Christ the King Series A
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 27:31-46 Sermon
November 20, 2011
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
17 "O Worship The King, All Glorious Above"
361 "O Jesus King Most Wonderful"
657 "Beautiful Saviour, King Of Creation"
341 "Crown Him With Many Crowns"
WHERE DO WE FIND JESUS?
TEXT (vs. 31-33): “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”
This past week, I read a small article with the headline, "Rejecting a religion of fear for the God of love." The article was written to introduce a man by the name of Dr. Greg Garrett, who is a professor at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He is an author and a lay minister (I haven't got a clue as to which denomination he is affiliated with).
Anyway, he was in Lincoln this past Thursday. Because of other commitments I didn't go to hear him, but the title of his lecture was, "The Other Jesus." The article says, "According to recent surveys, many Americans associate the label 'Christian' with judgmental attitudes, hypocrisy, and fear of hell. Garrett argues that a faith that focuses solely on personal morality and the afterlife misses much of the point of Jesus' message. Personal and moving, Garrett shares his personal experience of growing up in, and leaving a disapproving church and then finding his way back into a different kind of Christian community which is communal, missional, just, and loving."
After hearing what I just read, I would imagine that you might conclude as I did that there is a whole lot missing here. From the title "The Other Jesus," one begins to wonder what Jesus he is talking about? Who is the "Other" Jesus? Is there, or was there a Jesus different from the Jesus we know and love that we have learned from the Bible and history?
Of course there isn't. There's only one Jesus, true God begotten of the Father from eternity, who took on human flesh and entered into our world. There's only one Jesus that the Bible calls "Immanuel," which means "God with us." There's only one Jesus who is, as Isaiah describes, "wonderful, counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." So what's going on with this "Other Jesus" stuff he's talking about?
This comes from taking a very limited perspective on things. Dr. Garrett is right in one area when he says, "a faith that focuses solely on personal morality and the afterlife misses much of the point of Jesus' message." If that was the sum and substance of Jesus' ministry, then the entire New Testament could be reduced to just a few pages. There is way more to Christianity and the ministry of Jesus than a system of morals and a focus on the afterlife.
As we study the New Testament, we see the very same Jesus in quite a number of different situations. He reacts in whatever way that would suit the situation at hand. For example, Jesus deals far differently with the Pharisees than he does with the woman caught in adultery. The way he deals with the moneychangers in the temple court is nothing even close to the way he deals with the children who come to him to be blest. This Jesus, who calls king Herod a fox, is the same Jesus who consoles Mary and Martha, and weeps at the death of his friend Lazarus.
What we see is the same Jesus in a variety of situations that require a different type of response. And we have to see Jesus in all of the different situations to get a good picture of who he is, and what he is all about.
The one picture of Jesus that people don't like to see is where Jesus is judgmental. People can't seem to see past John chapter 8 verse 11 where Jesus tells the woman caught in adultery: "Neither do I condemn you." Or perhaps they misunderstand the words of Jesus in Matthew chapter 7 verse 1 where he says, "Judge not, lest ye be judged." The judgment of Jesus is every bit as real as the love of Jesus.
The return of Jesus for judgment is something that we are faced with all the time. When we say the Apostles' Creed, we repeat the line: "...from thence he shall come to judge the quick (which means "living") and the dead." Or in the Nicene Creed, we say: "...and he shall come again in glory, to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end." The judgment of Jesus is a very real part of Christian theology.
Our Gospel lesson for today has to be one of the most dramatic "judgment texts" in Scripture. Jesus is judging between the sheep and the goats, which is a metaphor for the righteous and unrighteous. The righteous go to eternal life, and the unrighteous are headed for eternal damnation. And that's a side of Jesus that people just don't like to see, and many refuse to see. But Jesus is very clear on what he says, and there can be no mistake.
I find it very interesting how people look at our Gospel lesson for today, and what they try to make it say. They'll pretty much ignore the judgment part of it, and play the "let's spot Jesus" game instead. So as they leave the Wal-Mart parking lot, they'll see the homeless guy standing there who is looking for a handout. They'll say to themselves, "Hey! There's Jesus!" And so they'll give him a couple bucks. Then they'll say, "Now you see there, Jesus? I just gave you a couple bucks! Aren't you proud of me? Don't you think I deserve to be rewarded for my act of kindness?"
Or they'll go to a pediatric hospital and read to some of the children, which is something I know they greatly appreciate. However upon leaving, the person says: "Okay Jesus, I just read you 'The Cat In The Hat' five times. That ought to get me some good marks in heaven!"
And if all this isn't bad enough, the sad part of it all is that people come to the conclusion that if they've done some good deed for somebody else, then they have given them the gospel. Just by improving their earthly existence by some small degree, they have somehow redeemed their life and gotten themselves "in good with the man upstairs."
The simple fact is that we cannot measure our own good works. God judges the heart. As soon as we try to measure our good works, our heart changes. It focuses on the good works instead of Christ. As soon as we try to measure our own works, they can no longer be good. Our works may appear to be ever so good on the outside to those in the world around us. However God tells us in Isaiah chapter 64, verse 6 that "All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment." God does not judge according to appearances but searches the minds and hearts.
In Matthew chapter 6, verses 1-2 Jesus gives us this warning in the Sermon on the Mount: "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward."
Wow. Listen to that last bit again: "They have received their reward." This has got to be one of the darkest statements in the Sermon on the Mount. People like this have traded away their eternal joy in heaven for the temporary praise of other people. This is the way those so-called "goats" Jesus talks about in our Gospel lesson see things. And we know what judgment awaits them.
All of this does not paint a very pretty picture at all. If that were the way we would leave things, then we would have a religion that is full of fear, and not much else. We would always be hearing "you'd better behave yourself, or you're going to hell! You'll never see heaven if you don't keep those commandments!!" And there is absolutely no comfort in those words.
Dr. Garrett is absolutely right when he says that: "a faith that focuses solely on personal morality and the afterlife misses much of the point of Jesus' message." However there is no other Jesus. It's still the same Jesus; we just need to look at the complete picture.
The one thing we need to keep in mind when we look at the Bible, is that God does everything according to his grace, which is his undeserved and unearned love. God's actions are not done because he is all-powerful and he can do as he wishes, but he does what he does because he loves us and cares for us.
So how does this tie together with those dismal judgment passages? The one thing that we need to remember is that God's grace is something that can be rejected and refused by people. God did not create us as robots. So if a person does not wish this grace God has given them, then God will oblige them. But in all fairness, he does tell us what will happen to those who reject him. This isn't done to scare anybody with the threat of hell, but is presented as a very real consequence to the actions of rejection and unbelief.
The central focus always needs to be on the love of God, which is shown to us and given to us in Jesus Christ. A religion that is based upon love is not a religion of fear. If we look at 1 John chapter 4 verses 16-18, we read: "God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the Day of Judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."
So the judgment that is described in our Gospel lesson for today is something that isn't supposed to scare us or make us fear. When God's love is made complete in us through Jesus Christ our Saviour, then God's perfect love drives away all fear.
When the Holy Spirit comes into our lives and gives us the gift of faith, we come to know Jesus our Saviour. And when that happens, we have a personal relationship with him. Through faith, all that he has becomes ours. The perfect life he lived removes our life contaminated with sin. His holiness is given to us instead of our unrighteousness. And all his good works are credited to our account. We have become his sheep through nothing more than faith alone.
In our Gospel lesson for today, those whom Jesus calls "the sheep" ask the question in verses 37-39: "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?" Why are these questions being asked?
You see, the Christian does all these things naturally, without even having to give it a second thought. The Christian is motivated out of love without giving any consideration to earthly or heavenly rewards for their kind deeds. It's something that just happens, almost automatically.
The Apostle John explains this in his first epistle, chapter 4, verses 19-21: "We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother."
Our motivation is a response of love for the love God has given to us. And just as his love given to us is without measure, so our response out of love is the same way.
It will always be tempting to look at Jesus and see only a partial picture. People will look at judgment and condemnation as negatives, and either ignore them, or relegate them as being scare tactics of the early church in order to keep people in line. The idea of a just God and Jesus being a righteous judge is not very appealing.
But the judgment is very real, and we can't ignore it. What we need to remember is that God's judgment has been satisfied. You and I are pleasing to God, not because of what we do or don't do. We are pleasing to God because of what Jesus did for you and me. Jesus lived a life that met God's perfect standard. He died a death that paid our sin debt in full. He rose from the dead as a sign that our Father in Heaven accepted his work for us. Our salvation has been paid in full.
And so, through faith in Christ alone, we can be assured that on the Day of Judgment, we will hear the words recorded in verse 34 of our Gospel lesson: "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."