“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34Then 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. 35For I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. 36I was lacking clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or lacking clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40“The King will answer them, ‘Amen I tell you: Just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.’ 41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire, which is prepared for the Devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you did not give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you did not give me anything to drink. 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, lacking clothes and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not take care of me.’ 44“Then they will also answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or lacking clothes or sick or in prison and did not serve you?’ 45“At that time he will answer them, ‘Amen I tell you: Just as you did not do it for one of the least of these, you did not do it for me.’ 46And they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (EHV)
How would you like to be required to explain to a judge everything you ever did in life? Two weeks ago, Jesus told the story of the 10 virgins waiting for the Bridegroom to come. Last Sunday, He went on to tell the Parable of the talents. And now Jesus continues on by telling the true story of what will happen when He returns to Judge. In writing about the Day of Judgment back in the 1200s, Thomas Celano penned the poetic words of the famous hymn “Dies Irae, Dies Illa,” “Day of Wrath, O Day of Mourning” which we’ll sing later during communion. He wrote,
“See, the book, exactly worded, Wherein all has been recorded –
Thus shall judgment be awarded.
What shall I in awe be pleading, Who for me be interceding
When your mercy I am needing?
Great questions! The most important questions! What Shall I in Awe Be Pleading? before the throne of God that day? Scripture gives the answer. In the last chapter of Mark Jesus tells us, “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved.” Here Jesus gives that same answer, but from a different angle.
He Remembers the Faith of Those on His Right
To those He calls the sheep, those He invites to be at His right hand, those who followed Him in this life, “The King will say… ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
He calls His own “Blessed”—“blessed by my Father.” Here’s a key word in Jesus’ answer. Those who are invited to stand at Jesus’ right hand on the Last Day get to be there because God has blessed them. The next key word is “inherit.” “Inherit the kingdom!” An inheritance is a gift, given by a Father to his children. The Father does all the work. He earns and saves—and then the children freely receive what he earned. Jesus says we will receive eternal life in heaven as an inheritance from the Father, for free, as God’s adopted children. It’s unearned, an inheritance—a gift. “Come you who are blessed by my Father…” indeed! “Inherit the kingdom prepared for you …
… from the foundation of the world.” God in His great and immeasurable mercy first chose those who are His from eternity. Paul wrote to the Ephesians “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ…” (1:3–6). Those at the right hand will be there because in His grace God sent His Son to pay for all our sins and then chose us to believe in Him. What a blessing to have a Substitute stand in for us and take the death penalty in our place so we can stand holy and blameless—innocent—before our Divine Judge, and then be adopted as His brothers. That’s the Father’s blessing—His amazing grace.
You see, when the book, exactly worded, Wherein all has been recorded is opened, there will be things missing from it! When God forgives, He intentionally forgets—He erases—all the bad things His sheep have ever done. He forgets, for Jesus’ sake! The Lord says, “I, even I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25). Those who penitently pray like David, “Lord remember not the sins of my youth” can trust they all their sins are blotted out, forgiven and forgotten. “Come you who are blessed by my Father….” indeed!
God forgets our sins, but He never forgets us, His people. As the thief on the cross hung dying beside Jesus and put his trust in Him, he prayed, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus assured him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Not only does God remember us by name, He also remembers whatever good He enabled us to do as believers. One evening, when Jesus was visiting the home of a leper He’d healed, a woman came in with an expensive jar of perfume and poured it on Jesus. When everyone began grumbling about it, Jesus said, “Leave her alone, why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. …I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Mark 14:6,9). Faith produces memorable deeds—and those God remembers!
Good deeds, deeds which are God-pleasing, are works which are not done to try to earn favors from God, but rather out of a thankful heart, overwhelmed by God’s grace and mercy. They’re deeds we don’t count ourselves, or even remember doing! Whether it’s one deed—like the thief on the cross who only had time to rebuke his counterpart, or many through a lifetime of faith: “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or lacking clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40“The King will answer them, ‘Amen I tell you: Just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.’”
So what’s the answer to the question “What Shall I in Awe Be Pleading?” The answer is pleading, “Remember not the sins of my youth. Rather, Remember Me according to your mercy, for Jesus’ sake.”
He Remembers the Sins of Those on His Left
But then, sadly, the Judge will turn His attention to the goats—those who rejected His blessing. “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire, which is prepared for the Devil and his angels.”
In contrast to His sheep, who have been “blessed by [the] Father,” the unbelievers, whom He called the goats, have been “cursed.” Carefully note the difference in wording. Jesus does not say cursed “by my Father.” The goats on the left will have brought the curse of eternal death on themselves. God sent His Son to die for the sins of the whole world, every single person who ever lived. God sent His disciples into the whole world to proclaim forgiveness in Christ to everyone. There’s not a country where it hasn’t been preached. There’s not a land without believers. God filled His Gospel with power. There’s no excuse. Those at God’s left hand on the Last Day will be there because they trusted themselves instead of God. They brought the curse on themselves.
Some will be there because in their own words, they ‘didn’t have time’ for God’s Word of Life. Some will be on the left hand who even believed for a time, but they let the cares and pleasures of this world distract them and choke off their faith. There will be those on the left hand who considered the concept of grace and the cross pure foolishness. “Everything I got, I earned myself!” they insist to their own peril. One thing every single person on the left hand will have in common is that it will be their own fault they’re on the wrong side, not God’s! No excuses! God is not unfair! Theyare not cursed by God. They are cursed by themselves. They failed to seriously ask the all-important question “What Shall I in Awe Be Pleading?” God will answer that question for anyone who asks sincerely. He has promised, “Seek and you will find.” He keeps that promise to all who seek Him.
Our gracious God is merciful. But He is also a just God. He judges people the exact way they themselves ask to be judged. Those who want to be judged by their own works instead of pleading for His mercy—will be! Those who by unbelief are telling God, ‘I don’t need your blessing. I’m good enough. Judge me on my own merits’ will be judged by their own merits, just as they wished.
But they should know, God judges human works by His divine standard of pure holiness. Slip up once, and you fail: “I was hungry and you did not give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you did not give me anything to drink. 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, lacking clothes and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not take care of me.’”
No matter how many good things a person thinks they’ve done, they haven’t done them all—and they didn’t do them with pure motives either. If you want to be judged on works, never forget what God’s Word says, “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). “Then they will also answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or lacking clothes or sick or in prison and did not serve you?’ 45“…He will answer them, ‘Amen I tell you: Just as you did not do it for one of the least of these, you did not do it for me.’ 46And they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.’”
Jesus has told us exactly how to survive Judgment Day and get into heaven. Salvation is not by works, but by faith! If it were based on our works—we would rightly be trembling and expecting to be sent away with the goats on that awe-filled Day. But, thanks be to Jesus! We plead His holiness, His sacrifice for sins, and His loving mercy.
What shall I in awe be pleading, Who for me be interceding
When your mercy I am needing?
King of majesty tremendous, Who does free salvation send us,
Fount of pity, then befriend us.
Think, good Jesus—my salvation Caused your wondrous incarnation,
Made you suffer my damnation!
On the cross your dying spared me; Just and righteous you declared me;
I await the joy prepared me. Amen.