Monday, November 27, 2023

We will be judged. . .

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year, preached on Sunday, November 26, 2023.

That Christ will sit in judgment over all people is not much of a surprise.  It is clearly taught in the New Testament.  We confess it in the creed every Sunday.  It is not something we need to prove.  It will become obvious no matter what anyone thinks.  But we as Christians know more.  We not only know to expect it, we know who is our judge and on what basis we will be judged.  Nevertheless, there is much confusion or consternation about it all.

The first problem is works.  It might appear that Christ is judging us on the basis of our works.  Even in the Athanasian Creed we say that those who have done good will be raised to everlasting life and those who have done evil to everlasting destruction.  Does that mean that the good works we do count?  After all, we do know that our evil works count.  They counted so much that God had to send His Son in our flesh and blood in order to suffer for those evil works, to pay the price of those sins, and to restore to Himself a whole creation lost to sin and its death.

So if our evil works count against us, does that mean that our good works count for us?  Well, let me remove all doubt.  They do count.  The good works done by the faithful in faith are noticed by God and rewarded by God.  No matter how paltry they are when compared to God’s perfect goodness, God in His mercy has done the unthinkable.  He has promised to reward those good works.  He counts those works personally – as much as you have done them to the least of my brothers, you have done them to Me... says the Lord.

The question is not whether they count but what do they count for?  None of those works count for our salvation.  The cannot.  Entrance into the Kingdom of God is not earned as the wage paid to the good.  Our best good works fall far short of the glory of God.  Put all your good works against the good work of Christ on the cross and you know what I mean.  But because they cannot buy us salvation does not mean that they are worthless or unimportant to God.  He values them not as payment for entrance to heaven but as the fruit of the Spirit’s work in us, bringing forth the new life into which we were born again in baptism.

No good work can purchase an inheritance.  It is already yours because you are an heir.  The inheritance is your gift and not the reward for your labors.  We are given heaven not as reward but because God has named us as His heirs.
You will be judged but you will be judged as God’s own children.  You are in the will.  You can reject the inheritance but you cannot earn it.  The good works you do are proof of faith but it is faith on which you are judged.  You are justified by grace through faith and not of any works you do.  But the good works that are the fruit of the Spirit’s work in you are not without merit or purpose or reward.  They show to the Father in heaven that we are His and they show to the world around us that we are His and they show to the neighbor for whom we do them that God loves our neighbor as well.
Good works are real and valuable not because they win salvation for us but because God IS gracious.  His mercy is shown in that He sees the good we do and rejoices over these good works, as small as they are in the parable of Jesus – a cup of water, a crust of bread, a worn coat, an awkward welcome, and an overdue visit.  These good works are not the things you and I harp about but things so small that when God reminds us, we marvel that He remembers because we have forgotten them.  That is how great the mercy of God is.

On the day when Christ comes in His glory as Judge and King of all, we have nothing to claim before Him except what He has given – His body broken in suffering, His blood shed upon the cross, and His life exchanged for our death.  It is the name of Christ we will plead and nothing of our good works.  We will gladly remind the Lord of the goodness of His promised placed upon us in our baptism, of the absolution that has forgiven our sins, and of the food of the Eucharist that fed and nourished our faith.  We will claim nothing more than the fullness of God’s promise –  you are Mine.

Until that day, we will strive for such good works so that by our deeds as well as our words, we are known as Christians, the sons and daughters and heirs of God. But we will not count on them. We will turn away from the paths of sin and unrighteousness not because we fear His punishment but because we love His will – we want what He wants and desire the good things of Christ and His kingdom.

The faithful are not judged by their works but Christ’s. The same Lord who looked upon us as sheep without a shepherd, the hungry in need of food, the wounded in need of healing, the sick who need to be made well, the broken who need to be made whole – that is Him who will mount the judgment seat.  He bore all our sins so that we can know His favor, so that we can plead His blood, and be saved.

We keep this judgment before us not because we live in fear but because we live in hope – hope for the day when the fullness of Christ’s promise will be fulfilled.  When the graves will deliver up the dead in Christ and the gates of heaven will allow us to be reunited with those who have gone before.  The day of judgment is not a day of fear and trembling but of joy.  The God who saw our sins and took them upon His Son now sees our good works and rejoices in them – even though you and I have forgotten they ever existed.  

What a blessed and glorious day it will be.  On that day, we will not be judged as sinners or as slaves but as sons and daughters of the Most High God.  He who has been pleased to save us by His blood, will welcome us into the reward He has prepared for those who have loved His appearing.  Judgment day is about faith – the faith that alone can produce the good works and faith that rejoices not in those good works but in the best work of Christ for us.

Lord, bring us soon to that day.  In the Holy Name of Jesus.  Amen.

1 comment:

Archimandrite Gregory said...

Faith without good works is dead.