Sermon: Day of Fulfilment Yr A
Nov 26th, 2017, St Petri
31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 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. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 ‘Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
37 ‘Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you ill or in prison and go to visit you?”
40 ‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
41 ‘Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was ill and in prison and you did not look after me.”
44 ‘They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or ill or in prison, and did not help you?”
45 ‘He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
46 ‘Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.’
It is a tad uncomfortable to hear this Word about the final day of judgement when Jesus the Judge will draft people in or out for good.
Maybe we would agree with the British evangelist, Leonard Ravenhill when he said,
“The most shattering thought I’ve ever had is my personal accountability to God one day.”
Judge Jesus: Is he a bit like Judge Judy? Judge Judy is a tough lady. She doesn’t muck around or suffer fools at all.
Just before he enters his last week of suffering and death, Jesus makes it very clear that all of us will have to join the line of people from all places, times and nations and have our day in court before Judge Jesus. We will have to give account for the what we did with the life we have been given. There will be a day of reckoning for every human being – Jew, Gentile, Pagan, Atheist, Muslim, Hindu, Christian.
“For the Son of man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done” (Matt 17:6).
So, like the Butcher of Bosnia, Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic, who 20 years after his deadly genocidal actions was finally convicted of those crimes by a UN court this week, or President Robert Magabe, who was finally deposed after decades of brutal unjust rule which crippled his country and killed thousands, all people will have their day in court before Judge Jesus.
How will we fare and on what basis will the Judge receive or reject us?
Well, there is a surprising thing about this vision of the last day. Both the sheep and the goats are totally surprised by what judgement is given them.
Both the righteous and unrighteous didn’t know they were serving or not serving Jesus. Both fail to recognise Jesus. Both the sheep and the goats don’t know they are either serving or rejecting Jesus. The goats are surprised to discover that when they did not serve those in need, they were rejecting Jesus. The sheep were just as surprised to discover that when they did serve people in need they were actually serving Jesus.
But, to the sheep’s pleasant surprise and the goats’ fear and trembling, they each find out that how they treated people does really matter to the Judge. How they respond to people, particularly those in hard placed is how they respond to Jesus.
Not only are we accountable for how we live on this planet, but Jesus is hidden in the most unexpected places on this planet. The mighty judge of all says that he is actually found in all those hard places and suffering people. He says that he is among people that we would not normally rub shoulders with on any given day – prisoners, deathly ill, homeless, clotheless, marginal, isolated, not particularly righteous or holy…. I am staggered by this. I am also deeply unsettled.
If Jesus is to be found among people who are “unrighteous” or not visibly holy or Christian or good, then there is no room in my heart for making distinctions about who is a sheep and who is a goat. I just cannot live as though God is ALWAYS on my side and AGAINST everyone else; that I am chosen on the basis of my own goodness and people not like me are rejected by God.
Why? Because the people I judge to be “unrighteous” are the people with whom Jesus lives too!
Can you feel the Spirit’s challenge? I am called out today for any condemnation I feel, speak or do against anyone. The judge says he lives among unrighteous people, and not only that, he is calling me to be there too!
I am thanking God for three things here.
One; that he judges at all. How we treat each other and this planet matters to the Lord. We are all accountable, even though many reject this and keep doing whatever they want. But because we are all finally accountable for how we go about; how we go about life has meaning. Life actually counts. We are not living some meaningless, chaotic, dog-eat-dog life where only the strong survive and evil gets away with everything. There will be a day of reckoning for the best and the worst.
Two: I am thanking the judge that he lives where I often don’t want him to be and with people I might not want to be near. Because he lives among the unrighteous, unclean, sinful people you can know for sure he lives with me! Friend, you can trust that when you are at your lowest and have done your worst, most “unholy” and “unrighteous” action, word or thinking, there is Judge Jesus with you right in that dark trench – whether we know it or not! That is the grace of this judge.
And that is number three: Judge Jesus is not like Judge Judy at all. Judge Jesus is more. He is Saviour Jesus before he is Judge Jesus. He judges to save. Not condemn. He judges to serve not demand slavish living. He saves because of love for those he holds accountable.
How do we know this for sure?
In Matthew’s gospel, this judge is about to jump the judge’s bench and place himself in the dock, even though innocent of any crime. Jesus is about to allow his judges robes to be torn off and his judge’s wig ripped off and have that thorny crown placed on him in mockery. He is about to lose all human status and dignity and be paraded around naked and beaten and bloodied by a kangaroo court with its weak and corrupt judge, who rules by popular vote.
And God’s justice will be fully executed on him! The condemnation I fully deserve for all my disordered loves that hurt and harm is put on him. He will willingly take it for me.
And now, because he lives beyond all this, so do I. At baptism, Paul says, we were buried with Christ – condemned with him, Judged by God and then raised from the dead with him and given his righteous heart. (Rom 6:4).
We have been condemned, we have already died, and we are already resurrected. We are justified – pronounced innocent. We have peace with God through faith in Jesus our judge. “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, says Paul (Romans 8:1). No one can condemn us besides Jesus and he hasn’t! (Romans 8:31-34).
And what now – as we wait for this final reckoning?
Ours is not to judge. Why so? Because we cannot tell the difference between sheep and goats. We need to know that in the Middle East there is hardly any difference in appearance between what they call a sheep and a goat. They all looked like goats to me! Only the trained eye focussed on a drafting pen can tell by the tail of one animal is a sheep or a goat. We leave the final judgement to Jesus.
Until this last day, we wait for him, watch for him, we are all ears on his words as we serve him with a cup of water to a thirsty woman, a visit to a man in a cell, a visit with someone sick or dying, a conversation of kindness with someone terribly unrighteous in your view, a relationship with someone unclean, unacceptable. This is where Jesus says he is. He says he will serve you when you are there too.
Come Lord Jesus Come.