Second Last Sunday, November 19th, Year of Our + Lord 2012
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
The Heavenly Courtroom Where Judgments Are Given
Matthew 25:31-46 Vicar Jason Toombs
“As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took His seat ... a thousand thousands served Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him; the court sat in judgement, and the books were opened.” We are looking at the heavenly courtroom where the Ancient of Days, where God, takes His seat to preside in judgement. Courtrooms can be a scary place for all people. They are scary for the plaintiff as they have to show how they are the injured party. They are scary for the witnesses who have to testify and are scared to tell the truth. Courtrooms are scary for the jury who have to wade through the facts and reach a verdict. They are scary for the defendant as they have to prove their innocence or deny responsibility for the facts brought forward. There are judgments being handed out every day in courtrooms. But courtrooms aren’t the only place where judgments are handed out on earth.
We are judged everyday by our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, the school kids, and the list goes on. We have all judged people in our lives, no matter how much we try to deny it. We are judged by our friends for the clothes that we wear, the other friends that we have, the habits we have which are annoying: he’s always correcting me, he never listens to anything I say, she is constantly talking. And we are also judging them for the same things. We judge our neighbors all the time. Their dog can’t seem to stay in the backyard, they never mow their lawn when they’re supposed to, or, as the season may be, they didn’t shovel the sidewalk last week, they can’t seem to park in the same spot. At work we are no better. Backstabbing, cover-ups, and information leaks are rampant in the workplace these days. Maybe you aren’t the one doing these things, but do you know about this happening and haven’t acted to correct the situation? If this information is later found out and it comes before a trial, or your boss, you could be charged with being an accessory to the crime and punished. At school we’ve heard the rumor mill and even helped to spread rumors. “I can’t believe she slept with him. He cheated on her?!?” Shock and outrage, rumors and lies constantly spreading in the halls without talking to the parties involved to find out if these rumors are even true. You’re judged for not going to that party, or for going to that party. It seems that no matter where we go, the judging of people is there.
As scary as earthly judging is, it is nothing compared to the heavenly courtroom. We all stand convicted before the Father knowing that we are poor, miserable sinners because we haven’t done the things that are required by Him. Which things are required by God? Perfectly keeping the Ten Commandments: “Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? ... Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds?” In these two questions Dr. Luther summarizes the Ten Commandments in a way that we can see: Do you love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself? Oftentimes we like to brush these aside by saying, “Who can do these? I know I have sinned, but I’m better than my neighbor.” We think that God grades on a curve, “As long as I’m better than my neighbor I have nothing to fear.” The Ten Commandments are not a sliding judgment where if we are better than our neighbor we will pass. It is only a perfect keeping of them that counts. We are all guilty, no one can stand before the heavenly judge and declare their own innocence.
We are called as the defendant in the heavenly courtroom. The Ancient of Days is sitting on His throne. We look over to see the prosecuting attorney. Who is that guy dressed in a nice suit with that perfect hair? It is none other than the devil, the one who constantly accuses the saints before the throne of God. That’s what the adversary, Satan, does; he constantly points out all of our sin before God. He shows God just how utterly wicked and depraved that we are: all the times when we’ve given into temptation, all of the times when we’ve slipped while walking along the narrow way, all of the times when we’ve cared more about our wants, our desires, ourselves than God and our neighbor.
Then, all of a sudden, there is lots of commotion going on as the doors swing open in the back of the courtroom. Someone new enters with lots of pomp and circumstance. “Behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a Son of Man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him.” The Son of Man comes with the full power and authority of heaven and presents Himself before the Ancient of Days on His throne. The Ancient of Days looks at the evidence provided by the Son of Man: the prints of the crown of thorns upon His head, the torn flesh of His back, the mark of nail and spear, and the dried blood and sweat everywhere. The Ancient of Days has seen enough; He is ready to render a verdict. We wait to hear: Guilty or Not Guilty. Silence. Then the Ancient of Days opens His mouth and the verdict is read: “And to the Son of Man was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” Shockingly the Ancient of Days has dismissed the case without rendering a verdict and we are free to leave the courtroom and enter into the heavenly banquet. This is the heavenly courtroom where the Ancient of Days sits on the throne. The Son of Man will also sit on His glorious throne and judge all people, separating them one from another.
On the last day, “the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.” The Son of Man, Jesus Christ, will come again in judgment. Jesus has promised that He will come and usher in the Last Day. On that day the earth will see the wrath of God being poured out upon it. When He comes in His glory every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, some in their fear, love, and trust, others only in fear. Jesus will gather “all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left.” How will we know which people we will be gathered with? Will we be with the sheep or the goats?
Jesus gives the answer to the question of which people we will be gathered. Have you given Him food when He was hungry, a drink when He was thirsty? Did you welcome Him when He was a stranger, clothe Him when He was naked? Did you visit Him when He was sick or in prison? Sheep or Goats, which are you? Silence. You can’t provide Jesus with an answer because you haven’t done any of these things to Him. Or have you? Jesus says to you, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” You have done all of these things to Jesus because you have done it for His brothers. The brothers of Jesus are you and all the saints. God places His name upon you and calls you His own child. He seals you on your forehead and your heart as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. He claims you as His children. He calls you son or daughter and you are a sibling of Jesus. This is the reason why Jesus says to pray, “Our Father.” We can only call God “Our Father” through Jesus. He gave this prayer to us and we pray as He has taught us. Jesus covers you in His blood in the waters of your baptism. You bring other people to be covered in the same baptismal waters and to be claimed as a fellow child of God. In those same baptismal waters you are brought to a new life, a life in Christ. And you are clothed by God in the white robe of Christ’s righteousness. The white robe of innocence is given to you and God declares Christ guilty of all of your sins. Christ takes your sin from you and pays the full price for all of them, shedding His innocent blood in your guilty place. Take heart my child, your sins are forgiven. And you share the great love that God has toward you with your neighbors. You feed the hungry when you give of yourself. You give drink to the thirsty. You welcome the stranger, the visitor, and made them feel like family. You visit the sick, the hospitalized, and those who need help. You do all of these things for your children and Christ says that you do them to Him.
You are constantly doing these things for your neighbor without realizing that you are doing them. When your children were sick and need to be cared for, did you try to make them feel comfortable and care for them or did you let them fend for themselves? You care for them because you love them. When they’re cold you find more blankets to cover them. If they’re hot you find a washcloth, soak it in cool water, and put it on their forehead. You make sure the chicken noodle soup isn’t too cold or too hot. You cut off the crusts on their grilled cheese sandwiches. Do you think about these things when you do them or do you naturally do them out of love for your children? It is the same with your neighbors. Sometimes when a new family moves into the neighborhood you give them a gift basket to welcome them. You might bake them some cookies, invite them over for dinner, and try to get to know them. When the food bank says that they are needing items to restock the pantry you help them out because you know that nobody should go hungry. You care for the neighbors that you don’t meet or even know who they are when you give to the food bank. You do all of these things for your neighbors and Christ says that you do them to Him.
But these are not the only times and places when you do these things. You bring the thirsty to the living water of baptism. There they are filled with the living water that bubbles up within. This water is the water that brings life to the thirsty. Your also bring the hungry to the Lord’s table where He feeds them. He feeds them with His body and blood. His body and blood are true food and provide sustenance for the weary traveller in this life. You welcome the stranger, the visitor, that walks through the doors of this congregation and invite them to sit at the feet of the Lord and hear the good news of their salvation in Him. Like Mary, we all sit at His feet and hear as He teaches us. Though we were strangers before baptism, we come together as a heavenly family, as brothers and sisters of Christ, and are united with God the good Father as our head. You go to the hospital when a loved one goes in for a scheduled surgery or an emergency. You visit them and check in on them. You see if they need anything and read or talk to them to make the day go by a little faster. If they are in a shared room their neighbor overhears what you are talking about and listens in. You read a Bible lesson or a devotion and bring a little cheer to their day as the word of God comforts them. Their neighbor, possibly not a Christian, sees the love that you have toward them and asks why you do these things for them. You answer, “I do these things because I love and cherish the friendship that we have.” You talk about the things that you have in common including the Savior Jesus Christ. You share Jesus with them without noticing that you are doing it. You pray that the Lord will strengthen them and make them better. You care for the people who God brings into your life.
You are counted with the sheep because you do all of these things, and so many more, for your neighbors. And Jesus says that you don’t do them for your neighbor alone, you do them for Him. You do all of these things because you love Him. And He loves you. Jesus loves you so much that He came down from heaven and lived the perfect life for you. He died in your place upon the cross where the innocent one laid down His life in your guilty place. And He rose again on the third day. And He raises you to live a new life in Him. You live your life in Him and do good things for your neighbors. You hear as the Son of Man says to you, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” as you leave the heavenly courtroom and enter the heavenly banquet where the Son of Man and the Ancient of Days sit on their thrones in glory. Amen.