The Gospel lesson serves as our sermon text for this morning.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us pray:
Lord Jesus Christ, you reign for ever. Rule over all the world in peace, and fill our hearts and households with the power of your love, for you live and reign with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God the Father through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
There are so many people and organizations who need our help.
Here is a short list of people and organizations in search of help:
The man and woman at the corner of the street you are turning onto from the highway.
The Salvation Army and the Red Kettle campaign.
The Wounded Warrior Project.
Union Rescue Mission
The Arkansas Food Bank
And the list goes on…
Many of the people in need are also fellow believers in Jesus.
If you pay attention even a little, you’ll find that the needs greatly outweigh our ability to provide.
This can be very overwhelming.
Here is a situation that may sound a bit familiar to you:
A man comes home from work and sits down to open the mail.
Most of the envelopes are bills.
One after another, they add up.
After four or five, he is overwhelmed with the mounting debt.
Then he opens a letter from his church asking him to support a mission effort.
Genuinely sorry, he concludes that he cannot give again this year.
He puts his head in his hands in despair.
Christians want to help other Christians.
This sincere desire is part of our sanctified nature.
But so often our own needs overshadow the needs of others.
As a result, we may be unwilling or even unable to help those in need.
Our own needs take on many forms.
So also do our excuses.
Too little time or too little money.
Perhaps we have health restrictions, or we feel as if we have nothing to offer.
Some of these limitations are legitimate.
Some are not.
We listen to Jesus describe those who, without their knowing it, served him, and we see more clearly our neglect of others.
Are you really among the sheep?
How can you tell?
Even though we may be secure in the fact that we are the Lord’s sheep through our Baptism, we are also convicted of our selfishness and lack of care of others.
Are you ready for some Good News?!
Here is part 2 of the story about the man with the pile of bills:
There remains one more letter on the coffee table that has not been opened yet.
In the letter, an attorney announces that an unexpected inheritance from a distant relative has been given to the man.
Imagine the difference this inheritance would make in the man’s life.
He might be able to pay all his bills on time for years to come and he might also be able to help his church out too.
This inheritance enables him to give generously here and now.
The full reception of the inheritance did not immediately take effect.
The person in the illustration would have to wait several years for the estate to be settled and the inheritance received.
In a similar way, the fullness of our inheritance in Christ will not be realized until Jesus returns.
In our text for this morning, the foundational difference between the sheep and the goats is not their behavior.
It is the inheritance prepared for the sheep.
This inheritance has been prepared for God’s people from the foundation of the world.
Notice that God’s grace goes all the way back to creation.
Revelation tells us that our names have been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life before the foundation of the world,
“the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Rev 13:8, emphasis added).
God secured our inheritance by sending Jesus to become the sacrificial lamb on the cross.
Our inheritance is in the precious blood of Christ.
The guarantee of this inheritance for us Christians is found in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
There are at least two references to this guarantee in Scripture:
(1 Corinthians 15:20–28)
(1 Peter 1:3–5)
This promise of eternal life is for all who believe in Christ.
Therefore, we are enabled to live as heirs, loving those in need.
This text gives us a glimpse of what will happen when Jesus returns.
It is a description, a preview.
Notice that there are almost no commands in this text.
When Jesus describes the behavior of the sheep and the goats, he is describing the difference made by the inheritance.
The good works done by the sheep are necessarily the result of living as heirs.
With our focus on what God has done for us in Christ, giving his own Son into death on the cross, we simply do what comes naturally by serving “the least of these” brothers and sisters in Christ.
God’s promise of inheritance turns those who were previously worried about themselves to look toward and think about their brothers and sisters who need their help.
Jesus is the difference maker by making us heirs.
By Making Us His Heirs, Jesus Makes Us Glad to Help Our Brothers and Sisters in Need.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer described how Christians treat one another by saying that Christians practice “the self-forgetfulness of love” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Communion of Saints [New York: Harper and Row: 1963], 123).
This is the impact of our inheritance.
Knowing that God has given us such a magnificently rich and eternal inheritance lets us forget about ourselves, because there’s nothing we can gain for ourselves that adds to what God has already given us in Christ Jesus.
In Jesus’ picture of the Last Day (Matthew 25:34), he speaks to his sheep as those who have received an inheritance.
Their kind actions toward “the least of these” flow from the promise of their eternal inheritance.
Likewise, all Christians, made heirs in Baptism, are enabled to show kindness to their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Remember the illustration of the man who received word of the inheritance.
News of his inheritance made all the difference.
It enabled him toward self-forgetful endurance and generosity.
Jesus embodied such self-forgetful love toward us by dying and rising to provide an inheritance from the foundation of the world.
This good news enables us to exercise self-forgetful generosity toward others. Amen.
Let us pray:
O Lord, grant us a faith that perseveres until the end. Move us by Your Spirit, that our good works continually bring glory to You and benefits to our neighbor. Amen.
The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.