Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sermon: Matthew 25: 31-46 The Sheep and the Goats

This morning I want to ask you a question: What do you think of Jesus? You might be here today for one of a number of reasons - it’s something you always do; you’re here under duress; you heard there was a Baptism and you wanted to see if Harvey would sleep or cry through the service. Now that you’re here, what do you think of Jesus?Is he someone you’re vaguely interested in - he says some nice things? Is he someone you’re trying to ignore - you think he says some strange things? What is your attitude towards him?

Over the past few Sundays we’ve been listening in as Jesus tells us about his return. He’s used several parables - stories that give us a hint about how things really are. There was the parable about the wise and foolish bridesmaids - are you ready for Jesus returning to this earth? Then there was the parable of the talents, about the slaves entrusted with the master’s money - are you watching and working for the Master? Those stories lead straight into this one - except, it’s a little bit different.
You see, we know how fairy stories start: ‘once upon a time.’ And the parables start in a way you know they’re parables - ‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this’ (1); ‘For it is as if a man’ (14). But our reading doesn’t start that way. Instead, Jesus says: ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory...’ (31)

This isn’t a story, just a tale to help us understand something real. This is more like you saying ‘when it stops raining, I’ll cut the grass’ or ‘when the bank holiday is over I’ll be back at work...’ Jesus is telling us how things are going to be - on this day when he returns. This day when the Son of Man (a title for Jesus) comes in his glory. It’s an impressive scene. He will come in his glory, joined by the angels, and he will sit on the throne of his glory. On that day there will be no denying him, everyone will recognise Jesus for who he is - the King of the universe.

Jesus looks forward to this day when he is seated on the throne of his glory, but it won’t be with Eastenders in front of him, as if he’s sitting relaxing with his feet up. Rather, ‘all the nations will be gathered before him.’ (32). What’s the biggest crowd you’ve ever been part of? Mine is the 70,000 at Croke Park to watch Ireland v Brazil in 2008. But this will be a capacity crowd. Every person who has ever lived, all nations, gathered before the throne. The Son of Man, Jesus, the King, will judge - separating people one from another just like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. In that moment, it’ll not matter what country you’re from; what your hair colour is (or whether you have any); whether you’re right-handed or left-handed; tall or small; fat or thin; nor how much money you have in your purse or wallet.

There are just two groups; two categories; and he speaks to each of them in turn. First, those on the right. ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world...’ (34). Then he speaks to those on the left: ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels...’ (41). Two different destinies - very different, one of blessing, and kingdom; the other of eternal fire. It’s not hard to decide which you would prefer. The question, though, is how do some find themselves on his right and others on his left? Or rather, how can we be sure of being on his right?

Jesus gives the reason in verse 35 - to those on his right: ‘for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink...’ In the same way, he tells those on his left: ‘for I was hungry and you gave me no food...’

If you were listening closely, you’ll have noticed that both sets of people were very surprised. They both ask: ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry...?’ (37) and ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry... and did not take care of you?’ (44)

The righteous are saying - Lord, we see you on the throne, in all your glory, we’re pretty sure we would have noticed if we had given you something to eat or drink or clothes or visited you... When did we see you hungry? The wicked are even more confused - Lord, we see your glory, we see how important you are. If we had seen you hungry we’re pretty sure we would have helped you out. But we never did see you like that, so how come we’re in this position? That’s the thing, isn’t it? If our position on that day depends on how we have treated Jesus; how we have given things to Jesus in need, how can we do that if we’ve never seen him? Have we an excuse? Can we get out of doing it?

But look at verse 40. Here’s where Jesus explains it. ‘And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”’ (40) Or as another Bible version puts it, ‘as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.’ (ESV)

It’s almost time to go back to school. If you had a little brother or sister at the same school, did you ever act like a minder for them? If they were being picked on, did you ever try to sort it out? Warn off the people annoying your wee bro? What would you have said? If you mess with him, then you mess with me? (Sounds a bit like the Mafia or the Godfather...) That’s like what Jesus is saying here! The way in which you treat the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters here and now is an indication of what you think of Jesus. To help or ignore a brother or sister of Jesus is to help or ignore Jesus himself.

Great, so who are the brothers and sisters of Jesus? Is it the whole of humanity, anyone in general? Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus asks (and answers) this very question. You see, Mary the mother of Jesus and his earthly brothers and sisters have been hearing about the crowds flocking to hear him. They think he has gone mad, and they come to take him home. Here’s what Jesus says: ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? And pointing at his disciples, he said, Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’ (12:48-50). Jesus says the same after the resurrection, this time to Mary Magdalene: ‘go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee’ (28:10) He’s speaking about his disciples again. Or think of the time the risen Jesus confronts Saul, the persecutor of Christians. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’ (Acts 9:5).

Today as we baptise Harvey, we welcome him into the family, and pray that he will grow up to love and trust Jesus, to become a disciple of Jesus, a brother of Jesus.

What we do here and now matters. How we treat the family of Jesus shows what we think of Jesus. As John says: ‘Those who say, “I love God”, and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. (1 John 4:20). And again, ‘How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?’

Our entry into eternal life or eternal punishment is down to God’s grace. But the test of our words of love for Jesus is in our actions - whether we love the family of Jesus, the least of his brothers and sisters in need.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 25th August 2013.

No comments:

Post a Comment