||Christ the King Series A
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 27:31-46 Sermon
November 23, 2008
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
136 "Come Thou Almighty King"
434 "Beautiful Saviour"
595 "Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand"
431 "Crown Him With Many Crowns"
GOATS TO THE LEFT, SHEEP TO THE RIGHT
TEXT (vs. 31-33): "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left."
Throughout history, especially within the last hundred years or so, discrimination has been a hot topic in the United States of America. It wasn't that long ago that if you travelled through the country, especially in the southern areas, you would find all sorts of things divided up according to race.
For example, if you wanted a drink at a public water fountain, there were fountains labeled "white" and "colored." Restrooms were also labeled this way. If you were a "colored" person, and you were caught using a "white only" facility, you could be arrested and in big trouble.
Most of us know the story of Rosa Parks. On December 1, 1955 Rosa Parks was on a public bus in the city of Montgomery, Alabama. She was seated there, minding her own business. However there was a segregation rule in force, which required a black person to relinquish their seat if a white passenger wanted it.
Mrs. Parks contended that she wasn't out to start an incident. She simply was tired, and wanted a place to sit down. So when bus driver James Blake ordered her to give up her seat for a younger white person, she wouldn't give it to him. She felt she needed it more.
From that incident, the Montgomery bus boycott was born, where people boycotted the entire bus system in Montgomery Alabama. Mrs. Parks' act of defiance created the modern Civil Rights Movement and Parks became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. She organized and collaborated with civil rights leaders, including boycott leader Martin Luther King, Jr., helping to launch him to national prominence in the civil rights movement.
Segregation, and racism, and bigotry are certainly huge blemishes in the history of our country. The ways that people of different races and cultures were treated were absolutely reprehensible. And the sad part of it is that it was mostly legal. It was sanctioned and it was tolerated.
So here we are in Nebraska. We might think that by being a thousand miles away from where this happened, we were somehow immune from it, or that it didn't affect us. How wrong that is! There were very heated racial tensions in North Omaha and in various sections of Lincoln. Do you realize that one of the largest klaverns of the white supremist group we know as the Ku Klux Klan, or the KKK, was less than an hour's drive from this very spot? Do you realize that for years the headquarters for the American Nazi Party, and their official publishing house "New Order Publications" was in Lincoln? We don't like to think about it, but Nebraskans can be just as racially prejudiced and bigoted as anybody. And it's sad.
So what is the church's position on all of this? The Apostle Paul had to deal with various forms of segregation within the congregation at Galatia. In Galatians chapter 3 verses 26-28 we read the following exhortation: "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
There is no way a Christian can even begin to justify any outward form of segregation, because everybody has an equal footing before God. It makes no difference where you were born, or the color of your skin, or the language you speak, or your gender. God's law and God's gospel apply to each individual person in exactly the same way. Law and gospel are universal in their application. The law shows our sinfulness and the gospel shows our Saviour. That's the same for everybody.
So if we're tempted to judge somebody according to their race, or language, or skin color, or gender, all we need to do is remember the words God speaks in I Samuel chapter 16 verse 7: "The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
It's with this in mind that we begin to examine our Gospel lesson for today. Our Gospel lesson is a lesson in segregation. And if we take the verse from I Samuel I just read into account, we can see the difference between the way Jesus practices segregation over against the way we practice it. Human beings judge according to outward things. There is no way we can know exactly what is going on inside of a person.
But Jesus doesn't do things that way. He judges according to what he can see which is on the inside of the person. In I Samuel, the Bible uses the phrase, "...but the LORD looks at the heart" to indicate that God judges according to a standard we cannot see.
The Day of Judgment is coming, and Jesus Christ, the King of creation will be the judge sitting on the throne. And there will indeed be a huge sorting of things. The result will be that in a manner of speaking, the sheep will be on the right and the goats will be on the left. The sheep represent the believing Christians; the goats represent the unbelieving heathens. The sheep and goats will be segregated, and the twain shall never meet again.
We have to understand that there is nothing inherently wrong with goats, nor is there anything so good and perfect about sheep. In reality, they are just animals. A farmer who raises sheep is no better than the farmer who raises goats; nor is there anything wrong with raising both sheep and goats. They both have their value, and there is even a certain amount of similarity between them.
That being said however, sheep and goats are entirely different animals. They do not have the same genetic makeup, and they do not breed together. There are no such creatures as a "shoat" or a "geep." The two must remain separate and distinct.
So when it comes to segregating the two, it's not a big task. The differences are easy to spot. So it's "sheep to the right, goats to the left."
Jesus uses the sheep and goats as illustrations to show the difference between those who are believers and those who are unbelievers. The two are not the same at all. There aren't even any shades of similarity between the two. Since believers are frequently equated with sheep, with Jesus as their Good Shepherd, it only makes sense that Jesus would use the sheep/goat analogy.
When Christ returns again, there will be a trial like none before it and none after it. There will only be the sentencing phase of the trial. As our Gospel reading for today says, some will hear, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." The rest will hear, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."
Ultimately there are only two groups of people - right or left - sheep or goats - blessed or cursed. There are no other choices. There are no other chances. There are no appeals to a higher court because there is no higher court. The last day is obviously a very good day for sheep and a very bad day for goats.
So now the question starts to float through our minds: "Am I a sheep, or am I a goat? And if I'm a goat, how do I go about changing from a goat into a sheep? How do I keep from getting herded with the goats on the left?"
Of course it is a biological impossibility for a goat to morph into a sheep. That's a pretty ridiculous thought. That's about as ridiculous an African-American individual morphing into a Caucasian, even though it appears as if Michael Jackson has attempted to do that.
But if you think about it, we are all born as goats. Original sin has infected every human being on this earth, regardless of whom or what they are. Left on our own, we're all heading to the left along with all the other goats. Our sin is the thing that separates us from God, and leads us down the path of certain destruction.
We are all born as goats and there is nothing we can do to change that. At birth we all have the curse of original sin - a curse we inherited from our parents just as they inherited it from theirs. This is a curse that parents have passed on to their children from the beginning - from the time that Adam and Eve sinned in Eden. Their son Cain was born in the image of Adam and things have gone down hill ever since. It would seem that we are all doomed to be goats.
So, from where do the sheep in today's Gospel come? How can Jesus talk about sheep at His right hand when it is impossible for us goats to transform ourselves into sheep?
The key thought here is that it is indeed impossible for us to transform ourselves into something we're not. As sinners, it is impossible for us to transform ourselves into saints. We can't make ourselves righteous, and we can't somehow sneak ourselves into the flock with the sheep. Left on our own, we will be judged along with the rest of the goats.
But Jesus does the impossible. Jesus the Good Shepherd sees us, not as goats, but "the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand" as our Psalm for today says. Therefore he enacts a complete metamorphosis in us. He turns our lives of being goats into his very own sheep. He takes our sins upon himself, and pays the price for our redemption on the cross.
Through faith in Jesus Christ our Good Shepherd, we become saints. We turn into his sheep. And we know that as his sheep, we will be counted amongst his flock as we hear the words recorded for us in verse 34 our Gospel lesson today: "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world."
That's what we have to look forward to as believers in Christ. That's what the forgiving and loving message of the Gospel brings to us. That's the promise of the reward we shall inherit on that Day of Judgment. We don't have to worry about whether or not we've done enough, or we're good enough, or that we have the right ethnic origin. Our reward as his sheep will be a reward of faith, pure and simple.
In today's society, Christians are often accused of being too "closed minded" when it comes to salvation. People have determined that the segregation Jesus speaks of is just too narrow, and that there should be room for other non-Christian faiths and religions in heaven. In their way of thinking, there should be no discrimination at all between the sheep and the goats. After all, aren't they all "God's creatures?"
We have to remember that on Judgment Day, we aren't going to be the ones making the decision of who are amongst the sheep and who are amongst the goats. Jesus is the only one who can accurately distinguish the difference, because his judgment is based upon faith, which only he can see. And since we know in our heart that Jesus is our Saviour, and that we are trusting only in him to take us to heaven and not our good works, we can be assured that we will inherit what God has prepared for us in heaven.
This morning, I'd like to close with a brief story about a man by the name of Henry Alford. Henry lived in England. He was born in 1810; and since his mother died in childbirth, he was raised by his father, who was a pastor, and his grandmother.
Henry was an absolutely brilliant man. He became a very well noted pastor and theologian. Eventually he became the Dean of Canterbury, a position he held until his death.
To his credit, he penned a number of hymns. For example, he wrote the famous Thanksgiving hymn, "Come Ye Thankful People Come," along with many others.
The subject of the judgment and everlasting life was a constant hope for him. He knew without a doubt that his Lord had a mansion prepared for him, just as he had promised. His hymns often carried at least part of this theme, such as the line "wheat and tares together sown" in his famous Thanksgiving hymn.
One of his hymns is entitled "Ten thousand times ten thousand." It is the hymn we'll be singing after the sermon. It is unfortunate that most hymnals since the 1941 Lutheran Hymnal and the 1958 Service Book and Hymnal in the Lutheran Church have cast this aside. The Lutheran Book of Worship, Lutheran Worship, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Lutheran Service Book, and Christian Worship do not have it. Only the ELS's Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary has retained it with the original tune, and the AFLC's Ambassador Hymnal has the words, but to a different tune.
When Henry Alford wrote the hymn, his friend John Bacchus Dykes wrote a tune especially for the hymn, and gave it the title, "Alford." The hymn was written especially for Saints' festivals, and it was used often during Alford's life.
In my opinion, I can't think of any other hymn I've ever seen that so eloquently and joyfully speaks about the second coming of Christ and the final judgment. Henry Alford knew that his faith in his Saviour assured him of a place amongst the sheep spoken about in our text.
As Henry Alford approached his sixties, he began to suffer from severe headaches. Even though advanced medical diagnosis was lacking in those days, from the symptoms he reported, he most likely was suffering from a brain tumor. On January 12, 1871 Henry Alford departed this life to meet his Saviour, face-to-face.
Henry Alford was buried in St. Martin's Church Cemetery in Canterbury, England on January 14, 1871. At his request, the only epitaph on his tombstone, apart from his name and dates, are the following words in Latin: "The inn of a pilgrim traveling to Jerusalem."
As his casket was being carried to his grave, the congregation sang the robust hymn we will sing in a few minutes. The joy that Henry Alford wrote about was now a reality for him.
Ten thousand times ten thousand, in sparkling raiment bright,
The armies of the ransomed saints throng up the steeps of light
'Tis finished, all is finished, their fight with death and sin;
Fling open wide the golden gates, and let the victors in.
The grave is not the final resting ground. Christ's resurrection gives us hope that the grave is just an inn on our way to heaven. Today we thank Christ for his resurrection and his promise, that all who believe in him will also have eternal life. Therefore, as Christ's precious sheep, we can look forward to his words on that last day: "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world."