Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sermon on Matthew 25:31-46, for the Last Sunday of the Church Year, "Whose Mercy First?"

Sermon Outline

1. Concern for Christians—what happens on the day of Judgment? Grace? Good works? How am I saved? How to be one of the sheep? How does Jesus know who are His sheep?

2. After Jesus’ separation of blessed from cursed, He evaluates their works. Yes, He will see our works. Particularly here mercy. Did they show mercy or not? Surprise in the parable is that Christ was hidden in the needy neighbor, the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick or imprisoned. He saw through the eyes of the needy neighbor whether we showed mercy or not. These merciful deeds or good works, are evaluated in the judgment. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matt. 5:7)

3. In our preview of the Day of Judgment, God shows mercy to those who were merciful. But whose mercy came first? Did God show mercy in saving the sheep because they had first shown mercy to others? Or did the sheep show mercy to others because God had first showed mercy to them in saving them? Not just word games—but a vital question. Did God respond to their merciful works by saving them? Good works are the cause, and our salvation is the effect? Or did they respond to God’s merciful work of salvation by showing mercy to others? God’s mercy and salvation is the cause, and our good works are the effect?

4. For many reasons as we’ll show, the choice clearly must be the second. God’s mercy came first, and was the very thing that caused the merciful good works of the sheep.

5. First, the separation of sheep and goats happens before the works are judged. Already defined identity. Who are the sheep? How does Jesus know who are His? Jesus teaches in John 10 that His sheep follow Him because they know His voice. Those who do not follow His voice are the goats. We are sheep if we have heard Jesus’ voice and followed His call. By grace we are His sheep—by grace He called us and guards us against danger. Jesus had pity on the crowds He saw in His ministry, because they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Our shepherd came for His helpless sheep.

6. Second, the sheep are invited to “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Inherit is a grace word. Not earned, but given to family or adopted family. Our adoption into God’s family was in baptism. Before the foundation of the world. Before any good or bad works were done. God had already prepared it and chosen His sheep.

7. Titus 3 talks about this question of cause and effect also. What comes first? God’s mercy and our trust in that? Or the good works/life of mercy we live? Does our mercy come first, and God’s follows after us? Titus chapter three begins by describing how we too were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, sinners driven and pulled by our passions and pleasures, and doing evil. “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”

8. First we were trapped in our sins, harassed and helpless, and then God appeared in His goodness and loving kindness. God’s mercy came first. Here’s the vital and deciding point: “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness”. It wasn’t because we had accumulated good works, it was not because of our prior glistening record of merciful deeds that God had a change of heart and saved us. No, He saw us in our sin and disobedience, gone astray from God, but in His mercy He saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. He saved us through baptism, our spiritual rebirth, where God gave us a new birth, a new spirit.

9. Titus 3 goes on to record that He poured out this baptismal washing on us generously through Jesus, so that we would be justified (that is declared or counted innocent before God). How? How were we declared innocent? By our works again? No, by His grace! undeserved! And being justified by grace makes us heirs of eternal life. So we are brought right back to Jesus’ words: “come, inherit…” Inheritance that is a free gift. God’s grace. Then what about the works? Isn’t it a contradiction then that Jesus goes on to examine their works before sending them into eternal life, or sending the goats into eternal punishment?

10. Not at all. Because God’s mercy, and our trust in Him as those who hear and follow His voice is the cause—but good works are the effect. They do follow after, and it’s no contradiction that they will be seen and evaluated in the judgment. If there is not faith there to produce the works, then they will obviously be absent.

11. Titus 3, after affirming that salvation and justification is all by grace, all God’s gift, continues by saying: “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.” Notice the cause and effect again? The reason God did this for us, is so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. The merciful life, the excellent and profitable things that Christians are to do are the natural response of faith. Mercy marks the Christian because mercy marked Christ.

12. Both individually and as a church body, mercy should mark our daily actions. Feeding of the thirsty and hungry, showing hospitality to the stranger. Clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned. Who does it? Church? Gov’t? Secular charities? Not for us to pass off responsibility. Not to be seen by others or for recognition. Surprise of the sheep that they had done them. Forgetful of the good done, because not for credit, to earn salvation, approval, applause, etc. But done freely and willingly out of mercy, as we have received mercy.

13. The goats, those who are condemned on The Day, are forgetful that they ever didn’t do those things. Fundamental difference of how the believer and the unbeliever sees the neighbor in their need. Believer sees Christ in their need…unbeliever does not see Christ in the need of the poor. This mercy was already a quality built into (the sheep) by faith in Jesus. It was missing in the goats because they had no faith.

14. To show mercy for the neighbor, the poor, the stranger, is to show mercy to Christ in disguise. Watch and be mindful of those opportunities. Additional ways to help beyond what we already do? Food pantry. Other needs? How will we respond?

15. God is first merciful to us. We love because He first loved us. Judgment Day is the final sorting after Jesus’ rescue mission to earth has fully been carried out. Came for the lost, hurting, the harassed and helpless. Found and called lost sheep to hear and follow. Followed through suffering and cross. Christians marked by mercy as Christ is mercy. Judgment is the final separation. Those who followed Him and were merciful. Those who did not follow & so were not merciful. Greatest joy that God is a God of mercy, because He gives of Himself freely and undeservedly. Not anything we earned. His generosity. “Because when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy”. May His goodness and mercy always shape our lives. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points

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1. What thoughts/emotions fill your mind at the thought of Judgment Day? Fear? Dread? Indifference? Doubt? Confidence? Anticipation? Why?

2. What separation will take place on that day? What will be taken into consideration in that judgment? Does this mean that we are saved by good works? See Titus 3:3-5. Which comes first? God’s mercy toward us? Or our merciful works? Which is the cause and which is the effect? Good works are a product of what? Titus 3:8

3. How does one become an heir? Titus 3:7; Galatians 3:26-4:7.

4. When did God prepare His kingdom for us? How does this also preclude works from being the cause of our salvation? Ephesians 1:3-5

5. Who are the sheep? How are they known? John 10:1-18

6. Why is mercy characteristic of Christians? Luke 6:36; Matt. 5:37; 18:33.

7. What are ways that we can be more conscious of our needy neighbors? How can we support them? What organizations? On an individual level?

8. Why should the Christian doing good works not seek attention, praise, or recognition? Matthew 6:1-17

9. How does God’s mercy prepare us for (and spare us on) the day of Judgment? For what reason does He? 1 John 2:2

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