I’ve been in a courtroom only a handful of times, and it was never very interesting—no spontaneous applause, no hilarious banter between country judge and city attorney, no climactic “It was him!” shouted from the witness stand.
Mostly, it was boring, almost-unintelligible back-and-forths about how to file paperwork correctly.
Far from that picture is the one painted by Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31-32).
Do our judges think of themselves as separating sheep from goats? I wonder—when it’s up to the judge alone—what those few moments are like after he’s made his decision but before he’s proclaimed it to all the world.
When he knows the verdict—but he must wait for it.
Today, that’s the difference we need to understand, the distinction that must be made.
As a judge knows the verdict before it’s read out loud, salvation is a question asked and answered before even one sheep is separated from the many goats.
There’s a lot going on here.
Jesus says, “He will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 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” (Matthew 25:33-34).
The sheep on His right are blessed by God the Father. They’re called to inherit was was prepared—for them—from the foundation of the world.
Which is great—and we don’t have a problem confessing salvation by grace or a judgment by works.
Our problem is the waiting. The daily grind.
The doctor’s appointments.
I made the joke recently that all the overreacting about COVID was a ploy by doctors’ offices to get people to be happy to wait in the lobby again.
Would you be happier if you could wait inside?
Don’t you look forward to waiting inside again for your doctor’s appointment? “Oh, this is nice!”
Or—rather—do you look forward to having no need of the earthly healing arts?
We believe in and confess the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
So why doesn’t God just hurry it up already?
Maybe He, too, wants you to be happy to wait in the lobby, so to speak?
My point is, the waiting isn’t necessary for God.
“With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years [is] as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).
He waits if He wants to. For Him, it is when He says it is. So, the waiting is for us.
For the Last Day and the Final Victory, that we have to wait at all emphasizes the “not yet” part of our “now and not yet.”
We have these things now: forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. We have them because the Holy Spirit has given them to us. And we have them truly.
“But—“ that voice will say, “Do we really?”
“Do you feel like you have them?”
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We have those things now and truly. And—we must also say that we do not have them now like we will have them then.
The waiting is a race of endurance, a test of faith.
That the waiting seems prolonged, though, that goes against our common wisdom, doesn’t it?
Does anyone actually prefer to rip the Band-Aid off slowly, drawing it out, one hair at a time, one fleck of scab at a time?
Potential bad news aside, does anyone actually prefer the waiting room and lobby to the exam room?
There’s nothing worse for anyone than being told by an important person, “I need to talk to you…tomorrow.”
The prophet Tom Petty was right: the waiting is the hardest part.
There’s a lot going on here, but—so far—that’s just our side of the argument.
So, thus says the Lord: The waiting is for us.
Not a single one of us enjoyed waiting inside the lobby at the doctor’s office, but all that changed when our freedom to sit inside and wait was taken from us.
None of us like waiting for the Lord to fulfill His promises. But there are imposters of the faith among us.
We don’t know who they are. God does.
We can’t see them. God does.
We may not even care. God does.
So learn the lesson. Obey the rule.
God sees the general lack of contentment in your life: the comparisons, the gripes, the lists, the not-so-subtle suggestions.
For the sake of those who are still on the fence about this whole “salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone” thing, He waits because He wants to.
And the waiting is for us.
He could take it all away, and when He does, we notice. He’s drawing us to Himself.
So learn the lesson. Obey the rule.
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
And more than that—He waits because verdicts, by their very nature, are public.
You’re wrong if you think victory is enough.
It must also be proclaimed.
Revealed to all.
Thus says the Lord, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5).
But why would I want to eat in front of them?
Everyone knows this.
Victory isn’t enough. You have to show the losers.
It has to be published in the paper, with pictures.
The winning team must parade through town.
It has to be posted to Facebook—or it’s not real.
That’s what Judgment Day is.
We know the verdict. We have it and live it every day.
The verdict was known from before the foundation of the world. It was promised and prophesied the full four-thousand years before Christ. It was fulfilled finally, in Christ, at His crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension to the Father.
We’re not the Judge, but we know the verdict.
We’re waiting for the verdict to be enforced.
It’s true now. We know.
Thus says the Lord: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).
Enter into eternal life (cf. Matthew 25:46), for you loved Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
You saw Him hungry and fed Him, naked and clothed Him, sick and you visited Him.
We know the verdict.
We’re just waiting for it to be enforced.
Which means now, right now, is the worst we’ll ever have it, the worst we’ll ever endure.
We have the victory—but it hasn’t been shown to the losers.
Learn the lesson. Obey the rule.
In love for all who’ve lost, our Lord delays, desiring that all should reach repentance.
For your son, your daughter, your friend.
For my dad, your neighbor, your wife, your husband.
But not much.
That day will come like a thief, and all our works will be exposed (cf. 2 Peter 3:10).
This, then, is the lesson. And this, the rule.
Learn contentment. Practice the faith. Grow in maturity as Lutherans. Rejoice in God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (cf. Luke 12:32).
Wait patiently—in your car, in the lobby, and wherever else God wills it.
He desires that all should reach repentance.
You know the verdict: “There is salvation in no one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Wait for it.
He is coming soon.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Second to Last Sunday, 2020
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt