a vision of life
Last Sunday of the Church Year – A (Proper 29) LSB #’s 892, 851, 348
Text – Matthew 25:34
Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’
A Vision of Life
In 2006, scientists gazed into the heavens. A spacecraft was returning from a seven-year mission bringing with it particles of comet dust. Having gazed into the heavens, the scientists then gazed through microscopes at the dust of heaven, hoping to discover within this material clues to the mysteries of life.
However, before science became the final court of meaning, as it is with so many people today, artists have long been gazing into the heavens, creating paintings of a different court & of a different day – a day of judgment – when Christ would return & reveal for all people the meaning of life.
Taking a quick glance through paintings of the last judgment, one discovers a common theme. The heavens are torn open as Christ descends on a throne, & the earth is breaking apart as the dead rise from their graves.
While the paintings are usually way too busy, human bodies all mixed together with angels & demons, one factor is fairly consistent. If you look closely, if you stare at the face of just one human being, you will find on that face a look of discovery.
People appear as if they’re waking from sleep & only beginning to discover the deeper meaning of the world, of their Lord, & of the life that once surrounded them. Today, we will look closely at Matthew’s Gospel, & in it experience for ourselves some of that Last Day’s sense of discovery, for in this Parable of the Last Day Jesus Reveals the mysteries of eternal life.
In this parable, Jesus speaks to His disciples about the end, yet His words talk about the
beginning. Notice how Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (v. 34)
In contrast, as Jesus speaks to the wicked, He does not say, “Inherit the punishment prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Rather, He says, “Depart... into the eternal fire prepared for the devil & his angels.” (v. 41) God never prepared hell for His human creation.
From the very beginning, God’s intentions were always that humanity would live in eternal fellowship & blessedness with Him. No one was ever predestined to hell. All were created to live with God & to rejoice with Him in His creation. Those going to hell go there by their own choosing, for they have rejected Jesus & God’s original design for all people.
While some feel that this parable is about the end of the world, it does not offer a picture of the world ending at all. Instead, Jesus offers us a discovery of the world as God intended it. Yahweh’s original desire was for humanity to live in relationship with Him, & the day when Christ returns will be the day when God’s dreams for creation finally & fully come true.
People often misunderstand Christianity. They think it’s all about escaping this world in order to live in paradise. For them, Christians stand at a distance from this world, wanting to escape its physical existence so they can go on, as disembodied souls, to eternal life in heaven. Yet, that is neither what we believe nor what we confess.
Each time we confess the faith, we speak of the resurrected body, & we declare our confidence in “the life of the world to come.” Jesus’ mission was to bring all people into God’s eternal kingdom. Although we had turned away from God, rejecting His design & falling into sin at the Garden of Eden, God the Father turned toward us, still holding on to His original plan.
Out of love, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to bear our sin & to be our Savior. Baptized into His death & resurrection, our eternal life with God begins. In Him, there’ll be a new creation, & we will be raised to live in the world as God originally desired it to be. Until that time, we live as stewards. We care for this world as those who have discovered in Jesus what God intended creation to be. We trust in, we live in, & we long for God’s new creation in Christ.
As Jesus speaks to His disciples about the end, notice how He opens their eyes to the reign of God that occurs in Christ. He appears 1st as the Son of Man, that figure from Daniel 7:13–14, who has finished God’s work & is therefore seated on His throne. (v. 31) Then, He appears as a shepherd, with the nations as His flock, separating the sheep from the goats. (v. 32)
Soon, the Shepherd becomes a King, who is also the Son of God the Father. His rule extends over all nations, throughout all time. (v. 34) This King, however, is hidden in the suffering of this world (vs. 35–36), just as the Son of God would soon be hidden in the events of His suffering & death. (Matthew 26–27)
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus claims, as members of His family, all who follow Him in faith (v. 40 & 12:46–50) &, until that Last Day, He is known among them by His Word, such as, “Truly, I say to you...”
While some people feel this parable places Jesus at a distance, descending from heaven at the end of time to reveal judgment, it actually reveals Him as very close to us right now. He is the Lord of all nations. God the Father has chosen Him to reign over all of what’s going on in the world you & I live in. Jesus is chosen to bring to fulfillment God’s desire to save all people.
Because of that, Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of Yahweh. He came into history to bring about the forgiving, saving reign of God in His life, death & resurrection. Though ascended into heaven, Jesus continues to speak among us now through His Word, claiming as His family all who believe in Him.
He is shepherding us like a flock until that day when He returns to separate those who
trust in Him for righteousness from those who do not. Then, as God’s long-standing desire, He will grant to believers the gift of life eternal. Jesus has not left us on our own in this broken world. Rather, He comes to us in His Word & Sacraments. He continues to reign in our midst, proclaiming to you the forgiveness of sins & the everlasting gift of eternal life in Him.
This parable ends the 5 discourses of Jesus in Matthew, but if you listen closely, you’ll hear it taking us back to the very 1st discourse – the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7). In the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3–12) are the people God has called His own. Though rejected, persecuted, mourning, hungering & thirsting for righteousness, they receive God’s eternal blessing.
At the end of His ministry Jesus also reveals a people, “blessed by my Father” (v. 34). Those people, already made ‘righteous’ in God’s sight by faith in Jesus, are found yet again among those suffering in this world. Only this time, they are sharing God’s mercy with the ones who suffer.
Their merciful acts of faith come as a shock to them when Jesus reveals those good works (vs. 37–39). Yet, in a more amazing revelation, Jesus unveils His hidden presence among those “my brothers,” who were, in this life, hungering, thirsting, strangers, naked, sick & imprisoned.
Back to paintings of the last judgment – the faces of the people are filled with wonder & awe. Artists have captured their discovery of the majesty of Christ as He returns in the final Advent. Yet, Jesus paints an even more astounding picture in this parable.
For you, who’ve been made righteous by faith in Christ, there’ll be an even more astonishing wonder on that day. The Holy Trinity will reveal the good you have done, & His presence in your life, in ways that exceed all human understanding.
Like the ‘righteous’ in this parable, God’s people will not know the depth & breadth of the good works they’ve done during their lifetime. On that Last Day our Lord will reveal to the faithful the good works of mercy His Spirit performed through their lives in this daily struggle. Beyond that, He will also reveal how present He was in those hidden moments of ministry, graciously receiving from our hands the mercy we didn’t even know we were giving.
In the year AD 1304, Giotto di Bondone began working on a series of frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. At the very back of the chapel is the largest scene, the Last Judgment. Now, a fresco is painted on wet plaster which means the painting had to be done quickly, but the image he produced is eternal. Christ returns in judgment.
The scene covers the entire wall, with those raised to eternal life on Christ’s right & those raised to eternal punishment on Christ’s left. At the bottom of the image, underneath the cross, is the doorway through which worshipers returned to the world. The last image they see as they leave the chapel is Christ returning in glory.
Although we have no such image over our doors as we walk out of this church, we do have this Good News. In the Gospel lesson of today Jesus offers you an image of the last judgment to shape your life in your world. As you walk through the door – opened by the cross – you enter, with deeper understanding, a world in which Jesus still rules.
With that knowledge you may see things differently: the creation of this world, your Lord, even your life of service. Assured of your salvation, you now rejoice in these hidden blessings of God, this vision of life, present & eternal, which is far more glorious than any comet dust could ever reveal. Amen.
Lord of glory, You have bought us with Your lifeblood as the price, never grudging for the lost ones that tremendous sacrifice; & with that have freely given blessings countless as the sand to the unthankful & the evil with Your own unsparing hand. Lord of glory, You have bought us with Your lifeblood as the price, never grudging for the lost ones that tremendous sacrifice. Give us faith to trust You boldly, hope, to stay our souls on You; but, oh, best of all Your graces, with Your love our love renew. Amen. LSB 851:1, 4.
 Matthew 25:35-40 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet