Trinity 26 – Matthew 25:31-46

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

“No man can know or feel he is saved; he can only believe it.” Martin Luther said that phrase. His words agree with Holy Scripture. We walk by faith and not by sight. We might add that we walk by faith and not by sight, reason, strength, or feelings. We are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It’s the simplest of statements on how we are saved. But unpacking it in a parable about the Last Judgment, especially when works are mentioned in the parable, is fraught with disaster.

The sheep and goats have an inheritance, forgiveness of sin and eternal life won by Jesus Christ. This inheritance is theirs because our heavenly Father prepared it for them from the foundation of the world. What matters to God is not whether they were worthy of the inheritance. What matters is not their performance or their status. What matters is whether they believe this inheritance is for them.

This last parable of the New Testament is not about you, your works, your last name, or anything that is yours. This last parable of the New Testament is about the faith that the Good Shepherd has given you in the preaching of the Good News. Faith cannot help but do good works. The big deal about faith in this parable is that the sheep and goats didn’t realize that their works, or lack of works, flowed from faith or lack of faith. On that day, God will simply say whether, from our side (by faith, that is – but with no other conditions specified as to knowledge or any other human achievement), we related to the presence of the Savior. He will simply do the truth from his side – simply affirm his eternal, gracious relationship with all of creation – and honor what both the sheep and the goats did with that truth from their side.

That is why the sheep are stunned that they are set apart and given eternal life. The King lists all their good works, but the sheep didn’t know these were works, let alone good works. The sheep just did them because, well, just because. That’s the thing about good works and Christians. The minute you realize you are doing good works, those works are no longer good. Those works now become a point of pride, something to hold up to God to show Him just how good you are. You won’t need Him anymore. You have your works. It is enough.

God provides salvation for all. Yet not all will be saved. The problem of why all will not be saved is not with God. He did the heavy lifting by sending His Son to atone for your sin. What matters is whether you believe, not know, but believe He did this for you. Salvation comes only by relationship with the Savior – by a relationship that, from His side, is already an accomplished eternal fact, and that therefore needs only to be accepted by faith, not known in any way. In this accepting by faith, in this living by faith, you do what is given you to do each day as God gives you light to do it. When the King tells you on Judgment Day that when you did these things to the least of His brethren, then you did them to Him, you, like the sheep, will be stunned. You only did what was given you to do.

That’s the mystery of faith this side of Judgment Day. Faith is a mystery because you can’t see from where it comes. You can’t measure it. You can’t give it to someone else. It’s there because God put it there in the preaching of His Word. God opened your heart and placed it there. God cannot close up your heart and allow you not to receive His Word. Only you are able to do that. But woe betide if you do! You will end up with the goats who thought they didn’t need to believe in the merciful God.

The crazy thing about this parable is that the only thing we can possibly do is give the world the living witness of our trust in His presence in its passion. We need only to act as if we really believe He meets us in leastness and death. The rest is His business, not ours. In other words, faith clings to what Jesus tells Nicodemus in those well-known words of John 3:16. Is Jesus a liar or not? So the surprise of Judgment Day is not all your works, but the fact that faith in Christ, and only faith in Christ, saves. The works that come with it just happen to be there. You happen to do them because that’s what you do as a Christian in your callings in life. Distilled and refined to one sentence: Believe in Jesus and you have eternal life with no strings attached.

So our Lord’s final parable is not one of anxiety, but one of joy for those who are being saved. As we prayed in Psalm 54, God has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies. Jesus has done all things necessary to spare you from eternal death.

No man can know or feel he is saved; he can only believe it. Believe it, and you have life in Jesus.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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