PENTECOST 25, A – November 26, 2017

SCRIPTURES – Ezek. 34:11-16, 20-24; 1 Cor. 15:20-28; Matt. 25:31-46

Today is the last Sunday of the Church Year, and our focus is upon the end of all things and God as our final Judge. Jesus says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, then he will sit on his glorious throne” and judge all people, everyone who ever lived. This judgment and its final and eternal consequence – heaven or hell – brings to light the greatest of all the many blessings which our Lord pours out upon us so richly. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,” says Ps. 103. As it then goes on to list many of His benefits, it begins with this: “who forgives all your iniquity...”

Forgiveness: do you give thanks for this? You should. The forgiveness of your sins is first among the great blessings God gives you!

For, forgiveness is a great work of God, as Ps. 103:6 indicates when it says, “The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” Forgiveness is the work of the Lord, of each Person of the Holy Trinity. It is the Father who sent His Son to be your Savior, as the Bible passage we know so well, John 3:16, says: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son…” The Son of God came in our flesh, took our sins upon Himself, and bore the punishment of them in His flesh, even in His very soul. And the Holy Spirit came down to fill Christ’s disciples and lead them to know this and proclaim this, so that 20 centuries later you might know it. So, take note of this: the Triune God has involved Himself very personally in your forgiveness! How great a blessing this shows it to be!

Consider also the price that was paid for your forgiveness. Price is on many peoples’ minds right now, isn’t it? Sure, we all love a bargain; but being cheap does not impress. Well, consider what God’s Word (1 Pet. 1:18-19) tells you: “you were [purchased]… not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” The eternal Son of God laid down His life to purchase you! The apostle John makes clear what this means: “This is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) How greatly are you loved and valued by God! Keep this in mind every time you receive God’s forgiveness in Christ. God’s Word spoken to you; your Baptism; confession & absolution; and, Holy Communion – the means by which Christ’s forgiveness is conveyed to you – are signs of God’s love and your value to Him. Treasure them!

Also, consider the number of people who benefit from God’s gift of forgiveness. Every year around Thanksgiving we hear stories of people who do wonderful things like volunteer to cook meals for the homeless, or contribute large sums to purchase gifts for the needy. Well, imagine if someone provided a place to live for every homeless person, or gave food and clothing and medical care in abundance for every person who needed it. What praise would heaped upon that person!! Well, remember what Jesus said: “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son…”  And He goes on: “that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.” Whoever: God’s forgiveness in Christ is for anyone and everyone! His death covers every sin, of every person, for all time.

Now, we also forgive people, and it is important that we do so. God gave us the authority to truly forgive sins because He does not want us to hold onto them. When you do so you’re hurting both yourself and others and dishonoring your God. But, only God truly sees and knows every sin. Only He, then, can truly set them aside and keep them from being remembered. How different He is from us in this. Boy, do we see sins being remembered and being aired today! And, even if we don’t speak of them we all struggle with the memory of sins, especially the ones that really hurt.

It is not so with our God. “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities,” says Ps. 103:10-12. “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” The heavens do not touch the earth. East and west do not touch. Neither will the sins that God has forgiven you touch you; ever again!

In this life we do not see this and struggle to believe it. We are burdened at times with guilt, and with the memories of past sins. But when Jesus returns, raises you to life again, and has you stand before Him in the final judgment you will then know how completely God has set forgiven you and set aside your sins. Notice in Jesus’ description of the Judgment in Matt. 25: the sheep, His believers who stand at His right, have no sins that are condemned. Jesus speaks not one word of dissatisfaction with them but only praises them for the good they did in their lives. In this we see the great benefit of His forgiveness. It completely wipes away every sin! And, by doing so, God’s forgiveness in Jesus changes our lives here and now. It brings forth great good from us!

God cannot be praised enough for the forgiveness He gives us so freely and generously in Jesus! Suffice it to say that, in your receiving His forgiveness and your going about doing good because you are a forgiven child of God, Jesus is present. He is down here on earth with you. Open your eyes and see Him!

There are people who claim to have actually seen Jesus. I can say that I’ve always been skeptical of them. After all, even those who actually lived with Him didn’t know they were seeing God. He looked, and most of the time seemed, so ordinary! Why would He deal with us differently today?

But then, last week, I had an extraordinary experience. I myself saw Jesus. And, boy, was He different from what I expected! Now, I know that the pictures of Jesus in my Children’s Bible from the 1960’s – light, blondish hair, blue eyes, and a well-trimmed beard – were probably not accurate. He was a Jew living in Israel, after all. But, I did not expect Him to have such dark skin and dark, tightly curled hair. And when He spoke to me… well, I sure didn’t expect Jesus to have a Jamaican accent! He even went by a different name: Albert Davis. Yes, as I sat at the MacDougal-Walker prison in Suffield and met with Albert Davis, inmate #341456, I was meeting with Jesus. For He says, “I was in prison and you came to me.”

Now, what I did really wasn’t hard. Sure, I spent hours and drove lots of miles to visit with Albert and Jason; but I was in a comfortable car, listening to whatever I wanted, and munching on food I had brought. It wasn’t that big of a deal! But, Jesus says it was. I was seeing, and serving, Him! And so, I’ll take His word for it.

So should you. He sees your life and values the good things that you do… and far more than you do or anyone else does. “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” This is the change His forgiveness brings about for us.

At the Judgment He will reveal this fully and completely. We will see with our own eyes the great blessing His forgiveness has brought about! Until then, His Word alone reveals it. So, listen to what He says; believe it; treasure His forgiveness; and rejoice, saying with the Psalmist, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.