Title: Sins of Omission
Reading: Matt 25:31-46
Christ the KingToday we are celebrating the Feast of Christ the King. As this is the last Sunday of the church year it is fitting that we remember Jesus has taken his seat in heaven and is king of the universe, and king for eternity. Next week is the first Sunday in Advent, the start of a new year, when we will begin again looking at the promises of that a Messiah would come.
The feast of Christ the King is a relatively new addition to the church calendar. It was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, and has been adopted by many Protestant churches.
KingI imagine that most of us don’t think about Jesus as king very often. That’s probably because we no longer really understand the power that a king or queen has. Perhaps our only understanding of that power is from Alice in Wonderland where the queen of hearts shouts ‘off with his head’ a number of times. This gives the idea of the king and queen a pantomime feel, and takes away the seriousness with which kings and queens used to be treated.
In medieval times, if the king had arrived in your village and needed to stay the night, his entourage would simply have commandeered the best house in the village and chucked the occupants out. Anyone who protested would end up on the gallows. So as the king arrived there would have been a lot of justifiable fear, but also a lot of work to make him feel as at home as possible. Of course, as easily as the king could ruin your life, he could also improve it, by giving you land, or riches, or a position in society – but that didn’t happen very often.
King = JusticeThe king was also the final arbiter in any argument - his say was final. In that respect he defined justice. His approach to justice shaped everyone in his kingdom’s approach to justice. If a dispute was heard before the king it was judgement day for the people concerned.
Matthew 24 & 25In Matthew 24 & 25 Jesus is talking about the final judgement that will happen at the end of the age. He warns the disciples that they must be ready and watchful and to continue to do Gods business as they wait for His return.
Each of the stories makes a point about the coming judgement. The wicked servant at the end of chapter 24 who mistreats the servants in his charge will be cut to pieces and assigned a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The story of the ten virgins at the start of chapter 25, reminds the disciples to be adequately prepared in case the wait for Jesus’ return is longer than they expect. The ones who failed to be prepared are not allowed into the wedding feast, which represents the kingdom of heaven. Jesus says to them “I do not know you”
The parable of the talents, which we heard Margaret talk about last week reminds us to keep our faith, and do the work that God has given us gifts for. And not to bury Gods truths.
Then there is the illustration of the sheep and the goats, which we heard this morning. It’s not really a parable, although many of the commentaries treat it as one. It provides an end to this discourse, and should be seen in that light.
Understanding JudgementHere Jesus had returned and Judgement is in progress. The view here is similar to the “Great White Throne” judgement in Revelation 20.
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Here is a picture of Robbie, Karen and I in front of a great white throne. This is the Lincoln memorial in Washington DC. The words above the sculpture say “in this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the union the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever”. We are facing the wrong way, of course, if this were the actual great white throne we would be facing it, not a camera man. I hope it helps give an impression of just how incredible this scene is. Billions of people in front for God, being separated into two halves – one half being welcomed to their inheritance (stood on the right), and the other half condemned to eternal punishment.
I suspect that the crowd in the first half, those on God’s right, will be smaller than the crowd on God’s left.
One of many.This, though is just one of many images of judgement in the Bible, and to understand it fully we cannot look at it in isolation. We cannot even be sure that this passage and the revelation passage are the same judgement. Whether or not they are is interesting but not that important.
What is important is what the judgement teaches us, so lets have a look at this passage in a little more detail.
Sheep and GoatsJesus starts by using a very familiar image of separating sheep and goats. It is not a straight forward process unless done by a skilled shepherd. Sheep and goats look fairly similar and were often allowed to graze together during the day. At night time, however, they had to be separated because the goats need more protection from the cold than the sheep. The way to tell them apart is to look at their tails – goat’s tails go up, sheep’s tails go down.
Having separated them, Jesus then begins to speak to the sheep telling them to take their inheritance that was prepared for them from creation. The word inheritance implies a relationship, so the sheep are getting only what is their due. The reason they are getting it is because they have behaved just as their father would have them behave.
The goats on the other hand, have not behaved in the way their creator would have them behave.
Same QuestionNotice that both the sheep and the goats ask exactly the same question.
(v38-39) “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?’
and again in v 44, but in a slightly truncated way.
Address the question to LordThey both start with Lord. There can be no denying God here. There are no atheists now. There are no agnostics now. This is the time mentioned in Philippians 2:10-11.
… at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
It is obvious who Jesus is, the creator of the universe, the son of God, the judge of mankind.
BrothersNotice though that the way the Lord responds is different. To the sheep He says (v40) “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”, but to the goats he says (45) “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Which leaves us with the question who does Jesus say are His Brothers?
Generally, we are called adopted children, and are therefore brothers and sisters of our Lord. So, when there is a conflict in relieving suffering, or providing for a need, I believe that fellow Christians should take priority over non-Christians. Paul says a similar thing in Galatians 6:10 “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
We, the western church have recently had a great failure in supporting our brothers and sisters, as we have stood by and allowed the Christian refugees in Syria to be overlooked and left with nowhere to go, because many of the refugee camps are not safe for them.
Second NatureThe things that the sheep have been doing are so much second nature that they haven’t even realised that they are doing them. There actions are just a part of who they are.
Salvation by worksThis passage is sometimes used to suggest that salvation can be bought. That good works can get you into heaven. There are two problems with that. The first is just how many good works? How much do I have to do to be saved? There is no clue in this passage, or elsewhere in the Bible. The second problem is that there are plenty of places where the Bible says the exact opposite. The most memorable of these are:
James 2:17 “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” and Ephesians 2:8-9 “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Faith is shown by actionThe truth is that it is the other way around. You do not do good works to get into heaven, you do good works because you know you are already accepted in heaven. If you say you are a follower of Jesus you will do what he did, and have the same attitudes as Him. If you say you are a Christian you cannot ignore God’s people, or any of God’s creation. If you think that Jesus came with some wonderful teaching and some good ideas, then be very careful how you try to implement those good ideas. If they end up ignoring the plight of the worst off, you will end up with the goats.
The goatsThat seems to be what has happened with the goats. Their main sin seems to be one of omission, in their busyness, their greed, or their complacency they have simply overlooked those who are in need, and lived their lives for themselves. They have used their strength to make their own lives comfortable and have left the needy to fend for themselves.
Some of them have used their strength and resources to exploit those in need and to make their lives even harder than they would otherwise be. Which ever it is, come judgement they will find themselves in eternal punishment.