Sermon for Christ the King Sunday - Matthew 25:31-46
“Jesus and…” is not the Gospel. Jesus supplemented with anything in heaven or on earth is an attempt to discredit his blood shed and body broken for you; that he is not enough for you. Looking around the church, deciding we don’t like the way it looks, it can lead to us not liking the way Jesus looks. Then we tend to make the church about something more than Jesus. The danger is that this desire in our hearts to add anything to Christ is an attempt to remove Christ from that cross because if we can make salvation and the Last Judgement about anything but Jesus, then we can decide who and what makes it through the pearly gates. It makes it easier to craft a heaven with a few less of our enemies, all those we don’t like, when Jesus the Justifier is erased from our lives. Deciding what actions make us worthy of goodness, of acceptance, of salvation, anything that it is that we may qualify our Jesus with, means no Jesus. No forgiveness. Because forgiveness without Jesus, is just dross. Something to be burned up and lost. Making the incarnation, the coming of God to us in Christ, pointless. Making the crucifixion just another man dying a public death for no reason other than he ticked off the wrong empire. Making the resurrection just a fairy tale, and nothing more.
I’m sure that you have been in a place in which you can’t do enough. At work, at home, in life. You take the time to do a project for your boss but he finds the one thing he doesn’t like. You work day and night to clean the home but then mom comes over and finds the one cobweb you missed. You spend hours in the kitchen, slaving over a hot stove, cooking a meal that you love. You think the family will love it to, but you get a phone call and the chicken stays in the oven too long, the pasta in the water for a minute beyond optimal, and the veggies…don’t even think about the veggies.
All little things. Things we thought so good, but someone found something wrong with them. We think them ultra-critical, and they are, but we all know that one person who keeps us honest. Not allowing our work to go to our head. Finding that one place that needs something else, more seasoning, more of a personal touch, more in-depth analysis.
Here we have in Matthew 25 that person, our Jesus who keeps us honest. Just three days before the moment in which our Savior will enter into his glory, through a death on a tree, we are told by him the story, painting the picture, of the end of the world. The moment when the cross is exchanged for a throne. When the picture of this Jesus we love and desire to return so quickly is placed before us, things are different. You may look at the text and see these good things, asking us to live a life of something more. Something in which things have changed where we look to the least, seeing the naked and hungry and imprisoned before us and doing something about it. But don’t let that go to your head, look to the text. If you want, bring it up on your phone right now. Pull out the pew Bible and turn to chapter 25 of Matthew. This will make more sense.
The verses begin with a separation. Sheep and goats. Not certain sheep from sheep, but two different animals. Looking different, they are able to be set apart. We don’t like this idea. The idea that some are in and others out. Some are sheep and others eat garbage. But it’s there. We take it as it is, a parable but also a picture of the work of God. Somehow, in some way, deep down inside us, we know that there are goats and sheep. But is it our place to decide which is which?
The sheep get the place of honor under the right hand of the shepherd. But notice the words used - Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. The flock being in existence in that place at the Lord’s right hand, not because of their own virtue. Do you hear it? Maybe see it? You who are blessed of my Father… The kingdom prepared…since the creation of the world. A Kingdom inheritance in existence before time began. Before good or bad. Before sin. Before the cross. A kingdom dispensed by God to his people as a blessing.
The goats, on the other hand, receive a dishonorable place. Hearing the words - Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Depart… Cursed… Not good. Things not going so well for the goats. But what do you hear? I hear “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Notice it doesn’t say, and for you. There is no you in hell. A place not prepared for people, but not off-limits either. Not decided before the creation of the world, but available none the less. Even in the idea of hell, as Christ speaks of it, there is hope.
The reasons for the division and the discussion, though, are the issues of what the Lord says to the sheep and the goats. To the one’s called righteous - 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, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
Now in the church and the pulpit, this text has been used for years as a distinguishing characteristic. You want to know what a Christian looks like? Look here. Feeding, watering, welcoming, clothing, caring, visiting. Which is good. Very good. These are all things important for life. But look at the response of the sheep - Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? They had no clue. The sheep don’t know what they are doing. They don’t make a plan to feed and clothe, it just happens. And when it just happens, it happens to Christ. The times when there is no forethought, no decision on worthiness of help, no checking on whether they belong to the right political party, or go to the right church, or earn a certain paycheck. No thinking, “O, look how Christian I am.” We just feed them. The work of Christ happening when we don’t try to decide if they deserve it. Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. Accidental service. Unknown works. A resume they built without any purpose or agenda. It is just there. Working by the working of Christ. Living in faith towards God who makes no decision apart from looking at sinners with the deepest affection. Passing his sympathy down through the hands of his people to care through the broken for the broken.
The goats though. Be careful. Don’t try and paint them as heathens or workers of bad things. Faced with the same works, but one’s that were lacking – “I was…and you did not…” was Jesus’ response, but even worse is their response - Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did NOT help you? Thinking they were doing it all along. We were feeding and clothing and visiting. When did we NOT do it for you Lord? It could be the expectation that good was being done. It could be that they had decided in their service based on who they felt needed it more. Applying mercy to a particular group of people. The homeless, the poor, the indigent. Never thinking that the weak, the least can also wear business suits and drive fancy cars. They can be your enemy. The hazard being that the moment we decide that this, whatever this is, is a good work, it ceases being good. Calling it good has made a decision that this is good and that is not, when a good for the Christian is that done looking to Christ, for Christ, in Christ.
We are told that the Lord comes like a thief in the night. Sneaking in. Not knowing the day or the hour. We are also painted a picture of this Jesus who breaks into the strong man’s house, to bind the strong man and plunder his goods. The idea of a Christ who comes to us, breaking into our lives and stealing all that we think presentable. All we think makes us worth it. He then just leaves himself. On a cross. An empty tomb. A place where all your sins and all the goodness you think makes you salvageable goes to die. Buried, and raised to new life in Jesus, rather than a new life of bondage to all sorts of stuff you think you need to do to be a sheep.
Presenting themselves before the Lord, the sheep are amazed at where they stand, never knowing they would be there because they think, “Holy buckets, God. I ain’t got nothin’ but little ol’ me here.” Come you blessed by my Father.
The goats – “But…but…but…you haven’t read my credentials, my resume. I did all of this.” Be gone, cursed by thinking that. What matters is this Jesus who works in and through you to do all sorts of things you could never imagine. But don’t try to dress that Jesus up as something else. You might be disappointed.
There is no Jesus and... There is no resume to present. There is Jesus. This Lord who looks not to what you do yourself, but to what he does, in what he has done for you and through you. Loving the unlovable. Befriending the friendless. Curing the sick. Commending the dying. Then raising the dead. That is his work. That is what he does through you, his people, his sheep. Never think yourself deficient, or doing what is good. Think on the one who has done it all for your resurrection, then you won’t care about your sheepiness, only be amazed that God, the Christ, our King, our Lord, has chosen you to be and to do according to his good pleasure. Thanks be to God. Amen