You Will Stand Trial before the Lord
Lord Jesus, I sin often each day and therefore have no way to stand before You with anything other than a guilty verdict. I come, this day, confessing my many sins. So many things I have left undone what I should have been completed. So many things I have done were wrong, so many times my priorities have been confused. I’ve said so many things when I should have remained silent or said something different, and there are so many, many thoughts in my mind and heart that are displeasing and sinful. I know each one of these condemns me. Out of mercy and undeserved love, forgive me! Teach me to be ready for Your return and keep me in true faith so that on the last day I will hear the blessed words: "Come! Inherit the kingdom!" Lord Jesus grant this blessing to me, to all who are gathered here today, and sinners everywhere. Amen.
Our last enemy is death. Death is the just reward for every one of our sins. However, Jesus’ death on the cross pays the debt of our sins. Jesus’ resurrection conquers death and brings us life. In Christ, we conquer our enemies, death and sin.
Jesus won forgiveness for all sinners. Those who reject Jesus will not receive the forgiveness He won for them. Those who receive forgiveness through faith will inherit eternal life in heaven. In Revelation, John saw "New Jerusalem," a phenomenally beautiful city without any of sins effects. This holy and spectacular city is used to describe the triumphant children of God in the glory of heaven. In Heaven, all of sins’ sorrow and curse will be gone and we will rejoice in the light of the Lamb, our Savior.
Text: Matthew 25:31-46
When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy 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 them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me." Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? "When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?" And the King will answer and say to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me." Then He will also say to those on the left hand, "Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me." Then they also will answer Him, saying, "Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?" Then He will answer them, saying, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me." And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
In Christ Jesus, our returning Savior who will judge EVERY soul that is here and every soul that has ever lived or will live, dear fellow-redeemed:
The story says that on his deathbed, the comedian, W.C. Fields, was found looking rather diligently through a Bible. W.C. Fields was a known agnostic and by no means spiritual nor otherwise interested in the Bible. When asked what he was doing, in customary form Fields responded, "I’m looking for loopholes."
He didn’t find any loopholes. There aren’t any loopholes. Judgment Day will come. We ALL will stand trial before the Lord. Jesus, the judge, will determine our eternal fate—no loopholes, no appeals, no second chances.
However, one doesn’t really need loopholes when one is innocent. It is those who are trying to "get away with something" or who are guilty but want to pretend they are innocent who look for ways around justice and the law. As children of God we have no such need for loopholes. As children of God we need not fear that awesome day of final judgement. YOU WILL STAND TRIAL BEFORE THE LORD I. The Evidence II. The Verdict III. The Sentence.
As we read the King’s words to those whom He is judging, we need to backtrack to events that have already taken place on that day. As we have the trial set before us, Jesus the King is sitting on the Judgment seat and all people who ever have lived are before Him, waiting to be judged. But first the King has descended from heaven “with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). We hear further from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians that all the dead have been raised up. So now all who were living when Jesus’ return began, together with all those who had been dead are upon the earth; and the believers will then be caught up in the air to meet Jesus and continue the descent with Him. After Jesus and the believers reach the earth, then the judge sets the trial and begins the proceedings.
The King says to those on the right hand, “…I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” [vv.35-36] There is the evidence. The King looks to those on His right and says, "You did all these things." To those on His left, He says, "You did not do all these things" (cf. vv. 43-44).
As we hear the King announce these pieces of evidence it sounds very much as if He is going to make His decision based upon works and what we have done. Yet, at the same time we know that salvation by works is totally contradictory to everything else in Scripture. Paul writes in Ephesians, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). All of our righteousnesses—all that we could possibly hope to do that was good—are like filthy rags, God says (cf. Isaiah 64:6). What we do gets us NOWHERE, yet the King points to what we have done or not done when we are on trial.
It is important to remember that when the King speaks these words, He is talking about evidence. Evidence is never the guilt or innocence, it is only the evidence of guilt or innocence. Consider a murder trial in an earthly courtroom. Evidence might be the murder weapon. The murder weapon demonstrates or testifies to what has already taken place. The evidence itself is not the guilt or innocence, it is simply evidence—proof of what already is there.
So also, as Jesus considers the "evidence" on Judgment Day. Those good works are not determining our eternal fate, rather they are evidence, fruits, proof of what really lies beneath. The works of those on the right hand, or the lack of works of those on the left are the evidence of the spiritual condition of those who did or did not do the works.
As we consider all the evidence that our King will view—all the things we have ever done—it will be a mixture. There will be those things that were good and upright. There will be those things that will be failures and sins. On the other hand, those on the left of the King will also have things that were good and upright—some of the most unbelieving people in the world can be (at times) the most kind and the most generous; but they too will also have things that are sinful. Each individual in the group on the left and each individual in the group on the right will have a mixture of evidence and examples of both good and bad. All of this "evidence" will be condensed to a verdict.
The verdict is based on the spiritual quality, the spiritual condition of the heart—the spiritual condition that the evidence suggests. For those on the right, the judge looks at the evidence and mentions nothing lacking. But how can that be? We as believers will be in the group on the right and we KNOW that we sin! We KNOW that the evidence proves that a verdict of guilt is ours by right. We fail, we sin, we make mistakes. But the King says, "I was hungry and you did all these things. You served others and thereby you served Me." How can such a verdict be reached?
The verdict is based upon a declaration that God made long before Judgment Day. It was a verdict of salvation through Christ.
God so loved us that He sent Jesus to be our Savior (cf. John 3:16). Two things had to be accomplished for salvation to be ours. First of all, God’s expectations had to be fulfilled. These are the expectations that God sets forth in His law. These are expectations we cannot reach “for ALL fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Jesus, God’s Son, came and met those expectations. He lived a perfect life fulfilling all of God’s expectations for us. But there is still another part of our salvation because not only do we not meet up to God’s expectations, we sin and add debt to our account with God. So Jesus, God’s Son, died on the cross to wash all those debts away. Jesus lived a holy life to fulfill God’s expectations, He died a perfect death to wash away our failures.
Jesus completed this work of redemption and salvation for the WHOLE world. Every soul that is gathered before the judge, whether on the right or on the left, was saved by Christ—was redeemed. “For God so loved the WORLD” (John 3:16)—no one excluded. “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the WORLD!"(John 1:28) – not one soul left behind. God declares the WHOLE WORLD righteous because Jesus washes the WHOLE WORLD’S sins away.
That was the declaration made through the redeeming work of Christ, but now we’re back to considering the evidence and the verdict. To those on the right, the Judge says, "You are righteous" because I look at the evidence and pronounce you "holy." Their sins were washed away. Through faith in Christ they have received forgiveness. Therefore, by what Jesus the Judge Himself did on the cross, He declares them righteous and He views all their works as holy. When we receive the forgiveness of Christ through faith, all of the failures are gone. All of the evidence that mounts up against us because we’ve sinned, every time we’ve said the wrong things, whenever we’ve been angry, when we’ve been mean, when we’ve been hurtful—all of that is gone. That evidence is purged from the record. Even the best things we’ve ever done are tainted by sin because we never can do it perfectly, but that taint of sin on even our best deeds is also washed away. So, all that remains is Christ’s holiness.
The Judge looks at all that we have done. He sees what we have done out of an act of faith, out of love for our Savior and He says, "You did it to these other people – whatever it was, whether it was a kind word of encouragement, whether it was helping someone carry the load with which they struggled, whether it was simply giving a testimony by how you live, no matter what you did—if it was done out of love for your Savior and through faith in Christ, it was done for Me. Therefore, it is evidence toward the verdict of being righteous."
People on the left side, to whom the judge will give a verdict of guilt also had the full and free forgiveness of the Savior, but they in unbelief threw it away. It was theirs in abundance, but they said, "No, I don’t want it." In Isaiah, the prophet (by God’s inspiration) depicts salvation and the blessings of Christ as being a rich feast of food that far surpasses any physical food on the earth (cf. Isaiah 55:1ff). Imagine if we had a huge feast and never ending supply of food served on a table in our sanctuary every day, every week, every month, of every year. People could walk-in off the street and through our doors any time of the day and eat to their heart’s content. Further, we walked the streets of Mankato saying, "Come to 421 North Second Street and eat your fill." Some would say, "Oh! Thanks!" and come and eat and be full. Others would say, "You have got to be kidding! I’m not going to that church! I’m not going to eat there! I don’t believe you!" and they would turn and go the other way. If they reject your message of food being served here and don’t come to eat, it doesn’t change the fact that the food was here and they could have eaten and been full.
As the Gospel goes out announcing the full and free forgiveness for sinners everywhere, the fact that some reject the news of forgiveness does not change the truth that the forgiveness is theirs—it is there and available to them. But they say "no," reject it, and throw it away. So on the last day of judgment, the Judge will see them for what they really are. They will have rejected the holiness of Christ, they will have thrown away His forgiveness, and He will see them in their guilt. Then even the best deeds they did, no matter how honorable or helpful, are still tainted and corrupted by sin, and judged with the verdict of guilt.
The sentence to those who are determined to be righteous through the blood of Christ is this: “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” [v.34] What an amazing sentence! Before time began, before you were born, your Savior knew what He would do and prepared this salvation for you! It took time to accomplish salvation—in the fullness of time the Savior came to earth, lived, and died for our sins (cf. Galatians 4:4); but before the foundation of the world your salvation—the eternal glory and bliss of heaven—was determined for you. And on that last day, you will finally hear your Savior say, "Come!"
In the eternity of heaven, there will be the perfection of which we heard in our Scripture reading: no more tears, no more crying, no more pain, no more sickness, no more going to the doctor and finding out that there is something wrong, no more waking up in the morning and finding a new pain or new ache, no more hurt feelings, no more harsh words, no more broken hearts—simply the glory of your Lord. Everything that sin affects on the earth – GONE! Every trouble, completely removed. If that weren’t enough, the best part of all is to be there face-to-face with your Lord, to live forever in the perfect presence of God who so loved you that He did what was necessary to bring you there.
Right now, Jesus is assuring you that He is preparing this place for you so that when He calls you home at the end of your life, it will be ready. Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you [He has gone, for He has ascended to heaven], I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3). That is your sentence of life everlasting.
To those who reject Jesus the sad and eternal sentence is this: “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels… and these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” [vv.41,46]
Everlasting death in hell was not prepared for any human being. It was prepared for the Devil and his angels when they were cast from heaven after rebelling against God (cf. Jude 6). God never intended for a single human being to be in hell. He did not prepare that place for us. However, sin came into the world and the just reward for sin is eternal death. But God sent Jesus and now desires all people to be saved (cf. 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). God still does NOT WANT ANYONE TO PERISH IN HELL, but those who reject Him will.
It will be a misery unlike anything you have ever thought or experienced on this earth. Oh, people sometimes talk about going through "hell on earth" – they don’t have a clue! No matter what the absolute worst thing you could imagine happening in this life would be, it is not even close to the real misery of hell. The true misery of eternal punishment is being separated forever, totally, from God. Even unbelievers at this time are not totallyseparated from God because He still provides them food, clothing, and shelter. He is still there so when they return to Him in repentance He will hear their prayers and bless them. He is still there keeping all things in control, He is still there sending out the Gospel with the goal of bringing them to salvation. But in the eternity of damnation NONE of that exists—TOTALLY, COMPLETELY CUT OFF and REMOVED FOREVER FROM GOD. It is a fearful sentence to say the least and one of misery that will not end.
As we consider that sentence, we might be touched with a bit of fear. We can chase that fear away because through Christ that sentence is removed and we hear our Savior say, "Come! Inherit!"
The sentence given to those on the left hand should also fill us with a sense of urgency. There are a great many of our neighbors, perhaps friends and family members, fellow citizens of the earth who are heading straight for this condemnation. Perhaps it is out of ignorance, stubbornness, or the result of being deceived and misled, but in either case, it is fatal. We have the message to save them. We have the message to turn their verdict around and thus there is great urgency to share the Gospel message for their salvation.
You will stand trial before the Lord, but fear not. Through faith in our Savior’s redeeming work, we shall see our Savior face-to-face with confidence and joy, knowing that we stand before our Him not clothed with our righteousness, but in Christ’s; and may God fill our hearts with zeal to spread the Gospel so that those we know and those we meet will never hear the other sentence. Amen.
—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt