Sunday, November 26th, 2023

Live in the Gift of Forgiveness

Grace mercy and peace are yours from God our father through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Let us pray. O Lord send forth your word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen. Well, we’ve come to an end, at least an end of sorts. I’m not just talking about college football as we know it, with the PAC 12 going away, and playoff expanded to 12 teams. Next year the sport will definitely look different in the future. That’s not the end I’m talking about, and I’m not just talking about the end of that awkward time of the year where you’re not quite sure if you’re allowed to be in the Christmas spirit yet, and August is definitely too early even though that’s when you start to see the Christmas lights in the stores, and Thanksgiving is definitely OK, it’s just that first part of November you’re not quite sure if you can turn the Christmas music on in the car yet, and not just the end of Divine Service setting 4, as we switch to Divine Service setting 1 next week. Thank you for bearing with me on one month of singing the same canticles over and over again. No this is the end of the church year. Today is the last Sunday of the church year, next week starts the new liturgical year, the first Sunday in Advent. So, we’ve come to the end of the church year but it also means we’ve come to the end of the Gospel of Matthew. Today’s the final part of Jesus’ long discourse, right before His crucifixion. That’s the end of our walk through Matthew’s gospel. It was an extended section that Jesus ends right before His crucifixion, the communication, like a conversation with His disciples where He told them to watch the signs, just like you see the leaves change on the tree and know the weather’s changing, so also know the signs of your time. Be ready for an unexpected return of your Savior, but also be ready to wait and while you’re waiting, use the gifts that the Master has entrusted to you. Live in faith towards God, live in love towards one another, and He ends it today by telling us what will happen when the Son does return. When the Son of Man comes in glory and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations. He will separate the people from each other as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He’ll place the sheep on His right and He will say to them “Come you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you, and He will place the goats on His left and He will say to them, “Depart from me cursed ones, go into the fire prepared for the devil and his demons.” These ones will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. And both the sheep and the goats will be surprised. Both the sheep and the goats will be surprised at the way that Jesus says they did or didn’t feed Him, or clothe Him, or care for Him. So in sort of a continuation of last week’s message, and in looking ahead towards the actual end of Matthew’s gospel, we have here, I believe, another description of what it looks like for us to be the disciples of Jesus, what it looks like for you and me to live life as His disciples until the day of His return. We’ve spent six months methodically working our way through Matthew. We missed the beginning portions, Jesus’ birth, the Sermon on the Mount, His first miracle, His baptism in the Jordan, and we started our journey together at the point where Jesus started to face opposition from the Pharisees and the religious leaders, and so we heard the parables that He told about faithfully proclaiming God’s word without worrying about earthly standards of success or failure, we heard His teaching about what true greatness looks like, in service. We heard the parables about the depth of God’s forgiveness for you, and the life of forgiveness that He calls us to live, and now we’ve spent the last several weeks hearing our Lord’s teaching about His second coming. We know that chapter 25 isn’t the end of Matthew’s gospel. We know that what follows today’s reading are the remaining events of Holy Week, it’s Maundy Thursday, the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus prayer in Gethsemane, betrayal at the hands of Judas, trial before the high priest, Peter’s denial in the courtyard, and we know that after that comes Good Friday, His trial before Pilate, the crowd choosing Barabbas, Jesus’ mocking and beating at the hands of the Roman soldiers, His crucifixion, ultimately His death. Then the resurrection, the resurrection of our Lord and Jesus’ directive that His disciples should go ahead and meet Him in Galilee. And that’s where Matthew’s gospel actually ends, in Galilee, on Jesus’  well-known words on the Mount of Ascension. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me, therefore go make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit by teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you and I’ll be with you always even to the end of the age until I come and sit on my glorious throne and separate all the nations the sheep to my right, and goats to my left.” When we put these things together, I think we get a clear picture of what life looks like for the children of God today. And simply put, we live as His disciples, and at the risk of oversimplifying, it means that we live in faith toward Him, we live in love toward one another. We live in faith toward Him, making disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching. The language of the Great Commission is more than just evangelism, it’s not just winning souls for Jesus. It’s the language of discipleship, the language of life as a child of God, it’s a way of life. We live as the disciples of our Lord when we continue to guard our Lord’s teaching. Most English translations translate the Great Commission as teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you or to observe everything I have commanded you. The Greek word there is the word tereo, and it literally means to hold on to, to cling to something, to protect it, to guard, to it keep it. So to live as the disciple of Jesus, just to hang on to His gifts, to cling to His word, to rejoice in the gift of baptism, return to a daily through contrition and repentance, to rejoice in the gift of His Supper, to regularly gather at this place, at this altar to receive His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins, and the strengthening of our faith and to rejoice in the proclamation of His Word, to be gathered around that Word regularly in worship and Bible study, in your devotions at home, and to be shaped by it, to be molded into the people that see the world the way He would have us see the world seeing ourselves for who He has declared us to be, and seeing Him for who He has revealed himself to be. So, to live as the disciple of Jesus is to live in faith toward Him, trusting His word, and rejoicing in the gifts that He so freely gives. And it’s also a life lived in love towards those around us in our God-given vocations. Parents caring for, providing for, mentoring their children. Children honoring and obeying their parents. Citizens praying for kings and rulers, and all in authority. Employees taking pride in their work, and a job well done. Employers providing a good wage, and safe working environment. The list goes on and on. We simply live in love, and live in good works, done according to God’s design for creation as revealed in the 10 commandments. Done for the people around us, done without expectation of reward from God, or from anyone else, so that when our Lord commends us for those works on the last day, our question will be “Lord, when did I do that?” Faith toward God, love toward others. It’s the simple shape of our life till the day of our Lord’s return. So maybe the main thing for us to take away from the text this morning is simply this. The second coming of Christ is not something we should ignore, but we don’t prepare for it by living in fear or hiding from the world. CS Lewis once said the two great dangers when it comes to demons are first, to give them too little respect, treat them as if they’re nothing to worry about, for a second, to give them too much respect, to act as if they might be more powerful than the Holy Spirit. And his point was simply that we ought to live with a healthy sense of how dangerous demons can be, without living in fear of them as if the fight between God and the devil might go either direction, we’re just not sure. The same thing can be said about the second coming of Christ, and how we live in light of it. We should not treat it as if it’s no big deal. We should not treat it as if it might never happen. Today’s gospel makes that clear. The Son of Man is coming to sit on His throne and all the angels with Him, and He will separate people from people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, but we don’t need to obsess over it. We don’t need to try to figure it out. We don’t need to try to decode which dictator, or which war, or which blood moon signifies what in which page of the scriptures. We don’t need to hide in fear burying, our talent in the ground, or hoping that our Lord won’t be too harsh when He returns. No, we simply live in the gift of forgiveness. We live in the vocations our Lord has given us, clothing, feeding, housing, giving water to all of those who cross our paths, confident that when Jesus comes again, because we have already been united to His death and resurrection in the water of baptism. He will look to us and say, He will look to you and say, “Come you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” May God grant that to us for Jesus’ sake, Amen.