It says something about us that the very second we hear the text about how Jesus will judge on the last day, we have to start looking for loopholes. All we see is the list. These are the things to do. And honestly, the things that I didn’t do. Loopholes help. Sometimes we’ll even invent nice trite sayings to try and add legitimacy. God helps those who help themselves. And then just ignore the entire rest of the book where Jesus only helps sinners who can’t help themselves. Maybe just chalk it up to the fact that nobody’s perfect. It’s not that that stuff doesn’t matter. It’s that if you were to measure out all of the things that we’ve done, both good and the bad, most of us we figure we’re at least trending positive. But the maddening part is when you go and read what the Lord has to say and see that nobody is actually left out for what they did. It’s for what they didn’t do.
Each did the stuff on the list. The sheep and the goats both. The sheep by Jesus own words. The goats by their surprise. “When did we not do these things?” Because they were already trying. When my wife asks me to do the dishes, then I don’t do them and she asks me why the dishes aren’t done, I won’t say “when did you see me not do these dishes?” If I miss one, that might be a surprise. Don’t act like you have to be a Christian just to be nice to people. It isn’t that the goats didn’t do just that. It’s just that apparently they didn’t do enough. Which is a scary thought. Because everybody did at least some of the stuff on the list. The question is whether or not I want to be judged based on how well I did it.
The list only really seems to encourage that kind of behavior. You can go through that list and find a couple of things I really want to hold up as a reward. You can find some things you know you didn’t do. Most of all you can find the things that people should have done for you and didn’t. Which is the thing about attaching any kind of judgment to this list. It becomes about you, not actually helping your neighbor. And when you want to talk about what you’ve earned it’s uncomfortable. Not just because you know what you didn’t do. Also because the Jesus who says that He wants the least of these cared for seems to have set up a system where the only ones who can’t be saved are the least of these.
You homeless people, invite other people into your homes, or be damned. You sick people, make sure you visit the sick so they can catch what you have, pandemic style. You hungry, share the food you don’t have, or go straight to hell. When you look at the list to figure out judgment, at best the least of these, whom Jesus says He loves so much, turn into an object lesson as to why some people go to hell. But the Lord doesn’t wish that. Read the text. Jesus will say to those on his left, “Depart from me you cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Hell was not made for men. It was made for the devil and his angels. God wants no human there. None. It’s just we keep staring at that stupid list.
It makes everyone uncomfortable. Every single person on the last day is uncomfortable with Jesus’ assessment. The sheep and the goats both. Because the goats figured they did enough. They trusted in themselves and they don’t like what they’re hearing. It wasn’t that they didn’t care about doing good things, it’s somewhere down the line they miss somebody. The sheep, though, are every bit as uncomfortable. Even after they hear they already got in, they don’t like this. The one thing in the world they don’t want to be judged on is their works. The concept still bugs them even after hearing that they are sheep. They trusted in God and now they’re freaked out because he’s actually going to look at whether or not they did enough work. Because they know. If you look at works, they didn’t do enough. When, Lord, did we do these things for you?
The thing that separates the sheep and the goats is not what they were doing or even how much they were doing. It’s just where they put their trust. The only real separation is one simple question. Is your religion actually bigger than yourself or not? If your religion is only as big as the things that you can do, that’s one thing. If your religion is in a God much bigger than you, that’s another. The separation between sheep and goat is not measured in works, just whether or not God would have anything to do with His creation.
By the list, we all know no one should be saved. But what if Jesus actually loved the least of these as much as he claims to? Enough to come into this world to redeem those who have not earned it, who do not deserve it, but who our Lord loves? What if God entered His creation and assumed our weakness, our loneliness, our lack, our want, and even our sin? Carried them for us where we could not go? Brought them to that Cross to bleed and to die, not for the righteous but for sinners? Not for those who have earned their place in salvation, but for me and for you? This is our religion. This is our faith. Christ loves the least of these enough to die for them. Even you. He ties them so closely to Himself to feed one of these little ones to feed Him who died and rose for that one. That’s the religion in the rest of the book. Why would you set it aside on the last day? Do you really think that every word of mercy that our Lord would speak would finally stop when it all comes to matter?
By works the only people who can’t be saved are the least of these who God is so concerned with in the first place. So set aside the works. Set aside the list. Stop with the list and look at the kind. Because before we could ever grab hold of that awful list and start to lay out the things we did and failed to do, our Lord already makes clear how you got in. You are a sheep. Before the list ever shows up He separates them by kind. He set the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. Then the king will say to those on his right, “you are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. That’s not about the list at all. It’s about the kind. You are a sheep. You see it in when the kingdom was prepared for you. Before the foundation of the world. The kingdom was prepared for you before you ever were born. Prepared for you before you ever had a chance to even approach that list. You were named a sheep and your place in the kingdom of heaven was set aside. Before you could ever do the work, you were named righteous. Before you could ever want to accomplish that list, the Lamb of God was slain, even before the foundation of the world, for you.
The law only looks at the list. The gospel only looks at the kind. Start with the kind, and it opens up the possibility to look inside of Christianity for mercy and not loopholes. A chance to imagine that even the least of these who cannot do enough to fulfill the law can be saved. Sort of like the whole rest of the book tells us. It even lets us be honest with ourselves. In this life down here, I’ve done some good. I failed to do a lot more. And I’ve sinned a whole bunch. But my sins are on Christ, who was crucified for me. My sins are forgiven because He bled and died my salvation. And for yours.
Hell was not made for people. Our Lord wills no one down there. That anybody enters hell is a travesty, even to the Lord. And it only happens because they would not be sheep. Sinning doesn’t make you a goat. It makes you a goat if your religion is never bigger than yourself. Know where you fit in this. Yours is not to carry guilt or feel fire. Yours is to be saved by Jesus. The kingdom was not just prepared before the foundation of the world. It was prepared for you. Our comfort today is that the kingdom is already prepared with you in mind. With your suffering and your lack, your failures, and your sins. The kingdom was prepared for you by placing your sins on Jesus. Righteousness is yours by His gift to you. It isn’t measured in how much of the list you’ve accomplished. It isn’t measured in yourself at all. Only in what God has already finished. You can know you already have. You are baptized. Before the last day and you ever have to stand before the throne to make excuses and lay out your loopholes to see if they save, be baptized. Put on Christ. You are baptized before you could ever do good work. We wear our baptisms as armor against ourselves. Our shortcomings and our sins and our fears. We put on Christ and His holiness and His righteousness. Because you are baptized, you are holy. You do have salvation. You are now a saint. Because you are baptized, you put on Christ’s works and receive His rewards. On the last great day, you will hear, “come, you are blessed by My Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.