Matthew 25:31-46 – (passage where King Jesus takes the throne, divides the nations as sheep & goats, and they both ask “When did we see you, to be able to help you?” Jesus tells them, “Whatever you did for the least of these, you’ve done to me.”)
Our world is in need of the justice of God. It’s discouraging to look out over the evils that are taking place on a daily basis. Children who are abused and trampled on. Our brothers and sisters who exist without any voice about the condition of their environment or life trajectories. Women, girls, and boys who are raped or sold as slaves, objects for men to consume.
Increasingly, there IS a global desire for justice. On October 24, 1945, the United Nations was formed. The “UN” has efforts in many parts of the world, and it’s reach continues to increase. Unfortunately, “justice” is not quite the appropriate word for what often happens. In one moment most recently celebrated, the DRC finally saw the trial and conviction of a man who had served as a General in the Congolese armed forces. He was accused of arbitrary execution, rape, arbitrary arrest, torture, illegal detention, and the use of child soldiers. He is also being held accountable for at least 2 separate massacres back in 2003 where hundreds were killed. So what was the justice recently celebrated by the UN? This General was given a 10 year prison sentence. No comments were made about rehabilitation or transforming the man’s life, or restoring honor to those communities that were injured.
Even here in Decatur, IL, “justice” is a flawed concept and people are being shuffled around like objects. Sitting in county jail cells for months and even years, eventually they are spit out to a long-term facility, often with little or no attention to having a life transformed, or healing the relationship between the offender and the society that was offended. In the case of the hungry, even this weekend, food will be given to over 4,000 families! This is a huge effort, and a beautiful thing. But looking at it honestly, we know that some will take advantage of it. All of our human efforts at Justice will ultimately fall short, until the day described in our passage this morning. Still, these things are important. Still, we make efforts out of love.
But we need so much more than we can accomplish on our own. Enter: Jesus, and His Kingdom. This is much bigger, Jesus says, than something happening in your heart. This is so much more important than you getting into Heaven. This is the kind of thing meant to transform all of creation. As Howard Snyder has written in one of the books that should be on your reading list for 2015 (after the Bible, of course): “Salvation Means Creation Healed”.
If we began reading this passage with verse 32, we might start to think this is another parable about the Kingdom of Heaven. After all, Jesus has been talking about this for a while now, with stories about the Bridesmaids, and the Talents. He’s reminded his disciples to always be ready, and to use what they’ve been given faithfully in service to their master. In our passage today, several times it simply says, “Then the King will say/answer them…” But we know this is no parable. This is a coming reality!
Verse 31 says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.” THIS IS GOING TO HAPPEN!! Of course, the disciples thought this was all going to happen in their lifetime, with Jesus actually becoming the power that sets Rome in it’s place. But we don’t hear Jesus worrying too much about proving His authority over Rome here. Verse 32 proclaims that “ALL the nations will be gathered before him..”
There is no power, or group, or voice, or influence that falls outside of the Lordship of Christ, that has already begun and will be revealed fully one day. That should fill us with immense confidence and enthusiasm for what God has in store! But what that confidence looks like, comes as a surprise to the followers of Jesus, and might surprise us if we’re honest as well. Because it’s not about changing legislation to make more room for religion.
Before we go further, it’s important here to remember that we are not saved by what we DO. Ephesians 2:8 reminds us, “For it is by GRACE you have been saved, not by works…it is a gift from God so that no man can boast.”
And yet we also know that if anyone is in Christ, they are a NEW CREATION. Old things have passed away, and all things have become new. God does a work in our hearts, and we’re offered salvation from sin – both it’s future impact, and it’s present burdens.
How do you know if a toddler has learned how to walk? You see them giggling with excitement, walking, running, and stumbling all over the place! It’s not an obsessive compulsion to practice walking so that they can increase in their ability. It’s a natural desire to exist in a path of freedom they’ve never before experienced!
So in this passage, we seem to be reminded that a life lived with Christ must transform not only our hearts, but our lives as well. It includes a scripture that we don’t like to talk much about these days, and yet there it is. The Son of Man, who is seated finally on the Throne of Glory over all nations, gathers the people before Him and separates them. Now remember, these are not ACTUAL sheep and goats. It’s simply giving us an example of HOW they are being separated. That is to say, easily. Even though they may run in the same herd, a shepherd (or even most of us) would have no trouble identifying a goat in the midst of sheep. Jesus can easily tell if someone has allowed His Love to offer them salvation from a life lived in sin. There’s no complex supernatural equation, or comparing a list of good deeds or bad deeds. We learn a bit more about this in a few verses.
But first we have verse 34, where we have a long awaited arrival of complete Justice. The kind of Justice David wrote about in Psalm 69 when he sang, “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary in my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.”
To David, and to all with him, King Jesus says “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, receive your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world..”
So we have a group of people, set apart easily by God because of the natural and observable difference in their lives. They receive this inheritance, which is important to recognize here. This is not a wage they earned, or a reward they deserve. This is an inheritance, provided simply because they are children of God. And how does God know they are his children?
If only we had an example of what it looked like when a child…say, a son…..of God came and lived among us. If only we could see what it would look like.
John 5:19 tells us, “..the Son can do nothing by himself, he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”
So we have our example, and so it seems to be what has happened. These who are receiving their inheritance seem to have been transformed into New Creations in Christ, having not only received salvation from Sin, but actually “made new” so that their very source of life, and outpouring of their life, is completely different than before.
So what does THAT look like? Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post….