Jesus as Judge
November 25 and 26, 2017
Matthew 25:31 -46
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
Enough metaphors to choke a (cow)
One of my mom’s favorite metaphors included the phrase “to choke a cow.” If her garden produced more carrots than we really could use, she would say there was enough carrots to choke a cow. If Aunt Jerry would bring more baked beans that we could possibly eat to the Griffin family reunion, she would comment in her sweet and quiet little way, enough beans to choke a cow. If Aunt Linny fixed more fried chicken that 15 people could possibly eat for a Sunday noon meal, which she often did, Mom would whisper, you guessed it, that’s enough chicken to choke a cow.
The more I studied our lessons for today, the more metaphors I could find, in reference to Jesus. In today’s OT lesson, Jesus is the shepherd who seeks out, rescues, feeds, binds up, strengthens, and judges the sheep. Into today’s Epistle lesson, Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection. In verse 31 of our Gospel, he is the Son of Man who is sitting on a throne. In verse 31 he is the shepherd, in verse 34 He is the King, in verses 35 and following He is the hungry man who needs food, he is the thirsty one who needs a cup of cold water, he is the homeless man who needs to be welcomed, he is the naked ones who needs some clothing, he is the sick person who needs to be visited, he is the prisoner who is as guilty and lonely as he can be. In verses 34 and 46 he is the judge who invites believes into the kingdom prepared for them by his Father and sends away the unbelievers into eternal punishment. Ten or eleven metaphors, depending on how you count, or as my mom might say, enough metaphors to choke a cow.
Two weeks ago, we focused on the metaphor of Jesus the bridegroom, last week Jesus the Master, and today, I picked just one, Jesus the Judge. Two parts to our sermon today. Lesson #1 is that the day is coming when Jesus the Judge will be the shepherd who separates the sheep from the goats. Lesson #2 is that in these days, Jesus the Judge is the Friend who needs our help.
Lesson #1- The Day is soon coming when this Judge will be the (Shepherd) who separates the sheep from the goats. This story is more of a vision than it is a parable. And in this vision, the formalities of a court are fully observed. This judge is decked out with all his authority. The fact that he sits on a throne conveys that this is a king coming to judgment. The entire human race will be assembled for public judgment.
In the Middle East sheep and goats were and are often pastured in mixed flocks. The sheep are generally lighter colored than the goats, and it would take a practiced eye to distinguish the two species. Up until this point in world history, believers and unbelievers have lived side by side indistinguishably. Also the parable of the wheat and the tares teaches us that it’s not our assignment to figure out who is saved and who isn’t. It’s our assignment in these days to keep on planting the seeds of God’s Word, and as long as we’re mixing metaphors today, it’s our assignment to keep on encouraging sheep of all shapes and sizes to lie down in green pastures and to be led by the still waters.
At first glance, it seems as though today’s text teaches a works righteousness kind of salvation. In other words, it seems as though those who have spent their days doing good unto others are saved and those who have failed to do good unto others are condemned. A second glance at the text, however, reminds us that this is a courtroom scene, and that evidence must be presented to prove the validity of the verdict rendered. A glance at all of Scripture reminds us that we are saved by the grace of God, salvation is a gift of God not of works, lest any of us should boast. James reminds us that although we are saved by faith alone, faith never comes alone. Faith without works is no faith at all. True and growing faith is alive with good works mostly small and behind the scenes.
Two thoughts come to mind in this text about the reactions of those who have been judged as not guilty or not guilty. Thought #1 is that Those on the right will be (astonished). They are astonished that their sins have been forgiven and their good works being pointed to as evidence of their Baptismal faith. Astonished that the few times they got life right will be remembered and the many times they messed up will be forgotten. On that day the kingdom of God will be like mother of four astonished that the Judge remembers the meals she prepared and served to her family and forgets the times she was crabby and even worse. Like the adult son astonished that the Judge commends him for sitting at his mom’s bedside in ICU and then in the nursing home and has forgotten the times he dishonored his mom and even worse. Like the pastor astonished when the Judge praises him for the few prison visits he made and seems to have forgotten the many visits he failed to make. It will be like the man commended by the judge for a few acts of patience and kindness and yet the marriage he ruined with his habit of drinking and losing his temper isn’t mentioned.
Thought #2 is that Those on the left will be (astonished), as well. They will be astonished that their good deeds aren’t mentioned and yet their sins of omission are given as evidence of unbelief. Astonished that the many times they helped their neighbors in need count for nothing in this courtroom, but the days they walked by on the other side of the road get all the attention. On that day, the kingdom of God will be like man astonished that his generous online donations for charity count for nothing, but his moments of self-centeredness get pointed out. It will be like a really decent couple astonished that even though they worked hard, paid their bills, and taught their children to be loyal and productive citizens, but all the Judge wants to talk about is that they didn’t teach their children how to pray, they were too busy to sit still and cry out for God’s mercy.
Lesson #1 – the day is soon coming when this Judge will be the Shepherd who separates the sheep from the goats, and just to throw in a couple of metaphors / for good measure, on that day Jesus will at the same time be the defense attorney for those who have lived in Christ and the prosecuting attorney for those who have lived apart from Christ.
Lesson #2 is simple. In these days, Jesus the Judge is the actually (neighbor) who needs our help. The first truth we teach children in Sunday School or at home is that Jesus loves you, He died for you, He is your Savior. A second truth we teach them is that Jesus wants us to spend our lives loving Him back. That we are to spend our days loving as we have first been loved, forgiving as we have first been forgiven, serving as we have first been served. Jesus says it simply, “if you love me, keep my commandments.” The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all of our heart and soul and mind. The second great commandment tells us how to keep the first – to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. Or as Luther explains in commandments 4 - 8, to spend our days honoring our parents and authorities that it may be well with thee and thou may live long on the earth, to spend our days helping and befriending our neighbors in every physical need, to spend our days honoring the institution of marriage, to spend our days helping our neighbors improve and protect their business and property, to spend our days defending our neighbors reputations, speaking well of them, and putting the best construction on everything.
Two reflections, in closing, about what it means to see Jesus the Judge as the neighbor who needs our help. Reflection #1 is that In this courtroom, it’s the thought that (counts). Most often we use this expression to think about a good deed that ended up not working out so well. Like when you lend your neighbor a car to take on a trip, and then it breaks down. Or when out of the goodness of your heart you mow your neighbor’s lawn when he’s gone on vacation and you run over an expensive little seedling he just planted. It’s the thought that counts!
What do I mean when I say it’s the thought that counts? I mean that whereas Christians don’t have a corner on being kind and helpful towards neighbors, we do have a corner on the motivation for doing so. It is the love of Christ which compels us to care deeply about the basic needs of our neighbors, it is so much more than just a generic concern for people to have food and shelter and health care, it is a desire for God to have mercy for their souls.
One of the texts we often read at Thanksgiving time is in Philippians 4, where Paul invites Christians to be rejoicing in all the circumstances of life, he pleads with us to practice thinking about that which is of good report, that which is praiseworthy, that which is excellent. And so while Christians don’t have a corner on being thankful, we do have a corner on the thinking through process behind the thankfulness, which is entirely directed to the Triune God.
Also in the upcoming Christmas season, Christians by no means have a corner on giving gifts and making sure that area children have one or more nice gifts under the tree. Just about everybody wants that to happen. But Christians do have a corner on the idea that we give gifts to each other in response to God giving us the gift of his only Son. Jesus Christ, then, is at the same time the giver of all good gifts and the recipient of those same gifts. Giver and recipient – as we add a couple more metaphors to our metaphor extravaganza.
Reflection #2 as we conclude is that In this courtroom, it’s the little things that (matter). Luther taught clearly that the ordinary works of a common man are just as holy in the sight of God as any other. He urged women of his day not to turn up their noses at married life and think they had to be a nun in order to serve God. He wrote that rocking the baby, washing its diapers, making its bed, smelling its stench, staying up night and taking care of the child when it cries were all holy works just as surely as preaching the Gospel to multitudes of people.
And if Luther isn’t enough for you, keep in mind what Jesus teaches in Matthew 10, And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
Speaking of rewards, I was looking back in my sermon file on this text from 1996, when our baby boy Noah would have been 7 years old. I told the story of tucking him in, saying prayers, and ending the day with the simple words on the way out the door, “I love you, son. Once in awhile, he would already be sleeping and too tired to respond. But most often I would hear those magic words, I love you, too, dad.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who know Jesus to be the Judge who came down off his throne and loved them enough to suffer and die that they might live forever. When they are thinking clearly, they realize that in a thousand different ways in every one of their days, their Father in heaven is saying, “I love you, child.” And when they’re not too tired or too preoccupied, they say back to Him in a thousand different ways, they say back to Him with their words and with their deeds, “I love you too, dear father in heaven.”
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