Matthew 25:31-34 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
Dust we are and unto dust shall we return, this is the theme of Ash Wednesday. It is a theme of death, something that man has never had much comfort in facing. But death by itself is not the end, for then comes the judgement, and the judgement may be even more terrible than death.
And what is terrible about judgement is that it will be honest, and it will be on the basis of how we have lived. Sometimes we miss that part. For salvation, as we well know is not about our works, for we cannot earn or deserve heaven. Sometimes people think that therefore, since salvation is a gift of God in Jesus Christ, it really doesnít matter how you live your life, so long as you believe, and so long as your repent and ask for forgiveness.
Part of the confusion has to do with life and the church. In life, and in the church, we cannot tell the difference between the saints and the sinners, we can see the outward signs, but we cannot see the heart. So in life, and in the church there is always a mix, once Jesus talked about this mixture as being like weeds in the wheat field, they grow together until the harvest, and only in the harvest are the separated, the wheat is gathered into the barn, and the weeds are thrown into the fire.
In life, if it looks like the wicked prosper, if it looks like there is no punishment for sin, there is a temptation to think that perhaps sin is not so bad. After all, if everyone else is doing it, and God wants people to be saved, then perhaps [the world says] all you need to do is to be better than most. Perhaps [the world says] you donít need to be perfect, just pretty good. But heaven is not like horseshoes, you donít win by being the closest, either you make the mark, or you miss completely.
In our text, judgement is spoken of as the separation of the sheep and the goats, and as we read the text, we get the idea that no one really knew which they were, for they were all in the same flock. But God can easily tell the difference, and God explains the difference in terms of how they lived their lives.
This is the part we really need to pay attention to, for God is not saying that either one is getting to heaven because of their works, or that they have earned what they receive, at least when it comes to heaven. What God is saying is that how you live you life matters in this way, the way you live bears witness as to what it is that you really believe in.
The saints had no idea that they had done any good works. The lived their faith, and that carried through into the actions of their lives. When it came time to choose, they chose to follow Jesus, and to live their lives so that all that they did might give glory to God, and point the way of salvation to those who did not know about the love of God in Jesus Christ and the way of salvation by grace through faith. They did what they did, because in their heart they knew that this is what Jesus would want them to do, and they wanted to show their thanks to God for the good news of salvation that they had received in Jesus Christ.
The sinners by their choices told both God and the world around them that it was not important to follow Jesus nor was it important to obey the commands of God. They thought as long as they were better than most, that should be enough, but in the judgement God shows them that throughout their life they had been worshiping and following another god Ė the god of self.
That is why we begin Lent with this text which calls each one of us to faithfully follow Jesus in all things, each and every day. This is what it means to call Jesus our Lord, that we cheerfully follow him and gladly do what he commands, even when it appears that no one is watching. Its not that this will earn us heaven, for we know that Jesus did that for us, by his suffering and death. Rather we follow Jesus, because we would not want to lead anyone else astray, and because we cannot imagine a better way to live our lives. That is why we will find judgement days such a surprise, because we had not noticed how our faith has affected the lives of those around us.