Posts Tagged ‘Last Sunday of the Church Year’

Are You a Sheep or a Goat?

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

Last Sunday of the Church Year-A, November 26, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 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.” [Matthew 25:31-33]

In the time of Jesus, it wasn’t uncommon for shepherds to allow the goats and sheep to graze or pasture together. But at the end of the day, the shepherd would separate them according to their kind. And that is a picture of the Day of the Lord, judgment day. Some will be considered sheep; they are the apple of our Lord’s eye. On judgment day they will hear Jesus say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” But others, others who are goats, will hear something completely different; they will hear Jesus say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

So what is it that determines whether we are sheep or goats? Is it something we can get our hands on and protect; something we can have as our most cherished possession. Is there a ticket to heaven? Well… yes and no! If we were to look at our gospel lesson this morning, we might be tempted to think that our ticket to heaven or our identity as a sheep or goat is based on good works, or something we do to earn God’s love and forgiveness. But you’re all much to informed about what your Bibles say to believe that. So what then; what is this blessed assurance that promises us that we will be citizens of heaven in a place that has been prepared and waiting for us since the foundation of the world? Well, it is nothing less than faith… faith in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When the Son of Man comes in His glory, will He find faith; will He find faith in you? Are you a sheep or a goat?

If this question is making you a bit uncomfortable, then may I be the first to say congratulations; congratulations for not being happy at the prospect of being a goat!

You see there’s one thing I know about goats and it’s this, they’re just fine with being a goat. In fact, for the most part they’re stronger, faster, and more clever than sheep. They don’t have a problem with being a goat. But not so with you; you want to be a sheep; you want to know that there is a place for you in heaven, just waiting for you to move in. And because this is true, then you won’t have a problem with admitting something about yourself and something about God.

You are faithless! That’s right, I said it; on your own you are completely powerless and useless for assuring that your eternal abode will be something other than weeping and gnashing of teeth. Now don’t feel too bad about this, because you see it’s something you were born into! St. Paul in our epistle reading (1 Corinthians 15:20-28) explains it like this, he says that death came by a man, the first man Adam to be exact. In Adam all of us are guaranteed nothing more than an eternal death; a separation from God and His kingdom. Instead of inheriting a mansion, well we’re cast out into the outer darkness; a place where there will be eternal longing and desire.

What was it that Adam did that was so bad that it condemned all of his ancestors? He doubted God’s goodness and love; He doubted that God would provide everything that was good and withhold nothing helpful, while He protected him from everything that was harmful. So from the doubt of Adam and Eve has proceeded every sin that each of us has committed. From the doubt of Adam each of us has been judged guilty. From the doubt of Adam our relationship with God has been lost. The church has always called this doubt the original sin.

Now most goats don’t like this doctrine. They don’t like the fact that they’re being punished for something someone else did long ago! They get angry with God and they say, “I didn’t ask to be born this way! This isn’t fair; since my birth, you’ve put me on a road that goes only to hell!” Yes, the goats are so upset with this idea of original sin that not only do they protest against God, but they get angry with anyone who will repeat the doctrine. Why is that? Simply put, if this doctrine is true, then that means that their salvation, their ability to inherit the Father’s Kingdom is entirely outside of their control. It means they have to have faith, and remember, that is the one thing goats do not have; goats are faithless.

So what is the solution?

Well, goats must be saved by someone who can give them faith. They must be saved by someone who is faithful. They must be saved by someone who can fill them with this faith; someone who can make them faith-filled!

Jesus is that someone and His Word is the means that God uses to fill goats with His gift of faith; it’s how he turns goats into sheep. But faith in what? Faith to believe that Jesus, God’s own Son came to this earth, lived a perfect life for you, suffered and died for you in order to remove the curse of sin, Adam’s and your sin from you. Now, if you are agreeing with this premise, that’s all well and good, but some goats believe this too. No, I’m afraid that you must hear the rest of the premise before you celebrate. You see, Jesus also rose from the dead in His body, and promises that you will do the very same thing because you’ve received His gift of faith.

Now this is where many of the learned people discover that they aren’t sheep at all and they don’t care. They can receive the idea that sin has to be paid for, even original sin. And the fact that God paid for it Himself, makes perfect sense to them, because well, He was the One who allowed everything to break-down in the first place. But raising a body from the dead, a body that’s been dead and decomposed for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, well that’s just foolishness to them. What about people blown into thousands of little bits in explosions during war or a tragic accident, how in the name of science, will they be raised?! Or what about people who die at sea and are eaten by a million little fish who then scatter what’s left of their bodies all over the ocean floor?! No, I’m afraid that to the goats this is just too big of a leap of faith! They believe in Jesus, a spiritual Jesus; a Jesus who inhabits the best of man’s philosophies and religions, but not a physical Jesus. They believe in a spiritual resurrection but they can never accept a physical one! That goes against everything that is sensible to them. It goes against the very laws of physics!

But if this is how you feel, then you are condemning God’s entire Word as fantasy. You have recreated God’s plan into a plan of your own making. You do this because you are a goat; you are a goat because you are faithless. But if the goats are right and we sheep are wrong, then we are to be pitied ahead of all others; because that means we sheep have staked our very lives and eternity on a lie! Poor sheep; poor lost sheep, who will save us! Jesus Christ the true shepherd will! He will smash the head of the king of the goats, the devil himself and speak words of faith that turn goats into sheep! Listen: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by (the God) man (Jesus Christ) has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all died, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in His own order: Christ the first-fruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ.” [1 Corinthians 15:20-23] Those who are called sheep!

This is the gospel! This is your hope!

By His death upon the cross and the empty tomb on Easter morning Jesus has declared and demonstrated His victory over your enemies, sin, death, and the devil. When you hear that Jesus suffered and died for you, you are given faith… you are filled with faith to believe that He also rose from the dead for you! And you also know by faith, that as the head of the church, which is His body, which you are a part of, you must follow your Lord and Savior; for where the head goes so must also follow His body!

This is the truth, God’s own truth. It is what sheep believe because they are faith filled by a Savior God who is faithful. It is the truth that goats can never believe in because they are faithless. This is the truth that has sent untold numbers of sheep peacefully into the arms of their Savior at the time of death, and it is the truth that will lead you home as well! But I must warn you, that the devils don’t want you to lie down on your last day with this truth. They look at you as another victim. Another morsel that they can eat. They’ll do everything they can to get you to doubt God’s own truth. If they can get you to live in doubt then I’m afraid that they’ve trapped you again in the same old sin of Adam.

Remember, to them, you are nothing more than a tasty morsel that they plan to devour. You are a sausage sandwich waiting to be gulped down. But if you’ll simply rest in God’s Word and the work He did for you on the cross and in your baptism you will see that Jesus is the one who does the devouring. And He’s not only devoured the devil, but your own sin and death. If you will continue feasting upon the Lord’s Table where He offers you His body and blood, then by faith you will not only be eating and drinking forgiveness for your doubts, but the very gift that makes you a sheep; you will be fed faith!

So at your time of death when the devil goes to bite into you, all he’s going to get is a mouthful of the poison that He gave to you. We might say he only has a mustard and ketchup sandwich to look forward too, because you will not be there; you will be with your Lord, in a new body; a body that will never know sickness and death, sorrow or sin. This is how Jesus, the Son of God, puts all things under God the Father. He does it so that God may be all in all and sin, death, and the devil will be no more, ever again!

But now let me close with the proclamation of a mystery. This process has already begun and it is already completed. All that is left is for you to experience it outside of this world of sin and death. Indeed the day has already come when you can say, “I will praise you, O Lord. Although you were angry with me (because I behaved as a goat), your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation (and His resurrection is the source of my joy); I will trust and not be afraid. For the Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. With joy (I can draw from my baptismal water) that is the well of your salvation, and give thanks to the Lord. So let us call upon the Lord (who is faithful); let us call upon His name. And let us make known His saving work of the cross and the empty tomb throughout our community, and let us proclaim the exalted name of Jesus! Let us shout and sing for joy because the Lord who has done wondrous things is with us and promising to take us with Him in paradise.” [Isaiah 12:1-6]

May God’s Word continue to make each of us faith-filled sheep, as He continues to be our God, in this life that began with our baptismal death as sinners and in our baptismal resurrection to new life in Jesus Christ. AMEN!

Watch and Wait

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Last Sunday of the Church Year, November 22, 2009
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

Our text this morning is verse6 from our Old Testament lesson: “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed.” [Isaiah 51:6]

Are you afraid of these words?  It is my prayer that you aren’t, and it is God’s desire that in these words you would find comfort, and an opportunity to be thankful and joyful.  Jesus is coming!  During the Easter season our standard greeting is “He is risen!  He is risen indeed!”  This morning our greeting should be, “He is coming!  He is coming indeed!”  “But Pastor, it’s not the same” you say.  “I just can’t get excited about the end of the world.”

 Well no wonder, Hollywood and our society is doing all it can to make you believe that the end of the world is something to be feared.  They are making a lot of money off of this fear.  Last week, the movie 2012 opened and it is selling a lot of tickets.  It’s a movie about the end of the world.  It’s based on a supposed prophetic ancient Mayan calendar, which indicates that the world will come to an end on December 21, 2012. In their sales hype, they promise that “2012” is an epic adventure about a global cataclysm that brings an end to the world and it portrays the heroic struggle of the survivors.  Survivors?  What survivors!?  Wait a minute, God’s Word tells us this morning that nothing will survive.  It is the end of not just the world but also the heavens!  Well, Hollywood has never let a little thing like God’s true Word get in the way of making a lot of money.  If you’ve seen the trailer for the film, it asks this question: “How would the world governments prepare over 6 Billion people for the end of the world?”  Answer: THEY WOULDN’T—Our Answer: BUT GOD HAS!  Together, let’s turn to God’s Word to discover just how He is preparing us.

 In our gospel reading Jesus is getting ready to expound on what Isaiah spoke of in our Old Testament lesson.  It is the Tuesday before Good Friday; Jesus and His apostles are on Mt. Olivet and He is teaching them about what will come; about the last things.  Listen, “But in those days, after the tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”  In order to understand these words completely, we must first understand a little something about the tribulation.  The tribulation is now!  Every moment since Jesus ascended into heaven with the promise of His return we Christians have been battered, bruised, and attacked by sin, death, and the devil.  We are like sheep being led to the slaughter.  When others have taken eye for eye and tooth for tooth, those of us who are trusting in our Lord’s return have tried to turn the other cheek. 

In many of the Muslim controlled parts of Africa, Christians are being slaughtered for their faith.  In countries like Iraq and Turkey, where there were once millions of Christians, now there are only Thousands.  What happened to all of them?  Well many were murdered at the point of a Muslim sword.  And in this country, we are told ever more assertively by a politically correct society to sit down and shut up!  They would have us believe that our gospel message of hope is no longer relative in an all-inclusive modern society.

 Yes, we Christians really are good at being sheep led to the slaughter.  Why?  Because we will not be silence… we cannot be silenced.  Because we are watching and waiting for our Lord to return—because we have been ordered to warn others of God’s judgment and the only source of hope—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!  Do you see the tension?  This is the tribulation.  It is our time of testing… a time of suffering.  But what is that when we compare it to our Lord’s own suffering upon the cross for us? 

 And now with His own suffering in mind in just a few short days, and our future suffering in this present tribulation, Jesus continues: “And then they (those who are alive) will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.  And He will send out the angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”  He is coming!  He is coming indeed!  “But when Lord?”  Jesus knew that this was the question that everyone of His apostles were asking within their hearts.  He knows that it is the question that you ask within your own.  And to this He answers, “From the fig tree learn its lesson.” 

Now some might be wondering why Jesus did not just speak plainly?  Why can’t He just tell it like it is?  Well He is!  Think about this—when the fruit trees blossom in the spring you know that summer is coming.  And in the summer, what will those fruit trees provide?  Fruit!  Earlier in his conversations with the apostles Jesus was talking about earthquakes and famines… wars and rumors of wars.  Have we seen our fair share of these?  Yes!  These are the blossoms.  They are the tribulation.  So when we see these things we know that the end is at hand.  It is very soon!  The end of all things is the fruit that is certainly coming… the final judgment.  Those who are trusting in God’s love and mercy through Christ will be rewarded and those who are not will be eternally punished.  So watch and wait! 

 And still our sinful hearts ask, “But when Lord?!”  And to this Jesus answers most seriously, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words (mark my words) will not pass away.  (It will happen!)  “What generation does Jesus mean” we might ask?  If he meant the apostles, well they’ve been dead for almost two thousand years!  Well then obviously He didn’t mean the apostles generation.  So what other generation is there?  Why none other than the very one that still rejects the gospel today.  The very people that crucified the Messiah they were waiting for, and are still praying for today!  The Jewish people! 

Oh how it broke our Lord’s heart when He looked over the city of Jerusalem and wept for them saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” [Matt. 23:37]

Ah, but your weak faith is still asking when Lord, isn’t it?  Very well, and to this Jesus finally answers, “Concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  And to this many people scratch their heads and say, “But you are God!  I can see the angels not knowing, but you?  How can this be?!”  And here we must relearn a little something about our Lord’s two natures.  Jesus is indeed very God!  In their essential oneness the three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit know all things equally and do all things in complete agreement.  But Jesus is also very man.  He had to be man in order to pay for your sins.  He intentionally chose to enter a state of humiliation out of love for the Father and out of His love for us.  In this state of humiliation Jesus also chose not to use His divine attributes unless they were needed to bring God’s peace.  That’s why there on Mt. Olivet, as He was teaching His apostles, He did not know the day nor the hour—He chose not to know.  Listen friends, knowledge will not bring you peace with God, but instead it is faith, trust in Jesus’ own Words that will bring you that peace!  We cannot understand this deliberate restriction of Jesus’ power because we are not God, so we simply allow it to remain a mystery, but one thing we do know, now that our Lord has returned to Heaven, He knows precisely when He will come again to bring an end to the old and make all things new!

 And now, Jesus closes our message this morning with these Words: “Be on guard, keep awake.  For you do not know when the time will come.”  Now since you have mastered Jesus’ last story, He is eager to use just one more story make this promise of the end times stick in our hard hearts.  Listen, “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servant is charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake.”  Do you get what Jesus is saying?  Good, “Therefore” he says, “stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.”

Friends, Jesus is THE man!  He is not the man frightening us or keeping us down but the man who has called us into His very home and given us safety, comfort, and salvation!  In our own baptisms we were freed from all fear of sin death, and the devils…even fear of the end of the world.  In our baptisms, He has made us the servants of a very kind and loving God.  He has given each of us a calling.  In whatever station of life we find ourselves in, we are to live and work as if we are doing it all just for Jesus!  We don’t work to please our master so that He will continue to be kind and loving, but instead we work for Him because He is kind and loving.  It is the very essence of our new baptized natures to do this very thing.

Finally we must ask, “Who is the doorkeeper?  Is it the pastor?”  Yes, but it is also you!  Listen again to Jesus’ Words: “And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”  He says it to all of us.  We must stay awake and watch.  Watch for the signs of the age.  Stay awake in the tribulation and wait eagerly for Jesus to come and take us home.  Home to a place where there is no more humiliation, fear, suffering, or pain.  Home to a place where every tear will be eternally dried.  But staying awake is difficult, because after all, we are but weak flesh.  The apostles would soon find out just how hard it was to remain alert and awake in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus asked them as He prayed in agony waiting to be arrested and executed upon the cross, to stay awake with Him and pray…they could not… they were weak… they were but flesh.  So how do we weaklings summon the strength to wait and watch for our Lord?  By living and walking in our new nature… our baptismal nature.  We wait and watch for Jesus return by asking Him to wait and watch with us.

 You see friends, only God never sleeps. He watches us at all times.  He keeps us in Hs care, in His love and mercy, but He does it with His means.  What are those means?  They are His Holy Word and sacraments.  We are to watch and hold onto God’s pure Word (Law & Gospel).  We are to watch over our spiritual condition by living out our baptismal lives where ever he has placed us.  We are to hunger for His Holy meal where through His precious body and blood our sins are not only forgiven but our faith is strengthened.  We are to gather regularly together at the only place where these gifts are lavished upon us… we are to gather as His church.  We are to gather at His cross where His suffering and humiliation ended in His resurrection and His exhalation.  And when we gather, we are to remember that our own humiliation and tribulation will soon end.  It will either end in the blink of an eye when Jesus comes and the heavens and earth are destroyed or when we close our eyes for the last time in death, leaving this veil of tears mixed with joy.  Either way, we wait and we watch, and we say, “He is coming.  He is coming indeed!”

 And now, may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus…AMEN!