Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder
November 23, 2014, Pentecost XXIV
Thanksgiving Sunday – Christ the King
Ezekiel 34:11-16, Psalm 100, Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25:31-46
From the Prophet Ezekiel:
I myself will be a shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice.
From St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians:
…having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe, according to the working of his great might which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.
And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne…Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…’”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation!
Some weeks ago I was watching the Health Channel on TV. They showed and described different types of plastic surgery procedures. I was amazed at the things that plastic surgeons can do today. A tug here and a lift there and presto: a new you.
The show got me thinking. Why would people want to go through the suffering involved in cosmetic surgery? Recovery from some of the procedures is downright painful. Why would people want to endure all that? In most cases, these procedures are elective, so why do people do it? Some say vanity. Perhaps they thought that they didn’t quite measure up.
Do you measure up? Well, I guess it depends on what the subject is. If you feel you don’t quite fit in; not one of the crowd, then your answer might be ‘no.’ If you feel you are not as handsome or pretty than someone else, then your answer might be ‘no.’ If you feel your attire is not quite in fashion, then your answer might be ‘no.’ And the litany of not quite good enough – not measuring up – plagues people for a lifetime. Into this whole mix come Jesus’ words which we find in our Gospel message today where Jesus as shepherd will separate the sheep from the goats. Which group do you think you will be put in?
This can be one of the most disconcerting texts in scripture. It leaves us wondering, “Do we measure up?” Am I one of the sheep or one of the goats? You see, in this text Jesus speaks about what will happen when the world as we know it, ends. He speaks about the coming judgment – a judgment where the eternity of all people will be determined. He speaks about a time when all that we value: high cheekbones, popularity, designer wardrobes, a great career – won’t mean anything. The only thing that will matter is: will I be on Jesus’ left – a goat? Or will I be on Jesus’ right – a sheep? Do I measure up?
The people to Jesus’ left were shocked to learn that they had missed the boat. They didn’t have a clue that they didn’t measure up. They couldn’t know because they never took the time to notice. They lived self-satisfied lives in the face of human suffering and need. They were judged because they did not trust Jesus Christ and give evidence of that faith by caring for His brethren. When Jesus’ said to them, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels,” they were blown away. But why Lord? How can this be, Jesus?
But we find a surprising Jesus here. No longer the kindly servant who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey; no longer the suffering Messiah who died on the cross – but the Judge Who says: “Depart from me – go into eternal fires.” You lived only for yourselves. You never raised a finger for the needy. You had no compassion for the hungry and naked. Those languishing in prison never entered your minds. You’ve lived as if life was all about you – your contentment. When God called on you, you turned away. When it came time to serve others, you said things like, “I’m busy. I don’t have time. I go to church, what more do you want? I gave money.”
“But that doesn’t cut it – that doesn’t measure up,” the Lord will say. How could you go on living that way – thinking – thinking that you were a Christian? How can the love of Christ be in you while you chose to ignore the need of your brother or sister?
At first glance, it appears that the basis for the judgment of Jesus was on how those on his left treated the poor. This passage is consistently misinterpreted and misapplied this way. But this is not the case. People often twist this text to teach that Christians are to earn their way into heaven by serving the poor. It’s comforting to think about it this way because it prescribes a formula. It suggests that you, on your own, can earn heaven. If you give to the poor, if you visit the sick, if you do this or that, then God will love you and give you salvation and eternal life.
But that is completely wrong! You see, these kind deeds are possible evidence, evidence of what’s in the heart, but not a ticket to heaven. Deeds of kindness occur because people want to show the same kind of love and mercy that God has shown them. And so when Jesus says that those on his left will not enter heaven because of their lack of kindness to the poor, the sick and needy, He is really referring to their cold, self-centered hearts. Lack of compassion is evidence that saving faith isn’t present. Anyone can be a “good” person.
It’s scary to think about the possibility that we might be in this group. It is scary because each and every one of us has neglected to do the good that we should have at one time or another. It is scary because we have passed by the person that was begging and we thought to ourselves, “Get a job, man.” It is scary because we’ve all heard about a brother or sister that was sick, and we didn’t even bother to call.
But listen to the words Jesus speaks to the sheep – to the people on his right: “Come, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you.” Now, again, if we’re not careful, it would seem that Jesus is saying, “You will receive the kingdom because you visited those in prisons; you gave food to the hungry; you gave clothes to the needy; you tended to the sick.”
But the Bible teaches that people can’t earn their way to heaven. “By grace through faith,” is how salvation comes. You see, even the sheep were surprised at Jesus words. They asked Him, “Lord, when did we do these things for you? The sheep were not even aware that their acts of kindness honored Jesus. They didn’t know that their faith measured up.
So what gives here? You see, the key to this is in verse 34. Jesus said to these folks, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father.” The sheep inherit the Kingdom not because of what they’ve done. In fact, they really didn’t measure up. They no more deserved the Kingdom than did the goats on Jesus’ left. None of us do! But because the sheep are blessed by the Father – heaven is theirs. God offered forgiveness and salvation and those with saving faith grasped it! And from this blessing and the Holy Spirit filling their hearts – the good deeds follow. These acts of charity and kindness become the evidence that they have saving faith.
Those on Jesus’ right are surprised to learn that they’ve done so much to honor their Lord. They were not trying to work their way to heaven. They didn’t have a clue that they measured up. You see, sheep run on automatic pilot. The Lord brings them forgiveness and faith. The Spirit living in them guides them to works of kindness and mercy. Because they’re connected to the True Vine, Jesus Christ – they bear fruit.
Being kind doesn’t require superhuman strength – just faith in Jesus. Doing good is not a burden or something that sheep get sick and tired of doing. They don’t quit because they don’t get honored or get their way. They don’t get bored of being kind. When sheep aren’t thanked, they keep right on serving. This is so, because you see, they don’t do the works out of selfish ambition – it is Christ in them. It is Christ’s love that drives them. It is Christ that fills them. And so, in the end, Jesus will call them and tell them: “Here, you blessed of my Father, stand at my right – enter into my Kingdom.”
By making us His inheritance, God has shown His love. By promising us a wonderful future, He has encouraged our hope. St. Paul offered something to challenge our faith: “the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe” (Eph. 1:19).
The power is seen in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Much more was involved than merely raising Him from the dead, for Christ also ascended to heaven and sat down in the place of authority at the right hand of God. He is not only Savior; He is also Sovereign (Acts 2:25-36). No authority or power, human or in the spirit world, is greater than that of Jesus Christ, the exalted Son of God. He is “far above all,” and no future enemy can overcome Him, because He has been exalted “far above all” powers.
The sheep will be ushered into the kingdom to share in Christ’s glory. The church will be reigning with Christ, and Israel will enjoy the fulfillment of the promises made through the prophets. All of creation will share in the glorious liberty of God’s children (Rom. 8:19-21). Jesus Christ will rule from David’s throne in Jerusalem (Luke 1:30-33), and peace will reign for 1,000 years (Isa. 11).
Jesus said, “You are mine…you do measure up…I made sure that you did. My death on the cross was for you, my beloved. My resurrection is yours. My Father has blessed you by giving you the faith to grasp it through His Word. And the Holy Spirit has changed you into sheep on automatic pilot – people who serve God and often don’t even know it! You are blessed and you are mine.”
Let us pray:
Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.