even in our lifetimes. So, we should be making preparations for that as well.

We should go to work and school tomorrow and the days and weeks and months and years after that too. We should be preparing for our future careers. We should get married, have children, and teach those children the faith. We should be sending out missionaries to preach the Gospel in other places so they and their children will be ready for Christ’s return. We should be planting new churches, strengthening existing churches, and writing hymns for us today but also for those of future generations because it may not be tomorrow that Jesus returns.

If you thought that Jesus was going to come in ten days, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, you wouldn’t bother thawing out your turkey. You wouldn’t go to the store to buy all the groceries you need (or make your travel plans) for Thanksgiving Day. But if you are wrong, and Jesus doesn’t return in ten days, it will make for a very poor Thanksgiving. You won’t have any tryptophan in your system to help you fall asleep while you watch Giants play the Redskins. Yuck.

Be ready for the return of Christ. Be watchful. Stay awake. Don’t be away from the house when Christ arrives frantically trying to find oil for yourself because when He comes, it is too late. But none of this is to say that you are worthy of entering the feast because you are prepared. As important as they are, you aren’t welcomed into the wedding feast because of your good works.

Notice, all ten virgins – both the wise and the foolish – they all fall asleep. But also notice, that when the Bridegroom comes, He washes away the sins of those five wise virgins who fell asleep. He doesn’t hold their slumber against them. The Bridegroom is the one who died for their sins, so their sins aren’t going to stop Him from welcoming them to the wedding feast (Rev. David H. Pedersen).

Brothers and sisters, Christ is returning, and we do not know either the day or the hour. We do not know the general time or the specific time.

Be ready and remember what you are waiting for. You are waiting for a party. You are waiting for a time of unimaginable celebration and unspeakable joy. Absolutely, you need to be ready, but only because it would be a travesty to miss all the fun. Amen.

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

1 John 3:1-3 – So You Are

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1 John 3:1-3

1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

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

Dear saints. Yes, you, you Christian are called a saint by Scripture.

Too often, when we think of saints, we think of people who are without sin. Maybe you watch your grandma getting older. Her arthritis makes her fingers twist in ways they aren’t supposed to, but she doesn’t complain. And she lovingly puts up with all of your grandpa’s eccentricities. Or, maybe, when you think of a saint, you think of the people in our first reading (Rev. 7:9-17), people who have gone to heaven.

But saints are not sinless people. If that were the case, no one could ever be called a ‘saint’ – except Jesus. He is the only sinless person to ever live. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by His grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Ro. 3:23-24).

A saint is not a ‘sinless person.’ A saint is a ‘holy person.’ The word ‘holy’ means set apart. And God has set you apart. He has made you holy. He has set you apart for Himself.

Now, this may be a bad analogy, but bear with me. In your home, you probably keep your dishcloths and your washcloths separate. You have one set of cloths to wash your dishes, to wipe the grime and grease from your pots and pans and to get the crumbs and spilt milk off of your table. But you have a separate set of cloths to scrub soap on yourself to wash your skin. And hopefully, those get less greasy than the cloths that wash your frying pan.

Now, you wouldn’t dream of washing those cloths, folding them, and just putting them wherever there was more space. Even though your dishcloths and washcloths are probably the same size and made of the same material, they have different purposes. With one, you wash the pan that fried your bacon and eggs, and with another you wash yourself. You have set each of them apart for a purpose. Each of them are, in a sense, ‘holy.’ You don’t use your washcloths to clean your pots and pans, and you don’t use your dishcloths to wipe the oil and grease from the parts of your snow blower. Did the cloths do this themselves? No. You did.

Dear saints, you too have been set apart. You have been set apart by God for God. “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). You have been claimed by Him when He put His name upon you in the waters of Holy Baptism. You have been kept by God through faith in His Word.

These verses from 1 John invite you to behold this. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”

Often, it does not seem like we are saints. We don’t feel particularly holy or set apart. And the world certainly doesn’t recognize that we are God’s saints, His holy ones. But right here, John says that shouldn’t surprise us because the world did not know Jesus when He came.

One of the devil’s favorite games to play with you, dear saint, is to have the world shout at you and call you a hypocrite. But the church is not full of hypocrites. The church is full of sinners, but Christians on this side of glory still do sin, minute by minute and second by second. But Christians are not hypocrites; they do not say one thing and do another. Christians are those who confess their sins and cry out to God for forgiveness. Christians do not claim to be without sin. Instead, we claim that we are saints, God’s children, even if we don’t particularly look like it. We have been set apart by God, and we live by His mercy.

If someone wants to call you a hypocrite, tell them to go jump in a lake. Christian, you are God’s child, His saint, His holy one. You have been set apart. When you sin, and you do, you confess that sin, and you have an advocate, Jesus Christ, the righteous (1 Jn. 2:1).

Remain in the things that Jesus has given and promised delivers to you the forgiveness of sins – in your Baptism, in confession and absolution, in the Lord’s Supper, in hearing and trusting God’s holy Word. All those are the places where God declares you righteous for Christ’s sake.

Will you fail? Yes!

Your flesh is weak and you sin daily and often. But whenever your conscience condemns you, know that God is greater than your conscience (1 Jn. 3:20). Christ knows everything, and He has all authority in heaven and earth. He has laid down His life for you. Because He has all authority, when He declares that you are forgiven because of His death and resurrection, no one can debate it.

And God isn’t surprised when He forgives you and you keep on sinning. God has perfect foreknowledge. Though you keep on sinning, God isn’t ashamed of you. Jesus didn’t die for nothing. Jesus didn’t die for the wrong people. He has died for you. Trust that, and you are holy no matter what anyone else may say. It is God’s declaration. Rejoice in that.

See what kind of love the Father has given to you, that you should be called children of God; and so you are. You are God’s children now. What you will be has not yet appeared, but know that when Jesus appears, you shall be like Him because you shall see Him as He is.

In all likelihood, John wrote this epistle before he wrote the book of Revelation. In that first reading today (Rev. 7:9-17), John got a glimpse of what we will be. John saw an innumerable multitude, “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” That means John saw you who speak a language that didn’t even exist in his day. John saw you “standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in [your] hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

And here, now again, is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He comes to serve you His holy Body and holy Blood. Though you are not yet with Jesus in heaven, Jesus comes to you bringing with Him angles and archangels and the whole company of heaven to you. He does this, dear saints, to strengthen and encourage you in the true faith until that day when you are with Him for life everlasting. Amen.

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