The great Judgment at the end of the world will begin and end with Christ Jesus our Lord.
We see Him portrayed in today’s Holy Gospel with different names. He is the Son of Man, who has human flesh yet is elevated to the highest place and receives all authority, as foreseen in the vision given to Saint Daniel. This Son of Man does not only reflect the glory of God, as we saints do. Christ has His own majesty that shines out from Himself, since He is God, equal to the Father. As He sits down to judge, He sit upon His own throne of glory. It is His throne by right since He is the Son of Man, worthy to judge the nations.
Christ compares Himself to a shepherd who separates sheep from goats. But He is not just any shepherd. He is THE Shepherd. If He judges all nations of all times, what other shepherd would compare with Him? He is the Good Shepherd that King David sang about in Psalm 23. Christ says that He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. Therefore He is worthy to judge.
He is also called the King; again, not just any king, but the King of kings, ruling over all authorities and powers, whether they be in heaven or on earth. This king is also called Lord, both by the sheep and the goats. The sheep call Him Lord because He has redeemed them from sin, death, and the devil. But the goats call Him Lord out of compulsion. They are forced to confess Him against their wills, even though in their earthly lives they resisted His grace. They would not receive Him as a Lord of grace, so He must be for them only a Lord of power and punishment. The Father save us all from that.
Christ is not a King who reigns alone. He briefly mentions His Father as the One who has blessed the sheep. The Father could demand the right to judge, but He does not. He hands over that authority to His Son. And why should He not? He and the Son are One. They are One in will and desire and righteousness and mercy. All that the Son does is pleasing in His Father’s sight. The Son will not disagree with the Father on any matter of judgment. Ultimately, it was the Father’s plan of salvation that was fulfilled by His Son.
This brings us to the sheep, the believers who have received the salvation won by Christ. But the way the judgment is described by Him, the word “believers” is not used. Faith is not the central thing here, although it is not denied. Instead, the judgment focuses upon the kindly deeds that the sheep did for Christ: Feeding, clothing, giving to drink, welcoming Him, visiting Him.
This is not salvation by works, but it is the reality that we cannot see. We sheep truly do works for Christ because He chooses to accept any good work we do as done for Him. This applies only to sheep blessed by the Father to belong to Christ the King.
Our earthly eyes see works done by believer and unbeliever alike. Sheep and goats appear very similar to us. Sometimes the goats may appear better than the sheep as far as works go. But the true spiritual reality is different, because the Judgment is not, in the end, about us or our works as we see them. The Judgment begins and ends with Christ.
So the goats did not do works for Him. In their lives they surely did something that outwardly appears as a good work. But without faith and the relationship with the Son of Man, He does not choose to accept works done to Him. Thus a goat cannot become a sheep by trying hard to do the right things.
But we as sheep cannot just sit in the pasture getting fat while we do nothing. See all the things that the Son of Man finds pleasing to Him! We should be up and about, feeding and clothing and visiting. This is not because we are making ourselves sheep. The Father has blessed us to be sheep. We should realize that His gracious blessing is so wonderful that we want to do things that please our Shepherd.
But if we do not care about what the Shepherd thinks, then how long can we remain sheep? Although a goat has no power to make itself a sheep, a sheep may figure out how to shave off its wool and grow horns and go join the goats. The Father keep us from that.
Instead, let us rejoice in the gift that we have received, that we are the righteous ones. This is no boasting to think this way. We are clothed in righteousness as a free gift from Christ, as if we were goats that became sheep when our Shepherd clothed us in wool. In the physical world, it does not work that way. No amount of physical alteration can change the nature of a living creature. But the mighty King, the Son of Man and the Son of the heavenly Father, is able to create anew what has been wrecked by sin. He gives us a new heart and a new righteousness.
Even though grace is not directly mentioned in the Judgment, everything about the sheep is saturated by grace. From the Father’s undeserved blessing to the fact that the kingdom we inherit was prepared for us (specifically us!) from before the foundation of the world. He foresaw and resolved to give us the inheritance of sons long before we could do a single good work.
But once we have received the promise of sons, how can we not live out our lives with joy and a desire to help others? How can we not help our neighbor, especially when we have the amazing promise that Christ accepts our charity as done to Him? The Father enable us more and more to do this.
These works are not always easy, and we may grow tired or frustrated from time to time. But let us be consoled by the fact that an eternal rest awaits us in a kingdom prepared by the loving Father. Eternal life is ours by the sure and certain promise of the King.
In His Name. Amen.
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