26 November 2017

The Judgment of Your Good Shepherd

Where you stand before God, now and forever, hinges on these two things: First of all, the Cross and Resurrection of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.  And second, your attachment to Him by faith.  For He has opened the way of life by His death and in His Resurrection from the dead.  And He has opened the Kingdom of heaven to all who believe and are baptized into Him.  Whether you stand or fall in the final judgment depends entirely on where you stand in relation to Him.

Where, then, do you stand?  Are you on His right or on His left?  Are you a sheep or a goat?  Will you live under Him in His Kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness?  Or will you be forever cursed and die eternally with the devil and his wicked angels?

The verdict has, in one respect, already been determined by the Cross of Christ; for God the Father judged Him and punished Him for the sins of the world.  So has the verdict been openly declared in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.  And that verdict is for you and for all people.  For God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.  In Christ Jesus there is no condemnation; whereas, apart from Him, there is no salvation.  The judgment of the world rests entirely on Him.  And so it is that He is given all authority in heaven and on earth to judge the living and the dead.

As true God in the flesh — and as the true Man, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary — He has come and taken His stand with sinners.  When all the people were being baptized, He was also baptized.  He entered the waters of the Jordan River on His Way to the Cross, and He took the sins of the world upon Himself, in order to become the Savior of mankind.  And so it is that, by His death, the final judgment has been rendered once and for all.  And in His Resurrection from the dead, the righteousness of God in Man has been accomplished and established forever.

He has come into His glory as God in the flesh, as the Savior of sinners, by the way of His Cross.  He voluntarily sacrificed Himself for the sins of the world.  So He is the Propitiation, not only for all of your sins, but for the sins of the whole world.  He has done it all in the place of sinners.

And His Resurrection is His vindication.  When God raised this same Lord Jesus from the dead, He declared Him to be righteous.  More than that, His Resurrection is the justification of all for whom He died, the righteousness of all who belong to Him by grace through faith in His Gospel.  If you are in Christ Jesus, then His Resurrection is your Resurrection.  It is your vindication, your justification, and your righteousness.  In Him you are well pleasing to God the Father in heaven.

So it is that Christ Jesus now reigns in love from His Cross, and He calls all people to Himself by the Gospel of His Cross.  He sends His ministers of the Word to make disciples of all the nations by Holy Baptism in His Name and by the ongoing catechesis of His Word, unto repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins.  It is by this Ministry of the Gospel that He gathers the lost and wandering sheep to Himself from all over the world, unto the life everlasting in His Resurrection.

The crucified and risen Lord Jesus is the great Good Shepherd of the flock, who seeks and saves the lost, who beckons them to Himself in love, and who calls you also to be saved by His grace.

The preaching of His Word, the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name, that is the truth.  That is the sure and certain verdict of God, both now and forever.

What God says to you is true.  It will not be something different that He says to you on the last day.  His preaching of the Law is already the condemnation of the final judgment upon all who stand outside of Christ.  The Law thus places you among the goats.  But His preaching of the Gospel declares you to be righteous through the forgiveness of your sins.  It lays Christ upon your heart, and it lays you upon Christ whom God the Father raised from death and the grave, so that you are also vindicated and raised up in Him.  The Gospel places you among the sheep at His right hand.

God is not lying when He preaches to you.  He does what He says and gives what He promises by that preaching.  Thus does He call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify disciples from all nations by the preaching of His Gospel.  So does He call you to Himself as His sheep, and He your Shepherd.

And on the last day, all the nations will be gathered to Him.  No exceptions.  On that great and glorious day, every knee shall bow in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth.  And every tongue will then declare that Jesus Christ is the Lord and the King to the glory of God the Father.

You’ll not escape that final judgment.  But you already know the verdict in the preaching of His Word.  If you listen only to the Law and flee from the Lord, you shall be judged among the goats.  But if you hear and receive the Gospel, you are justified by faith in the Gospel.  You are judged righteous and holy, innocent in Christ Jesus.  You are set free from sin, death, the devil, and hell.

Repent of your sins, therefore.  Why should you die and not live?  Your Lord calls you to Himself in love, that you may share His life forever.  Repent of your unbelief and trust His Word.  Repent of your idolatry and worship Him alone.  Repent of your unfaithfulness, your wavering, and your tossing about, and cling to Him for life and salvation.  Come to Christ by faith in His Gospel.  Fear and obey Him as the Lord, your King.  Love and trust in Him as your faithful Good Shepherd.

Love Him, not selfishly, but gratefully, because He is your Savior and your God; because He is your highest good.  Love Him, not as though to get something from Him; He will not be flattered by you.  But love Him because you have already received everything from His hand.  Love Him, not to gain His favor, but rather because His favor and His righteousness are yours by His grace.

The truth is that He does not need anything from you.  And now it is also the case that, by faith in Him, you already have everything you need and every good thing in Christ Jesus.  There simply is no need for any bargaining or bartering with God, as if you even could.  He speaks to you in love, and He gives you all things by His grace alone.  There are no strings attached.  There are no contingencies on the Word and promises of God in Christ.  But how, then, shall you love Him?  What are you to do for Him or give to Him, since everything you are and have is from Him?

He has told you plainly this morning: You love and serve the Lord your King, your Savior and Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, by loving and serving His Christians.  By loving them in His Name and for His sake.  Such love is the evidence and exercise of your faith and life in Christ.  For where there is faith, there is also love.  That is how faith lives, without keeping score or competing at all.

You have heard how the sheep respond when their Lord describes their many works of love.  They do not even realize or remember what they have done.  They have simply lived as the sheep of this Good Shepherd; they have heard and followed His Voice in the preaching of His Word.  So they have loved their neighbors in the world because they have believed and trusted in the Lord who loves them.  They have loved both God and Man in Christ Jesus, because they themselves are in Christ Jesus — they live in Him, and He in them — by His grace, through faith in His Word.

And so it is for you, also.  If you are in Christ, you are a new creation.  Already here and now, you live on earth as it is in heaven.  You live and abide in Christ, because He lives and abides in you.

Here, then, is how you are to live in love toward your neighbor, especially toward your brothers and sisters in Christ, because this is how Christ lives for you: He feeds your hunger and quenches your thirst, not only for this body and life, but with His own Body and Blood for the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.  He shelters you from the cold and the heat, from darkness and death.  He covers your nakedness and clothes you with His own righteousness and holiness.  He comforts you and cares for you in all adversity, a very present help in trouble.  He heals all of your sicknesses.  He releases you from the prison house of sin and death.  He sets you free to live with Him in His Kingdom.  He welcomes you into His home and family as a beloved child of His God and Father.

You, then, feed the hungry; welcome the stranger; clothe the poor; visit the sick and imprisoned.

This is how you are to live.  The Lord Jesus would have you love your neighbor.  He would have you love your fellow Christians.  He would have you love them for His sake.

What are the needs of your neighbors within this congregation?  If you do not know, find out.  And help your brothers and sisters in Christ as you are able.

Love your neighbor.  Do it tangibly.  Do it in ways that he or she can feel, as you also would be served in the wants and needs of your body and life, in your hunger and thirst, in the heat or cold.

Love and serve your neighbor for Jesus’ sake.  Do it in His Name, as He does all things for you.  And do it all as being done to Him and for Him.  For it is in His poor and needy ones, it is in the weak and lowly, it is in His little ones of every age, that you find your Lord and serve Him in love.

Is this not the way that He has come to you, and served you, and loved you?  He has indeed been hungry, and He has thirsted, especially in His Passion.  He has been the stranger and the outcast, for He came to His own, and His own would not receive Him.  He has been imprisoned, stripped naked, and punished for your sins.  He has been sick with the sins of the world, even unto death.

And for all of that, take to heart that it is not only in your neighbor’s weakness that you find your Savior, Jesus Christ, your great Good Shepherd King.  He is also with you.  He is with you in love.  In your weakness and shame, He is there.  In your nakedness and pain, He is there.  In your hunger and all your fears, in your sickness, and at the hour of your death, He is there with you in love.

He is with you in the midst of sin and death as the One who has been there before you, but who has not left you behind.  And so shall He be with you also, as your great Redeemer, in the final Judgment.  The One who comes to be your Judge is the One who has redeemed you with His holy, precious Blood, and with His innocent suffering and death.  And just as He has taken your place in His suffering and death upon the Cross, so does He now give you His place in His Resurrection from the dead.  So it is that His Righteousness is yours.  And all His works of love are yours.

The tiniest infant, baptized into Christ, is credited with all the good works and righteousness of Christ Jesus.  Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned — every baptized infant, and every baptized adult, is credited with all of these good works, because everything that Christ has done is given to His own.

That is the righteousness by which you also stand in the presence of God, and by which you shall stand in the judgment.  Whatever you have failed to do, Christ has done.  And whatever you have done wrong, Christ has made right at the cost of His own body and life.  He is your Savior, and He has made you His very own, so that everything which belongs to Him is now also yours.  His life and His salvation are yours because the Atonement, the forgiveness, the reconciliation, and the peace of His Cross and Resurrection are all yours through faith in His Ministry of the Gospel.

It is already by His Word of the Gospel that you hear God’s verdict concerning you: You are forgiven all of your sins.  You are righteous.  You are not guilty but innocent.  You are set free from the bondage of your sin and death.  You are healed of every disease.  You are clothed with Christ Jesus, the beloved and well pleasing Son of God.  You are fed with His own Body and His Blood.  And you are welcomed into His Father’s Kingdom, who is your God and Father in Him.

That is the significance of this church and of this congregation, here in this place on earth, right here on the corner of Milton and Dale in South Bend.  Here eternal judgments are declared and delivered.  Here the Son of Man exercises His authority to forgive sins, and with that forgiveness to save sinners and give them life.  Here you enter into heaven to eat and drink with Him forever.

Here the Lamb is seated on His glorious throne, and all His angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven are with Him.  Here He gathers you to Himself, to feed you, to clothe you, to heal you, to give you life, now and forever.  Come, then, blessed of His Father.  Enter into His rest.

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

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